Douglas Emmett Tenants
A forum for those who live and work at Douglas Emmett facilities to discuss issues and stay informed
A project of the Operating Engineers, Local 501

Indoor Air Quality Basics

Learn more about this vital public health issue

Posted: June 1st, 2017

The survey is used to assess Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) related complaints and concerns. IAQ problems can include one or more of the following: temperature control, ventilation, moisture, and air pollutants occupant concerns, complaints, observations, and comments are often a vital source of information leading to the solution of an IAQ issue. Please take a few minutes to fill out this form, and get your co-workers to fill it out as well. Responses to the questions should be based on personal experiences only, without interferences or suggestive information from others. Your responses are completely confidential. No one will be identified in the results.


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Per the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), “Indoor air quality (also called ‘indoor environmental quality’) describes how inside air can affect a person's health, comfort, and ability to work. It can include temperature, humidity, lack of outside air (poor ventilation), mold from water damage, or exposure to other chemicals.”

The EPA has “consistently ranked indoor air pollution among the top five environmental risks to public health.” EPA “studies of human exposure to air pollutants indicate that indoor levels of pollutants may be two to five times — and occasionally more than 100 times — higher than outdoor levels.”

A key reason is that people spend the vast majority of their time in buildings. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that the majority of Americans spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors. On average, office workers spend approximately 40 hours a week in office buildings. OSHA reports:

“These workers also study, eat, drink, and, in certain work settings, sleep in enclosed environments where make-up air (i.e., fresh air added to re-circulated air) may be compromised. For this reason, some experts believe that more people may suffer from the effects of indoor air pollution than from outdoor air pollution.”

Indoor Air Quality, according to OSHA, “is a major concern to businesses, schools, building managers, tenants, and workers because it can impact the health, comfort, well-being, and productivity of the building occupants.”

OSHA points to a number of factors that can affect IAQ, including: “poor ventilation (lack of outside air), problems controlling temperature, high or low humidity, recent remodeling, and other activities in or near a building that can affect the fresh air coming into the building.” Additionally, “specific contaminants like dust from construction or renovation, mold, cleaning supplies, pesticides, or other airborne chemicals (including small amounts of chemicals released as a gas over time) may cause poor IAQ.”

Government publications point to potential negative health effects of substandard IAQ. A CDC fact sheet on IAQ notes: “Poor indoor air quality comes from many sources. It can lead to suffering from lung diseases such as asthma. It can also cause headaches, dry eyes, nasal mucus, nausea and tiredness. People who already have lung problems have a greater chance of having these symptoms.”

An OSHA report on “Indoor Air Quality in Commercial and Institutional Buildings” states:

“Failure of building owners and operators to respond quickly and effectively to IAQ problems can lead to numerous adverse health consequences. Health effects from indoor air pollutants may be experienced soon after exposure or, possibly, years later. Symptoms may include irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat; headaches; dizziness; rashes; and muscle pain and fatigue. Diseases linked to poor IAQ include asthma and hypersensitivity pneumonitis. The specific pollutant, the concentration of exposure, and the frequency and duration of exposure are all important factors in the type and severity of health effects resulting from poor IAQ.”

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Building Site or Location: The location of a building can have implications for indoor pollutants. Highways or busy thoroughfares may be sources of particulates and other pollutants in nearby buildings.”
Building Design: Design and construction flaws may contribute to indoor air pollution. Poor foundations, roofs, facades, and window and door openings may allow pollutant or water intrusion. Outside air intakes placed near sources where pollutants are drawn back into the building (e.g., idling vehicles, products of combustion, waste con-tainers, etc.) or where building exhaust reenters into the building can be a constant source of pollutants.”
Building Systems Design and Maintenance: When the HVAC system is not functioning properly for any reason, the building is often placed under negative pressure. In such cases, there may be infiltration of outdoor pollutants such as particulates, vehicle exhaust, humid air, parking garage contaminants, etc.”
Renovation Activities: When painting and other renovations are being conducted, dust or other by-products of the construction materials are sources of pollutants that may circulate through a building.”
Local Exhaust Ventilation: Kitchens, laboratories, maintenance shops, parking garages, beauty and nail salons, toilet rooms, trash rooms, soiled laundry rooms, locker rooms, copy rooms and other specialized areas may be a source of pollutants when they lack adequate local exhaust ventilation.”
Building Materials: Disturbing thermal insulation or sprayed-on acoustical material, or the presence of wet or damp structural surfaces (e.g., walls, ceilings) or non-structural surfaces (e.g., carpets, shades), may contribute to indoor air pollution.”
Building Furnishings: Cabinetry or furniture made of certain pressed-wood products may release pollutants into the indoor air.”
Building Maintenance: Workers in areas in which pesticides, cleaning products, or personal-care products are being applied may be exposed to pollutants. Allowing cleaned carpets to dry without active ventilation may promote microbial growth.”
Occupant Activities: Building occupants may be the source of indoor air pollutants; such pollutants include perfumes or colognes.”

