Hiring a Professional to Identify & Solve IAQ Concerns
Tampa, FL 11/09/2007 07:04 PM GMT (TransWorldNews)
Many IAQ problems are simple to resolve when facility staff has been educated about the investigation process. In other cases, however, a time comes when outside assistance is needed. Professional help might be necessary or desirable in the following situations:
- Mistakes or delays could have serious consequences (e.g., health hazards, liability exposure, regulatory sanctions).
- Building management feels that an independent investigation would be better received or more effectively documented than an in-house investigation.
- Investigation and mitigation efforts by facility staff have not relieved the IAQ problem.
- Preliminary findings by staff suggest the need for measurements that require specialized equipment and training beyond in-house capabilities.
You may be able to find help by looking in the yellow pages of your telephone book (e.g., under "Engineers", "Environmental Services", "Laboratories-Testing" or "Industrial Hygienists"). Local or State health or air pollution agencies may have lists of firms offering IAQ services in your area. It may also be useful to seek out referrals from other building management firms.
If available government agencies do not have personnel with the appropriate skills to assist in solving your IAQ problem, they may be able to direct you to firms in your area with experience in indoor air quality work. Note that even certified professionals from disciplines closely related to IAQ issues (such as industrial hygienists, ventilation engineers, and toxicologists) MAY NOT have the specific expertise needed to investigate and resolve indoor air problems. Individuals or groups that offer services in this evolving field should be questioned closely about their related experience and their proposed approach to your problem.
As with any hiring process, the better you know your own needs, the easier it will be to select a firm or individual to service those needs. Firms and individuals working in IAQ may come from a variety of disciplines. Typically, the skills of HVAC engineers, industrial hygienists, building scientists, microbiologists, etc… are useful for this type of investigation, although input from other disciplines such as chemistry, chemical engineering, architecture, or medicine may also be important. If problems other than indoor air quality are involved, experts in lighting, acoustic design, building envelop, interior design, psychology, or other fields may be helpful in resolving occupant complaints about the indoor environment.
Make Sure That Their Approach Fits Your Specific Needs:
As you prepare to hire professional services in the area of indoor air quality, be aware it is a developing area of knowledge. Most consultants working in the field received their primary training in other areas. A variety of investigative methods may be employed, many of which are ineffective for resolving any but the most obvious situations. Inappropriately designed studies may lead to conclusions that are either false negative (e.g., falsely concludes that there is no problem associated with the building) or false positive (e.g., incorrectly attributes the cause to building conditions). Diagnostic outcomes to avoid include:
- An evaluation that overemphasizes measuring concentrations of pollutants and comparing those concentrations to numerical standards, and
- A report that lists of series of major and minor building deficiencies and links all the deficiencies to the problem without considering their actual association with the complaints.
Considerable care should be exercised when interviewing potential consultants to avoid those subscribing to these strategies. A qualified IAQ investigator should have appropriate experience, demonstrate a broad understanding of indoor air quality problems and the conditions which can lead them, and use a phased diagnostic approach.
Most of the criteria used in selecting a professional to provide indoor air quality services are similar to those used for other professionals:
- Company experience in solving similar IAQ problems, including training and experience of the individuals who would be responsible for the work
- Company reputation
- Credentials (IH, CIAQP, CIH, CIEC, PE, etc…)
- Quality of interview and proposal
- Knowledge of local codes and regional climate conditions
- Laboratory accreditation
Experience: An EPA survey of firms providing IAQ services found that almost half had been providing IAQ diagnostic or mitigation services in non-industrial settings for ten or fewer years.
- Ask how much IAQ work and what type of IAQ work the firm has done.
- Request 5 current commercial IAQ investigation references – follow up with calls. Firms should be asked to provide references from clients who have received comparable services. In exploring references, it is useful to ask about long-term follow-up. After the contract was completed, did the contractor remain in contact with the client to ensure that problems did not recur?
- Have the firm identify the personnel who would be responsible for your case, their specific experience, and related qualifications. Contract only for the services of those individuals, or require approval for substitutions.
Quality of Interview and Proposal: Several guidelines may be of assistance in hiring IAQ professionals.
