The Official Website of the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development (EOLWD)

Understanding Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)

  • Indoor Air Quality Services

    The Workplace Safety and Health Program deals with indoor air quality issues in public sector workplaces in Massachusetts. In recent years we have received hundreds of inquiries requesting help for employees in workplaces, both public and private, experiencing what is called "sick building syndrome" or " building related illness". The occurrence of these problems and people's awareness have been growing. To cope with the increasing volume over the last 15 years, we have developed investigative approaches and informational materials that are based upon our own experiences coupled with the best available information.

    How do we Approach Indoor Air Quality?

    Our current IAQ policy calls for gathering information from the individual who initiates the request for information/investigation. This is done to establish priorities. If the request involves indications of serious and/or immediate health problems, it can result in same day calls to employers and/or building managers, to establish their awareness and to offer our assistance. If the issues arises in a public sector workplace, it may lead to an onsite investigation.

    For situations that appear to be less serious, we send a letter outlining the alleged problem, request a response and enclose informational materials on a variety of related topics to the employer / building manager. Often this procedure can result in corrective actions without further intervention.

    We have also developed numerous IAQ self-help bulletins on subjects such as water-damaged materials, mold, thermal comfort, natural and mechanical ventilation codes, ventilation system maintenance, and IAQ issues during construction and renovation.

    Site Investigations

    When a site investigation is conducted in the public sector, the people affected, and those responsible for the building, are interviewed. The air is commonly tested for carbon dioxide to evaluate the effectiveness of the ventilation.

    The ventilation system is examined for proper operation and maintenance. A review of the ventilation system specifications is often done. Where appropriate, reference is made to current building and ventilation codes and consensus standards.

    Visual checks are also made for potential sources of airborne contamination, both inside and outside the complaint area. If the investigation warrants, air testing can also be done for contaminants including carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde, ozone, volatile organic compounds (VOC) and other contaminants, can be conducted as needed. Air concentrations of contaminants, when found, are compared to occupational health standards, lowest odor thresholds, and "normal" backgrounds.

    Microbiologicals and Bioaerosals

    Concerns expresssed from the public about the presence of fungi and other microorganisms in buildings have increased in recent years. Although these organisms are normally present in our environment, they can become problems in buildings when conditions are right for them to proliferate. Usually, these conditions are the presence of moisture and absent or substandard housekeeping.

    Often times, all that is necessary to abate a mold infestation is to remove the source or repair the cause of excessive moisture in the building. Once this has been done, the affected area should be cleaned and decontaminated if possible or replaced if decontamination cannot be assured.

    Who can request a workplace investigation?

    Employees working in the public sector can file a complaint with our office and may also request an onsite survey. Employees working in the private sector can can contact their local OSHA office, or can register a complaint with the Workplace Safety and Health Program, and we will send out self-help information to their employer to assist them in investigating indoor air quality problems. In addition, the Agency may respond to referrals by:

    -nurses/doctors
    -unions
    -local boards of health
    -fire departments
    -other public agencies

  • Hazard Information Bulletins