Water & Environment

Environment Team Investigation Uncovers Cause of Poor Air Quality in Building

When workers in a health care facility were experiencing poor indoor air quality, a team from WSP USA was called to assess the environment, identify causes, and recommend actions to correct the problem.

As part of a multi-disciplinary study led by the firms enclosures group, Timothy Kenny and Michael Charmo assessed the building’s indoor air quality (IAQ), water intrusion and mold growth.

Timothy Kenny, exposes cause of illness building

Timothy Kenny

Michael Charmo, exposes cause of illness building

Michael Charmo

The team performed a comprehensive IAQ assessment, identifying why workers in the facility were experiencing unpleasant odors and feeling sick, and locating sources of unwanted moisture that may have aided in the growth of mold in the building.

“WSP was chosen for this project because of our expertise in indoor air quality and in the identification of hazards, hazardous materials, and mold,” Kenny said. “This assessment and report shows how the firm is able to identify, diagnose and provide solutions to indoor air quality, water intrusion and mold problems in buildings, including problems related to building enclosures and mechanical systems. It also demonstrates our expertise in hazardous material identification and abatement.”

Symptoms of Sick Building Syndrome

This IAQ survey used a multifaceted approach to evaluate why there was poor indoor air quality in the building.

“Findings from the survey showed that the building did not have fresh air filtration because the building’s air handlers were not operable, and as a result, the building was essentially using ‘stale’ air,” Charmo said. “The building also had thermal stabilization issues, and its convection-based heating system did not function in much of the building.”

The state of the fresh air filtration system created common issue that is generally associated with a condition known as sick building syndrome. “Stagnant, dry, unfiltered air is not ideal for indoor environments, as it may cause people to feel ill and even emotionally depressed,” Charmo said.

The assessment also determined that the building was under negative pressure, meaning air was being drawn into the building from outside the envelope.

“This is exactly the opposite of the recommendations from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers,” Kenny said. “A facility in a negative pressure state is extremely worrisome because occupants remain exposed to any airborne health hazards present in such an environment.”

WSP advised the client to install a functioning air handler system for the occupied spaces and to seal the windows.

The Solution

Considering the health concerns involved, finding the source of the problems quickly was critical to the client.

“The time frame to perform the assessment was very short; about two days,” Charmo said. “The third floor in the building was under active construction, which caused some access issues and a change to the scope of work. Our team worked quickly and efficiently to provide timely information to the client.”

Despite the short deadline, the firm's assessment uncovered one location of suspect mold growth within the wall cavity. WSP recommended the removal of the gypsum wallboard with suspected mold growth to correct the problem.

The team also observed a “fact pattern” of impacted debris on the building insulation in select locations. “This was due to the negative pressure of the building pulling air through cracks in the exterior brick,” Kenny said. “It was concluded that if air and debris could penetrate the brick, then water could as well, and we recommended installation of the correct vapor barrier.”

WSP also observed an area in the basement where water was intruding through the slab above, hitting a support beam, and pooling on the floor, and recommended re-caulking the area where the above parking lot met the building.

WSP was also able to show the client the areas of the building envelope that needed further evaluation.

“It was great being able to fuse the enclosures discipline with the environmental discipline to offer our client a complete evaluation of their building,” Charmo said. “Through our combined efforts, we were able to provide a comprehensive solution under one roof, and in a timely manner.”

“Since the building is a health care facility,” Kenny added, “the pinpoint communication and collaboration proved to be beneficial for the client.”

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