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Could you be contributing to poor IAQ?

September 19, 2010
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Property managers, building engineers, and facility service providers (FSPs) are usually responsible for ensuring that facilities are odor free and that indoor air quality (IAQ) is maintained at satisfactory levels.

If tenants begin to complain about foul odors, sneezing, running noses, headaches, or nausea, these all are indications and symptoms of poor IAQ and must be taken seriously.

Not only is the comfort and health of tenants impaired when odors or poor IAQ exist, but lawsuits have imposed multi-million-dollar damage awards against building owners, managers, manufacturers and others whose actions or products have contributed to an indoor pollution problem.

One way to prevent this is for managers, engineers, and FSPs to keep up-to-date records on the on-going condition of a facility. This includes information on heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) and mechanical systems, their parts and components, when they were last cleaned, inspected, or repaired, and when filters were changed.

Deferred maintenance on these systems is often a contributing factor to odors and poor IAQ. Satisfactory IAQ also involves property managers and FSPs performing regular inspections of a facility.

These inspections should look for possible sources of odors or pollution such as unusual dust build-up, stains in carpets or upholstery, mold growth, water damage, and holes and cracks in walls or ceilings.

The walk-through should also check to make sure that debris is not left near doors or close to outdoor air intakes. See if there is mold growth or visible water damage outside the building — both of which can contribute to indoor odor problems and poor IAQ.

Cleaning chems producing odors?
Note if any special clean-up activities — requiring the use of new cleaning chemicals or products — or pest control measures have been undertaken recently.

In addition, all of the cleaning chemicals used to maintain a facility should be inventoried. Although many cleaning chemical manufacturers have taken steps to reduce the amount of fragrances used in their products and minimize the gasses and odors that their products emit, many still have a distinct scent, especially when improperly mixed or used.

Additionally, many traditional cleaning products may contain high levels of VOCs, which can release harmful gasses affecting IAQ.

These problems increase when several cleaning chemicals are stored in a janitorial closet. If the closet is near HVAC air intakes, theses gasses and odors can easily spread throughout a facility. (See “Combat cleaning chemical odors”.)

Going after the source
Once the source of an odor or IAQ problem has been identified, the next critical step is to eliminate it. For FSPs, this may mean sanitizing the area to clean it and then using a disinfectant, which can kill almost 100,000 microorganisms under controlled conditions. Enzymatic agents can also be used to help remove and destroy the source of the malodors.

Additionally, instead of using air fresheners — that often simply “mask” odors — employ odor counteractants and odor eliminators to actually eliminate them.

Odor counteractants are chemical compounds combined with malodorous materials in such a way as to prevent the human olfactory sense from perceiving them. For example, use lemon juice when cooking fish; the odor is still present, but the scent of the lemon changes how it is perceived.

Odor eliminators chemically bind with a malodor compound and change its makeup so that it no longer emits an unpleasant smell. Some of these products are bactericidal, actually killing the bacteria causing the malodor.

The best scent: none
There was a time — not that many years ago — when many facility managers and office tenants requested that “pine” cleaners be used when cleaning their facilities. To them, it was not clean unless it smelled “pine” clean.

Today, most facilities want no smell at all, whether from cleaning chemicals or from any other sources. Because of this, odor control is part of the cleaning process, and eliminating odor is just another way we keep the facilities we maintain clean and healthy.


Jamie Van Vuren is the president of Chicago-based Bee Line Building Service and Supply, which was founded by her father 48 years ago, and employs more than 100 cleaners.

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