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Environment, Health and Safety

Indoor Air Quality

Questions or concerns about indoor air quality issues should be directed to EH&S at 829-3301.

IAQ Issues

Some common IAQ issues include stuffy air, odors, sleepiness, headaches, sinus congestion, dry itching or burning eyes, skin irritation, dry or irritated throats, sneezing, and dizziness. From past experiences, we’ve found that the major cause of most building-related symptoms can be attributed to low humidity, especially during winter months. Most IAQ concerns are reported from November-May. Finding a way to add some moisture to an area usually alleviates the associated symptoms. Adding plants and/or a small area humidifier generally help.

It is important to remember that while occupant complaints may be related to time at work, they may not necessarily be due to an IAQ issue. Many air quality complaints may be caused by non-air contamination factors, such as noise, lighting, workstation design and job related stress. Also, the presence of transient odors does not necessarily constitute poor indoor air quality. Transient odors may include smells pulled in with the outside air such as vehicle exhaust or roofing repair work, fumes and paint or construction odors within a building. This is not to say that some transient odors will not cause short-term headaches or mucous membrane irritation. Generally these odors are short-lived and do not present a long-term health hazard. Finally, individual sensitivities will cause symptoms to typical air pollutant levels in some people while the majority of people with the same exposure are not affected.

Workers typically identify their workplace environment as having poor air quality because they experience symptoms at the office that are greatly reduced or alleviated when they leave. While each air quality concern will be evaluated, and efforts made to correct any problem found in an expeditious manner, concerns related to air quality in a building must be persistent and affect at least 25% of the workforce in an area before it is considered an IAQ issue. Acceptable indoor air quality for University at Buffalo buildings has been defined as air in which there are no known contaminants at harmful levels, and with which 80% or more of the occupants do not suffer systematic discomfort.

Dirty Ducts

Unless a breach has occurred somewhere in the system, the air flowing through the ductwork maintains a turbulence that makes accumulating dirt in the system extremely difficult. The air filters at the air handlers are changed every 6 months, based upon a set schedule established by University Facilities. Dirt accumulating on the outside of vents and dampers is usually a result of housekeeping issues. The dirt from the room is circulated, and becomes deposited on the metal as the air is returning to the system. To prevent this appearance, areas should be vacuumed and dusted routinely, and vents should be cleaned periodically if dirt accumulation appears.

If the outside of your dampers appear to be dirty, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the air blowing out is dirty and that the ductwork needs to be cleaned. 

IAQ Evaluations

University Facilities and EH&S are committed to provide acceptable indoor air for all campus occupants. Successful investigation and remediation of IAQ problems sometimes involve sophisticated and complex techniques that require a great deal of time and expense. If after reading this fact sheet you believe you have an IAQ issue, please contact us and a reasonable effort will be made to evaluate your situation and correct problems in an expeditious manner. If any problems cannot be corrected in a reasonable amount of time, we will respond to the complainant and complainant's department head with an explanation and further recommendations to alleviate any identified problems, when feasible.