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Indoor Air Quality

A Guide for Good Indoor Air Quality

Vanderbilt is committed to providing faculty, staff, and students with good Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) by ensuring that our buildings are well-maintained with proper ventilation and clean facilities. Occupants can also play a key role in helping Vanderbilt maintain good air quality by following these guidelines: 

  • Do you smell something that you cannot identify?  If so, go to  Odor Identification .
  • Keep your office or room clean: A buildup of dust in your office environment or in your living space can cause an allergic reaction or other upper respiratory symptoms. Notify your building’s housekeeping service to determine what they are responsible for maintaining, and what the tenant is responsible for cleaning. Housekeeping will generally NOT clean personal items, which if left for long periods of time, can build up dust and cause a reaction from the tenet.
  • Keep your air vents open: The building’s HVAC system is designed to circulate the air inside the building. By blocking these vents, the room air will become stagnant and will not be re-conditioned and filtered. If you are having issues with temperature or too much air flow, contact Facilities for adjustments to the system by calling 615-343-9675.
  • Close your windows: Leaving your windows open can introduce air quality pollutants into the building, such as vehicle exhaust, pollen, mold spores, and humidity. One of the benefits of relying on properly conditioned air through the HVAC unit is that it is designed to filter out allergens and remove humidity from the air. Leaving windows open may cause the humidity in the air to condense when the humid outdoor air contacts cool indoor surfaces. This can lead to mold growth if too much humidity enters the building.
  • Maintain dry building materials: Some building materials can support mold growth when they become wet for extended periods of time. Therefore, keeping these items dry is of utmost importance for maintaining good indoor air quality. If you identify new water leaks, notify Facilities immediately for repair by calling 615-343-9675. If needed,  Facilities  can also replace damaged ceiling tiles or drywall that have been wet for too long and bring fans to assist with drying. If carpet is wet, they can extract the water, dry with fans, or replace as needed.
  • If you detect visible mold: If you find mold growing on building materials, call Facilities to have the mold removed. Please note that sometimes dust can build up on supply vents, which may look to the human eye as mold, but is actually the dust in the building collecting on the surface.


Symptoms Related to Indoor Air Quality

Here are a few common symptoms that could be caused by poor indoor air quality and steps that you can take to improve your indoor conditions:

  • Dry, itchy eyes: In the winter months, the heated indoor air can be very dry, which can cause our eyes to feel dry or itchy. Some of the buildings at Vanderbilt have humidification systems that can be adjusted by Facilities to increase indoor air humidity. If your building does not, stand-alone humidifiers are not permitted unless under the direction of Facilities. They have shown to distribute microorganisms into room air, causing more severe health issues than the low humidity.
  • Allergy symptoms: If you are experiencing sneezing and watery eyes, you may suspect that it has something to do with your indoor air quality. This could be true if there is a moisture problem in the building that may cause mold to grow on certain building materials such as drywall, wood, or furniture. It could also be found in the HVAC system, thereby causing symptoms in occupants with sensitivities.
  • Other symptoms may include headache, fatigue, congestion, dizziness, and nausea. 
  • What to do if you are experiencing symptoms: Many of these symptoms may also be caused by other health conditions including seasonal allergies, common colds, or the flu. However, if you have noticed that your symptoms only occur while at work, it could be poor indoor air quality. Please perform the following steps:
    • o If your workplace is causing you to feel sick, fill out the Tennessee First Report of Injury and visit the Occupational Health Clinic in Medical Arts Building, Suite 640.
    • o If you notice water damage or suspect mold, call Facilities to dry and/or repair the damage.
    • o If someone in your office area is leaving windows open, inform them that pollen and mold spores will enter the building and may cause symptoms for sensitive individuals. Ask them to leave windows closed.
    • o If occupants are experiencing symptoms associated with poor IAQ but there are no signs of visible mold and windows are not being left open, contact your manager and ask that they request a Facilities representative check the HVAC unit. Verify that the system has been evaluated before moving to the next step.
    • o If Facilities is not able to resolve indoor air quality concerns, you may request that a Workplace Safety Officer perform an Indoor Air Quality Investigation.


Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Investigations

Before an indoor air quality investigation can be initiated, review the Guide for Good Indoor Air Quality information above. You may request that the Workplace Safety Office perform an Indoor Air Quality Investigation AFTER requesting that Facilities evaluate the building for HVAC or water leaks.

To request an investigation, create an  Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Work Order . The response to the IAQ request form will be as follows:

  • Within 2 business days, someone will contact you to set up an appointment for an initial facility walkthrough.
  • The initial facility walkthrough will include:
    • o A meeting with the Facilities employee who investigated the HVAC system and other building components, as appropriate,
    • o A visual inspection of the area of concern, and
    • o Measurements of common indoor air quality indicators.
      • If the initial facility walkthrough indicates a potential problem, additional testing may be performed and necessary corrective actions will be recommended to Facilities (or other appropriate group).
      • Findings and recommendations (if any) will be communicated to the Work Order requestor and his/her supervisor or manager.


Odor Identification

If you suddenly detect an odor that you believe is an immediate health or safety threat, leave the area and call VUPD Communication at 615-421-1911. 

If you notice an unusual odor in the work area, we recommend the following actions:

  • If you detect natural gas (rotten egg smell), contact  Facilities  to check for leaks.
  • If the odor is present in one room only, it is likely isolated to that room, and could be rotten food or a trash can that needs attention. Check the room to see if you can identify the cause. If you have a sink or a floor drain that has run dry, it can produce a rotten egg or sulphur-like smell. Try pouring some water into the sink or floor drain which will fill up the trap and prevent odors from leaking into the room.
  • If the odor is a localized rotten egg or sulphur-like odor but you cannot find the source (see previous paragraph), call Facilities and report it. It could be in an area that is inaccessible to you.
  • For odors that are widespread, you may need to look outside of the area to see if there are any construction, maintenance, or housekeeping activities taking place nearby. Activities that could generate odors could include: painting, demolition, road work, floor maintenance, or mowing. If you find any of these activities in progress, it may help to alleviate any concerns about indoor air quality. If you are unable to find the cause of the odor, report it to Facilities. They may be able to determine what might be going on in the area. It could be something taking place near the fresh air intake of the building’s HVAC system. In addition, the Facilities representative may be able to quickly remove the odor by making adjustments to the HVAC system.
  • Exhaust odors are usually temporary and due to diesel-fueled equipment nearby or trucks idling near air intakes, causing the odors to come inside through the HVAC system. In this case, alert the drivers or operators of the issue so that they can move away from air intakes or turn off the diesel-powered engine when not in use.
  • Smoking odors can also find their way into the building if someone is smoking near the HVAC intake. Vanderbilt is a smoke-free campus and smoking is limited to designated smoking areas.  For frequent occurrences of smoking near intakes, contact your supervisor. They should alert the facility manager to direct the smoker(s) the designated smoking area.
  • For recurring odors with no known source, maintain a log of the dates and times that you detect the odor. You may notice a pattern to the odor which may assist you, Facilities, or the Workplace Safety Office with identifying the source.

Odor Prevention

  • o Store perishable food in the refrigerator and date the container. Throw items away after a week.
  • o When throwing food in the garbage, make sure that it is picked up within 24 hours. If not, tie off the bag so it does not begin to smell.
  • o Do not use deodorizers or air fresheners. What might smell nice to you may not to others. In some sensitive individuals, it could cause an asthmatic response.


To learn more about indoor air quality, see the Introduction to Indoor Air Quality on the Environmental Protection Agency’s website.