Two Questions about Indoor Air Monitoring

Should we really do it?

The Why

There are, out there, a set of respectable studies [1, 2] showing why it is important to monitor the quality of air in office interiors. It is all related with the overall exposure to chemical substances that are part of our day-to-day life. The most recent one mentions solvents from paintings and coatings, adhesives from furniture and cleaning substances for room cleaning as being responsible for health issues, when the exposure to them is too heavy. None of those can be easily avoided without giving up the comfort or even the hygiene levels we want to have, let alone the long time it took to reach the current standards.

Even if, as a result of totally flawed logic, someone wanted to get rid of cleaning and throw out all the furniture designed for an ergonomically-arranged space, it would be impossible from a regulations perspective. There are sets of national and European regulations [3] that give a framework for modern workplaces; Health & Safety officers know them too well. They are responsible to make the office a pleasant working and living place, since that is where we spend most of the day.

For a long period of time, all OSH (Occupational Safety and Health) interest [4]was focused on the industrial and manufacturing area, where it is most important to act, as any mistake there may have serious consequences. It was only during the past few years that H&S officers have started to understand that, even if they are not as obvious as industrial ones, dangerous factors for those spending many hours inside are lurking in virtually all offices.

The regulations are clear: companies have to care in an active way for the work environment, from oil & gas refineries to bank offices. We will not address here the case of industrial, or even industrial-like environments; there are very specific rules and regulations applicable in such cases. We want to present for a very different type of environment, namely the office. The number of people working in those is huge. The concentration of work force in white-collar occupations shows that 80% of women and 53% of men are working in these occupations [5]. The blue-collar/white-collar worker division is based on assigning ISCO 1-digit categories 1–5 to white collar and categories 6–9 to blue collar (excluding armed forces). Even if we considered this statistic alone, we would understand why paying more attention to our offices would have such a big impact.

Paying attention means nothing else than measure, compare and act. Measure the levels of the chemical compounds that have been proven to adversely impact the employees’ health and compare with the accepted levels. Then, if the thresholds are exceeded, act to reduce the levels to below those, which usually means better ventilation, higher quality of materials, or changed cleaning operations. Rarely, the problem means undertaking significant work to replace the culprit (e.g. industrial adhesive for carpets "breathing" too much formaldehyde, or granite floor tiles changing the radon local pattern as result of uranium, thorium or radium decay [6]). Those in charge to keep the things under control are OSH departments or Facility Management. They have to be the ones that design and implement the procedures and operations for indoor air quality control.

The How

Fortunately, monitoring air quality is no different from other types of monitoring: just put the right sensors in place and read the data. Here, we are the ones that can help: Nuvap manufactures a single device containing 20+ sensors inside, monitoring all the gases that are known to be harmful in the long term. It is as easy as placing the device in a room, connecting it to the platform and allowing it to start collecting the data.

Then, once the data is there, the most obvious option is to visualize it. Here, there are a few options available whether own your own Nuvap device or you get one from us, as part of a service:

  1. Real-time access to data: the graphs are there for you, directly on the MyNuvap platform. You can see all the parameters as time series, over the intervals you want, with all the thresholds signalled. And, if you use the mobile application, you can get notifications whenever a parameter reaches the associated thresholds. Just in case you want—or need—to react immediately. Also, you can make available the graphs to everyone interested, such as your co-workers. What they would see is similar to what is shown in Figure 1 below.

    Figure 1.

  2. Near-real-time access to data: for cases when what you need is more than raw data. You want an aggregation (for a week or for a day), or more than one parameter of interest to you on the same graph (e.g. CO2 and VOC), or even a more sophisticated time visualization (like a heat-map with hour-in-the-day vs day-in-the-week). We can create the visualisation for you, putting together exactly what you need, and we can even send it to you in a format ready to be published (e.g. on the school’s web page, to let the parents know about the environment where their children learn).

    Figure 2.

  3. Non-real-time access to data: when what you need is a snapshot of your environment. You just want to see the quality of your office environment at specific points in time (e.g. quarterly), in order to understand and adjust those parameters that matter, to predict when you have to make a maintenance activity, or to change something major on your HVAC system. Then, an offline report presenting the actual status and the trends analysis over last few measurements interval will do the job. We can build it for you, taking care of the specifics you are looking for. A page of this report looks similar to the one shown in Figure 3.

    Figure 3.

  4. Special projects: the data is yours, but we can help you transform into insights. We can build for you any reports you may need, or do any data processing you may want. We can help you make predictions or evaluate the impact of different factors on particular metrics. We can build prototypes for you, making the indoor monitoring activity an integrated part of the intelligence of your building.

If you want more details about the provisioning or the cost structure of any of the above services, just drop us a mail at nuvap@sbsolution.ro.


References

[1]: WHO, Selected pollutants: WHO guideline for indoor air quality [online], available at http://www.who.int/indoorair/publications/9789289002134/en/

[2]: Brian C. McDonald, Joost A. de Gouw, Volatile chemical products emerging as largest petrochemical source of urban organic emissions, Science, Vol. 359, Issue 6377, pp. 760-764, Feb 2018

[3]: Occupational Safety & Health Regulations [online], available at http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/web/health/legislation

[4]: European Agency for Safety & Health at Work, https://osha.europa.eu/en

[5]: Fifth European Working Conditions Survey, Publications Office of the European Union, Eurofound [online], available at https://www.eurofound.europa.eu/surveys/european-working-conditions-surveys/fifth-european-working-conditions-survey-2010

[6]: EPA, Granite Countertops and Radiation [online], available at https://www.epa.gov/radiation/granite-countertops-and-radiation