Mold Testing & Inspection in Houston, TX

Building Indoor Air Quality Issues

Complaints are of headaches, nausea, throat irritation, dizziness, sinus problems, feeling sleepy, and people cannot focus in on their work activities.  What is your next step? 

Solving and identifying building indoor air quality problems can be a task that is sometimes like, looking for a needle in a haystack.  Therefore, lots of questions have to be asked.  Persistence and through a process of elimination, the source of the problem can be solved. A problem may exist on the third floor but the cause and origin of the issue may be found on the first floor.  Let's talk about the many possibilities that may affect indoor air quality. 

The ventilation system: Let's assume the ventilation system has been designed correctly or is it really.  Has it been modified?  Questions that might be asked are as follows: Are there maintenance records?  When was the system last maintained?  When was the system last cleaned?  How often are the filters changed out?  How much make up air is being brought in to the building?  Is the make-up air intake, down wind from a possible source that will contaminate the system?  Example, is the intake downwind from fume hood vents or bathroom sewer vents? Is the intake located next to a loading dock where car and truck exhaust/combustion fumes may be an influence, or possibly a dumpster, or even standing water?  Where is the intake for make-up air is a critical question?   

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air conditioning Engineers (ASHREA established recommended ventilation rates for indoor environments.  In the 62.1-2010 standard recommends a minimum of 20 CFM per person for general office space.   Therefore, the next question should be, does the building have make-up air and how much? 

An inspection of the HVAC system will identify potential breaches in the ductwork or plenums causing unfiltered air into the system creating a dirty environment and potentially mold growth?  Is the system properly insulated and sealed at all accessible seams and connections with mastic so condensation would not form and potentially create mold growth?    Are the boots sealed and are the return air chases lined and sealed?  Are evaporator coils clean?  These actions will help prevent unfiltered air from getting into the system and potentially creating mold growth. If we are dealing with large cooling systems it throws more questions into the mix.  Fungicides, bactericides, metals, rust inhibitors etc. create a new list of questions and a host of issues including but not limited to Legionella.  It is amazing what can grow in a cooling system especially if it is not maintained.  These are a few questions and items that might be considered when looking into the ventilation system. 

Other building areas/materials, which may lead to potential problems, include the following:

  • Storage/Cleaning Rooms can be a host of issues.  What and how are items/chemicals being stored? Cleaning products (VOCs), incompatible storage of items, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, air fresheners, standing water in buckets or sinks, paints, and solvents. 
  • Class rooms can create issues depending on what is being taught such as paint and solvent orders from an art class, various odors from a science lab, VOCs from pens with use of a dry erase board, particulates from a woodshop or even a chalkboard. 
  • Food odors, body odors, perfumes, colognes, plant allergens, tobacco smoke can all be issues. 
  • VOCs can come from paints, cleaning compounds, glues, mothballs, photocopiers, silicone caulking materials, combustion products, gasoline vapors, and a host of others. 
  • Formaldehyde off gassing can from various products including carpeting and padding, foam insulation, plywood, particleboard, paneling, glues, adhesives, and combustion products including tobacco smoke. 
  • Mold or bacteria can come from water damage due to roof leaks, air conditioner condensate pan overflows, sewer back-ups, and flooding. 
  • Within the cafeteria area, there may be cooking odors, oven combustion odors, water leaks creating mold/bacteria issues, allergens (cockroach/mouse/rat) issues, and garbage odors. 
  • Are birds creating issues such as odors and allergens?  Histoplasmosis, Psittacosis, or Cryptococcosis all deal with health issues in humans and animals due to bird droppings from Parakeets, parrots, pigeons, turkeys, bats, and domestic fowl. 
  • Carbon monoxide can come from tobacco smoke, engine exhausts, improperly vented appliances, and improperly maintained heater boxes.  
  • Nitrogen Oxides can come from combustion products from gas furnaces/appliances, tobacco smoke, welding and gasoline and diesel engine exhausts. 
  • Ozone can come from copy machines and electrostatic air cleaners.
  • Radon can come up from beneath buildings.  
  • Carbon dioxide can come from unvented or improperly gas appliances and human respiration. 
  • Acetic acid can come from silicone caulking materials or from x ray equipment. 
  • Asbestos may be in various construction materials such as ceiling tile, insulation, mastic, and floor tiles. 

All of the items mentioned above could create issues for the human health system.  Solving and identifying building indoor air quality problems/issues can be a task that is sometimes like looking for a needle in a haystack.  Several questions need to be asked.  Persistence and through a process of elimination, the source of the problem can be solved. 

Robert J Reda CIH, CSP, MAC
Robert J Reda & Associates LLC
Providing professional consulting services in Safety, Industrial Hygiene, and Environmental

Texas Department of Health Services Licensed Mold Assessment Consultant