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Green During Construction: Air Quality Pledge



Air Quality Pledge


 The green building movement focuses on constructing energy efficient buildings and using less toxic building materials as important factors in environmental health and sustainability.   Organizations such as Green Global and LEED have developed certification paradigms that are gaining adherents and advocates among investors, designers, developers, and architects.   As projects are being designed many investors are demanding that designers and builders meet these certifications. And many firms, banks, design firms, stipulate that they will only rent space in a “green certified” building.


While there are obvious benefits to the approach what needs to be added is air quality issues while structures are being built.  Air quality while structures are being built has serious impact(s) on workers and visitors on site and to the surrounding community.   As a result RICOSH has joined with the Lung Association of RI, and IBEWL99 to focus attention on air quality issues that any “Green Building” should address.  



What are the Air Quality Concerns?  During construction soil, granite, and concrete are dug, drilled crushed, impacted, abraded. Soil, granite, and concrete contain crystalline silica (sand). Occupational exposure to free silica produces silicosis, a chronic, disabling lung disease characterized by the formation of silica-containing nodules of scar tissue in the lungs. Each year nearly 300 workers die from silicosis in the US, hundreds more are disabled. Nearly 2 million US workers are exposed to crystalline silica; and the industry that leads in premature mortality (years of potential life lost) from silicosis is construction. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies crystalline silica in the form of quartz or cristobalite as carcinogenic to humans. {In the 30’s Gauley Bridge tunnel project in West Virginia an estimated 475 workers died from acute silicosis. (169 African-American workers who died in the tunnel were buried in a mass grave in nearby fields). An additional 1,500 workers ended up with chronic silicosis.}



  •  Carbon monoxide, fine and ultrafine particles, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), sulfur and nitrogen oxides, benzene are emitted by diesel and gasoline-powered vehicles and equipment on construction sites. These toxins have been linked to cognitive impairment, cardiovascular disease, respiratory symptoms, decline in lung function, exacerbation of asthma, and cancer.


 This is an opportunity to directly address the health and environmental impact of stationary equipment and motor vehicles, of dust and silicate exposures, and to integrate worker and community health into a seamless package.


Green During The Construction Phase


Purpose: To integrate air pollution issues into the Green Building approach  by incorporating three basic metrics:



Apply dust suppression controls, especially silica  control measures, during construction.   Water spray dust control measures have been shown to reduce respirable crystalline silica dust during various construction and mining operations worldwide. Equipment removes silicate particles from the air, while general purpose sprinklers reduce the settled dust on surfaces and area. Landscaping policy can minimizes destruction to standing foliage etc to reduce general dust exposures. [RI DEM has a fugitive dust rule that restricts offsite community exposure.]



Restrict idling  of gasoline and diesel vehicles.   Diesel idling is already prohibited under state law, though it is frequently ignored. No such rule exists for gasoline equipment though such equipment and vehicles are a major cause of carbon monoxide poisoning.



Reduce exhaust emissions Gasoline powered vehicles and equipment produce prodigious amounts of carbon monoxide (CO), a lethal gas.   {Centers for Disease control report two thousand seven hundred CO poisonings from worksites   each year.]   Gasoline emissions have been shown to exceed one in one hundred thousand cancer risk thresholds in northeast urban areas.   Prolonged exposure to diesel exhaust can exacerbate asthma and other lung and cardiovascular diseases, and probably increases the risk of lung cancer


Gasoline and diesel emission reductions can be achieved in several ways:


•         Substitute Electric equipment in place of gasoline/diesel powered equipment. [Electric scissorlifts replace gas powered. Electric heaters replace propane or gas powered blowers.]

•       Only use portable gasoline powered generators if they have catalytic converters.)

•       Best diesel retrofit technology and low sulfur fuels (Northeast Diesel Collaborative Model specs.)


 This approach would benefit the surrounding community and workers and visitors on the site by reducing both particulate matter   (PM), dust and silicates, and toxic gases, NO(s) CO.   In addition, by reducing gasoline exhaust this will realize reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.


Green During Construction Air Quality Pledge

 The fundamental goal of this project is to encourage institutions, developers, designers, and professional organizations to adopt a Green during construction pledge and include key parameters in bid and contract specs for construction projects. [While LEED addresses some air quality issues after occupancy there is limited guidance for activities during construction. Green Globes does advocate for dust minimization and diesel fume reductions.]


Minimal protocols for a Green During Construction Pledge:


  •  Idling protocols
  •  Dust/silica protocols
  •  Green Building guidelines on site preservation. ENVIRONMENTAL CONSTRUCTION GUIDELINE US GREEN, SUSTAINABLE BUILDING TECHNICAL MANUAL, Public Technology Inc.


 Project partners:  RI Committee on Occupational Safety and Health          American Lung Association of Rhode Island, IBEW International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers L99


Organizations that have facilitated project:

US Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Providence Area Office, National Coalition on Occupational Safety and Health, United Service and Allied Workers of RI, Office of Air Resources, RI Department of Environmental Management




Green Power and Light.

The Construction Institute

                                      RI Diesel Coalition.




                    One aspect of the Green During Construction proposal is to provide some method to determine, quantitatively, that the work practices are reducing exposure.   The time-honored approach in worker safety is to monitor the environment with detection equipment (e.g., a CO monitor) and assess exposure in relation to exposure standards.


Many construction projects are now required to monitor

particulate exposure at the perimeter of the site using real time monitoring equipment.   The additional Green during Construction approach would mean adding monitors in the work site to evaluate worker exposures.




Diesel particulates (DPM) can be approximated using real time equipment, which can run unattended, or also comes as a portable, personal sampler measures black carbon, essentially elemental carbon which is generally used as a surrogate (although only a fraction) of DPM.


                    {These measurements must be corrected for ambient PM

                    exposure, which is highly variable.} You could reduce the

                    variability, i.e. how much the background (furnaces, cars,

                    buses, taxis etc) contribute by measuring exposures when

                    construction operations were not being conducted, for

                    example, night and Sunday.


                    The California Air Resources Board and USEPA both promulgate reference concentrations for DPM of 5 ug/M3, for prevention   of respiratory effects.



Recommendations for CO:-

There are a variety of CO detectors, some portable, some can be attached to a structure at the worksite (where CO levels historically have been shown to be high).



CO levels in worksites should be maintained below 9ppm.



CO levels between 9-35ppp may be a problem for “at risk” populations (individuals with heart conditions, pregnancy).



Evacuate a worksite /facility whenever CO reaches levels of 200ppm.



Recommendations for Silica:–

There is a standard Industrial Hygiene protocol and assorted detection devices to measure silica.   Reference exposure standards include:



Current OSHA PEL for respirable silica


10 mg/m3 / %SiO2 + 2 for 8-hour TWA



Current NIOSH REL for respirable silica


50 ug/m3 TWA for up to10 hours/day during a 40 hour workweek

The NIOSH REL is far more protective.


RI Committee on Occupational Safety and Health

741 Westminster St.

Providence RI 02903 (401) 751-2015/[email protected]