Air Quality

Water vapor in the sky

Air Quality encompasses indoor air quality conditions and external air emission sources on campus. Indoor air quality focuses on the healthiness of air inside buildings and workspaces. External air emission sources must be permitted and operated in accordance with state and federal requirements.

The campus operates external air emission sources in accordance with a federally enforceable operating permit issued by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA). The university is required to have this permit because it is a major source of criteria pollutants: carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, particulates, lead, nitrogen oxides and ozone. The permit contains numerous monitoring, record-keeping, and reporting requirements that must be performed in order to demonstrate compliance with air emission limits.

Ventilation is a method of controlling the environment with air flow. It is one of the most important engineering controls available for improving or maintaining the quality of the air in the occupational work environment and must be considered as a means to control hazardous atmospheres prior to employee use of respirators.

Local exhaust ventilation can be used to control exposures to particulates, gases, vapors, fumes, heat, and other potentially hazardous substances. The local exhaust ventilation equipment must be correctly selected, sized, and used to be effective in providing acceptable air quality.

Safety and Compliance can assist in evaluating your need for local exhaust ventilation, determine the effectiveness of your existing local exhaust ventilation equipment, and make recommendations to improve air quality by modifying or installing new equipment. While there Safety and Compliance does not charge an hourly rate for their employees or for use of direct-read monitoring equipment, any costs associated with the evaluation process including rental of equipment, laboratory sample media and analysis, or hourly rates for other F&S shops will be charged to the requesting unit. Requests for design and installation of local ventilation exhaust systems should be submitted to the F&S Service Office for completion by Engineering Services and Construction Services, respectively.

In general, before a new external air emission source can be constructed on campus, or before any open burning may occur, the university must obtain a state construction permit from the Illinois EPA. A state air operating permit must also be obtained for non-major university emission sources that are not covered by the university’s Clean Air Act Title V operating permit.

Consult Environmental Compliance at 217-265-9828 before constructing any new air emission unit or conducting any type of open burning.

Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) refers to the air quality within and around buildings and structures, especially as it relates to the health and comfort of building occupants. The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-Conditioning Engineers, Inc. (ASHRAE) defines acceptable air quality as air in which there are no known contaminants at harmful concentrations and with which a substantial majority (80% or more) of the people exposed do not express dissatisfaction. Oftentimes, people express dissatisfaction with air quality when air contaminants are well below recognized regulatory and consensus standard limits.

People with hypersensitivities and allergies to certain indoor contaminants may experience greater dissatisfaction with their indoor environment. Identifying and eliminating triggers for sensitive individuals is extremely difficult because they can be susceptible at levels lower than other building occupants and possibly below the detection limits of monitoring equipment. Those that have or suspect hypersensitivities or allergies and are alone in experiencing symptoms should consult a physician before requesting an IAQ assessment.

Mold is of particular concern. There are many thousands of species of mold and most if not all of the mold found indoors comes from outdoor sources. Because molds naturally exist outdoors and indoors, living in a totally mold-free environment is practically impossible. Mold generally grows and becomes a problem when there is water damage, high humidity, or dampness. Mold can be almost any color and thrive on many materials commonly found in buildings including paper, plant debris, fabric, and wood. A person who inhales a large number of spores may suffer adverse health effects depending on their age, general health, and existing respiratory conditions such as asthma or allergies. Some people also experience reactions through contact which can cause skin irritation. Because we cannot eliminate the materials that mold grows on, the best way to control mold growth is to control moisture.

Common Symptoms Related to IAQ Complaints

IAQ complaints are often subjective and nonspecific in nature. Not everyone experiences their indoor environment in the same way. Some people may believe their space is too dark while others might find it too bright. Some people may prefer to work in a noisy environment while others may prefer silence. Similarly, a person’s experience with air quality in their indoor environment is very subjective. Unpleasant odors to one person may be pleasant to another. One person may experience a sneezing fit while in a conference room but nobody else does.

Common symptoms reported in conjunction with IAQ complaints include:

  • unpleasant or musty odors;
  • hot and stuffiness;
  • headaches;
  • tiredness;
  • fever;
  • coughing;
  • sneezing; and
  • shortness of breath.

Many people report relief from symptoms when they move to another environment such as going outside, going to someone else’s office, or going home.

