Eliminate the Texas Building and Procurement Commission’s Environmental Hazards Section
Media attention on health problems associated with poor indoor air has increased interest in the indoor air quality of state government buildings. Two state bodies conduct air quality investigations in state buildings: the Texas Department of Health’s Indoor Air Quality Branch and the Texas Building and Procurement Commission’s Environmental Hazards Section. Only one state agency should have this responsibility.
According to the World Health Organization, as many as a third of all buildings in the U.S. have some form of indoor air pollution. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ranks indoor air pollution among the top five environmental health risks to the public. According to EPA, poor indoor air quality costs the nation tens of billions of dollars annually in lost productivity and medical care. And the average person spends about 90 percent of his or her time indoors.
Indoor air pollutants can be broken into three categories: chemical (cleaning products and building materials), particulate (smoke, dust and fibers and asbestos) and microbial (fungus, spores, bacteria and viruses). The microbial category is the most complex, since it includes about 100,000 species of mold, some of which produce allergens and other dangerous mycotoxins. According to the Texas Department of Health (TDH), indoor pollutants can cause an array of problems including allergic reactions, asthma attacks, eye, skin and respiratory irritation, cognitive impairment, infections and cancer. In Nevada, 78 state employees have filed a lawsuit alleging that the state has been negligent in protecting its employees and that exposure to toxic mold has affected their health. Other states such as Florida, New York and Louisiana also face lawsuits filed by employees for damages related to toxic mold.
Texas House Bill 2008, passed during the 2001 legislative session, amended the state’s Health and Safety Code to require the Texas Board of Health to establish voluntary guidelines for indoor air quality in state and local government buildings that are owned or leased. The legislation specified that these guidelines should consider the potential effects of air contaminants on human health and their costs.
Indoor air pollutants can be costly. These costs are related to absenteeism due to employee health problems; reduced worker productivity; building investigations and testing; and building improvements including remediation. A 1999 report by the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers cited several studies and surveys showing that air quality affects employee performance by up to 20 percent.
The State Office of Risk Management (SORM) conducts safety program evaluations to assist state agencies in establishing employee health and safety programs, as well as handling and investigating employee claims. Data from SORM indicate that state employees have been paid workers’ compensation as a result of poor indoor air quality. The SORM website recommends that TDH’s Indoor Air Quality Branch (IAQB) be contacted for indoor air quality surveys and inspections.
Indoor Air Quality Branch
IAQB uses sophisticated techniques for testing indoor air quality. It has a central office in Austin and access to staff in regions around the state. The manager of IAQB holds a doctorate in chemistry and the staff members hold bachelor’s degrees. The IAQB headquarters’ budget was just $175,000 for fiscal 2002.
State agencies, public schools and members of the public in Austin and around the state have called upon IAQB to investigate problems related to indoor air quality. In fiscal 2001, IAQB conducted 339 on-site surveys, up from 186 the previous year. These on-site surveys include extensive evaluations of the facility and its heating and air-conditioning systems; visual observations and photographs; tests of moisture levels; and interviews with persons affected by air quality problems, focusing on any health-related problems they think they may have as a result of the problem. If warranted, IAQB will collect samples for laboratory analysis. A final report provides recommended solutions to the problem.
IAQB addresses issues concerning many indoor air contaminates, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as formaldehyde, organic vapors, common pesticides, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, mercury and radon, as well as bacteria, molds and dusts. In a presentation to the Legislature in January 2002, IAQB stated that exposure to mold can cause mild to severe health effects that can be exacerbated by poor remediation.
Environmental Hazards Section
The Environmental Hazards Section (EHS) of the Texas Building and Procurement Commission (TBPC) performs work similar to IABQ’s for state government buildings in Austin. The section is responsible for asbestos-related work in state buildings and the transportation and disposal of hazardous materials from Austin-based state agencies. TBPC owns 55 buildings and parking garages, mostly in Austin; of those, 13 contain varying levels and types of asbestos. The need for asbestos work, however, has declined because many of the state’s buildings have been “abated.” According to the EPA, asbestos abatement procedures are used to control fiber release from asbestos-containing materials in a building or to remove it entirely, this may involve removal, encapsulation, repair, enclosure, encasement, and operations and maintenance programs.
EHS also contracts annually with a private consultant to evaluate asbestos-related conditions in state-owned buildings. For fiscal 2001, the division received a budget of $440,000 from general revenue and cost recovery from charges to state agency clients.
