The Healthy Air Alliance
Helping People Cure Sick Buildings (schools)
You and your children spend 90% of your time indoors. Even if you only spend 2 hours outdoors it means you spend 91% of your day indoors. What happens if that indoor environment makes you or your children sick?? Here are questions you need to ask: Do you or your child spend time inside a building which causes any of these illnesses or symptoms:
q asthma attacks
q allergy reactions
q breaking out in hives
q having trouble breathing
q getting runny noses
q having chest tightness
q Eye, nose, or throat irritation
q Dry cough
q Dry or itchy skin
q Difficulty in concentrating
q Sensitivity to odors
If you answered YES to any of these, then you your children may be suffering from Sick Building/Sick School Syndrome due to poor Indoor Air Quality (I.A.Q.).
· Do you/they require medications in order to neutralize these symptoms or illnesses inside this school or building?
· Do you/they feel fine away from the school/building during weekends, vacations or summer breaks?
If you answered YES then this confirms even more that you/they are suffering from Sick Building or Sick School Syndrome.
Ironically you can’t look at polluted indoor air with your eyes and tell just how toxic it is. Indoor Air Quality Professions holding certifications such as a C.I E. (Certified Indoor Environmentalist) or a C.I.H. (Certified Industrial Hygienist) have sophisticated instruments in order to test the invisible toxins in the air. You’d need to rent an expensive laser particle counter and other sophisticated air quality equipment in order to determine how polluted the air really is. Taking air samples that are analyzed by Certified Laboratories may also be necessary to confirm just how infested the air is with mold or bacteria.
How do good buildings/schools/homes get Sick?
1 – Mold Infested Air Conditioning Systems.
An air conditioning system’s cooling coil is what provides cold air. The coil (which looks like a car radiator) also traps airborne mold & bacteria and provides it water (via humidity condensation) which allows the mold & bacteria to eventually infest the coil. Some of the mold and bacteria wash off the coil and then infest the drainpan. Unless coils are regularly sterilized with UV light or safe biocidal chemicals, then the mold and bacteria growth on the coil will eventually fly off and go into the building’s (classroom’s) air spaces. (Sorry, but air filters are placed before the coil so they capture ZERO of the mold & bacteria flying off the coil into the room’s air). Click HERE for an article explaining the benefits of UV lights in keeping air conditioners safe and mold-free.
Using high M.E.R.V. rated air filters (changed at regular intervals) in the air handlers is critical in order to trap tiny microbes such as mold spores:
a. to keep them from being breathed by occupants and
b. from also being deposited on the coils. Click HERE for a Technical Bulletin from the Maryland Department of Education attesting to the benefits of high efficiency air filters in helping improve the health of students (see “Upgrading Air Filters” Page 5).
A proper coil cleaning maintenance program involves either utilizing Ultraviolet Lights that keep coils clean, sterilized and mold & bacteria-free indefinitely, or bi-annual coil cleanings using safe biocides. If coils are not kept sterilized, mold & bacteria will grow out of control on the coils (coils are in a totally dark environment and are covered with water whenever the AC is running) and the mold & bacteria will be efficiently distributed throughout the building via the HVAC system. Click HERE for Steve Welty's (CIE, CAFS of Green Organic Air GreenOrganicAir@aol.com) explanation of this process. Click HERE for visual information related to Steve's explanation. Click HERE to see why traditional chemical coil cleaning procedures are rarely effective in preventing mold infestation.
2 -Water leaking in or entering indoor spaces. Water entering buildings can soak materials (carpets, walls, ceilings) which gives mold more food to grow. It also can lead to excessive humidity and visible mold growth. Water leaks must be controlled and repaired and water not allowed to enter into the building.
3- Humidity above 60%. In the absence of water intrusion, if the HVAC equipment in the building is not capable of properly regulating the humidity level, mold will grow. Click HERE for an published article in the ASHRAE journal by Professional Engineers describing how typical HVAC systems in Schools can not handle the humidity and ventilation problems in School buildings.
