Air quality is usually measured with the Air Quality Index, also known as the AQI. The AQI works in much the same way as a thermometer that measures temperature. The AQI is an effective way of measuring changes in the amount of dust and other pollutants that are present in the air.
Monitoring air quality is extremely important, as poor air quality can lead to serious health – and environmental – issues. Conditions related to polluted air include accelerated aging of the lungs, decreased lung capacity and function, and even the development of diseases such as bronchitis, asthma, and possibly cancer.
Background of general pollutants
Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral that was once mined throughout the world including here in Australia and widely used for the construction of homes, buildings, and insulation. It was once used in more than 3,000 building material products in Australia alone. Asbestos containing material (ACM) poses a risk to human health when its bonded fibres are released into the air. This can occur when it is not treated or removed in a properly-managed manner as described in the legislative code of Practice. When inhaled via the breathing of released fibres, it can cause respiratory-related diseases such as Asbestosis, Lung cancer and Mesothelioma.
Due to the fact that the ban on Asbestos did not come into effect in Australia until 31 December 2003. This means that many homes and buildings may still contain ACM. Many homes built in the pre-1990s era may still contain the material in the form of cement sheeting or dust today, and disturbance of this ACM can result in loose fibres being present in air, which can be measured with air monitoring.
Carbon Monoxide and Carbon Dioxide
Carbon Monoxide (C0) and Carbon Dioxide (CO2) are colourless, odourless, toxic air pollutants. Carbon monoxide is also tasteless and is produced in the incomplete combustion of carbon containing fuels. Breathing air with high CO concentration reduces the amount of available oxygen that can be transported through your blood stream to critical organs like the heart and brain. At very high levels, often indoors or in enclosed environments, it can cause dizziness, confusion, unconsciousness and even death.
Carbon Dioxide has a slightly acidic taste, and high concentrations in the air can result in health effects such as headaches, dizziness, restlessness, tingling or pins and needles, difficulty breathing, sweating, tiredness, increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, coma, asphyxia and convulsions.
Levels of CO and CO2 in the air can be measured with air quality monitoring to ensure you aren’t being exposed to harmful levels of the gases.
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) arises from human respiration, cigarette smoke and vehicle emissions. This gas is a useful indication of the ‘staleness’ of air and the adequacy of a ventilation system. CO2 only becomes a ‘pollutant’ at very high levels.
BOMA Guidelines suggest that approximately 95% of building occupants are likely to find indoor air acceptable, if the level of CO2 remains below 800 parts per million (ppm).
Carbon monoxide (CO) may originate from vehicle exhaust and can enter buildings through poorly located air intake ducts and from basement car parks via stairwells and lift shafts. Major sources of CO are cigarette smoke and various combustion appliances such as gas stoves. Dizziness, nausea, and fatigue have been linked with low levels of carbon monoxide.
Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) is a respiratory irritant gas smelling of burnt matches and emitted primarily from fossil fuel consumption at industrial facilities and mobile sources such as locomotives, ships and equipment. It irritates the skin and mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, throat and lungs and high concentrations can cause inflammation of the respiratory system and worsen asthma attacks. Air quality monitoring can identify and measure high levels of Sulfurous gases that may be harmful to your health.
Lead is a metal which was used in a number of forms but is most commonly found presenting a health risk in the form of lead containing paint and dust. Lead can post a risk to human health through being inhaled via dust, fumes or swallowed through eating contaminated food or with lead dust contaminated fingers. Untreated lead poisoning can affect all systems in the body and can be fatal. Symptoms of lead poisoning can include loss of appetite, constipation, diarrhoea, loss of weight, abdominal pains, weakness, limb paralysis, headaches, tiredness, and can cause long term complications such as anaemia, kidney, nerve and brain damage. Lead air monitoring can measure the concentration, if any, of lead in the air to ensure it is safe for occupation.