Sick building syndrome is a condition associated with complaints from 20% or more of occupants describing discomfort including headache, nausea, dizziness, dermatitis, coughing, difficulty concentrating, sensitivity to odors, muscle pain, fatigue, and irritation of the eyes and respiratory tract. Effects appear to be linked to time spent in a building based on occupant reports of relief from symptoms upon leaving but no specific illness can be diagnosed by a physician and no cause can be identified.

A building-related illness contrasts to sick building syndrome in that a physician has diagnosed an illness that can be attributed directly to airborne building contaminants.


Currently, there are no federal standards or recommendations, [e.g., Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH)] for airborne concentrations of mold or mold spores.

Scientific research on the relationship between mold exposures and health effects is ongoing. Many molds can cause health effects. Molds produce allergens, irritants and, sometimes, toxins that may cause adverse reactions in humans. A reaction to mold depends on how much a person is exposed to, the age of the person and the person’s sensitivities or allergies. The same amount of mold may cause health effects in one person, but not in another.

Exposure to mold can cause a variety of symptoms. Sensitive people who have touched or inhaled mold or mold spores may have allergic reactions such as a runny nose, sneezing, nasal congestion, watery eyes, skin rash and itching (dermatitis). Molds can trigger asthma attacks in people who are allergic to molds, causing wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath. A disease like pneumonia may also develop after exposure to mold, but this is uncommon.

Infectious diseases from molds can occur in people with weakened immune systems, such as those who are immune-compromised or immune-suppressed from drug treatment. Some types of mold are known to cause infections in immune-compromised people. Such infections can affect the skin, eyes, lungs or other organs. These are considered opportunistic infections that usually do not affect healthy people.

If you have symptoms that are not going away or are getting worse, consult a physician.

Common Causes of Poor IAQ

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has conducted approximately 500 IAQ investigations and has found that the primary sources of IAQ problems are:

Inadequate ventilation – 52%;
Contamination from inside building – 16%;
Contamination from outside building – 10%;
Microbial contamination – 5%;
Contamination from building fabric – 4%; and
Unknown sources – 13%.

Testing Options

There is no single test to find an IAQ problem. Division of Safety and Compliance (S&C) can perform some direct-read air quality monitoring to evaluate basic indicator parameters for poor IAQ. This does not diagnose symptoms or identify specific causes of poor IAQ. It allows S&C staff to identify potential causes related to a given IAQ complaint.

Common indicator parameters that are monitored for using S&C equipment includes:

Carbon dioxide (CO2) – An indicator of adequate circulation of fresh air;
Temperature – Measured for occupant comfort with is generally between 68 – 79 F;
Relative humidity – Low levels of relative humidity are associated with irritations of the mucus membranes, dry itching eyes and sneezing. High levels of relative humidity are associated with problems from the growth of molds and mildew, which can cause either allergic reactions or infections in susceptible people;
Carbon monoxide (CO) – An indicator of combustion product contamination to the indoor air, either from outside sources such as automobile exhaust or from inside sources such as furnaces and space heaters.
Dust/particulate – An indicator of a number of poor housekeeping, infiltration of dust from outdoor air, inadequately supplied air filtration, combustion processes, construction, or other dust or particulate-generating activities.
Total mold spore counts – Uses a pump to pull air through sample media specially designed to collect mold spores for laboratory analysis.

Laboratory analysis determines general present and concentration of total mold spores in the air. This method cannot distinguish between viable and non-viable mold spores and has limitations in differentiating between certain genera. Because no regulatory exposure limits have been established, samples from spaces where concerns have been raised must be compared to outdoor and indoor control samples to determine if active mold growth may be occurring.

Any testing recommended by S&C or requested by the requesting unit beyond the use of S&C-owned direct-read monitoring equipment is performed at the expense of the requesting unit. Common costs include equipment rental, sample media, laboratory analysis, consultant fees, and shipping.

Should I Request Mold Sampling?

Recommendations from regulatory bodies regarding mold sampling are detailed below.

Illinois Department of Public Health
If you can see or smell mold, testing is usually not necessary. It is likely that you have a moisture problem that needs to be fixed. Mold testing is usually not useful in determining what steps to take for cleanup. If mold is visible, it needs to be cleaned or removed. Even if testing is done, no standards exist to judge what are acceptable amounts of mold.