The OSHA Technical Manual reports that “[i]n approximately 500 indoor air quality investigations in the last decade, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that the primary sources of indoor air quality problems are:

  • Inadequate ventilation - 52%
  • Contamination from inside building - 16%
  • Contamination from outside building - 10%
  • Microbial contamination - 5%
  • Contamination from building fabric - 4%
  • Unknown sources - 13%”

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“Is there any specific information that I should keep track of to identify IAQ problems at work?

The following information may be helpful to your doctor or your employer to figure out if there is an IAQ problem at your workplace:

  • Do you have symptoms that just occur at work and go away when you get home? What are these symptoms?
  • Are these symptoms related to a certain time of day, a certain season or certain location at work?
  • Did the symptoms start when something new happened at work, such as renovation or construction projects?
  • Are there other people at work with similar complaints?
  • Did you already see a doctor for your symptoms, and if so, did the doctor diagnose an illness related to IAQ?”

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California’s Labor Code states:

“It is policy of the Division of Occupational Safety and Health to investigate all complaints or referrals alleging that workplace indoor air quality (IAQ) is injurious to the health of building occupant-employees, or a report of a fatality, serious injury or illness, or serious exposure involving workplace IAQ.”

The state’s OSHA office (Cal/OSHA) provides a “Policy and Procedural Manual” detailing the process of investigating IAQ complaints at the worksite.

Another state government agency charged with monitoring IAQ issues is California’s IAQ program, part of the California Department of Public Health, which was created in 1983 with a “statutory mandate to safeguard the public interest through a coordinated and coherent effort to protect and enhance indoor environmental quality in California residences, public buildings, and offices” (California Health and Safety code, 105400-105430).

Visit California’s Indoor Air Quality Program page to learn more about the state’s leading role in this health safety issue.

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“Under the OSHAct, you have the right to contact an OSHA Office (see a map of OSHA offices) or to contact OSHA’s toll-free number: 1-800-321-OSHA (6742) or TTY 1-877-889-5627. Workers who would like a workplace inspection should send a written request (see area office addresses). A worker can tell OSHA not to let their employer know who filed the complaint. It is against the Act for an employer to fire, demote, transfer or discriminate in any way against a worker for filing a complaint or using other OSHA rights. For more information on filing a request for an on-site inspection and the investigation process, see the webpage. States with OSHA-approved state plans provide the same protections to workers as federal OSHA, although they may follow slightly different complaint processing procedures.”


“You can use this system to file a complaint or report a problem to the Environmental Health Division of the Department of Public Health. We are an enforcement agency responsible for the inspection of various types of businesses from restaurants, food trucks, apartment buildings, hotels to theatres, swimming pools, water wells, and landfills. You can use this page to report a problem or notify us about public health conditions such as:

  • Problems at a restaurant or food market
  • Rodent problems at a property
  • Sewage or wastewater discharge at a property
  • Rental properties that are not maintained
  • Mosquito breeding or swimming pools that are not maintained
  • Lead exposure hazards (from lead-based paints, etc.)
  • No water at a property
  • Accumulated trash or debris at a property
  • Mold in rental housing units
  • Illegal Food Vendors
  • Universal Studios Communities Noise Complaint
  • Problems at a body art facility

If you do not wish to make a complaint report on-line, you may contact the Environmental Health Customer Call Center at (888) 700-9995.

Staff will address your concerns as soon as possible and you will be contacted with the results of our investigation. Please be aware that an adult (18 or over) has to be available for contact. All complaints are confidential. Although anonymous reports are accepted, we request your contact information so that we may contact you if we need additional information to properly address your complaint. Also, if you do not leave your contact information, we will not be able to inform you of our actions.”

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Tagged: Indoor Air Quality