Indoor Air Quality in Offices in Abu Dhabi

Effect of climatic conditions on Indoor air quality

Climatic conditions have an adverse effect on indoor air quality, and hence the health of the individuals under consideration. When a certain location possesses extremely hot summers, then this condition is likely to increase the indoor temperature as well (Muhamad et al., 2011). This can lead to certain health complications. It has also been shown that pollen grain production tends to increase during hot weather; it may find its way into buildings through windows or other ventilation systems (Burroughs et al., 2011). Workers may be exposed to the contaminant, and thus develop a respiratory illness.

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Conversely, if the climate of a tropical area is such that there’s more rain or flooding, then this increases the chances of having blackouts (Mann, 2011). Eventually, more households may end up buying generators; these machines all rely on carbon-based fuels to operate. The generators produce carbon monoxide and might poison people. In fact, statistics concerning carbon monoxide incidents are always high after a storm has taken place. Most users are unaware that they should not be placing generators inside an enclosed space as this exposes them to greater levels of gas.

Excessive rain may also cause moisture accumulation or wetness in certain parts of a building. This acts as a prime area for the growth and development of mold (Meyer and Wutz, 2004). Workers and other occupants can be adversely exposed to these contaminants and may develop sick building syndrome or other allergies and illnesses associated with the prevalence of mold (Magalhaes et al., 2009), (Park & Schleiff, 2004), (Wang et al., 2004)

Perhaps one of the most notorious sources of indoor air pollution in warmer weather is the heat and ventilation air system (Chase et al., 2004). When temperatures are high inside a building, occupants tend to utilize more air conditioning. This means that air will get cooled or temperatures will go down; however, the humidity will definitely increase (Li & Leung, 2007). There will be more moisture in the HVAC systems and if filtration systems are not in order, then the dust in there becomes mold (Moritz et al., 2004). People with allergies are likely to be severely affected by this occurrence.

Tropical regions and Indoor air quality

Tropical regions present building owners with a series of challenges concerning indoor air quality. First, tropical regions often have excessive sunlight. Consequently, when too much of it gets into a building, it tends to increase the level of temperature in the building (Lin et al., 2004), (Nughoro, 2011). This occurs when the parts that make up the entire building (like walls) acquire heat from the sun; they then reradiate it to the internal parts of the office (Ismail et al., 2010). Excessive sunlight also affects visibility for some workers who may find that kind of lighting disturbing. Buildings must therefore be designed to handle this problem (Chella et al., 2007).

Tropical regions tend to have higher humidity levels than other parts of the world. This occurs because of the evaporative effects of the sun. Vapour levels in the tropics are usually between 19-24 g/m3 yet other areas like England have half that amount of vapor in the summer (Zain et al., 2007). This means that occupants in buildings need to have good ventilation systems that can induce airflow and facilitate cross-air movement. If that fails to occur, then chances are that there will be excessive indoor humidity and possible building-related illnesses. Additionally, high humidity levels also tend to increase the level of exposure to bacteria, funguses, and other indoor air pollutants in the office environment. When that concerned building does not possess a well-maintained ventilation system, then chances are that the occupants will get sick or report immense discomfort (Fisk et al., 2007).

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UAE and Indoor Air Quality

Indoor air pollution is now recognized as one of the most devastating problems to the environment. In recent rankings carried out by the Environmental Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD), indoor air quality was placed second among the health risks prevalent in the UAE. This increased awareness of the importance of indoor air pollution has been accelerated by the realisation that many individuals spend mmoreof their time inside buildings than outside (Government of Hong Kong Special Administrative region, 2004). It has also been necessitated by the continual discovery of pollutants within the indoor environment. The awareness that these pollutants can have adverse repercussions on occupants’ health has also contributed to this interest (Breysse et al., 2005). Furthermore, some stakeholders now know that energy efficiency is not always a good thing. Since the concept requires minimization of internal and external environmental interactions, then this leads to a greater level of contaminants in the environment. These concerns have made local authorities prioritize indoor air quality.

