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NIOSHs Top Indoor Environmental Air Quality Contaminants and Their Acute Health Effects

Posted by Emilcott Associates

Jun 16, 2014 11:00:00 AM

niosh  logoIn their publication on Office Environment & Worker Safety & Health, NIOSH published that “Maintaining a healthy office environment requires attention to chemical hazards, equipment and work station design, physical environment (temperature, humidity, light, noise, ventilation, and space), task design, psychological factors (personal interactions, work pace, job control) and sometimes, chemical or other environmental exposures.

Though newer construction over the past few decades have incorporated advanced filtration systems to remedy some indoor air quality issues, our experience is that IEQ issues remain one of the largest among employee concerns and complaints. 

Specific contaminants or sources of the issues can be difficult to identify due to the unspecific nature of employee complaints, most commonly headaches, nausea, concentration issues, eye irritation, and nose and throat irritation. NIOSH identifies the main causes for these types of employee complaints as:

  • Poor or inadequate ventilation throughout the building
  • Contaminants used in the building circulating through ventilation system
  • Contaminants making their way into the building from outside
  • Microbial contamination
  • Contamination locked into fabrics such as carpeting 

NIOSH recognizes and attributes these common contaminants and effects:

  • Carbon Monoxide: dizziness, nausea, headache, cyanosis, cardiovascular issues, possible death
  • Acetic Acid: eye and respiratory irritation
  • Formaldehyde (found in the off-gases from furniture, carpet and wall covering): Allergic reaction, rashes, eye and throat irritation, hypersensitivity
  • Carbon Dioxide: Concentration issues, dizziness, drowsiness, breathing difficulty
  • Nitrogen Oxides: Eye and respiratory irritation
  • Ozone: Aggravation, eye and respiratory irritation
  • Radon: No evidence exists of immediate irritation or illness, but long term exposure can result in certain cancers
  • Volatile Organic Compounds: Nausea, dizziness, headache, fatigue, eye and respiratory irritation
  • Tobacco Smoke: Cancer, eye, nose, and throat irritation, asthma, allergic reactions, wheezing, sneezing, headache
  • Microbials: Hypersensitivity diseases, fever, legionellosis, sore throat, diarrhea, muscle aches, cough, headache, chills, chest tightness
  • Synthetic Fibers: Skin irritation, dermatitis, eye and respiratory illness

In an effort to identify which contaminant may be causing issues within a work space, it is important to speak with employees about symptoms, hone in on likely areas of contamination, and take samples from areas of interest to identify the contaminant(s).

Emilcott has been successfully working with clients across all industry sectors to mitigate indoor environmental issues for over 25 years. If you have concerns, contact us for a preliminary investigation.


Topics: NIOSH, Environmental Air Quality Contaminants, indoor environmental issues

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