Poor Ventilation Blamed for Causing Indoor Air Pollution

Article excerpt

Cigarette smoking in the workplace may not be the vile ogre or carcinogenic problem millions perceive it to be, according to Jack E. Peterson, P.E., Ph.D., a certified industrial hygienist who specializes in human toxicology.

Visiting about one state per month, Peterson has been on a nationwide tour sponsored by the Tobacco Institute for the last 18 months. He visited Oklahoma with stops in Oklahoma City and Tulsa in mid-May.

Cigarette smoke is not the big problem in workplace air pollution; the big problem is inadequate ventilation in buildings, Peterson said.

"Although many attribute poor air quality to tobacco smoke in the air, investigations have demonstrated that in 96 to 98 percent of the cases other problems were responsible," he said.

"In fact, since tobacco smoke is the most easily identified indoor air factor that one can see or smell, it is often the first signal that ventilation systems are not working properly and that other problems need to be addressed."

Peterson's message on cigarette smoke, indoor air quality and ventilation is intended to offset "negative publicity" about cigarette smoke in the work environment, he said.

The Tobacco Institute is a non-profit organization funded by some of the largest tobacco companies in the nation.

"Ordinarily, tobacco smoke is a symptom of not enough fresh air," Peterson said. "Quite often, building owners will cut down the amount of fresh air. This increases absenteeism. . .

"Cigarette smoke is blamed for most `sick building' problems because people can see it and smell it, as opposed to other indoor air problems like mold.

"The way you solve the cigarette smoke problem is to have enough fresh air."

Instead of providing enough fresh air, however, many building owners and operators seal in cigarette smoke and other noxious substances, exacerbating poor air quality, Peterson said.

In designated non-smoking areas, "much more" fresh air should be provided, he recommended.

Peterson is the owner of Peterson Associates in Brookfield, Wisc., a former professor at Marquette University, author of a book entitled "Industrial Health" and co-author of several dozen magazine articles.

He has been an air quality consultant to a myriad of organizations, including the U.S. Navy, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Oscar Mayer, General Motors, and the Ford and Chrysler companies.

According to Peterson, other indoor air pollution problems troubling employees include ozone from photocopiers; sulfur dioxide from heating systems; motor vehicle exhaust entering outside vents; airborne contaminants from construction activity; fiberglass; asbestos; chemical vapors; and bacteria, molds and fungi "growing somewhere within buildings, usually in ventilation systems. …

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