One of the positive achievements being made in this area can be attributed to the EAD. It has established service stations in different parts of the state such as Abu Dhabi City, Bida Zayed, Mussafah Civil defense center, and many more. These stations are supposed to monitor the level of particulates in the air such as carbon monoxide, ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen monoxide, and methane (EAD et al., 2009).

Despite these accomplishments in the area of indoor air quality management, much remains to be done in the sector. First, the various emirates need to step up their levels of pollution control (EAD et al., 2009). Abu Dhabi and Dubai are spearheading these changes, but other emirates are yet to follow. There is a need to strengthen current regulations, and to make those regulations applicable to all the emirates in the UAE.

The state of research on indoor air quality is in need of some improvements. Although plenty of progress has been achieved so far, including inter-governmental collaboration as well as data collection on various contaminants, it is necessary to centralize data collected from these groups (EAD, 2010). A number of stakeholders are involved in the data collection- some are private organizations and others are government-led initiatives. All three entities need to come together and establish a centralized database that will facilitate a greater degree of collaboration between these entities. Data reporting regulations are needed to ensure that these collaborations work effectively. In the research area, many other areas such as environmental model development and environmental health risk analysis need to be developed. Once the health risks of indoor air pollution are fully understood by organizations, then it is likely that the concerned entities will be more inclined to provide adequate levels of research in this area. Certain disciplines need to be inculcated in these analyses such as economics. For example, the need to do a cost–benefit analysis of certain policy options in the indoor environment can go a long way in improving the state of indoor air quality (Samet and Spengler, 2005).

The UAE is in adverse need of capacity development in this area. Many universities need to introduce doctoral or post-graduate programs that revolve around environmental health, so as to increase the number indoor air quality research papers. A number of institutions need to focus on increasing undergraduate student enrolments in environmental degrees. However, for this to occur there should be career opportunities in the field (Bluyssen, 2009). Government positions need to be provided for this. Proper training is also lacking in this regard, and needs to be improved. Laboratory capacity for environmental health analysis is not at its peak. If this can be improved, then chances are that better analysis of indoor air quality data will be done. Current research organisations are focusing on other topics in environmental health, but have not prioritized indoor air quality, yet this is fundamental in maximisation of the existing structures (EAD, 2009). Few research priorities revolve around this topic, so they ought to be improved.

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The level of indoor air quality cannot be effectively controlled when the public is not involved in this process. The UAE is faced with an increased need to inform the public about the environmental health risks of bad indoor air quality. Information campaigns are still few and far between. The public may be aware of the risks that emanate from their respective external environments, but may not know that their indoor air environments are also a risk to their health (Bell & Standish, 2005). They need to be warned about the implications of air conditioning systems (as these are adversely used in the UAE owing to the high external temperatures). Employers ought to be sensitised about the need to focus more on employees’ health, especially their indoor air quality, rather than the need to cut energy costs. As stated earlier, the need to minimise energy use has taken precedence over occupants’ health. Business owners need to know that if their employees work in an environment with poor air quality, then it is likely that their productivity will go down, and this could translate to huge losses for the organisation concerned (Branham, 2004).

When it comes to actual air quality, the UAE has not met the requirements for particulate matter concentrations in the external environment. Air pollution sources are many, and they compromise the quality of air (Moujalled et al., 2008). Particulate matter measurements have illustrated that in a place like Abu Dhabi, air toxins, pollutants, and ozone can exceed set standards for about thirty percent of the days under consideration. Studies on indoor air quality have illustrated that sometimes ozone and other pollutants can enter into a certain indoor environment through the heat ventilation and air conditioning system (Mudari and Fisk, 2007), (Nazarof & Weschler, 2004). Alternatively they may enter through the use of external openings or mechanisms of natural ventilations.

