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Improving indoor air quality in Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi’s Quality and Conformity Council wants to improve indoor air quality in Abu Dhabi

INTERVIEWS, MEP, Abu dhabi, Air quality control systems, GCC region, United Arab Emirates

Does Abu Dhabi have a problem with indoor air quality?

Unfortunately there is currently no comprehensive study conducted in Abu Dhabi to conclusively answer this question. Some recent studies conducted on both residential and educational indoor air quality in the UAE suggest there may be existing issues related to indoor air quality. There is also plenty of anecdotal evidence and information provided by the commercial sector involved in providing air quality monitoring and HVAC cleaning industries, but generations of indoor air quality data still lags significantly behind the efforts recently established for the monitoring of outdoor air quality. Considering the proportion of time Abu Dhabi residents spend indoors, this is obviously of some concern.

Tell us about your indoor air quality schemes?

Currently the QCC operates a number of product certification schemes which directly support the Estidama sustainable building initiative by identifying products used in construction with low-impact on indoor air quality. These include certification of paints, adhesives, sealants, carpets and hard flooring, and very soon, furniture, which have low volatile organic compound (VOC) content and absence of formaldehyde. Products certified by the QCC are licensed to bear the Abu Dhabi Trustmark for Environmental Performance, and if used in Estidama projects, they can provide credits towards the Estidama Pearl Villa and Building Rating Systems. The standards which the products must meet are decided by consensus between Abu Dhabi regulators and industry, and take into account international best practise in the fields of testing and certification of low VOC products. The QCC has also recently launched two certification schemes for air/water cooled chillers and unitary A/Cs designed to identify quality products that provide air conditioning in an energy efficient manner with zero impact on ozone layer depletion. In addition, the QCC has launched several certification schemes for personnel including electricians and HVAC technicians designed to ensure installation, maintenance and cleaning activities have no negative impacts on indoor air quality.

How long have the schemes been running?

The first certification scheme for low VOC paints was launched in early 2013, with the other product and personnel certification schemes following at regular intervals over 2014 and 2015. The QCC continues to support the Estidama initiative by launching several new certification schemes for products such as insulation, window and door glazing systems and gypsum/wallboard, all of which are expected to enable the construction of high-quality Estidama villas and buildings with improvements in building envelope tightness a key factor in ensuring good indoor air quality. In addition, the QCC continuously monitors and updates the specifications provided within the certification schemes based on feedback from the industry, regulators and current trends in building science. This ensures the products certified by the QCC are always at the cutting edge of technology designed to improve indoor air quality.

Are the schemes mandatory?

All of the QCC product and personnel certification schemes are primarily developed as voluntary schemes to begin with. As the QCC is not itself a regulator, we rely on the regulatory entities involved in the scheme development process to introduce mandates for QCC certified products where they see the opportunity. This initial voluntary approach is vital in terms of gaining confidence from the industry in the benefits of QCC certification as well as a build-up of a large certified products database to ensure that mandating does not result in a shortage of product supply. The QCC will continue to work closely with Estidama to identify opportunities to introduce a mandate for certified products, along with Government and semi-government construction contractors. The QCC is also working closely with the Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC) to ensure Abu Dhabi schools continue to provide high levels of indoor air quality to students.

How will the mandates be enforced?

Enforcement of mandates to purchase/install QCC certified products will be in the hands of the regulatory agencies which introduced the mandate. However, during the period in which a product or service is certified by the QCC, market surveillance will be carried out to ensure the integrity of the QCC Trustmark is maintained through random selection and testing of the products against the standards set forth by the QCC. Products which fail to meet the high standards of QCC certification will have their Trustmark status suspended, and QCC will work with the product supplier/manufacturer to address issues of compliance.

How are certification schemes applicable to the MEP industry?

The QCC certification schemes are primarily aimed at providing a quality goal for products to aim for, that being the Abu Dhabi Trustmark and, hence, recognition by the Abu Dhabi government. Setting of this goal aims to steadily improve the quality of products available to the MEP industry on a competitive basis, and thus, by association, improve the quality of construction within the Emirate. Should market research conducted by the QCC identify that products across the board comply with the standards set, or should the standards become a regulatory requirement, the QCC will look to once again raise the bar by setting even higher standards to attain.

How much do they cost?

Currently there is no charge to apply for QCC certification. The application process typically requires the submission of documented evidence of the product meeting the required standards through the provision of test reports or certifications. There will be a nominal cost involved with this testing which will have to be carried by the certification applicant, but typically this testing will be part of normal quality assurance, or product certification in other geographies, so additional costs to the product supplier will be minimal.

Are there amendments you plan to make to the certification schemes in the future?

The QCC certification scheme requirements are meant to be living documents, designed to move with developments in technology and testing to ensure Trustmark products provide benefits to the construction industry and residents of Abu Dhabi. Currently each certification scheme undergoes an assessment every 2-3 years for compliance, relevance and potential improvement designed to continue to satisfy the demands of Abu Dhabi regulators, consumers and industry. In addition, the QCC will continue to explore the development of certifications for new products and services.

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