Feature - Air Care - What Disrupts Air Quality?
Dated: 12-01-2017

Innumerable factors result in poor indoor air quality and lead to health hazards. Let’s dig deep to understand this critical matter and possible solutions! - by Roma Arora

There is no denying that the UAE has come a long way in terms of economic growth and other remarkable developments, which puts it on the world map of glory. From stunning skyscrapers, world-class hotels, luxury cars, to man-made islands and beaches, the UAE is a dream come true in the land of desert. But, even in a developed country like the UAE, there are bound to be problems.

According to the World Bank’s annual report 2015 on global environmental indicators, known as the ‘Little Green Data Book,’ the UAE was named the most polluted region in the world. Clearly, it was a big setback for such a flourishing nation. No wonder then that the country is taking major steps to improve its air quality – the latest being Dubai Municipality’s launch of the first portable station to monitor air pollution. Once the portable stations are up and running, the municipality is expected to receive live data of air pollutants from the city’s busy roads, including nitrogen oxides of nitrogen (NOx), sulphur dioxide (SO2), ozone (O3), and carbon monoxide (CO), amongst others. These pollutants, which largely affect the indoor air quality, can be tackled accordingly then. We spoke to the leading service providers and equipment manufacturers on what disrupts the air quality in the region and methods to correct it.

Importance of indoor air quality

Good health starts with clean air. We can survive a few days without food and water but only a few minutes without air. The quality of air we breathe is of essential importance for our well-being. Approximately 80 per cent of our lives is spent indoors and 60% is spent indoors. “This is why the environmental protection agency (EPA) states that bad indoor air quality is one of the most serious health risks today. Around 20-25% of the population suffers from allergies or asthma. Around 50% of households have children or elders. And, about 50 per cent of the world’s population lives in areas with unhealthy outdoor air, and 9 out of 10 homes have unhealthy air,” shares Mohamed Malek, Managing Director, Edelweiss for Air Purifiers LLC. The company is the distributor for IQ Air purifiers in Dubai.

A study on more than 500 samples by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that 53 per cent of cases of Indoor Air Quality health hazards attributed to inadequate building ventilation systems. This was followed by 15 per cent of the cases studied, exposed to the risk of contaminants originating inside the building, like dusts, solvent vapours, formaldehyde, building materials, and furnishing, etc. The United Sates Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ranks IAQ (Indoor air quality) as one of the top five environmental risks to public health.

Factors affecting air quality

In the Middle East region with high temperatures through most of the year, we tend to spend more time indoors than the rest of the world, which makes the indoor space an important micro environment when addressing risks from air pollution. The Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) is a concern to anyone responsible for the health and well-being of building occupants. “Scientists have spent a considerable amount of time trying to figure out what causes buildings to make occupants sick. The sources of biological (bacteria, moulds, pollen and viruses, amongst other pollutants) and chemical contaminants (volatile organic compounds VOCs, tobacco smoke and other sources of chemicals and odours) are usually indoors, though they can occasionally come from outside,” adds Malek.

Enviro' & Industrial Solutions ME is known for providing environment protection and industrial processes solutions. We spoke to their Resident Air Quality Expert, Amir Ali Mansouri to get clarity on this subject, “As humans, we generate CO2. So, air conditioning/ventilation systems should be designed to supply enough fresh air. CO2 levels are a good indicator for this application. Other than AC design, which affects fresh air levels/temperature/humidity, furniture and flooring material can also be another concern as they may generate VOCs and Formaldehyde. Some office equipment like printers and copy machines also can affect office air quality. Fresheners are another source of VOCs in indoor areas, so dispersion levels should be set correctly. Not having good ventilation systems for kitchens especially those using gas can significantly affect indoor air quality as well.”

George Thomas, Vice President, Epsco L.L.C, a leading service provider in the region, says, “The state of Indoor Air Quality is affected by many factors such as the building design and installations, the HVAC system, level of occupancy, pets, behavior of the occupants, housekeeping, maintenance and so on. Of the many factors, indoor air quality may also be affected by outdoor contaminants entering the indoor space though unnoticed gaps and holes. A recent IAQ investigation for odour in a building led to the discovery of an accumulation of pigeon droppings in the cavity space above the ceiling of a newly built house. Pets inside the house can be an IAQ hazard if they are not well cared for.”

The solutions

The intensity and frequency of dust/sand storms in the Middle East region is crippling the standard filtration systems. Dust/sand storms contain Particulate Matter (PM), which consists of tiny aerosol particles formed from gaseous emissions of sulphur dioxide and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), which can be a serious threat to human health if it accumulates in the respiratory system. Dust particles can lead to respiratory problems, particularly for people with asthma. They can harm sensitive lung tissue, irritate the lungs, and trigger allergic reactions, including asthma attacks. The dust in dust/sand storms can cause coughing, wheezing, and runny noses. Prolonged exposure can cause chronic breathing and lung problems.

So what is the solution? It’s important to identify the problem to determine the appropriate solution. From time to time only simple solutions like opening the window to bring fresh air (of course in non-dusty conditions), removing fresheners or changing bad quality furniture can bring back air quality to the standard level, while some cases require more complicated solutions. “Taking steps like duct cleaning, AC filter cleaning and changing can be deployed as well to improve the AC performance. Using purifiers can help, but it’s very important to select the right product here,” explains Mansouri from Enviro' & Industrial Solutions ME. 

“We’ve actually tested a lot of known brands selling indoor air quality monitors to see what works, and we strongly recommend AWAIR Smart Air Quality, which is locally available in the market. AWAIR monitors the five most important indoor air pollutants provide monitoring data via a smart app and offer quick fix tips on how to improve the quality of your indoor air. It’s designed to work in homes, offices, hotels, hospitals, classrooms and other public indoor places.”

Another revolutionary solution comes from Bio Environment Services Technology L.L.C (B.E.S.T) operating in U.A.E and Qatar as a division of Leo International LLC. Gebran Roumie, CEO, Leo International LLC, says, “Soon there will be a robust demand for indoor air purifiers and air conditioning duct network cleaners and sanitizers.

The Airgenic/ Bioklimatik process is the activation of oxygen molecules in the air, which is an exact imitation of the natural process that happens outdoors as the oxygen is activated via solar energy and through climatic activities such as thunderstorms and lightening. This is not the case indoors unless we go for a process like Airgenic/Bioklimatik. The activated oxygen thus created cleanses the indoor environment from bacteria, fungi, germs, viruses and other pollutants including tobacco smoke.”

The company also has another effective product called Gelair - a natural air sanitizer and a patented system using a specially formulated Gel-Matrix, which is placed in the air flow where it releases specific concentration of top Australian tea tree oil vapour throughout the air conditioning system. The tea tree oil (a 100% natural essential oil) is a broad spectrum of anti mould and anti-fungal agent. It’s capable of killing mould, bacteria and viruses. It’s very simple to install and it needs no energy to operate.

The challenges!

The challenges in maintaining good indoor air quality are several. Thomas from Epsco elaborates, “One of the major challenges is lack of awareness amongst the population about the connection and causation between poor indoor quality and health conditions. There are other challenges too especially in the UAE, where buildings are no more just shelters protecting the occupants, but masterpieces of contemporary art, if one may say so. For the sake of look, it is not unusual that buildings do not provide permanent access even in the suspended false ceilings in the bathrooms to access the HVAC units above for regular maintenance. All these things must be taken into consideration.”

Clearly, the air treatment product segment in the region is projected to register a strong volume in coming years propelled by consumers’ growing health and environmental consciousness and rising household incomes. Moreover, it’s commendable to see the efforts coming from the service and equipment providers in terms of solutions and applications.