Commercial Property Air Testing: New Technology Saves Time and Expense

Poor indoor air quality (IAQ) can result in liability, property damage claims, disruption in business continuity, compromised worker health and safety, and ultimately costly long-term damage to built structures over time. Yet testing IAQ has traditionally been an expensive task, due to the need to contract the services of outside experts, as well as the fact that comprehensive analysis requires complicated equipment or multiple pumps to assess for various contaminants.

New technology has hastened the introduction of complete, easy-to-use IAQ assessment kits that can quickly test for the presence of mold, allergens, lead, asbestos, radon, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and formaldehyde. What are some of the current IAQ challenges faced by property management companies, building inspectors and professionals involved in disaster recovery and restoration, and how can the new generation of kits save time and expense?

IAQ Challenges in Commercial Properties
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recognized that IAQ is a major concern to businesses, building managers, tenants and employees because it can impact the health, comfort, well-being and productivity of building occupants. Similarly, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) does not publish a formal IAQ standard but suggests that a proactive approach be taken to address IAQ concerns.

As noted by OSHA, professionals tasked with maintaining IAQ have traditionally faced a series of challenges ranging from identifying the exact sources of contamination to understanding how the problem can be exacerbated by factors including building design, building materials, and renovation activities.

Apart from these well-established and well-reported issues, a separate priority has come to the spotlight in recent months and years in the wake of a string of high-profile natural disasters—such as the destructive hurricanes that struck Texas and Florida during the 2017 hurricane season as well as the wildfires that ravaged large areas in California over the same period. In their wake, these disasters left behind not only houses and buildings that were completely destroyed, but also structures that were left intact but that were significantly contaminated by pollutants such as mold and soot.

In the case of these events (as in all natural disasters), preparedness entails an understanding of the complexity of all facets of a loss, including air quality contaminants and potential airborne hazards. Water and fire damage can leave behind a wide range of toxins that must be mitigated before the structures can be fully renovated and occupancy resumed. Exposing occupants and workers to residual contaminants is a potential liability issue that is often overlooked. Meanwhile, local teams involved in assessing IAQ in these structures using conventional methods may be overwhelmed by the sheer scale, cost and project management component of the task.

Compounding the complexity of ensuring acceptable air quality in a commercial building is the fact that there is no single test to identify an IAQ problem. In the absence of any more sophisticated procedure, an assessment would entail the inspection and testing of the ventilation, heating and air conditioning systems. As well, a building walk-through to check for odors and look for water damage, leaks, dirt or pest droppings would be necessary.

Further evaluation could entail everything from elimination of standing water in humidifiers and air conditioning units to specific testing for individual contaminants, each of which is a time-consuming and expensive task. For a professional contractor tasked with inspecting, assessing or improving a commercial building's indoor environment, it would be an advantage not to have to wait for IAQ experts to arrive on site and to be able to take the task of assessing air quality into one's own control.

How New Tests Can Help
In light of these challenges, new contaminant detection technology optimized for IAQ testing is now commercially available. One such product—the yogi-go—is a portable environmental test kit that is like three pumps in one and allows remediation and restoration professionals, field technicians and building inspectors to conduct complete air sampling themselves. These new, all-in-one sampling instruments are pre-calibrated to provide variable flow rates for multiple contaminants: a high flow rate to sample mold, a mid-range rate to sample lead and asbestos, and a low flow rate to sample VOC gases.

A typical kit of this type can detect the presence of several environmental contaminants and toxins in a building—including mold, allergens, lead, asbestos, radon, VOCs and formaldehyde in the air—offering a comprehensive approach to IAQ testing. The tests provide actionable results that can be used to improve the health and well-being of building residents and workers. Such mobile kits would also include a sampling instrument; a waterproof carrying case; and a rechargeable battery, so no on-site electricity is needed to collect samples.

These test kits are typically simple to use and come with an easy-to-operate, pre-calibrated instrument and color-coded sampling system. Building managers or other personnel can collect their samples in just minutes and then send the sample to an independent, accredited laboratory.

The labs with which these tests typically work adhere to industry standards and are accredited by organizations such as the American Industrial Hygiene Association Laboratory Accreditation Program for Industrial Hygiene and Microbiology; the National Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program; and the National Radon Safety Board.

With some kits, clients receive a full lab report and results summary within a few business days. Some of these solutions include a complimentary phone consultation with a Certified Industrial Hygienist should a building receive a report with high contaminant levels.

This unbiased consult can equip an inspector or building manager with the key information needed to address these challenges, potentially mitigating the contaminant levels in their building.

Typically, less than five minutes of training is required and there is no need to wait for certified professionals to arrive on the premises. These kits are designed to have the same impact on the industry as other must-have tools, such as the moisture meter and infrared camera.

A New Way to Take Control of Operations
This new breed of devices allows contractors to better handle IAQ assessment at job sites and enable them to manage liability; protect workers, clients and building occupants by managing exposure to air contaminants; support billing and invoicing procedures with comprehensive analytical reporting on microbial presence; and provide accurate, affordable air quality data upon job completion.

For building managers, conducting such tests can allow them to retain occupancy and ensure lease renewals while improving client relationships. For disaster recovery and restoration specialists, these tests allow the determination of air quality pre- and post-remediation of water-damaged structures; provide an easy way to collect mold samples; and deliver fire/smoke damage data that can be shared with insurance adjusters and forensic auditors. For all commercial professionals, it is a new way to take control and rely less on consultants.

As awareness grows concerning the importance of ensuring good IAQ in commercial properties, the evolution of assessment tests like these can provide property management companies, building inspectors and disaster recovery and restoration professionals with a new level of self-reliance, expertise and time and cost savings.

Gregory Sancoff is CEO of Live Pure, Inc., the designer and manufacturer of the yogi™ and yogi-go™ indoor air and drinking water quality assessment kits, which offer a complete solution for home and workplace environmental testing.

Posted on Mar 05, 2018