A lot of attention gets paid, and rightly so, to how cleaning chemicals affect indoor air quality (IAQ). The truth is, however, the air we breathe is far more polluted than most of us realize, before cleaning chemicals or equipment comes into play.
Anyone responsible for in-house cleaning should understand what lurks in indoor air, and what tools are available to keep it clean. Keeping a building at optimal health may require more than industry-best cleaning products and procedures.
There is a whole spectrum of particles circulating in the air inside buildings, including:
• Chemical: Everything from flooring and paint to photocopiers and furniture can give off a chemical, or “off-gas,” for weeks or years after purchase. That’s to say nothing of the cleaning products that also add potentially harmful gases into the air.
• Biological: There’s a common misconception that germs can only be transferred by touching a surface that has the virus on it. In fact, the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that’s far less common than transfer via air. In addition to coughing or sneezing, biological contaminants also spread when toilets are flushed.
• Allergens: There are certain airborne particulate, such as mold and pollen, that have little to no effect on many people, but can act as triggers for allergy sufferers.
In most cases, indoor air pollution goes unnoticed by a building’s occupants. They may cause discomfort, however, by spreading an illness like the flu from person to person. Also, some off-gassed chemicals, like formaldehyde or benzene, have been linked to long-term respiratory diseases and cancer.
It may come as a surprise to learn that indoor air pollution is getting worse, even as architecture becomes more sophisticated. In fact, energy-efficient building design has exacerbated the problem. In older buildings, air can seep in and out between gaps in windows and doors. Facilities built in the last 10 to 15 years, however, are sealed up tight.
“We see buildings with triple-sealed windows and double-sealed doors and deadbolts,” says Todd Simpson, business development executive at Phoenix-based IonAer. “That has greatly reduced air flow and circulation.”
Without sufficient air exchange to get rid of contaminants, the concentration of some pollutants is two to five times higher indoors than it is outdoors, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Making matters worse, humans spend about 90 percent of their time indoors.
“When you’re in an office eight to 10 hours a day, you can be breathing in 2 and 3 trillion of these particulates into your lungs every day,” Simpson says.
Part of the mission as an in-house cleaning manager is to keep the building healthy. That includes the air the occupants breathe.
In an office space, the spread of contaminated air can greatly affect productivity. In schools, it can increase attendance rates, which affects a district’s financial reimbursement. And in hospitals, it can actually be a matter of life and death.
“This is about the human impact and enabling people to thrive in their environment,” says Mike Booth, senior global marketing manager, air treatment at AeraMax Professional in Itasca, Illinois. “We spend so much money on making our facilities look great and performing well, but if, at the end of the day, people still can’t perform at their best, then all those costs are somewhat irrelevant.”