- Competent IAQ professionals will ask questions about your situation to see whether they feel they can offer services that will assist you. The causes and potential remedies for indoor air quality problems vary greatly. A firm needs at least a preliminary understanding of the facts about what is going on in your building to evaluate if it has access to the professional skills necessary to address your concerns and to make effective use of its personnel from the outset. Often a multi-disciplinary team of professionals is needed.
The laboratory being used must be AIHA accredited: The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) maintains an Environmental Microbiology Laboratory Accreditation Program (EMLAP), is specifically for labs identifying microorganisms commonly detected in air, fluids, and bulk samples during indoor air quality studies.
The EMLAP is designed specifically for laboratories involved in analyzing microbiological samples to evaluate exposures in a variety of workplaces. Participation assists the laboratory in maintaining high quality standards.
When a laboratory is accredited by AIHA, the laboratory and its clients have the assurance that the laboratory has met defined standards for performance based on examination of a variety of criteria. When a laboratory is accredited by AIHA, it becomes part of an elite group of laboratories achieving and maintaining a high level of professional performance.
The program is specifically designed for microbiology laboratories specializing in analysis for microorganisms commonly detected in air, fluids, and bulk samples collected from schools, offices, hospitals, industrial, agricultural and other work environments. Since results of these analyses are used to determine the magnitude or presence of a problem in the workplace environment, it is vital that the laboratory analyzing the samples be proficient in producing high quality data on which important health decisions will be based. Accreditation from AIHA is a mark of that capability. Participation in the EMPAT is required.
The main AIHA EMLAP program requirement areas are:
1) Personnel Qualifications
2) Participation in EMPAT Program (greater than 85% accuracy)
4) Quality Assurance
5) Laboratory Records
6) Methods of Analysis
7) Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)
8) Site Visits
- The staff responsible for building investigation should have a good understanding of the relationship between IAQ and the building structure, mechanical systems, and human activities. For example, lack of adequate ventilation is at least a contributing factor in many indoor air quality problem situations. Evaluating the performance of the ventilation system depends on understanding the interaction between the mechanical system and the human activity within the building.
In some cases building investigators may have accumulated a breadth of knowledge. For example, a mechanical engineer and an industrial hygienist see buildings differently. However, a mechanical engineer with several years of experience in IAQ problem investigations may have seen enough health-related problems to cross the gap; likewise, an industrial hygienist with years of experience studying problems in an office setting may have considerable expertise in HVAC and other building mechanical systems.
Either in the proposal or in discussion, the consultant should:
- Describe the goal(s), methodology, and sequence of the investigation, the information to be obtained, and the process of hypothesis development and testing, including criteria for decision-making about further data-gathering. The proposal should include an explanation of the need for any proposed measurements. The goal is to reach a successful resolution of the complaints, not simply to generate data.
- Identify any elements of the work that will require a time commitment from the client's own staff, including information to be collected by the client.
- Identify additional tasks (and costs) which are part of the solving the IAQ problem but are outside the scope of the contract. Examples might include medical examination of complainants, laboratory fees, and contractor's fees for mitigation work.
- Describe the schedule, cost, and work product(s), such as a written report, specifications, and plans for mitigation work; supervision of mitigation work; and training program for building staff.
- Discuss communication between the IAQ professional and the client: How often will the contractor discuss the progress of the work with the client? Who will be notified of test results and other data? Will communications be in writing, by telephone, or face-to-face? Will the consultant meet with building occupants to collect information? Will the consultant meet with occupants to discuss findings if requested to do so?
- Has the environmental consultant provided expert testimony on indoor air quality related cases involving: mechanical systems, building envelop, environmental microbiology, building pressurization, allergens, ventilation, industrial hygiene, etc..
Reputation: There are no Federal regulations covering professional services in the general field of indoor air quality, although some disciplines (e.g., engineers, industrial hygienists, building sciences, microbiology, mechanical) whose practitioners work with IAQ problems have licensing and certification requirements.
Knowledge of Local Codes and Regional Climate Conditions: Familiarity with State and local regulations and codes helps to avoid problems during mitigation. For example, in making changes to the HVAC system, it is important to conform to local building codes. Heating, cooling, and humidity control needs are different in different geographic regions, and can affect the selection of an appropriate mitigation approach. Getting assurances that all firms under consideration have this knowledge becomes particularly important if it becomes necessary to seek expertise from outside the local area.
