Indoor Air Quality

Indoor air quality (IAQ) refers to air quality in indoor office, classroom or laboratory environments, as opposed to industrial or outdoor settings. These areas have either natural ventilation from openable windows, or mechanical ventilation from a heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) system. Common causes of air quality complaints include mechanical ventilation failures, inadequate outdoor air supply, odors from indoor or outdoor sources, and mold.

Industrial environments, as well as some laboratories and classrooms, contain sources of air contaminants: chemical, particulate, aerosol, or fumes. These contaminants should be controlled by localized exhaust hoods (e.g., fume hoods), or sometimes by increased general dilution ventilation.

UW employees, students and visitors should have a clean, healthy environment in which to work, study and perform various activities. If the air quality is poor it can affect a person’s comfort, health, and productivity. The purpose of the Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) program is to provide and maintain healthy and comfortable environments free of contaminants. A key part of the program is responding to and resolving concerns of building occupants about problems in their work environment.

EH&S or Facilities Services generally will respond to and evaluate IAQ concerns. First, we determine if the issue is an emergency and, if so, take immediate action to protect the occupants.

If it is not an emergency and the issue is related to thermal comfort, water intrusion, mold or natural gas odors contact Facilities Services.

For all other issues, EH&S should be contacted. We will conduct a preliminary investigation by first talking to occupants to determine if the problem is a one-time event or if the source can be easily identified and resolved.

In more complex situations, where the issue cannot be readily resolved, EH&S will gather information about the history of the problem, occupant complaints and/or symptoms, and previous efforts to identify or solve the problem. Based on the occupants' information, and depending on the issues, EH&S will determine:

  • If the HVAC system is clean and operating properly, supplying adequate outdoor air volume to dilute and exhaust indoor air contaminants (with the assistance of Facilities Services)
  • If there are any obvious sources or reservoirs of chemical or microbiological emissions (indoors or outdoors)
  • If the temperature and relative humidity are a factor in health symptoms
  • If excessive dusts or other particulates are present, and whether they are generated inside the work area or outdoors
  • If a space may be occupied safely and without health effects

Not every evaluation identifies a clear source for the air quality issue. Sometimes minor changes to the building or ventilation system are effective, other times significant capital improvements are indicated.

Certain individuals have increased sensitivity to particular chemicals, odors, dusts or allergens when compared to the general population. Sensitive individuals should seek medical attention as needed, and advise their supervisor if they have specific needs so they can be accommodated.

Who to contact

Some indoor air quality issues can be simple to fix, but others may be more complex. If you have an air quality problem in your area use the table below to identify the department to contact to resolve specific types of IAQ problems. If you are unsure of the problem, contact EH&S for assistance.

If this is an emergency:

  1. Leave the area. 

  2. Call 9-1-1.

  3. Get medical help if needed.

 

IAQ Issues and Contact Information

Issue

Responsible Party

Contact

Emergency

  • Visible smoke
  • Strong odor
  • Hazardous material
 Fire Department

 Dial 9-1-1 

Non-Emergency

  • Hazardous material
  • Minor spill cleanup
 EH&S Environmental Programs   206.616.5835 
Suspicious material  UW Police Department

 206.685.8973 

 Or dial 9-1-1

  • Temperature, humidty
  • Light noise
  • Lack of air ("stuffy")
  • Too much air ("drafty")
  • Known odors
    • Sewer, natural gas, paint, burning smell)
  • Visible mold

 UW Faclities Services

 -OR-

 UWMC Operations & Maintenance 

 -OR-

 HMC Engineering

 (depending on your location)

 206.685.1900

 

 206.598.4911

 

 206.744.3191

  • Exhaust odors
  • Construction dust
  • Roofing or construction odors

 UW Facilities Services

 -OR-

 UW Capital Projects

 206.685.1900

 

 206.543.5200

  • Unknown odors
  • Chemical odors
  • Symptoms or illness associated with office environment

 UW EH&S

 -OR-

 UWMC Safety

 -OR-

 HMC Safety
(depending on your location)

 206.543.7262

 

 206.598.4639

 

 206.744.7244

Steps to prevent IAQ problems

Services available

Facilities Services and equivalent maintenance organizations will respond to service requests regarding concerns about air temperature, ventilation, natural gas and exhaust odors, construction dust and odors and housekeeping issues that may affect indoor air quality.

EH&S will contact you within 24 hours if you have submitted an indoor air quality concern. If a visit to your space is required, EH&S will schedule a time to meet with you and evaluate the area.

Depending on the indoor air quality concern, EH&S may perform some of the following tasks:

  • Gather information from the person regarding any perceived health effects and other details regarding the concern
  • Collect baseline indoor air quality measurements
  • Inspect the area visually and record observations
  • Perform a limited mold and moisture assessment
  • Collect air samples
  • Collect bulk samples or tape-lift samples of materials
  • Measure air supply and exhaust and inspect HVAC equipment
  • Investigate the building surroundings and nearby interior spaces
  • Collect sound level measurements
  • Provide an occupant diary to track the concern

Contact

Contact Facilities Services at 206.685.1411 or submit a service request online.

Contact EH&S at 206.543.7262 or email ehsdept@uw.edu.

 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

If you think it is mold growth, contact Facilities Services at 206.685.1411 or submit an online service request to Facilities Services.

If you are unsure whether it is mold, or you feel ill near the area of concern, contact EH&S at 206.543.7262 or email ehsdept@uw.edu. For more information see the Mold, Mildew, Water Damage Focus Sheet.

Glossary

generally refers to air quality in indoor office, classroom or laboratory environments, as opposed to industrial or outdoor settings. These areas have either natural ventilation from openable windows, or mechanical ventilation from a heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) system.

Contact

Environmental Health & Safety Department

(206) 543-7262
Reference Files