EHS’s operation is less sophisticated than that of the IAQB. While many EHS employees are certified for asbestos-related duties, they are not trained or certified in other aspects of indoor air quality. Tests performed by EHS staff are simpler than those used by IABQ; the section does not have the experience or equipment to test for pollutants such as such as VOCs, for instance. EHS does send samples to two laboratories for mold-related testing. In 2000 and 2001, EHS paid $23,000 for 1128 environmental tests conducted by these laboratories.
While SORM, IABQ and EHS all have duties related to indoor air quality, communications among the various agencies are inadequate. SORM does not receive information from TBPC on buildings with indoor air quality problems. TBPC, in turn, does not seek assistance from TDH for indoor air quality testing and investigations.
Texas Institute for the Indoor Environment
The Texas Institute for the Indoor Environment at the University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Energy and Environmental Resources was established in April 2000 with the mission of improving the quality of non-industrial indoor environments. Institute members include university faculty, technical staff and graduate students. The group provides information to the public and technical practitioners intended to improve the quality of the indoor environment. The institute does not receive financial support from the University of Texas or the state.
A. The Texas Building and Procurement Commission’s (TBPC’s) Environmental Hazards Section (EHS) should be eliminated. The Texas Department of Health’s (TDH’s) Indoor Air Quality Branch (IABQ) should perform all testing of indoor air quality in state buildings, except tests for asbestos.TDH has more expertise in the area of testing indoor air quality than does TBPC. The EHS budget should be transferred to IAQB, with the exception of two full-time-equivalent (FTE) positions that should remain at TBPC to handle routine asbestos cleanup, minor remediation and hazardous materials work. EHS equipment used to test indoor air quality should be transferred to the IAQB at the latter’s discretion.Cleanup and remediation activities related to indoor air quality should be conducted either by the two FTEs at TBPC or by outside consultants. The Texas Institute for the Indoor Environment should train the two TBPC employees in dealing with substances that pose hazards to indoor air quality.Outside consultants should continue to perform air testing for asbestos and should report the results to TDH’s Asbestos Branch and the State Office on Risk Management (SORM). TDH should be given the same authority as TBPC to charge for certain complex testing and investigations if they so choose. IAQB would retain the revenues generated from its tests and evaluations.IAQB should track and report all indoor air quality investigations to SORM as requested.
B. TBPC should contract with the Texas Institute for the Indoor Environment to evaluate the handling of asbestos in state-owned buildings and any problems that could damage the indoor air quality in state buildings.The institute should report its findings and a recommended plan of action for addressing indoor air quality issues in state buildings to the Legislative Budget Board, the Governor’s Office of Budget and Planning and the State Office of Risk Management.
C. SORM, in coordination with IAQB and the Texas Institute for the Indoor Environment, should hold an annual one-day educational seminar on indoor air quality.The seminar should be required for all state agency risk managers, facility managers and building owners and managers of offices leased to the state. It should provide these persons with the latest information on maintaining safe indoor air. The information provided at the seminar should be posted on the SORM, TBPC, IABQ and Texas Institute for the Indoor Environment Web sites as a reference tool for building managers.
These recommendations could be accomplished at no additional cost to the state, since TBPC’s appropriation would be reduced and TDH’s increased by the same amount. TBPC should retain $120,000 of the $440,000 budgeted for EHS in fiscal 2001 to pay for two asbestos/hazardous materials FTEs to handle routine tasks and to pay the asbestos testing consultant.
TDH-IAQB should receive $270,000 to perform air quality testing. The remaining $50,000 should be used to hire the Texas Institute for the Indoor Environment to evaluate and make recommendations to improve the quality of air in state owned buildings.
SORM should provide the annual seminars with current funds designated for risk management training. TDH may choose to use its appropriation to fund additional staff positions as needed. The transfer of responsibilities and funding should be accompanied by appropriate adjustments in the FTE caps of the affected agencies.
Some savings might result from reduced absenteeism and fewer workers compensation claims, but these amounts cannot be estimated.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Indoor Air Facts No. 4 Revised: Sick Building Syndrome,” Washington, D.C., April 1991. (Pamphlet.)
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, An Office Building Occupant’s Guide to Indoor Air Quality, (Washington, D.C., October 1997), p.3.
Glenn Puit, “Mold allegations lead to lawsuit,” Las Vegas Review-Journal (February 18, 2002), p. B-1.
Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers, Environmental Factors Affecting Office Worker Performance: A Review of Evidence (London, United Kingdom, 1999), p. 15.
Texas Department of Health, Legislative Briefing on Indoor Air Quality and Mold. Presentation. Austin, Texas, January 24, 2002.
Interview with John Bozeman, program manager, Texas Building and Procurement Commission, Austin, Texas, April 1, 2002.