Testing for Chemical in Home and OfficeAir

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    Jan 25, 2013
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Homeowners sometimes request testing for chemicals in home air; other times office workers or building managers desire such testing when indoor pollution is suspected as being a problem.

When air borne chemicals are a problem the signs often include chemical odors obviously, dry throat, burning sensation in the eyes, nausea, headaches, dizziness, and lightheadedness, these are some of the more common symptoms experienced regardless of the chemical present.

Below are some real world examples of situations that commonly result in problematic levels of chemicals in the indoor air. In such cases an interview along with an inspection and testing for chemicals may be advisable.


Sewer gas is a foul smelling mixture of fumes from sewers. You can imagine that it is not unusual for sewer gas to become a problem in buildings such as homes and offices when you consider the fact that nearly all buildings contain sewer pipes. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry common components of serer gas include:

Hydrogen sulfide (H2S).
Ammonia (NH3)
Methane (CH4).
Carbon dioxide (CO2).
Sulfur dioxide (SO2).
Nitrous oxides (NOx).
Biological organisms.
Water vapor.
Chlorine bleaches.


One component of sewer gas in particular deserves special attention, that gas is hydrogen sulfide. Hydrogen sulfide is just one of the gasses that make up sewer gas. This gas is a sulfur containing gas produced in aquatic environments where oxygen levels are low, because it is produced in low oxygen aquatic environmentshydrogen sulfide is common in swamp mud and sewer pipes. It is not unusual for hydrogen sulfide to be smelled in buildings when sewer vent pipes rust and break, or the pipes are cut inside the walls or attic and are never repaired. When this occurssewer gases including hydrogen sulfide areno longer vented to the outdoors but enter the building. Hydrogen sulfide results in occupants complaining of sulfur or rotten egg odors and mild adverse health problems similar to those listed above for chemical exposure.

In a bank we inspected in Key Largo hydrogen sulfide was a problem because when roofers installed a new metal roof they never extended the sewer vent pipes through the new roof. This resulted in sewer gas being dumped into the banks ceiling void through the top of the old sewer vent pipe that had been cut short and allowed to vent into the attic. In other cases sewer gas builds up because water in floor drains evaporates over time, with no water in the drains p trap hydrogen sulfide rises up through the drains and fills bathrooms.


Ozone is another gas that commonly causes odors and health complaints in homes and offices.
It has a clean, fresh, new smell much like bleach. This gas is an oxidizer and like bleach can cause respiratory irritation and even corrosion at elevated levels. The EPA does not have much good to say about ozone, in fact the EPA website states “relatively low amounts can cause chest pain, coughing, shortness of breath, and, throat irritation. Ozone may also worsen chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma and compromise the ability of the body to fight respiratory infections.”

In a few offices in downtown West Palm Beach, ozone was being produced by ozone generators installed in the AC plenums, building managers had forgotten about these devices. In the Palm Beach mansion of one of Palm Beach Counties most respected builders we conducted an extensive two day inspection and among other problems ozone generating lights were installed in the AC ducts above his daughter’sbedroom. In the Ocala home of a movie star we found similar ozone producing lights in several AC units, and in Boynton Beach one light in the AC of a former model, or that is what we will call her here was producing such large amounts of ozone that the entire home smelled strong of ozone. Some of these UV lights produce ozone, other do not. It is not just the rich and famous who have these UV lights, but they are more common in middle, upper middleclass and wealthy people’s homes because they are not cheap.

Another common source of ozone is those ozone producing air purifiers. These devices are like air filters with an ozone producing UV light integrated into the filter device. Many people rich and poor have these devices, and as with UV lights some produce ozone and other do not.

The human nose is sensitive and if the source can be found corrective measures can be easily implemented and testing may not be needed in each case. But it may be beneficial at a minimum to have an inspection done so the source can be located.


A third common source of indoor chemicals is volatile organic compounds. Our clients sometimes think organic means these compounds come from natural organic sources, when in fact organic simply means that these compounds contain carbon and hydrogen atoms. In homes and offices many man made compounds are organic compounds.

These organic compounds are released by particle board like building materials and other engineered wood materials such asthose found in cabinets, furniture, and wood like floors. Other new building materials such as paint, wood varnish, and new plastic or vinyl can also release problematic levels of volatile organic compounds into the air.

It is not unusual for clients to request an inspection because they purchased new furniture or had a baby room painted and the client fees that something must be wrong with the product because it appears to the client that the new paint or new furniture is releasing unusually high levels of these chemicals. Chemicals such as volatile organic compounds often result in headaches, dizziness, nausea, and fatigue.


In homes more than in any other environment personal care products such as perfumes, hair spray, nail polish remover, medicated vapor rubs, rubbing alcohol, and other such compounds can be used to such an extent that it will compose a large percentage of the chemicals in the indoor air, though not often a serious problem in our experience, such items can release large amounts of chemicals into the air and are almost always present when indoor air quality testing is done in homes.


Cleaning products are another source of indoor pollution. In a Miami property we conducted an inspection were the tenant was complaining about health issues and unusual odors. The source of chemicals was quite simple and obvious, the tenant had stored large amounts of cleaning products in the AC closet, and some containers were not closed tightly.

If you are a home owner or office manager and feel that chemicals in your indoor air are a problem then consult a qualified air quality consultant to do testing and inspections.

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry



Author's Profile

Daryl Watters provides mold and indoor air quality testing for chemicals in homes, offices, and manufacturing facilities in South East Florida. Visit our websites for more information on A Accredited Mold Inspection Service, Inc. http://www.floridamoldinspectors.us and http://www.floridamoldtesting.us

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