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Environmental Update
Testing Building Materials for Emissions To Meet California Standards for Indoor Air Quality

August 1, 2002
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The state of California has established material specifications for its Capitol Area East End Complex projects to improve indoor air quality. The specifications were developed to limit the introduction of potentially harmful chemicals into the indoor environment. Many building materials, finishes, flooring products and furnishings will need to be tested and found to be compliant before they can be used in the project.

Indoor air pollution poses a serious threat to public health. Products and materials emit chemicals and particles into the air that may cause health effects ranging from minor ailments like headaches, nosebleeds and throat irritation to more serious diseases like asthma or cancer.

Adhesive applied to testing medium (stainless-steel plate)

Formaldehyde, a Carcinogen Found in Some Adhesives

One of the most common pollutants found in indoor air is formaldehyde, a carcinogen often emitted by pressed-wood products, adhesives and fabrics It can cause severe headaches, sensory irritation, nausea, rashes and cancer. The state of California EPA OEHHA has identified up to 60 hazardous substances, including formaldehyde, and the project specifications for the Capitol Area East End Complex has established maximum modeled indoor-air chemical concentrations for those compounds and formaldehyde.

"The knowledge we'll gain from this project will form the basis of future guidelines for indoor-air emissions and chemical concentrations," said Anthony Bernheim, FAIA, who is principal of Green Design at SMWM, a San Francisco architecture, interiors, planning and graphic-design firm. "Such specifications will be part of an increasing number of future building projects across the United States."

Product-emissions testing has been around for a while, but very few manufacturers know their products' chemical emissions or how to accurately test for them. Air Quality Sciences (AQS), an ISO 9002-accredited and California-approved laboratory, offers product-emissions testing for the California specifications and helps manufacturers better understand and address regulations on indoor air quality. Many federal agencies and some states have already adopted guidelines for indoor air quality, and product chemical-emissions profiles could soon be required for every procurement proposal.

Carpet sample in environmental test chamber.

Manufacturers of Office Furniture Must Meet 20 ppb Limit

Air Quality Sciences is working closely with manufacturers of office furniture to ensure they can meet the 20 parts-per-billion air-level requirements. Many manufacturers have improved their construction materials and manufacturing processes to meet these new health standards. "The information we gain from utilizing the most advanced test methods helps us make a better product," says Scott Lesnet, environmental manager at Allsteel, Inc., headquartered in Muscatine, Iowa. "We rely on AQS to understand our products' emissions performance and to provide council for future developments on indoor air quality."

About Air Quality Sciences

Air Quality Sciences is a full-service, indoor-air-quality firm providing services to create and maintain healthy indoor environments. Among these services are product-emissions testing, building-investigation services, chemical and microbial analysis of indoor environmental samples, and consulting services. Air Quality Sciences provides a sophisticated and innovative study approach to measuring the quality of indoor air, determining sources of pollutants, evaluating their impact on the indoor environment and providing solutions for healthy indoor environments. Air Quality Sciences has tested over 25,000 products since 1989, and its protocols for product-emissions testing have become de facto industry standards. In 2000, it founded the GREEN GUARDT Certification Program, which provides the only guide to low-emitting products and materials at www.greenguard.org.

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