The typical building occupant is much more aware of the effects of poor air quality today. Occupants today demand air quality solutions from building operators. According to Tony Abate, vice president of operations at AtmosAir Solutions in Fairfield, Conn., the Building Owners and Managers Association ranked poor air quality as the No. 2 reason a tenant would move out of a space. People are aware of bad air quality and its effects to their health and are demanding it is addressed by building designers, building owners and property managers, says Abate, who also is a certified indoor environmentalist as designated by the Indoor Air Quality Association and the American Air Quality Council. Abate took time to discuss the state of air quality with Modern Builder + Design magazine.

How can indoor air quality (IAQ) benefit a commercial building?

In several ways – one is to provide a healthy building and avoid potentially damaging issues. The U.S. EPA states that 30 percent of all commercial buildings can be categorized as a “sick building.” This is where 20 percent or of more occupants complain of health issues while in the building – a devastating term to be associated with any building. Also, by utilizing advanced air purification strategies such as bipolar air ionization, buildings can reduce the quantity of outside air mechanically introduced into the building and gain significant energy savings.

What are the advantages of adding IAQ to an apartment/condo residence?

Apartments or any multifamily high-rise type residence can suffer from cross contamination. This can occur because the building typically pressurizes the hallways to provide some ventilation air to each apartment. We have all smelled the various odors that permeate apartment corridors. What this can also do is bring in unwanted contaminants such as dust, allergens, odors, bacteria, virus and germs to the apartments. By using air purification to reduce these contaminants, the ventilation air is cleaner resulting in cleaner air in every apartment.

What are the health dangers associated with buildings that do not have IAQ devices installed in heating and air conditioning systems?

Airborne contaminants can trigger many health issues as well as make existing problems worse. Poor IAQ can cause or trigger allergies. Mold and mold spores as a result of airborne spores can cause a wide range of health problems from irritating odors to severe allergies. Bacteria that can often grow in HVAC systems can cause many infections and illnesses.

What are the environmental benefits of buildings that use IAQ technology?

One tangible benefit to the environment is where buildings can reduce the outside air they bring in, by cleaning the air and re-circulating more. This causes significant energy savings as less untreated outside air needs to be conditioned. This is good for our environment as less energy use causes less greenhouse gas emissions to be caused by energy production. Commercial buildings use more energy than anything else in the United States and HVAC uses more energy than anything else within the building so this strategy can have a very positive impact on the environment.

In an office or commercial building, how does IAQ impact worker productivity and absenteeism?

Many studies have shown positive impacts on workers by improving the IAQ in buildings. The Harvard School of Public Health in a study conducted at Polaroid Corp. showed that by improving IAQ, the company could save $480 per worker per year as a result of decreased absenteeism. The U.S. EPA estimates that U.S. businesses lose $60 billion per year due to lost productivity. Improvements to IAQ reduce the spread of illness from one person to another and less preventable sick days occur.

What companies have added IAQ technology to their buildings?

Many have. Firms like UBS and Deloitte have been using bipolar air ionization to provide a healthy workplace and improve productivity. Major universities such as USC, UCLA and Stony Brook are using the same technology to provide a healthier environment for students and teachers. The Staples Center in Los Angeles also uses this technology to not only provide a comfortable environment, but to realize significant yearly energy savings. Professional sports teams like the Dallas Cowboys, Chicago Cubs and Kansas City Chiefs also use this air purification technology to protect players, coaches and staff from the spread of illness. Sports arenas and college athletic facilities are also upgrading their venues with IAQ. How do indoor air quality impact athletes and fans. Sports teams take many measures to prevent the spread of bacteria such as MRSA, virus and germs and illness that could affect players, coaches and staff. Many of these pathogens can be spread through the air. Cleaning the air protects people from those contaminants that can cause illness. In arenas that have incorporated air purification, fans benefit from less airborne contaminants being present especially in seating areas, where people are tightly packed in and illness is easily spread from one to another. The arena can also benefit from reduced energy costs.

Why is it important that IAQ technology be used in the design, construction or renovating in hospitals?

Due to new regulations hospitals are now required to report on hospital-acquired infection (HAI) rates. They are also penalties being discussed by insurers and Medicare, etc., as HAI lengthen hospital stays and costs. There are also many deaths each year due to HAI. As many bacteria virus and germs can be spread through the air, air purification is an important element to any air system design in a healthcare environment. This also includes clinics, nursing homes and extended care facilities and rehabilitation facilities.

Why would a university, building or renovating buildings on campuses, consider adding IAQ to the design plans?

Universities and schools in general can benefit many ways by improving IAQ. Improved IAQ reduces absenteeism which can translate into better test scores as kids miss less school, reduced costs as teachers miss fewer days and substitutes aren’t needed.