4 -Ventilation rates below 15 cubic feet of outdoor air per minute per person. If the ventilation rates are too low, not enough stale and polluted indoor air will be removed and not enough “fresh” outdoor air will be added back inside. Building occupants will be breathing unhealthy, recirculated polluted air which is not properly cleaned by the low performing filters.
How do you know if these causes of indoor air pollution are present in a particular building and what can be done to eliminate them?
1 –Questions for your building maintenance personnel:
a. What are the MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) ratings of the air filters,
b. Where are the records of air filter changing.
c. What is the HVAC cooling coil cleaning frequency and what chemicals used
d. If UV lights are used, how often UV bulbs are changed.
Advocate for and insist on a "best filter policy" for the building/school whereby the highest MERV rated air filters (higher number is better, but should be at least MERV 11 – (Click HERE for a MERV chart) compatible with the HVAC equipment, are used. Advocate for and insist on UV lights for coil cleanliness. If UV lights are used, be certain that UV bulbs are replaced on an annual basis. If UV lights are not used on coils, insist on an alternate plan that will be as effective as UV and achieve the same goals. Click HERE to view the GSA standard requiring the use of UV light emitters on coils. Click HERE to view a California study describing UV lights and how they killed the mold on cooling coils in School buildings. Three more articles describing the benefits of UV lights on coils can be found here: 1, 2, 3.
2- If you see water leaking into the building, the failure must be found and Immediately fixed. Water is food for mold and if you smell a “musty odor” in any room, then you have mold “amplifying” (multiplying in mold terminology). When mold grows, it creates VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds or chemicals) which may become airborne chemicals. Scientists have determined that mold VOC chemicals can be toxic, hence the term “toxic mold”.
In addition, crawlspaces and basements are hot spots for water intrusion and thus mold growth. In order to create new mold “colonies”, these mold shoot into the air their spores which are tiny seeds. Airborne mold spores are sucked into the HVAC system and if the filters can’t trap them, they are sent into the air spaces of the entire building. If excess moisture, humidity or water is found in such areas, qualified professionals are needed to solve these complex problems.
3 - Humidistats (humidity sensors) are needed to properly determine and monitor humidity levels. The only way to know if an area is too humid is with the use of continuous humidity monitoring. In the absence of visual water intrusion (like ceiling tile stains or wet carpet), humidity sensors can detect excess airborne moisture levels. If humidity levels regularly exceed 60%, additional moisture removal equipment and/or HVAC equipment modifications are urgently required.
In order to control humidity, complete reengineering of the HVAC system may require new equipment with built-in dehumidification systems. This equipment must incorporate humidity sensors that will maintain indoor humidity levels below 60% and ideally at 50% or less. In this way, dehumidifiers will be used automatically (and only when necessary) until humidity levels are brought under control. “Installation of HVAC equipment that can self-regulate the humidity and CO2 concentrations would be a major benefit if a proper Operations & Maintenance process is strictly adhered to”, said Brian Klenk C.I.H.
4 - CO2 monitors (sensors) are needed to determine if outside air ventilation rates are adequate. If CO2 sensors detect high CO2 levels, then ventilation rates are too low and additional outside air must be brought in. HVAC equipment that incorporates CO2 sensors that allow self-regulation of ventilation rates will be required. The only way to know if an area is properly ventilated is with the use of continuous CO2 monitoring. “I do see CO2 monitoring during normal occupied hours as having a benefit in two ways: (1) The monitoring can be used in a feedback loop to control outside air… more finely than a humidity sensors alone and (2) As an indicator of adequate ventilation in the building, CO2 monitoring during peak loads (full occupancy) can help put the minds of the students, staff, and parents at ease, knowing the intake and exhaust are adequately balanced” said Brian Klenk C.I.H.
As you have read above, Poor Indoor Air Quality and the resulting Sick Building/ Sick School Syndrome are completely preventable and in many cases reversible. Utilizing proper:
q mold removal technology,
q maintenance procedures,
q Humidity control and
q Outside air ventilation
will keep indoor environments safe and ensure healthy air which is free of mold and bacteria for all occupants and visitors.