Many different types of mould exist, each have the potential to cause health problems and structural issues within a building. It is when mould is able to gather and build up due to a variety of reasons that human and animal health can be seriously impacted. Rapid mould growth will occur generally following the intrusion of water into a building or continued dampness of a surface, combined with a warm, humid environment with inadequate ventilation and the inability of a surface to be dried provides the perfect conditions for rapid mould growth to take hold.
A running or blocked nose, irritation of the eyes or skin, suffering from respiratory issues such as continued wheezing or coughing or increased amount of asthma attacks can all be health impacts resulting from the presence of mould. Health issues that can arise from exposure to mould spores include liver and lung cancer, immune deficiencies, hypersensitivity, lung infection, cardiovascular disease and permanent respiratory problems.
All inhalable dusts are considered harmful in some degree. Even where there is a slight danger to the lungs, there is likely some adverse effect on the respiratory system, particularly to asthmatics or allergy sufferers. Dust particles of size ranging from 0.001 to 0.1mm (1 to 100 microns) pose a threat to health when they are airborne, creating an uncomfortable environment (irritation to eyes, ears, nose, throat, skin) and possibility resulting in damage to the tissues of the lungs. Included among potentially harmful dusts are silica, asbestos, talc and cotton dust – each of which can produce its own form of lung damage when dust control is inadequate. The most harmful dust is fractions less than 5 microns in size, that is, particles smaller than 0.005m.
Dust particles vary in size, and can be classed as coarse (non-inhalable) to fine (inhalable), to very fine (respirable). Depending on the size of particles, the effect on humans varies. Coarse particles generally are only able to reach the inside of the mouth, throat or nose, though the smaller particles can settle deeper in the respiratory tract and lungs. This can lead to allergic reactions or asthma attacks, trigger serious breathing-related problems and contribute to cardiovascular disease (refer to Airborne Dust and Health Effects Community Fact Sheet, Health and Human Services Victoria, 2015).
Air & Noise Monitoring
It is recognised by the NSW Department of Planning, vehicle exhaust emissions can have a significant influence on local air quality in urban and suburban areas. Localised effects can be caused as a direct result of the compounds emitted from vehicle exhausts.
Motor vehicles emit a variety of air pollutants that are known to be associated with adverse health impacts. Common air pollutants emitted by motor vehicles include fine particles, nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. Exposure to these substances at particular concentrations is associated with a range of short and long term health effects, including on the heart and lungs (WHO 2000, WHO 2003, NEPC 2002, Environment Australia 2001).
Nitrogen Monoxide or Nitric Oxide (NO) is an important signalling molecule in the body of mammals, including humans. It is also an air pollutant produced by cigarette smoke, power plants and automobile engines.
Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) is the chemical compound, which exists as a radical in nature. This is an intermediate compound in the industrial synthesis of nitric acid, millions of tons are produced each year. This reddish-brown toxic gas has a characteristic sharp, biting odour and is a prominent air pollutant. NO2 as well as NO are emitted from high temperature combustion.
DPM is a component of the emissions arising from diesel-powered motor vehicles. Acute effects of DPM exposure in humans include irritation of the eyes and respiratory organs, as well as coughing and nausea. Chronic effects can increase the risk of lung and heart diseases, including lung cancer (refer to Guide to Managing Risks of Exposure to Diesel Exhaust in the Workplace, Safe Work Australia, 2015).
There are thousands of VOCs released into the atmosphere at room temperature. They can be produced
within a building by cosmetics, car exhaust, combustion, tobacco smoke, cleaning agents, office equipment, particle board, floor waxes and polishes, carpets, furniture, adhesive, paints etc…
VOCs may cause irritation of mucous membranes and are associated with headaches, dizziness, and nausea. A number of the most common VOCs are confirmed or suspected carcinogens and mutagens.
The following volatile and semi-volatile compounds are associated with sites and located in the vicinity of busy roads and industrial properties (i.e. service stations, workshops, etc.): benzene, toluene, ethyl-benzene, xylenes. formaldehyde.