Smart facility management aided by artificial intelligence (AI) for indoor air quality value delivery

Indoor Air Cartoon Journal, January 2022, Volume 5, #126

[Cite as: Fadeyi MO (2022). Smart facility management aided by artificial intelligence (AI) for indoor air quality value delivery. Indoor Air Cartoon Journal, January 2022, Volume 5, #126.]


Inactions by people despite comfort, learning, and work performance are compromised and people falling sick and dying due to exposure to poor air quality, especially in indoor environments, had become customary practices. The death of a teenage boy’s parents due to exposure to indoor air pollutants led him on a journey of finding ways to reduce the risk posed by air pollutants. The teenage boy’s journey to developing an artificial intelligence solution for indoor air quality, facility management, and public health value delivery is the subject of this short fiction story.

“Who is going to take care of my son if I die now.” Wade Jacob said in a worrying and crying voice while driving home from the hospital. He had just received the bad news that he had prostate cancer. He received this news about one year after his wife, Mary Jacob, died of breast cancer. A medical laboratory test revealed a high concentration of semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs) that can disrupt human bodily functions in Mary’s blood. The doctor concluded that the SVOCs had probably contributed to Mary’s breast cancer. Unfortunately, Mary’s breast cancer was found when chances of survival were very low. Mary died three months after her cancer was discovered.

At the time of Mary’s breast cancer diagnosis, the doctor suggested that Wade should go for a blood test to ensure he does not have a high concentration of SVOCs in his blood. Wade ignored the doctor’s advice. Wade migrated out of his country with his son, Rio Jacob, six months after Mary died to start a new job in a country where he knew no one except for his friend Dr. Amin Ahmed and his family. Dr. Amin, as popularly called, was a professor of mathematics. Wade was really affected by the death of his wife, as would be expected of any loving husband, and wanted to migrate to another country with the hope of starting afresh in a new environment with a little trigger of emotional disturbance. Wade got a job as a technical director of innovation in this new country.

Seven months after starting his job and his son, Rio, had settled in a neighbourhood high school in the new country, Wade began to experience excruciating body pain. A medical check-up at the hospital revealed Wade had prostate cancer. Further medical tests revealed a high concentration of SVOCs in his blood. The doctor said that the SVOCs likely contributed greatly to his cancer. Wade experienced a sense of Dejavu!

While Wade was receiving treatment for his cancer, there was an outbreak of a very contagious and infectious airborne virus. Wade got infected a few weeks after the virus outbreak occurred. His pre-existing cancer condition made him very vulnerable to experiencing pain or death caused by the harmful effect of the virus. He spent two months in ICU supported by a ventilator. During this period, Rio moved in with Dr. Amin’s family after it had been confirmed he was not infected. Unfortunately, Wade died due to the harmful effect of the virus complicated with his cancer condition.

Rio was devasted by the death of his father, the only blood-related family he had in the foreign country. Back home, his maternal and paternal grandparents were no more. His father was the only child of his parents. The same applied to his mother. Thus, no one back home could take care of Rio. At least, no one Rio would feel comfortable living with. The support provided by Dr. Amin’s family after Wade’s death helped to lessen Rio’s pain. The pledge by Dr. Amin and his wife, a neurosurgeon, to take care of him and his education reassured Rio that there was hope for his future.

Dr. Amin and his wife were committed to ensuring Rio did not lack anything. Many years ago, when Dr. Amin was a self-sponsored international student in Wade’s country, Wade’s father took in a young Amin into their house. Young Amin was a brilliant and well-behaved student but had difficulty taking care of himself after his parent died in a plane crash while studying at the university. Wade’s father sponsored the young Amin until he graduated from the university with First-Class in Pure Mathematics. The sponsorship only stopped after the young Amin secured a scholarship for a Ph.D. study at MIT.

A year after his father died, Rio sat for his A-Levels exams. Rio did very well in his A-Levels. He scored A in all his subjects, including A* in Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, and Additional Mathematics. The death of his parents, mainly due to exposure to indoor air pollutants, especially those related to chemicals, motivated him to enroll in the university to study environmental chemistry with a minor in computer science. He wanted to understand more about chemicals, their dynamics and reactions in the environments, migration into the human body, and potential health effects.

He chose computer science as a minor with the hope of gaining skills that could be useful in modelling chemicals dynamics, chemistry, and evolution. One of his undergraduate training highlights was a module titled chemicals in indoor environments, which he took. The module was taught by a world-renowned professor of chemistry, known for his work on indoor air chemistry. Rio learnt how chemicals evolved in indoor environments over five decades. The following were some of what Rio learnt.