The UAE is a place with extreme weather conditions, this means that many people rely heavily on the use of HVACs. However, numerous researches have shown that poor designs, improper maintenance and selection of the wrong HVAC can be a serious source of bad indoor air (Triantafyllou et al., 2007). It will be imperative to enforce building codes and standards on indoor air quality designs. Unfortunately, many emirates in the UAE are not as vigilant about these things as they ought to be. Few restrictions have been imposed on pollutant generating activities, yet these are highly dangerous.

Office standards

Thermal comfort is understood as the state of feeling neither cold nor hot. This is achieved when three components of the office building have been evenly balanced, and they include: temperature, ventilation rate (air movement), and humidity (Gang et al., 2005). Although temperature preferences depend upon the occupant, it is generally accepted that certain extremes are not comfortable (Stavrakakis et al., 2008). For example, when temperature in an office building is too high, this causes workers to feel tired (Huizenga et al., 2006). Conversely, employees tend to be easily distracted and restless when the temperature of their building is too cold. Stressed-out workers may be overly sensitive to changes in temperature when they occur (Zagreus et al., 2008). During the summer, it is advisable to increase indoor temperatures of buildings with HVACs so as to minimise temperature differentials between the external and the internal environment (Yoshida and Ichiro, 2005). Office standards are therefore imperative in providing a guideline for protecting workers against these unwanted effects.

When it comes to humidity, it is advisable for office environments to have a relative humidity of fifty percent during the cold season. When a place has too much humidity, it tends to heighten the feeling of stuffiness among workers (Sharpe, 2004). This also accelerates the growth of mould and other micro organisms in the environment. However, when humidity levels fall below fifty percent, they tend to increase workers’ susceptibility to skin rashes and cause drying out of the mucous membrane (Spengler et al., 2005).

The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) body is internationally recognised for its standards on office building indoor air environments. It covers ventilation rates, temperature and humidity requirements that will cause an acceptable level of comfort. The guideline is a lengthy one that covers different codes. With regard to ventilation, the following requirements have been specified in the 2004 ASHRAE standard 62.1

Minimum ventilation rates for 62.1 2004 ASHRAE in cubic feet per minute per person (cfm/person):

Occupancy category ASHRAE (cfm/person)
Hotel, resort, dormitory lobbies, and motels 10
Office building (office space) 17
Conference room 6
Theatre auditorium or public assembly 5
Educational classroom 15
Correctional facility 19

It should be noted that when smoking is permitted inside a building, then the ventilation rates need to be increased dramatically. The increments depend upon the level of smoking in the building, and may be anywhere between 25 and 125 cubic feet per minute per person. Carbon dioxide guidelines in office buildings have been placed at 1000 parts per million (ASHRAE, 2007).

ASHRAE also has set out the following criteria for temperature and humidity in the office environment:

Temperature/Humidity range for Thermal comfort
Conditions Temperature values Relative humidity (in percentage)
0F 0C
Winter wear 68-75 20-24 60%
Winter wear 69-78 20.5-25.5 30%
Summer wear 74-78 23-25.5 60%
Summer wear 76-82 24.5-28 30%

Conclusion

The UAE, as a tropical region, has specific challenges when managing indoor air quality such as excessive temperature, high humidity levels, and overreliance on HVACs. Currently few municipalities coordinate their activities, and research capacity is yet to be strengthened. External air quality is wanting and this may spill over into the internal office environment. Few regulations on compliance among building owners exist. However, some progress has been made in terms of risk awareness among stakeholders in environmental health. Abu Dhabi is paving the way for indoor air quality management through air monitoring stations. Despite these accomplishments, there is plenty that can be done to protect the health and well being of workers in office buildings within the UAE.

References

ASHRAE (2004a). ASHRAE standard 62.1, ventilation for acceptable indoor air quality. Atlanta, ASHRAE Inc.

American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air conditioning Engineers (2004b). Standard 55-2004 – Thermal Environmental Conditions for Human Occupancy (ANSI Approved). Atlanta, ASHRAE

ASHRAE (2007). ASHRAE standard 62.1. Atlanta, ASHRAE Inc.

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