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Indoor Air Quality Hazards

According to the Australian Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water, Australians spend 90% or more of their time indoors, yet poor indoor air quality can lead to significant health issues and economic costs, with estimates suggesting it may cost the Australian economy up to $12 billion annually.

Common Indoor Pollutants in Australian Workplaces

Common indoor air pollutants in Australian workplaces include carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), particulate matter (PM2.5), and biological contaminants. CO2 levels, often elevated due to human occupancy and poor ventilation, should not exceed 1,000 parts per million (ppm) as higher levels can significantly affect cognitive function. NO2 and CO are produced by combustion sources like gas heaters and vehicle exhaust. VOCs are emitted from various office equipment, cleaning products, and building materials. Particulate matter, especially PM2.5, can originate from both indoor and outdoor sources. Biological contaminants such as mold and dust mites can thrive in humid environments. In Australia, wood-burning heaters and unflued gas heaters are significant contributors to indoor air pollution, particularly during colder months.

Strategies for Improving Indoor Air Quality

Improving indoor air quality involves implementing several key strategies. Source control is often the most effective approach, which includes eliminating or reducing emissions from individual pollution sources. Increasing ventilation by opening windows and doors or using mechanical ventilation systems can help bring more outdoor air inside, diluting indoor pollutants. Regular maintenance of HVAC systems, including cleaning or replacing filters, is crucial for maintaining good air quality. Using air cleaners with HEPA filters can help remove particulate matter, while those with charcoal filters can neutralize odors and chemicals. Other practical steps include keeping indoor humidity levels between 30-50%, using low-VOC products, and regularly cleaning to reduce dust and allergens. In office environments, CO2 monitoring and control are essential, as are operational economy cycles that utilize outside air when conditions are favorable.

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