Microbial evaluations of Snyder Hall offices find several fungal species but no conclusions on office air quality.

Microbial evaluations of Snyder Hall offices find several fungal species but no conclusions on office air quality.

Air quality in Snyder Hall under question

Several staff who work in Snyder Hall have recently experienced adverse health effects with at least two incident reports recently filed related to severe respiratory distress attributed to the office building.

In the last couple months, concerns of air pollution in Snyder Hall led Jess Miller, director of Maintenance and Grounds, to hire a certified industrial hygienist to inspect the Snyder office building.

Brad Johnson from PCA Health & Safety Consultants of Lake Oswego evaluated the building on Oct. 23. Results showed poor indoor air quality, as well as microbial and ventilation issues, among other problems.

This is not the first year that Snyder staff have complained of illness related to the building. In 2010, another quantitative assessment of the air handling system was done.  Investigation found that the duct had degraded over time and that water intrusion was evident. To fix the problem, the original duct work was abandoned and replaced with a new air distribution duct work installed on the roof. After the duct was replaced, complaints subsided substantially.

“We gutted the building removing most of the sheet rock, most of the furnishings, and replaced all of the duct work supplying air to the office side of the building. We plugged off all the old ducting and filled them with concrete to keep any underground moisture and growth from happening,” Miller explained. “This was the work completed up until the school year started, this year and up till then [that work] seemed to fix the problem. I have since had another air quality test conducted and believe it to be much more comprehensive but not necessarily more conclusive when it comes to finding a problem.”

More recently, in October 2012, concerns with poor ventilation rose again. Air quality was assumed to be the cause of Snyder staff’s problems with upper respiratory tract irritations, respiratory infection, skin dryness, headaches and malaise.

Instructors Ni Aodagain and Melinda Benton, whose offices are in Snyder, filed incident reports.  Benton had an asthma-like reaction where her breathing became seriously obstructed.

“I’ve had difficulty with flu-like respiratory symptoms off and on for many of the 16 years I’ve worked in Snyder Hall. The symptoms go away after I leave the building. For some reason, this fall the symptoms were especially difficult,” said Benton.

Of the nine Snyder staff who answered the PCA Health & Safety Consultants’ questionnaire, four had no concerns, but five staff and faculty members documented adverse health effects.  Some also reported foul odors and chemical smells. Two reported IAQ issues in some classrooms, but all five expressed concern with the office building’s air quality.

PCA’s inspection noted that cabinets placed against exterior walls prevented air movement. The PCA report also noted water damage to  ceiling tiles located near return air grilles, which could have a direct effect on the air quality.

On the exterior of the building, PCA noted that one skylight revealed loose roofing material, perhaps caused by water leakage. These observable problems could  play a part in the building’s air quality but cannot be labeled as the entire cause, according to Miller.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Almost all homes, apartments and commercial buildings will experience leaks, flooding, or other forms of excessive indoor dampness at some point.” Although dampness is common,  the CDC notes that molds and other microbial agents favor damp indoor environments, and excessive moisture may initiate the release of chemical emissions from damaged building materials and furnishings.”

PCA, as part of their microbial evaluation of Snyder Hall, took samples of office dust. Four of their eight samples confirmed the presence of two different fungal species which may indicate water intrusion. Likewise, Penicillium species were dominant in three samples, a finding that PCA noted may suggest moist conditions within the building. Examinations also showed a concentration of hyaline spores, showing possible insufficient filtration of airborne contaminants.

“Mold spores are regularly found in indoor air and on materials-- no indoor space is free of them,” says the CDC. However, the CDC has also found sufficient evidence to conclude that a causal relationship exists between exposure to damp indoor environments and  upper respiratory tract symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, asthmatic symptoms and shortness of breath.

“We are about ready to bring the affected people back into the space for a short time to see if they are still having issues but I believe they should have no more adverse reactions after this process is complete,” said Miller.

The Mainstream is a student publication of Umpqua Community College.