Testing cannot determine whether health effects will occur. Mold is normally found outdoors and counts fluctuate from day to day depending on the season. Due to the uncertainties associated with testing for mold, the Illinois Department of Public Health does not recommend it in most cases.

US Environmental Protection Agency
Is sampling for mold needed? In most cases, if visible mold growth is present, sampling is unnecessary. Since no EPA or other federal limits have been set for mold or mold spores, sampling cannot be used to check a building’s compliance with federal mold standards.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Generally, it is not necessary to identify the species of mold growing in a residence, and CDC does not recommend routine sampling for molds. Current evidence indicates that allergies are the type of disease most often associated with molds. Since the susceptibility of individuals can vary greatly either because of the amount or type of mold, sampling, and culturing are not reliable in determining your health risk. If you are susceptible to mold and mold is seen or smelled, there is a potential health risk; therefore, no matter what type of mold is present, you should arrange for its removal. Furthermore, reliable sampling for mold can be expensive, and standards for judging what is and what is not an acceptable or tolerable quantity of mold have not been established.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration
Is it necessary to sample for mold? In most cases, if visible mold growth is present, sampling is unnecessary. Air sampling for mold may not be part of a routine assessment because decisions about appropriate remediation strategies often can be made on the basis of a visual inspection.

Your first step should be to inspect for any evidence of water damage and visible mold growth. Testing for mold is expensive, and there should be a clear reason for doing so. In many cases, it is not economically practical or useful to test for mold growth on surfaces or for airborne spores in the building. In addition, there are no standards for “acceptable” levels of mold in buildings, and the lack of a definitive correlation between exposure levels and health effects makes interpreting the data difficult, if not impossible.

What Should I do if I See Mold?
Visible mold should be reported to the F&S Service Office. Several F&S Shops provide mold cleanup services depending on the physical attributes of the affected surface and extent of growth.

Requesting an IAQ Assessment

S&C has some limited capabilities to perform indoor air quality and mold evaluations, and can coordinate with consultants to conduct more advanced evaluations. All costs associated with procurement of media, laboratory analysis, shipping, rental fees, and consultant fees are at the expense of the requesting unit.

Prior to requesting S&C perform an IAQ assessment, please have each occupant experiencing symptoms complete the linked Occupant Diary for at least 2 weeks and the Concern Report Form upon the time of the request. Send requests, including accompanying forms, to

Individuals experiencing symptoms or having hypersensitivities or allergies that have been evaluated by their physician may make a request without completing the Occupant Diary and Indoor Air Quality Complaint forms. S&C will need direction from the physician on the types of chemicals and/or allergens that need to be evaluated.

Requests relating to building/room pressurization or air flowrates must be made through the F&S Service Office for evaluation by the F&S Sheet Metal Shop. Costs for building/room pressurization and air flowrates evaluations may be at the expense of the requesting unit.

Preventing Mold Growth

Moisture control is the key to mold control. Water from leaks, spills, or infiltration should be identified and dried within 24-48 hours. The source of the water must be identified and controlled to prevent future moisture problems. Damaged materials that can be discarded; such as cardboard and paper, should be disposed of immediately.

Mold prevention tips include:

  • Repair plumbing leaks and leaks in the building structure as soon as possible;
  • Look for condensation and wet spots. Fix source(s) of moisture incursion problem(s) as soon as possible;
  • Prevent moisture from condensing by increasing surface temperature or reducing the moisture level in the air (humidity). To increase surface temperature, insulate or increase air circulation. To reduce the moisture level in the air, repair leaks, increase ventilation (if outside air is cold and dry), or dehumidify (if outdoor air is warm and humid);
  • Keep HVAC drip pans clean, flowing properly, and unobstructed;
  • Perform regularly scheduled building/ HVAC inspections and maintenance, including filter changes;
  • Maintain indoor relative humidity below 60%;
  • Vent moisture-generating appliances, such as dryers, to the outside where possible;
  • Vent kitchens (cooking areas) and bathrooms according to code requirements;
  • Clean and dry wet or damp spots as soon as possible, but no more than 48 hours after discovery.
  • Provide adequate drainage around buildings and slope the ground away from building foundations; and
  • Pinpoint areas where leaks have occurred, identify the causes, and take preventive action to ensure that they do not reoccur.

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