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Measures to improve indoor air quality

Poor IAQ can have negative impact on people with lung disease
Thursday, September 20, 2012
By Janis Hass

Everyone’s health can be affected by indoor air quality problems; however, it can have a greater impact on someone living with a lung disease.

There are many inexpensive, preventative measures that building managers and residents can take to improve the air they breathe.

Ventilation
Proper ventilation is important since hundreds, sometimes even thousands of people breathe the same air in a building.

Common culprits of poor indoor air quality are mould, dust mites, poisonous gases, scented products and carpet. These may be found in different units.

Building managers should ensure the fresh air supply and exhaust systems are working properly. Regular maintenance of these systems will help ensure residents breathe clean air.

Residents can also do their part in improving indoor air quality by using the kitchen exhaust fan to remove steam and odours when cooking, and the bathroom exhaust fan to limit condensation and moisture build up when showering or bathing.

Smoke-free buildings
Cigarette smoke is a trigger for many people with asthma and other lung diseases.

Implementing a no-smoking policy is a great way to reduce or eliminate this harmful exposure. Existing residents who smoke would be exempt; however, new residents would have to keep their units smoke-free.

Radon
Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. It comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water. Radon is a colourless, odourless radioactive gas that can seep into buildings through cracks in the foundation, walls or other small openings in the floor. Radon can build up to dangerous levels, especially when buildings are closed during winter months.

Since radon gets into a building through contact with the ground, the further a unit is away from the ground, the less risk of radon exposure to occupants.

Radon levels can vary from building to building, so the only way to know how much radon is in a unit is to test it.

Moisture and humidity
Mould is a common asthma trigger and it can cause damage to building materials.

Mould can grow on most surfaces where there is moisture. Common areas of growth include flooring (especially carpet), window sills, wall frames, bathtubs, showers, cabinets underneath sinks and ceiling tiles. Mould can appear in various colours such as black, white, green or red.

It is important to maintain an ideal humidity level throughout a building and in each unit to prevent mould growth. Ideal indoor humidity levels should range between 30 to 50 per cent. It can be helpful to have a hygrometer, which measures humidity levels in a building.

If a small amount of mould is found – less than one square meter – it is often manageable. The mould can be cleaned with a rag or sponge, water and unscented dish soap or baking soda. Dry the area quickly after. Then determine the reason for the mould growth and fix the problem.

If a resident can’t determine the problem or if there is a large amount of mould, bring in a professional.

Appliances
Gas appliances such as stoves, ovens, washing machines, dryers and heaters should be regularly maintained to ensure potentially poisonous gases do not leak into a unit.

A carbon monoxide detector should be installed in each unit to alert residents when high levels of the deadly gas are in the air.

Janis Hass is the director of marketing and communications for the Canadian Lung Association.

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