Pennoni Perspective Volume 22 • Issue 2 • Summer 2018 - Page 9

That Stinks! For more information, please contact: Alan Lloyd, CIH, CSP, ENV, SP Associate Vice President, Industrial Hygiene 856-656-2875 Investigating Odor Complaints Our sense of smell is our body’s natural warning sign and is highly sensitive. According to the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), we can detect more than 182 different chemicals just with our noses. And when investigating engineer-related issues like odor complaints, we rely heavily on our noses for the initial assessment. Our Industrial Hygienists often hear the phrase, “I smell something” when responding to indoor air quality complaints. Odor characterization and measurement have become a critical service as the general public’s growing awareness of the impact of air quality on health and well-being. An unusual odor in your work environment is often a sign that there could be a potential health issue. Beyond the annoyance or discomfort, the source of the smell can often lead to health issues or even financial costs if ignored. Employees may become sick from prolonged exposure to certain chemicals resulting in lost work time or worker compensation claims. Mold odors that are ignored may lead to significant damage to building systems resulting in unplanned maintenance or renovation costs. However, even though the nose can be a great tool, we cannot rely on this method for determining if you or your employees are safe. For example, benzene (found in gasoline and other chemicals) has an odor around 60-90 parts-per-million (ppm), while the exposure limit for benzene is only 10 ppm. This means that if you can smell it, you have already exceeded the acceptable limits and are exposing yourself to unnecessary health risks. When investigating odor complaints, Pennoni references the AIHA’s “Odor Thresholds for Chemicals with Established Occupational Health Standards”. This standard identifies odor has four components: 1. Detectability 2. Intensity 3. Character 4. Foulness Our Certified Industrial Hygienists use specialized instruments, the collection of air samples, and detailed inspections of the work areas to help identify the source of a particular odor and determine its four components. The difficulty with most odor investigations is that the odors are usually hidden from sight, are only intermittently observed, and are often unfamiliar to the observer. Investigations commonly extend over several days and involve multiple instruments and techniques. It is important to note the time of day when the odor is the strongest, where it is most noticeable, and what chemicals are used in the workplace. In addition, specialized portable instruments such as Photo-Ionization Detectors (PIDs), moisture meters, borescopes and thermal imaging cameras can help pinpoint the sources of the odor. Pennoni recently was contacted to investigate a strong, sweet-smelling odor in a multifamily apartment building in Center City Philadelphia. Occupants were complaining of dizziness, fatigue, headaches, and nausea. Through our investigative procedures, our Industrial Hygienists were able to determine that the source of the odor was from a recently refinished bathtub. A remodeling contractor had used a highly hazardous chemical called methylene chloride to strip the old paint from the bathtub and did not provide adequate ventilation. The area was sealed off and ventilated and within 24 hours the odors had dissipated, allowing the residents to safely re- occupy the building. Whether the odor complaints are of a strong obnoxious odor, or something just smells wrong, we encourage our clients to take it seriously and to react quickly. Ignoring complaints will not make it go away and may, in some cases, lead to serious illness or even death. Trust the nose, it ’s our body’s first and best warning system. PENNONI | 9