“Indoor air quality has become a front burner issue,” says Ira Whitman, president, The Whitman Cos. Inc., East Brunswick, NJ. The Whitman Cos., a professional environmental consulting firm, has seen a sharp increase in the interest in indoor air quality (IAQ) in the last 10 years.
With 18 years of experience dealing with air quality, hazardous waste site clean-up, groundwater engineering design, and water pollution, The Whitman Cos. serves private-sector businesses, school districts, and municipalities. According to Andrew Port, the firm’s director of environmental health and safety, originally IAQ was an issue concerning tight, energy-efficient buildings where normal gasses and odors are concentrated. Currently, that concern has shifted to toxic and hazardous chemicals in the built environment.
“Recently, the concern has also shifted because of publicity on mold and microbiological problems inside of buildings generating from water intrusions,” says Port. The firm has also addressed the rising concern of IAQ in the redevelopment of contaminated facilities on brownfield properties. “[Regulatory agencies] are concerned about vapors from contaminated properties that spread laterally through utilities or other avenues into the building. We are doing more and more testing of brownfield buildings,” says Whitman.
In addition to pressure from regulatory agencies, such as the EPA, and complaints from end-users, one of the primary drivers for addressing air quality is building owners themselves. “Building owners are beginning to initiate environmental quality programs to prevent issues,” says Port. Increasingly, building owners are becoming proactive to prevent damages and health issues.
By regularly testing facilities and creating effective maintenance programs, building owners are maintaining good relations with their tenants and employees. “The best way to maintain environmental quality is being proactive. It is maintenance programs that work and training the maintenance personnel and tenants as well,” says Port. In addition to providing training and raising awareness levels for employees, personnel, and tenants, The Whitman Cos. is planning to join the U.S. Green Building Council and becoming trained in their methods.
Flooring choices are increasingly being considered as a factor in maintaining indoor air quality. “The USGBC considers carpet to meet indoor air quality issues if it meets the [Carpet & Rug Institute] CRI Green Label program and that also goes along with the green label program for adhesives,” says Dave Stafford, vice president, Commercial Carpets of America, Alexandria, VA. Adhesive manufacturers are producing water-based, low- or no-volatile organic compound-emitting products to address IAQ concerns. “The trend now is to go to no- or low-VOC adhesives and that applies to resilient flooring also,” says Stafford.
Floor maintenance also factors into preserving environmental quality. For carpet, it is important to use the right cleaning agents. For example, doing spot removal or area cleaning in an occupied facility with traditional dry-cleaning fluid can negatively impact some occupants. The trend is toward cleaning with water-based compounds that are combed into the fibers and later vacuumed. For hard-surface floors, neutral cleaners are more commonly used, or spray buffing. “If you are using very few chemicals, you are not stripping the floor and you are not flushing stripping compound down the sewer,” says Stafford. Floor maintenance has become more responsive to the environment than practices in the past.
“There is more and more interest in the green issue because it is being pushed from the building owner at the top looking for a more valuable building that will cost less to maintain long term,” says Stafford. The General Services Administration (GSA), for example, is pushing sustainable design principles in all of its building processes in both new and modernized facilities.
The change in the building industry regarding green design and the focus on improved air quality is remarkable. Adds Stafford, “It is not like you mention green and people think you are a tree-hugger. It is serious business now.” Stafford encourages flooring contractors to be informed on green practices and indoor air and to bring that expertise to facilities and design professionals.