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Breathing Easier: Challenges & Solutions of Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)

by Clean India Journal Editor
0 comment

In India’s rapidly urbanising environment, air quality has become a crucial aspect of public health. This feature explores the complexities and remedies of Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) in India, enriched by the expertise of Nitin Naik, the Founder & Managing Partner of Dew Point, an industry expert in HVAC controls and IAQ management. IAQ is an escalating concern in diverse settings, from corporate spaces to educational institutions, transcending geographic and socio-economic barriers. In a country marked by a wide range of environmental challenges, comprehending and managing indoor air quality is critical, not just for comfort, but for overall health and well-being.

Understanding Indoor Air Quality

IAQ refers to the air quality within and surrounding buildings and structures, directly impacting the health and comfort of the occupants. Given that a sizeable portion of an individual’s life is spent indoors, understanding, and managing IAQ is essential. Indoor spaces often have higher pollutant concentrations than outdoor areas. IAQ is influenced by several factors, including external air pollution, emissions from building materials, furniture, and electronic appliances. Common indoor pollutants include particulate matter, carbon monoxide, VOCs, asbestos, radon, formaldehyde, and biological contaminants like mould and bacteria. These pollutants can lead to a wide range of health issues, from temporary discomfort such as eye irritation and headaches, to more serious long-term respiratory and heart diseases.

Current Scenario of IAQ in India

Nitin Naik points out that India’s battle with air quality extends beyond outdoor environments to indoor spaces, particularly in urban areas where external pollutants infiltrate indoor environments. The interplay between outdoor and indoor air quality forms a critical concern, more so with the increasing awareness of the health implications of poor IAQ. Despite initiatives like the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), there are significant challenges in transforming the IAQ landscape. The recent air quality crises in major cities highlights these issues.

Awareness and adoption of IAQ monitoring devices and air purifiers have grown in urban areas, but their implementation is confined to certified buildings. Corporate offices and developers are now more proactive in implementing IAQ monitoring, complemented by the rise of ESG & Sustainability teams in the corporate sector. However, sectors like healthcare, hospitality, and education lag in awareness and implementation of IAQ measures, and this gap is more pronounced in smaller towns and domestic areas.

We can only manage what we measure. This principle is crucial for improving IAQ, as it involves managing conditioned spaces with a focus on health and well-being, without overlooking the impact on energy consumption or carbon footprint reduction.”

Nitin Naik

The Overlooked Dangers & Common Misconceptions

Nitin elaborates on the often-ignored hazards of poor IAQ and the surrounding misconceptions. A striking fact is that indoor air can be significantly more polluted than outdoor air, with up to 2-5 times more pollutants. This issue is often invisible to the average person, as poor air quality can be odourless and unseen. The impact is extensive, affecting both health and cognitive functions. Prolonged exposure to poor IAQ can cause serious respiratory issues, fatigue, and chronic ailments. Cognitive functions, including concentration and decision-making, are also at risk, especially in spaces like offices and schools.

Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) is a significant concern, often linked to air pollution and characterized by symptoms with no specific cause. Mould growth, driven by high humidity and poor ventilation, exacerbates respiratory issues, particularly in the hospitality sector. Misconceptions about IAQ include beliefs that conditioned spaces always have clean air, that colder spaces indicate better air quality, and that air fresheners improve IAQ. Additionally, the role of indoor plants in air purification is often overestimated, and there is a misconception that IAQ concerns are limited to urban areas or that newer buildings automatically have better IAQ.

Approaches to Enhance IAQ

Nitin advocates the principle, “We can only manage what we measure,” underlining the importance of IAQ monitoring. Managing conditioned spaces for health and well-being requires careful monitoring to identify and address air quality issues. Key strategies include ensuring effective ventilation to maintain safe CO2 levels and TVOC values, identifying and removing persistent pollution sources, and selecting appropriate building materials. Ventilation and filtration are essential to minimize particulate matter. Managing temperature and humidity is also crucial for thermal comfort and preventing mould growth.

Technological solutions such as air purifiers with HEPA filters, smart sensors for IAQ monitoring, UVGI & Photocatalytic Oxidation for disinfection, and hydrogen peroxide generators in air conditioners are noteworthy. Regular maintenance of HVAC equipment is critical for efficient functioning and significantly impacts IAQ.

Policy Recommendations for IAQ Management

Effective IAQ management requires multifaceted policy initiatives, including enhanced ventilation standards in buildings, promoting low VOC materials, and regular IAQ assessments. Standards and certifications for buildings, with renewal processes to maintain IAQ standards, are vital. Incentivizing the certification process could boost compliance and overall IAQ management. Collaboration among government, industry, and communities is essential for effective policy implementation.

Emerging Trends in IAQ

Nitin highlights trends such as smart IAQ monitoring systems integrating IoT and AI, improved ventilation technologies, advanced air purification methods, occupancy-based controls, biophilic design, stricter air quality standards and certifications, and remote monitoring and control technologies. These trends indicate a dynamic and evolving landscape in IAQ management.

Unique Challenges Across Various Sectors

Each sector presents distinct IAQ challenges. The pharmaceutical sector demands stringent norms with advanced HVAC systems. Offices, restaurants, and hotels often prioritize energy efficiency over IAQ. Hospitals balance sterile conditions with comfort and energy management. The industry requires innovative, cost-efficient retrofit solutions for IAQ improvement.

Enhancing IAQ in India involves a blend of awareness, technological innovation, and policy intervention, addressing challenges across various settings and sectors, and embracing emerging trends.

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