Indoor air expert: Attention must be paid to the amount of chemicals in new buildings

The impact of building materials on indoor air should be examined more.

The emission class M1 for building materials is often seen as a guarantee of good indoor air. The aim of the M1 classification is to promote the development and use of low-emission products in construction. According to Juhani Pirinen, head of a business unit at FCG, the use of the classification has reduced the chemical levels in new buildings drastically.

“The M1 classification ensures that the products produce fewer emissions. The classification cannot, however, enable fully emission-free construction and compliance with the M1 criteria has not eliminated indoor air problems.

Pirinen points out that while more attention is being paid to the use of emission-free materials, the people in residential buildings have also become more sensitive. What also makes the classification problematic is the fact that it only measures part of the primary material emissions.

Pirinen adds that furniture material emissions also often have a major impact on indoor air quality. New materials inevitably generate emissions and even though the M1 classification eliminates the worst toxins, building users may suffer from hypersensitivity to individual chemicals.

“If a piece of furniture or surface materials smell, they also release chemicals into the air. Therefore, it makes sense to ventilate a new building for at least a couple of months. New desensitisation methods also need to be found because fully emission-free construction does not exist. Even so-called green construction uses materials that produce emissions into indoor air.

More research

Pirinen believes that indoor air problems and building materials should be studied more.

“More research is needed to find out what kind of chemical compounds should not be released into indoor air and which materials we should avoid. The topic should also be examined from a medical perspective.”

Pirinen adds that the problem buildings are known to contain a variety of chemical compounds.

“However, we don’t know which of these compounds are harmful and when they should be avoided. Also, only some people become sensitised to these compounds, so this problem does not concern everyone.”

There is a lot of lively debate over indoor air issues. It’s no wonder as many municipalities are feverishly looking for solutions to the challenges caused by indoor air problems. Indoor air, moisture problems, energy efficiency and, for example, the choice of materials involve a lot of data based on measurements and studies, but there are also many perceptions, assumptions and open questions related to the issue. Petri Heljo, head of R&D from Kiilto’s construction unit, compiled several statements and prevailing views on indoor air problems. Experienced and respected indoor air specialist Juhani Pirinen then commented on them and we were able to create an interesting series of articles that will be published during the autumn of 2018.