Starting Point: When complaints of indoor air quality are non-specific, placement of a Q-trak monitor is often recommended as an inexpensive starting point for the response action. A Q-trak measures and records concentrations and trends in carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide (CO2), temperature and relative humidity. When CO2 concentrations exceed 1,000 ppm, complaints of stuffy air, itchy eyes, etc., will ensue. Elevated CO2 levels are most often traced to problems with the building's heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) system. The most common problem: Pre- and inner filters that have exceeded their useful life. Ellis often inspects HVAC units as a normal part of its investigation.
Depending on the results of its initial investigation, Ellis may also recommend and perform testing for the following contaminants:
- airborne mold
- surface mold
- ultrafine dust particles emitted from printers and copiers
- respirable and nuisance dust, usually from nearby construction activities
- hydrogen sulfide (sewer smell)
- fecal contamination (E. coli & Enterococcus), most often performed following a sewage leak and cleanup
- airborne asbestos
- bulk asbestos
- airborne lead
- damaged lead paint
- volatile organic compounds (VOCs), emitted from chemical processes - SUMMA-type canister or TEDLAR bags
- formaldehyde, a contaminant associated with urethane insulation, preservatives and embalming processes
- other contaminants, depending on site specific needs
Depending on the targeted contaminant, Ellis will partner with CalScience Laboratories, EMSL, LA Testing, Silliker Labs, and other local and national AIHA- and NVLAP-accredited laboratories.
Complaints and health effects which might be related to building environments are sometimes similar to those from colds, flu, stress and allergies. When the reported complaints are nonspecific and diverse, it can initially be difficult to determine if problems are caused by sources or conditions in the building, and what can be done to remedy the complaints. A building investigation is performed in an effort to make these determinations. In some instances, a specific source of contamination or a specific building condition causing the complaints is readily obvious. In the majority of the cases, however, the investigator must consider all the factors that relate to indoor air quality to identify possible contaminants and stressors which could be responsible for the reported complaints and effects. This requires that the inspecting agency must go through a process of identifying and eliminating numerous potential contaminants, sources and other factors in the hope that the true causal factor will eventually be identified. If requires time and patience on the part of both the building owner and it occupants.