SYMPOSIA PAPER Published: 01 January 1989

The NIOSH Approach to Conducting Indoor Air Quality Investigations in Office Buildings


Since 1971, personnel from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have completed approximately 450 indoor air quality (IAQ) investigations in a variety of office building environments. Most of these investigations have been conducted since 1979, paralleling the energy conservation concerns of building owners and operators. These investigations have been conducted under the authority of the NIOSH Health Hazard Evaluation Program and have been in direct response to reported health complaints or illness. Therefore these IAQ investigations are intended to establish the identity of a problem and to recommend solutions for its correction. Over time, we have developed a consistent methodology with a “solution-oriented” approach to conducting these IAQ investigations. To initiate the investigation, the NIOSH team gathers background information by telephone and then makes a site visit to interview the affected employees and establish symptom identity and prevalence. During this initial site visit, the investigators also attempt to identify sources of contaminants, evaluate comfort parameters, and assess ventilation system performance. A variety of applicable evaluation criteria may be used, including "rules-of-thumb" gleaned from the current scientific literature and our own experiences. If specific problems cannot be identified through these initial means, follow-up visits are then used to pursue a continually narrowing range of possibilities. This “solution-oriented” approach has resulted in the best allocation of our resources and has allowed the most efficient use of in-field as well as analytical personnel. In the IAQ investigations completed to date, problems were found to result from building material contaminants in 3%, microbiological contaminants in 5%, contaminants brought in from outside the building in 11%, contaminants from inside the building in 17%, and inadequate ventilation problems in 52%. The remaining 12% represent those investigations where no problem could be identified.

Author Information

Gorman, RW
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Cincinnati, OH
Wallingford, KM
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Cincinnati, OH
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Developed by Committee: D22
Pages: 63–72
DOI: 10.1520/STP10145S
ISBN-EB: 978-0-8031-5070-6
ISBN-13: 978-0-8031-1176-9