The ‘ins and outs’ of air quality monitoring
Inside Out or Outside In?
The effects of air pollution are finally becoming better known, but almost all of the publicity focuses on outdoor air pollution. In contrast, indoor air quality is rarely in the media, except following occasional cases of Carbon Monoxide poisoning or when ‘worker lethargy’ or ‘sick building syndrome’ are addressed. However, it is important to understand the relationship between outdoor air quality and indoor air quality. Air Monitors is currently involved in a number of projects in which air quality monitoring is being undertaken both outside and inside large buildings, and the results have been extremely interesting.
Poorly ventilated offices tend to suffer from increased Carbon Dioxide as the working day progresses, leading to worker lethargy. In many cases HVAC systems bring in ‘fresh’ air to address this issue, but if that fresh air is in a town or city, it is likely to be polluted – possibly from particulates if it is not sufficiently filtered and most likely from Nitrogen Dioxide. Ventilating with outdoor air from street level is most likely to bring air pollution into the office, so many inlets are located at roof level. However, data from recent studies indicate that the height of the best air quality can vary according to the weather conditions, so it is necessary to utilise a ‘smart’ system that monitors air quality at different levels outside the building, whilst also monitoring at a variety of locations inside the building. Real-time data from a smart monitoring network then informs the HVAC control system, which should have the ability to draw air from different inlets if available and to decide on ventilation rates depending on the prevailing air quality at the inlets. This allows the optimisation of the internal CO2, temperature and humidity whilst minimising the amount of external pollutants brought into the indoor space. In circumstances where the outside air may be too polluted to be used to ventilate, it can be pre-cleaned by scrubbing the pollutant gases in the air handling system before being introduced inside the building.
The implementation of smart monitoring and control systems for buildings is now possible thanks to advances in communications and monitoring technology. AQMesh pods can be quickly and easily installed at various heights outside buildings and further units can be deployed internally; all feeding near-live data to a central control system.
Another example of indoor air quality monitoring instrumentation developing from outdoor technology is the ‘Fidas Frog,’ a new fine dust aerosol spectrometer developed by the German company Palas. The Frog is an indoor, wireless, battery-powered version of the hugely popular, TÜV and MCERTS certified Fidas 200. Both instruments provide simultaneous determination of PM fractions, particle number and particle size distribution, including the particle size ranges PM1, PM2.5, PM4, PM10 and TSP.
Evidence of outdoor air pollution contaminating indoor air can be obtained with the latest Black Carbon onitors that can distinguish between the different optical signatures of combustion sources such as diesel, biomass, and tobacco. The new microAeth® MA200 for example, is a compact, real-time, wearable (400g) Black Carbon monitor with built-in pump, flow control, data storage, and battery with onboard GPS and satellite time synchronisation. Samples are collected on an internal filter tape and wireless communications are provided for network or smartphone app integration and connection to other wireless sensors. The MA200 is able to monitor continuously for 2-3 weeks. Alternatively, with a greater battery capacity, the MA300 is able to provide 3-12 months of continuous measurements.
In summary, a complete picture of indoor air quality can be delivered by a combination of AQMesh for gases, the Palas Frog for particulates and the microAeth instruments for Black Carbon. All of these instruments are compact, battery-powered, and operate wirelessly, but most importantly, they provide both air quality data AND information on the likely source of any contamination, so that the indoor effects of outdoor pollution can be attributed correctly.