Healthy Zero Energy Buildings (HZEB) Program – Cross-Sectional Study of Contaminant Levels, Source, Strengths, and Ventilation Rates in Retail Stores

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This field study measured ventilation rates and indoor air quality parameters in 21 visits to retail stores in California. The data was collected to guide the development of new, science-based commercial building ventilation rate standards that balance the dual objectives of increasing energy efficiency and maintaining acceptable indoor air quality. Data collection occurred between September 2011 and March 2013. Three types of stores participated in this study: grocery stores, furniture/hardware stores, and apparel stores. Ventilation rates and indoor air contaminant concentrations were measured on a weekday, typically between 9 am and 6 pm. Ventilation rates measured using a tracer gas decay method exceeded the minimum requirement of California's Title 24 Standard in all but one store. Even though there was adequate ventilation according to Title 24, concentrations of formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, and acrolein exceeded the most stringent chronic health guidelines.

Other indoor air contaminants measured included carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), ozone (O3), and particulate matter (PM). Concentrations of CO2 were kept low by adequate ventilation, and were assumed low also because the sampling occurred on a weekday when retail stores were less busy. CO concentrations were also low. The indoor-outdoor ratios of O3 showed that the first-order loss rate may vary by store trade types and also by ventilation mode (mechanical versus natural). Analysis of fine and ultrafine PM measurements showed that a substantial portion of the particle mass in grocery stores with cooking-related emissions was in particles less than 0.3 μm. Stores without cooking as an indoor source had PM size distributions that were more similar indoors and outdoors.

The whole-building emission rates of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and PM were estimated from the measured ventilation rates and indoor and outdoor contaminant concentrations. Mass balance models were then used to determine the ventilation rates, filtration strategies, or source reductions needed to maintain indoor contaminant concentrations below reference levels. Several scenarios of potential concern were considered: (i) formaldehyde levels in furniture/hardware stores, (ii) contaminants associated with cooking (e.g., PM, acrolein, and acetaldehyde) in grocery stores, and (iii) outdoor contaminants (e.g., PM and O3) impacting stores that use natural ventilation. Estimated formaldehyde emission rates suggest that retail stores would need to ventilate at levels far exceeding the current Title 24 requirement to lower indoor concentrations below California's stringent formaldehyde reference level. Given the high costs of providing ventilation but only modest chronic health benefit is expected, effective source control is an attractive alternative, as demonstrated by some retail stores in this study. Predictions showed that grocery stores need MERV 13 air filters, instead of MERV 8 filters that are more commonly used, to maintain indoor PM at levels that meet the chronic health standards for PM. Exposure to acrolein is a potential health concern in grocery stores, and should be addressed by increasing the use of kitchen range hoods or improving their contaminant removal efficiency. In stores that rely on natural ventilation, indoor PM can be a health concern if the stores are located in areas with high outdoor PM. This concern may be addressed by switching to mechanical ventilation when the outdoor air quality is poor, while continuing natural ventilation when outdoor air quality is good.

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