Cost: It is impossible for this document to give specific guidance on the cost of professional services. If projected costs jump suddenly during the investigation process, the consultants should be able to justify that added cost. The budget will be influenced by a number of factors, including:
- Complexity of the problem
- Size and complexity of the building and its HVAC system(s)
- Quality and extent of recordkeeping by building staff and management
- Type of report or other product required
- Number of meetings required (formal presentations can be quite expensive)
- Air sampling (e.g., use of instruments, laboratory analysis) if required.
- Accredited laboratories
Outsourcing IAQ Consulting Services:
As a general rule, you should seriously consider calling a professional indoor air quality consultant if any of the following statements are true:
- In-house efforts have not solved the problem - If occupant reports of building-related symptoms or discomfort continue, the problem has not been resolved.
- The problem is too serious to delay response - If there is suspected Legionnaire's Disease or known contamination with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), organic vapors, microbial infestation, moisture migration, you will need outside resources. In addition, if workplace health complaints are widespread and persistent, the situation must be resolved in a rapid and professional manner.
- There is mistrust between occupants and the employer or building management - Indoor air quality concerns are escalate to the point where independent investigation is needed to develop a credible indoor air diagnosis and recommendations.
- Litigation or Worker's Compensation claims are likely - When problems are not addressed and resolved early, minor occupant discomfort may become more serious. Increasing numbers of occupants are willing to file worker's compensation claims or initiate other legal actions if IAQ problems persist. Retain an expert as early as possible if litigation is likely to occur.
- There is a need for specialized equipment or expertise - One example of such a case would be if the initial investigation produced a hypothesis that the cause of discomfort was a potentially harmful chemical agent. Verification might require special air sampling media and equipment as well as people qualified to collect, analyze and interpret such samples correctly.
The Indoor Air Quality Team Approach:
In larger indoor air quality assessments, it is important to form a team of professionals drawn from the appropriate disciplines. Through their professional training and broad practical experience, industrial hygienists are uniquely suited to the team approach. If lack of time or resources prohibits forming a team, a qualified building scientist or industrial hygienist with sufficient training and experience can provide the skills necessary to investigate and resolve most indoor air problems.
About Pure Air Control Services:
Founded in 1984 by Alan Wozniak, President/CEO in what began as a small mechanical contracting business has grown into an award winning, industry leading indoor environmental quality (IEQ) service company serving many fortune 500 corporations, school boards, county, city, state and federal governments and consumers across the US. The firm has serviced over 500 million square feet of indoor environments in over 10,000 facilities. Clients include: Walt Disney World, Siemens Controls, Carrier Corporation, Jones, Lang LaSalle, CB Richard Ellis, General Services Administration (GSA) among many others.
Today, Pure Air Control Services offers comprehensive IEQ services including:
Building Sciences – Forensic level IEQ investigations, expert testimony and project management www.pureaircontrols.com
Building Health Check – economical IAQ building evaluations www.buildinghealthcheck.com
Environmental Diagnostics Laboratory (EDLab) – AIHA acaccredited environmental microbiology laboratory – the only Florida lab accredited in mycology, bacteriology and microscopy. www.EDLab.org
IAQ Screen Check/evalu-aire products - do-it-yourself screen tesing product available directly to concumers and is also available through distributors www.indoorairtest.com
Building Remediation Sciences (BRS) – HVAC system cleaning and Mold remdiation www.brsciences.com
IAQ Learning Institute – IAQ training via webinars and in-class programs
Pure Air Control Services maintains a federal contract with GSA # 10F-0488R, and is a federal 8(a) MBE. Their state-of-the-art corporate headquarters is located at 4911 Creekside Dr, in Clearwater, Fl serves as distribution point for its IEQ services and products. With satellite offices in Houston, TX, Atlanta, GA, West Palm Beach, FL., Alexandria, VA., Los Angles, CA., the firm is prepared to service IEQ issues and concerns on a national basis.
For more information, visit the company’s web site at www.pureaircontrols.com or contact Ed Ziegler, VP Business Development at 1-800-422-PURE (7873) ext 804.