In this season, newspapers often warn us against the risk of the increase in fine dust in the atmosphere that create the hood of smog we are so used to, but also have significant.
It is undoubtedly an important factor to consider for our health, but we should place just as much attention in the management on the quality of the air in the enclosed spaces that we live every day: office, home, school and public spaces.
Based on statistics, but just pay attention to our habits for a single day, people spend 90% of their time in enclosed environments away from sources of atmospheric pollution but not necessarily from sources of air pollution in enclosed spaces.
That’s right, even the enclosed spaces can be from 2 to 5 times more polluted than the external ones.
(Source: US Environmental Protection Agency, 1987. Total Exposure Assessment Study (TEAM): EPA / 600 Summary and Analysis / 6-87 / 002a, Washington, DC.).
What causes indoor pollution?
There are many sources of indoor pollution that can come from poor management of ventilation or lack of air exchange.
Less known are the sources of pollution that come from all the building materials and furnishings that are present in our buildings that can release hundreds of chemicals in the air that we all breathe. The released chemicals are called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC).
What are VOCs?
Volatile organic compounds or VOCs are chemicals compounds that are easily released in atmospheric conditions of normal temperature and pressure for an indoor environment.
Building materials and interior furnishings can have VOC emissions left over from the production process, and these organic compounds can easily be released into the environment.
These emissions are higher when the products involved are new, and naturally they usually decrease over time. It is therefore not uncommon for new interior products to smell particularly during the initial installation.
It is important to clarify that while many odoriferous VOCs can be harmless, on the contrary, some of these substances can be harmful without emitting any odor.
What are the effects?
There are symptoms such as continuous headaches, eye irritation, respiratory tract, chronic fatigue that can be associated and related to prolonged exposure of the person to pollutants such as VOC.
We talk about Sick Building Syndrome when these symptoms are shared by a plurality of people living the same space.
The statistics also speak of an exponential increase in some chronic diseases that could be prevented, such as asthma in sensitive individuals and respiratory diseases, which cause an increase in costs for national health systems every day and a loss of profitability for companies, given by absenteeism or the decline in productivity of the affected employee.
Only in the United States is estimated a damage of $ 63 billion / year due to lost productivity and increased health costs due to poor indoor air quality with potential effect on over 55 million workers.
(Source:National Energy Management Institute, 2010).
What to do to prevent and improve indoor air quality?
An online survey conducted by Harris Interactive Survey has shown that is constantly growing consumer demand for the purchase of more sustainable and less harmful products to use within their homes.
It is a global trend. 69% of consumers globally prefer to buy certified products that demonstrate compliance with sustainability criteria and attention to the impact on both human health and our environment.
(Source: An online survey conducted by Harris Interactive Survey).
At the same time, over 80% of builders and operators in the construction sector tend to specify products that improve indoor air quality.
(Source: Dodge Construction Green Outlook 2013).
Precisely these factors are among the priorities in the field of sustainable construction, and indoor air quality is cited as the most important aspect, with 55% of architecture, engineering and construction firms globally considering the health impact of occupants as a key factor in product selection.
(Source: McGraw Hill 2012 World Green Building Trends).
Therefore, even global manufacturers of building materials and interior products are increasingly careful in developing their products to use less harmful and more sustainable components, placing ever more emphasis on the offer of products with low emission of Volatile Organic Compounds. Internal air quality is a growing priority also for global companies.
Growing focus on energy efficiency and sustainability have made the new standard the voluntary standards for sustainable construction such as the LEED program from U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Sustainable building rating systems, such as LEED, BREAM, WELL, are increasingly used internationally, including developing countries such as Asian markets and high-growth real estate markets such as the Middle East.
The specification of products with low VOC emissions is therefore an important step to contribute to the achievement of some credits in the building protocols aimed at protecting the wellbeing of the building occupants.
The products that have obtained the GREENGUARD certification demonstrate to satisfy the most rigorous international certification standards for chemical emissions, helping to reduce indoor air pollution and the risk of chemical exposure, contributing to the creation of healthier indoor environments.
Text by Elena Veneziani,UL Environment Business Development Manager.
On the UL SPOT portal it is possible to find over 100,000 families of sustainable products with certifications issued by independent certifying bodies such as UL Environment , including 40.000 families of products with GREENGUARD or GREENGUARD GOLD certification which demonstrate low emission of VOC in the product covered by the certification protocol, from furnishings to construction materials.
Photogallery: some the GREENGUARD GOLD certified products, from left:
Interface carpet tiles flooring;
Akzo Nobel polder coatings;
Snowsound sound absorbing panels by Caimi Brevetti;
Sedus seatings and furnishings.
Upper photo: Excelco