Consultants explain how the hazards of VOCs can be mitigated in the UAE

Sustainability experts tell Construction Week that the impact of volatile organic compounds on indoor air quality is reshaping chemical-material selection trends in the UAE

Gate Village is one of AESGs projects in Dubai [representational image].
Gate Village is one of AESGs projects in Dubai [representational image].

This September, Farah Yassine, senior consultant at WSP, told Construction Week that a 2013 study that covered indoor environmental conditions across four offices in the UAE had highlighted key concerns in relation to comfort and wellbeing.

In one of the offices, 40% of people expressed dissatisfaction resulting from poor thermal comfort.

Authoring an exclusive comment piece (Construction Week #669), Yassine said: “A [separate] study conducted in 2014, which assessed the indoor environmental quality in elementary school classrooms [in the UAE], showed that indoor air quality levels were more than double the acceptable limits of pollutants.

“For example, the average level of total volatile organic compounds (VOCs) was found to be 815 grams per metre cubed (g/m³), whilst the acceptable level according to Dubai Municipality is 300g/m³.”

Indeed, VOCs could significantly impact the ‘liveability’ of the region’s upcoming developments, and the construction and development communities across the Gulf would do well to consider the data revealed by Yassine, who explained that high levels of total VOCs could cause, or contribute to, health problems such as headaches, nausea, and fatigue.

Dalia Wagdi, sustainability consultant  at UAE-headquartered consultancy, AESG, tells Construction Week that regional chemicals manufacturers must work alongside construction teams from the design stage to ensure high levels of indoor air quality (IAQ), and to guard against incorrect material selection: “[Methods] to improve IAQ through the different stages of a building’s life cycle [...] include material selection and proper design of heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems at the design stage.

“A Construction Pollution Management Plan should be drafted and enforced during the construction phase. It is important to ensure that regular maintenance of heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems and cleaning filters continues during building operation. Since IAQ can severely deteriorate over time, it is very important to address issues that arise during operation.”

To understand how the dangers associated with VOCs can be mitigated, it is key to understand the products in which they are commonly found. Wagdi says that building materials such as paints and coatings, adhesives and sealants, insulation, carpets, medium density fibreboard (MDF) tiles, and furnishings all contribute to VOC volume.

She continues: “VOCs from installed materials disperse gas at different rates, depending on the VOC [source] and the type of products used. Wet products usually disperse gas at a faster rate and can emit higher levels of VOCs. There are different certification schemes that are responsible for testing various types of products and ensuring compliance with [VOC-related] standards and benchmarks.

“Some products, including low-VOC paints and coatings, are easily available in the Gulf, while other products, such as furniture and some types of flooring, are not widely available, or may be available at higher costs. In accordance with the Dubai Green Building Regulations (DGBR), it is mandatory to procure low-VOC paints, coatings, adhesives, and sealants that have been tested and approved by Dubai Central Lab,” Wagdi explains.

AESG’s portfolio in the sustainability sector includes the provision of Well Building Certification for Cigna’s local offices, as well as LEED’s Building Design + Construction (BD+C) certification for Dubai’s Gate Village and ICD Brookfield Place projects. Wagdi says that increasing awareness about green building rating systems and healthy building designs could expand the region’s options for construction materials in 2018.

“With increased demand to comply with new green building rating systems such as LEED, Estidama, and DGBR, consultants and contractors are becoming more aware of VOC-related risks, and the types of products that comply with these requirements,” she adds.

“It is expected that the regional market will cater to [sustainability] requirements, and include a wider variety of materials that comply with these standards. The growing uptake of Well Certification [...] indicates that this [trend] will continue through 2018.”

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