Setting the Bar for IAQ
How AIHA and IAQA Developed the Indoor Air Quality Body of Knowledge
What does an IAQ investigator need to know? The potential answers to this seemingly simple question are as numerous and diverse as IAQ professionals themselves. Start with regional differences. A consultant in Florida, say, might insist that knowledge of moisture control, dehumidifiers, and air conditioning is essential. But someone who practices in Northern California might know little about these topics and still have a successful practice. Next, consider the variety of potential indoor contaminants, which can range in severity from nuisance odors to cancer-causing chemicals such as radon. Chances are good that no matter what your specialty is, it has potential application in the indoor environment. In the words of Ben Kollmeyer, MPH, CIH, the chief science officer at Forensic Analytical Consulting Services, “IAQ is exposure to just about anything.”
If, as Kollmeyer says, IAQ involves a limitless variety of potential exposures, then the exposed population is also limitless—basically, anyone who spends time indoors. No single IAQ investigator can know about every potential exposure to every potential building occupant. Beginning in 2013, a volunteer project jointly conducted by AIHA and the Indoor Air Quality Association (IAQA) attempted to define the minimum qualifications an IAQ professional must possess to be an effective practitioner. The result of this work was the IAQ Body of Knowledge (BoK), a 12-page list of skills and abilities related to contaminants, health effects, building systems, assessments, mitigation, and proactive approaches to IAQ. The AIHA and IAQA boards of directors approved the BoK last July, and the document is available, along with BoKs on respiratory protection and direct-reading instruments, from the AIHA website. As recalled by three key participants, the IAQ BoK required a lengthy, sometimes painful series of discussions, arguments, and compromises that whittled the vast topic down to core concepts. DRAWING THE LINE The IAQ BoK grew out of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed in May 2013 by AIHA, IAQA, and the AIHA Registry Programs. The three organizations envisioned the BoK as a foundation for future education initiatives, skills assessments, research projects, and other collaborations. A related benefit is that the BoK will help qualified practitioners differentiate themselves from unqualified ones in the marketplace. Development of the BoK began with the appointment of a steering committee comprising elected leaders and staff from AIHA and IAQA. The steering committee oversaw the coordination of effort in this joint project. A second group of volunteers from both organizations served as subject matter experts and drafted the document. These two groups, the steering committee and the SME project team, were tasked with determining what in the vast universe of potential IAQ knowledge is essential for practitioners. The process lasted 18 months, and its results were sent to a much larger group of IAQ professionals for feedback and validation. The BoK team didn’t have to start from scratch. AIHA’s Indoor Environmental Quality Committee had produced a document that was essentially a forerunner of the BoK. Length was a concern: the document, while helpful, was already beyond what was considered a manageable size for the BoK. “It was a comprehensive and detailed document that could serve as a good outline to develop educational offerings,” recalls Mary Ann Latko, CAE, CIH, CSP, QEP, who served as AIHA’s staff liaison to the BoK steering committee. “But for a BoK, we needed to develop a concise document that focused on the needed knowledge and skills of a competent practitioner.”