Indoor Environmental Quality


POLICY

The University recognizes the important role of indoor environmental quality (IEQ) and strives to maintain standards that protect the health and well-being of faculty, staff, students and visitors.  This policy provides general IEQ information and establishes a process for IEQ investigations.

BACKGROUND

IEQ refers to the quality of environmental conditions within and around buildings and structures, especially as it relates to the health and comfort of building occupants.  Acceptable IEQ is defined as a condition where there are no known contaminants at harmful concentrations and a substantial majority (80% or more) of occupants express general satisfaction with the environment.  In general, indoor environments are expected to be free of odors and irritants and maintained at a comfortable temperature and humidity.

IEQ concerns can range from simple comfort issues (too hot/cold/drafty, etc.) and odors, to more complex issues, where the air quality may be suspected of causing illness and lost work time.  Causative or contributing agents may derive from a variety of sources located inside or outside of a building and can be physical, chemical, or biological in nature.  Many times, however, concerns or health issues being experienced are unrelated to the building and have external causes.  It is the University’s responsibility to make that determination, and to ensure that identified contributors to poor IEQ are eliminated or isolated from occupied spaces and any major sources of contamination promptly controlled.

PROCESS

Identification of Potential IEQ Problems

Building occupants who have IEQ concerns should first notify their supervisor.  If supervision is not able to resolve the issue, contact Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) for support.  EHS will then conduct an IEQ investigation.

Note that time sensitive issues, such as extremely strong and acutely irritating odors, burning smell or visible smoke, odor of gas leak must be immediately reported to Facility Services at 568-7716.  Contact University Police if after working hours at 568-8999.  See the Natural Gas Leaks, Odors and Fumes Emergency Response Actionspdficon_small page for further response details.

Phase I IEQ Investigation

The first step in a typical IEQ investigation is a preliminary assessment.  This assessment begins with occupant interviews to characterize the complaint and determine the perceived magnitude of the problem.  A walk-through inspection of the building or area of complaint follows.  During the walk-through, EHS will evaluate for internal sources of contaminants, such as chemical use and storage; external contaminant sources, such as exhaust from idling delivery or operations equipment/vehicles; general housekeeping; recent renovations and/or new furnishings; activities in work area; and the building Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning system.

As part of the assessment, occupants may be requested to consult with their personnel physician.  The results of the physician consultation may be requested to support the assessment.

The Phase I investigation will often be sufficient to identify the problem and allow for issuance of corrective actions and control recommendations.  If the immediate cause or source cannot be determined or further data is necessary, a Phase II investigation will be initiated.

Phase II IAQ Investigation

Phase II investigations build on data collected during the previous phase.  Common air quality parameters including temperature, relative humidity, and carbon dioxide levels are measured.

Phase II investigations may also consist of more extensive and specific visual assessment and inspection of Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning systems; and monitoring and sampling for chemical, physical and/or microbial contaminants.  As necessary, EHS may rely on the University contracted environmental consultant to complete and interpret the results of these activities.

Investigation Strategies and Findings

IEQ investigation strategy, evaluation protocols, and the interpretation of findings will primarily  follow the guidelines and recommendations issued by the Environmental Protection Agency, American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists, American Industrial Hygiene Association, American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers, Centers for Disease Control, and the New York City Department of Health.pdficon_small

Results of IEQ investigations will be shared with the reporting party, other affected persons and University administration.  EHS will track any recommendations through to completion.

LIMITATIONS OF IEQ INVESTIGATIONS

Air sampling might seem to be the logical first response to an IEQ concern, but is usually not required to solve the problem.  When air sampling is proposed, a sampling strategy will be developed based on a comprehensive understanding of how the building operates and the nature of the complaints.  Various direct reading survey instruments are often used to provide a characterization of an indoor environment and, in many cases, the information provided is sufficient to identify problems that may be contributors for the IEQ concerns.  However, note that there currently are no regulatory limits covering allowable mold levels in an indoor environment and that the permissible exposure limits for chemical contaminants mandated by OSHA and other standard setting organizations are generally applicable to an industrial setting rather than to an office or classroom environment.  Occupants may continue to experience discomfort at contaminant levels below standards for occupational exposure.  Ultimately, a cause of the concerns may not be definitely identified after thorough investigation.

Mold has become so closely linked to IEQ that many people believe that all IEQ problems are strictly mold problems. This is not true.  When mold (or other bio-organisms) is considered a potential source of poor IEQ, assessment for its presence will be performed.  Testing for mold presents a unique set of challenges.  Sampling and measuring indoor mold contamination on surfaces can be of limited value because mold is found in virtually all environments, and because no consensus or regulatory standards have been established.   Therefore, if visible mold is identified, treatment will normally be in accordance with standard mold remediation protocols, which primarily call for immediate removal of the mold and its moisture sources rather than sampling.

WHAT WE ARE DOING TO MAINTAIN IEQ

Many IEQ issues are avoided with timely maintenance and repair of building HVAC systems, and maintaining clean and orderly building conditions.

The Facility Services Preventative Maintenance group is active in ensuring that all building systems perform at the highest level.  This is accomplished through systematic and routine HVAC equipment maintenance, to include the following:

  • Inspection of air intakes.
  • Inspection, cleaning and maintenance of air distribution dampers.
  • Periodic replacement of air filters.
  • Inspection and cleaning of drain pans, heating and cooling coils, and interior of air handling units.
  • Inspection and replacement of fan motors and belts.

Only “green” or low VOC emitting cleaning products are used by custodial staff.

WHAT CAN YOU DO

Building occupants serve an important role in maintaining acceptable conditions within their environment.  The following will help to maintain good IEQ:

  1. Water damaged areas must be dried in 24 hours to prevent the initiation of fungal growth.  Building occupants should notify Facility Services immediately of plumbing, roof and foundation leaks; or Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning malfunctions.
  2. Check areas where water may intrude (i.e., water cooler, refrigerator, plants, coffee maker, windows, ceiling tiles) and look for stain marks.  Make sure that those areas are cleaned and dried as soon as possible.
  3. Do not water indoor plants more than once a week or allow water to accumulate in the bottom of the pot.  Excess moisture contributes to mold and mildew growth and attracts pests.
  4. Remove food crumbs and avoid storage of perishable food (e.g., oranges in a desk drawer) that may attract pests or cause odors.
  5. Store food properly.  Remove old food containers and perishable items from the refrigerator periodically.
  6. Wipe down your desk, phone receiver, and key pads periodically.  Use Lysol or other disinfectant products to clean items that you commonly use, especially phone receivers that may be used by several persons.
  7. Maintain equipment (e.g., photocopy machines, computers, and printers) in good condition.
  8. Use products with strong odors in areas with adequate ventilation.  Avoid using products that contain volatile organic compounds (e.g., most commercial air fresheners).  Substitute water-based products for them.
  9. Use perfume or cologne sparingly.
  10. Do not block air vents or grills with equipment, furniture, decorations, or other materials. Keep supply vents and return air grilles unblocked, so that you won’t unbalance the Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning system or affect the ventilation of a neighboring office.
  11. Do not allow dust to collect.  Periodically wet-wipe horizontal surfaces to minimize dust accumulation.
  12. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water to curtail the spread of colds, flu, and other infectious illnesses.  Don’t come to work during the infectious phase of a cold or flu.