Building materials, products used in the indoor environment, chemical transformation, hydrolysis reactions, and human activities emit chemicals to indoor air. Such chemicals include: (i) Very volatile organic compounds (VVOCs), e.g., formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, and acrolein; (ii) Aldehydes related VOCs, e.g., hexanal, nonanal, and decanal; (iii) Aliphatic related VOCs e.g., n-Alkanes like n-Ooctane, branched alkanes like 2,3-dimethihexane, 2,3,4-trimethylpentane; (iv) Aromatics related VOCss, e.g., benzene, toluene, and xylene isomers; (v) Terpenoids related VOCs, e.g., limonene, α-pinene, and linalool; (vi) Chlorinated related VOCs, e.g., dichloromethane, chloroform, and tetrachloroethylene; (vii) fluorinated VOCs, e.g., Feron 11, 12, and 13; (viii) Other VOCs like dimethyl phthalate, diethyl phthalate, and cyclopentasiloxane; (ix) Biocides, fungicides, and preservatives related SVOCs, e.g., Triclosan and Butylated hydroxytoluene; (x) Combustion byproducts related SVOCs, e.g., environmental tobacco smoke and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) (xi) degradation products, e.g., bisphenol-A; (xii) Flame retardants related SVOCs, e.g., 2,2′,4,4′-tetrabromodiphenyl ether (BDE-47), decabromodiphenyl ether (BDE-209), and tris (chloropropyl) phosphate; (xiii) Heat transfer fluids related SVOCs, e.g., PolychlorinatedBiphenyls (PCBs), polydimethyl siloxanes; (xiv) Personal care products related SVOCs like musk compounds; (xv) Pesticides and herbicides related SVOCs, e.g., Permethrin, dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT), and melathione; (xvi) Plasticizers related SVOCs, e.g., dibutyl phthalate, butylbenzyl phthalate, and triphenylphosphate (xvii) Stain and water repellents related SVOCs, e.g., perfluorinated surfactants; (xviii) Nonionic surfactants and coalescing agents related SVOCs, e.g., 4-nonylphenol and texanol® Isomers; (xix) Waxes and polishes related SVOCs, e.g., fatty acids and sesquiterpenes; (xx) metals and mineral fibres related pollutants, e.g., asbestos, cadmium, lead, and mercury; (xxi) biological related pollutants, e.g., allergens, mold, bacteria, and virus; (xxii) inorganic gases, e.g., carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxides, nitric oxide, ozone, sulphur dioxide, and radon (xxiii) airborne particles.

Backing, adhesive, and pad often treated with flame retardants are used as part of the carpet backing systems. Fluorinated surfactants are often applied to carpet fibres to increase carpet ability to repel stains and reduce the frequency of maintenance. The carpets made with polyester and polypropylene made carpets a major contributor of SVOCs into indoor environments.

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), a synthetic plastic polymer, is used for pipes. PVC materials used for pipes contain organotin compounds, which are SVOCs. Organotin compounds have neurotoxicity, hepatotoxicity, renal toxicity, and dermal toxicity effects. The PVC materials used for pipes are rigid, while the materials used for floor and wall covering are flexible. The flexibility of PVC materials used for floor and wall covering is due to plasticizers. Like other SVOCs, plasticizers can be emitted throughout a product’s life. The common plasticizers used are phthalate esters, e.g., di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP).

Flexible PVC materials have a higher emission rate of SVOCs than the rigid PVC materials used for pipes. The length and surface area of flexible PVC materials are increasing in indoor environments, and human health is at risk. Plasticizers are detrimental to the development of the male reproductive tract. They lead to increased prenatal mortality, reduced growth and birth weight, and increased asthma and allergies in children. Binders used for water-based paints include vinyl, acrylic, vinyl-acrylic blends, and texanol. Researchers found that SVOCs, e.g., Texanol® Isomers, are emitted continually from latex-painted surfaces for months after application. Many indoor surfaces are painted with latex paints, leading to the considerable contribution of Texanol® Isomers to indoor air.

Unsaturated organic compounds, e.g., terpenoids, constituents of natural paints, can react with ozone to produce secondary organic aerosols. Formaldehyde, known to be carcinogenic, is another known product of ozone-terpenoid chemicals. The veneer on composite wood commonly used for furnishings in indoor environments generally has particle board entrenched with formaldehyde. The use of SVOCs based flame retardants in synthetic foam used for cushioning of beddings, sofas, and chairs is a common practice in the industry. High amounts of SVOC and VVOC chemicals are found in insulation materials, fabrics, adhesives, adhesives, finishes, and coating used in constructing partitions for making office cubicles.

The common occurrence of nonionic surfactants, e.g., alkylphenol ethoxylates, in indoor dust and air caused sensory irritations. Terpenoids, e.g., limonene, α-terpinene, α-terpineol, and linalool, in cleaning products and air-fresheners react with ozone at a faster rate to generate SOA and VVOC chemicals. Cooking activities emit particles, NOx, carbon monoxides, SVOCs, e.g., polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Chemicals such as ozone, styrene, formaldehyde, SVOCs, and particles are contributed to indoor environments by photocopiers.

