Home Air Quality The Environmental Impact of Construction & The Growing Room for Improvement

The Environmental Impact of Construction & The Growing Room for Improvement

Dr. Serene Almomen

Within the United States, billions of materials like concrete, steel, and lumber maintain and construct the buildings we use daily. The use and disposal of these materials and new building construction have resulted in substantial environmental impacts with a rise in the air, water, and land emissions. Construction is a significant source of airborne pollution production and has continued to rise since October 2022, with non-residential buildings and multi-family homes up 26 percent. Climate change is pushing polluted air indoors, and to reduce these air quality impurities and their impact on indoor environments, construction contractors should consider bettering outdoor conditions by adopting sustainable and energy-efficient practices. Investing in methods like real-time air quality monitoring and environmentally conscious buildings will help mitigate outdoor fine particle pollution making its way inside through windows and doors, and immediately enhance indoor working and living conditions.

More than 40 percent of Americans—over 137 million people—live in places with failing grades for unhealthy particle pollution levels or ozone levels, based on the American Lung Association’s “State of the Air” 2022 report. Fine particulate matter, also known as PM2.5, pollutes outdoor air and is from burning fossil fuels like coal, diesel, oil, natural gas, and wood from construction sites and unpaved roads. The tiniest pollutant has contributed to cardiovascular disease, asthma, and other respiratory illnesses, leaving children, older adults, and disadvantaged communities most at risk. For construction workers, inhaling toxic dust containing crystalline silica, asbestos, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) can also cause hazardous long-term health effects like lung cancer and kidney disease. To protect communities and our environment from harmful PM 2.5, like soot and pollution, the Biden Administration and EPA have proposed clean energy efforts towards a net-zero carbon economy by 2050 and strengthened national air quality standards.

The biggest contributor to unhealthy indoor air quality is outdoor air pollution, and those with low socioeconomic status are often exposed to higher levels of indoor pollutants.

Dollars Allocated for Pollution Prevention Program

The crackdown on air pollution by the Biden Administration has led to an investment into clean air incentives with the Inflation Reduction Acts. The $375 billion act has dedicated $350 million to the EPA’s Pollution Prevention program in grants towards all facets of the construction industry to minimize greenhouse gas emissions. These include all the associated production levels, including the use and disposal of harmful materials like concrete and steel. One significant component of the Pollution Prevention program is increasing the transparency of associated greenhouse emissions. Furthermore, the EPA website suggests “its determination may evolve as the Agency gains a better understanding of the relevant industry averages and develops better methodologies for assessing what materials and products embody “substantially lower” greenhouse-gas emissions. Unfortunately, the little information provided through industry averages, especially within the construction space, means immediate real-time data is needed to ensure people are breathing in the healthiest-possible air indoors.

Unchecked, pollution can infiltrate new and existing buildings through open windows and doors, soot tracked inside from your shoes, and even dust particles from a construction site miles away. The first step to protecting all building occupants and maintaining safe and healthy indoor environments is cracking down on outdoor air pollution and pollution sources like construction zones and increasing accessibility to air quality monitoring in buildings.

Clark Construction Uses Real-Time Monitoring

Early adopters and the first general contractor to achieve Fitwel Champion, Clark Construction utilizes air monitoring technology by Attune in their offices as a leader towards enhancing breathable conditions for its employees. Clark Construction emphasizes the importance of safe breathing conditions with affordable, easy-to-install, real-time monitoring and improving air filtration.

Real-time monitoring gives leaders informed data on how to address building air threats and how to keep their employees, occupants, and surrounding communities safe. The components of a healthy building include ventilation and recycled air filtration working effectively together. Attune provides indoor air quality (IAQ) monitoring systems that provide real-time data designed to assess the safety of air quality levels based on the presence of CO2, particulate matter (PM) and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the air. Real-time monitoring can target ventilation performance and the levels of various airborne pollutants, with different tests based on the customer’s needs through remote facility management. When incorporated in any new or existing building, building owners and operators can be informed of the particulate climate surrounding and inside of their site. Without awareness of air quality data, inhaling dangerous airborne pollutants is detrimental. As a result, the adoption of real-time monitoring in healthy buildings has become a priority for industry leaders and decision-makers in construction.

Without real-time air quality monitoring, construction managers cannot know how the surrounding air impacts the people in the building, on the job site, or in nearby communities.

Pollution from construction sites infiltrates indoor environments and exposes people to airborne pollutants daily. The functionality of any building requires a baseline of monitoring systems that give accurate information on breathing conditions and environmentally conscious development practices moving forward. It is time for the construction industry to assume responsibility for curtailing its carbon footprint. Clean air incentive programs through the Biden Administration make achieving net zero emissions by 2050 possible, but pollution sources like construction sites need real-time data to improve breathing conditions for populations affected today. The impacts of construction pollution are irreversible, but IAQ technologies partnering with industry leaders in construction can immediately better the environment for current and future generations.

About the Author

Dr. Serene Almomen is the co-founder and CEO of the high-growth technology company Attune (formerly known as Senseware), which was founded to help underperforming buildings in desperate need of real-time data to diagnose the health of a space. Attune’s system is the only real-time customizable solution on the market and at the outbreak of the pandemic, it transformed its platform to address schools in need of a similar solution. Its platform is installed in over 700 schools nationwide to address HVAC infrastructure and air quality issues. President Biden referenced one of the school districts utilizing its technology in the White House Air Quality Summit last month (Denver Public Schools). Her company has been named one of Forbes’s top 50 women-led startups in the technology industry.