Building Air Quality - January 2020

For Building Owners and Facility Managers BUILDING AIR QUALITY

281-448-1100 or TOLL FREE 866-367-1177 | | January 2020

DIAGNOSING AN UNHEALTHY BUILDING WITH AIRBORNE PARTICLE COUNTS Particles, Fibers, and Dust, Oh My! A irborne particles are an often-overlooked aspect of indoor air quality (IAQ). Even among my own peers, particles are rarely a top priority. In this area, I’m an outlier. Stage one was dirty; stage two was loaded with dust and dirt; and stage three, the HEPA filter, was also dirty! Basically, the vacuum cleaner was actually releasing more particles in the air that then settled as dust on the surfaces. The Fix: We recommended putting the man in another office in an unaffected area, fix the leak, replace the ceiling tiles, and do a hyper-clean of all ceilings, walls, and carpeting in the space to remove particles from the air until everything was fixed and clean.

When I do indoor air quality surveys, not only do I look at the standard environmental indicators like carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, temperature, and relative humidity, but I also collect airborne particle counts at that time. I’m finding more and more that the presence of particles in the air is causing upper respiratory irritation. Many times, the complaints being expressed by building occupants are related to elevated particles. In fact, a few recent cases I’ve worked on were solved because I collected airborne particle counts during my survey. Something Blue The first case was in a commercial high-rise building where people were suffering from coughing, sneezing, and itchy eyes. When we talked to the occupants, they mentioned seeing a lot of dust on their desks and cubicle workstations. I took a look and noticed that the dust we found was the same light blue color as the carpets we were walking on. That gave us a good indicator of where the dust was coming from. Our first suspicion was that the custodians were kicking the dust up and not vacuuming it properly. The problem was that in this particular building, the contracted custodians used purple backpack vacuums with a HEPA air filter. That usually means the vacuums will be capturing particles down to .3 microns in diameter. We went to the custodial closet, took the vacuum canister apart, and took a look at the three-stage filter.

The Fix: We directed the building management to inform the custodians that they needed to clean their vacuum filters and get on a program to change their filters ons a regular basis.

The Result: Potential health problems will be avoided.

Trouble Overhead Our last story involved a federal courthouse. We hadn’t received any specific complaints from people, so we ran the same series of tests across the second floor. As we did, we found one specific set of four offices had high levels of airborne particles. We always go above the ceiling to see what was going on up there, and when we looked above the ceilings in these offices, we found a lot of insulation from the deck above had fallen onto the ceiling tiles. The building engineer mentioned that the building had been reroofed two months prior. All of that insulation failed and fell onto the ceiling tiles as a result of the roofing project. Unfortunately, since the area above the ceiling is used as an air return, the particles, fibers, and dust from the insulation worked their way down into the tenant spaces. The Fix: The large chunks of insulation needed to be removed, the ceiling tiles needed to be vacuumed, and the damage that was done to the underside of the deck above needed to be repaired.

The Result: The complaints went away.

It’s in theWalls I was called to a federal building that has been struggling with a reoccurring leak for many years. The building would leak in one gentleman’s office, the building owner would repair the leak, and for six months, everything would be fine until it leaked again. The building owner would find the new leak, repair that, and the cycle would continue. The tiles had been removed 10 days before, and during that time, that gentleman started reporting upper respiratory problems. We ran particle counts in this man’s office and found the airborne levels of PM10, which are larger-sized particles, were twice the allowed average set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Meanwhile, the smaller particles, PM2.5, were right at the limit allowed by the EPA. To make matters worse for this gentleman, the next day he was scheduled for a doctor’s appointment to have sinus work done. When we arrived, the three acoustical ceiling tiles along the wall near the window were missing.

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Protecting the Built Environment


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