The increase in the size and numbers of entertainment systems increase the risk of indoor air being compromised by SVOCs in plasticizers and flame retardants. Hydrolysis of plasticizers, e.g., phthalate or phosphate esters leads to alcohol and acids formation. The proportion of products containing esters that found their way into indoor environments is increasing, thereby increasing the risk to human health. The hydrolysis of texanol leads to highly unpleasant butyric acid. The students learnt many more from the professor.


Of note to Rio in the module were dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT), PolychlorinatedBiphenyls (PCBs), and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are cancer-causing agents. A very high concentration of DDT, PCBs, and PAHs was found in the blood of his parents. With the motivation to prevent what contributed largely to the death of his parents, Rio was very committed to his studies in the university. He graduated at the top of his class with a perfect GPA and also performed excellently in his minor. An achievement that had never been achieved before in the university’s chemistry department. The chemistry department was rated as the best in the world. Dr. Amin and his wife were very proud of him. Rio decided to pursue a Ph.D. degree programme in indoor air quality and health at Cambridge University.

He wanted to learn from Professor Ramesh Khan. Professor Khan was a renowned expert in using Artificial Intelligence, enhanced with machine learning, for healthy buildings value delivery. Rio’s Ph.D. topic was titled “smart facility management aided by artificial intelligence (AI) for indoor air quality value delivery.” Rio’s personal experience and understanding from his literature review guided his motivation for the proposed study. He learnt that most of the inactions to improve indoor air quality or reduce exposure stem from humans’ lack of awareness of or inability to visualise the kind and concentration of air pollutants they are exposed to, the exposure duration, and the possible health effects.

Rio believed that his parents’ suffering and subsequent death could have been avoided if a solution provided awareness on air pollutants they were exposed to in indoor environments. Rio’s Ph.D. study was guided by four questions which are:

(i) What if AI, enhanced with machine learning, can be used to present detected odour, concentrations, and flow of particulate matter, vapourised pollutants, and gaseous pollutants, even the ones that are not visible at wavelengths humans see, in a way that can be visualised in real-time on a digital device?

(ii) What if AI can be used to present detected chemical emissions from indoor surfaces and indoor air chemical reactions and their by-products in a way that can be visualised in real-time on a digital device?

(iii) What if the visualised IAQ information is integrated with an AI-augmented cloud-mapped real-life building, its systems, and indoor environment in real-life look resolution combined with real-time video of human and robotic solutions activities, with no need for BIM 3D modellers?

(iv) What if the control or instruction made through the digital device can cause changes to building systems, human and robotic solutions activities, and indoor air parameters and conditions in real-time without being in the building?

Four years of many challenges went by, and Rio successfully completed his Ph.D. His visions came to reality. He was able to develop the AI solution he wished for. Rio’s developed AI solution benefited from decades of research works by Professor Khan and his team. He successfully deployed and tested his solutions in more than 100 buildings in the country. Subjectively and objectively, he showed that his developed solutions could support facility managers to provide smart facility management to ensure healthy buildings and indoor air quality value delivery to building occupants, building owners, themselves, and other stakeholders involved. The developed AI solution helped streamline the process involved and cut down the time taken to accurately diagnose and provide solutions to the causes of IAQ problems. The developed solution also helped building owners and facility managers achieve effective asset management.

The developed solution provided a high level of usefulness, i.e., comfort, convenience, and awareness to all stakeholders involved with prudent use of invested resources. The developed solution also revolutionised the public health approach to reducing exposure to and the adverse effect of air pollution. Rio published six peer-reviewed articles in highly ranked journals and eight peer-reviewed conference papers with his supervisor, Professor Khan, and colleagues in the research team. Rio and Professor Khan also successfully patented the developed AI solution. Additionally, after the study, many building owners and facility management companies adopted the patented solution in their buildings. Rio also won three academic awards and four industry-related awards. The achievement was covered in local and international media.

Instead of doing a post-doctoral fellowship like many of his peers, Rio received faculty job offers from many top universities he applied to. He finally settled for MIT as an Assistant Professor of Healthy Buildings Value Delivery. Rio was tenured within three years and became a Full Professor of Healthy Buildings Value Delivery two years after. He made an enormous amount of positive impacts in the academic and industry. Rio believed and always shared that his parents’ exposures to SVOCs that made him move from being a teenager with two parents to being an orphan suddenly motivated his success at every interview. He also always thanked Dr. Amin, his wife, and their children for taking care of him when he was at the most vulnerable point in his life.

Professor Rio Jacob is now an emeritus professor at MIT. He enjoys old age with his wife, Madison Jacob, twin children, and five grandchildren. Many of the students he mentored went on to make impacts in academics and the industry locally and internationally. The End!

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