People can sometimes experience deterioration of their health in their homes for no apparent reason. I have recently visited a property where an elderly gentleman started to suffer from shortness of breath, tiredness, lethargy and general exhaustion. It is only natural to us that we immediately try to identify the cause of such problems and the first thing that usually comes to mind is the house we live in. After all, we spend significant proportions of our lives indoor and the indoor environment is therefore a significant factor that can affect out health.
The property I have visited was build in early 80’s and the current occupant lived there for more than 9 years with no apparent problems. The property was situated in a residential area and was surrounded by buildings of a similar type. There were no significant sources of industrial pollution in the close vicinity of the property. The building had a small garden to the front and back with some mature vegetation and decorative shrubbery. In terms of building construction the property had double layer brick cavity walls. The internal partition walls were single leaf brick walls; floors were concrete with carpets and linoleum.
After initial consultation with the occupants I have undertaken various environmental measurements in order to evaluate the conditions in the house. The humidity and temperature measurements showed that there was no significant deviation in the humidity levels and the temperature was in the normal pleasant comfort range. Measurements of carbon dioxide gas showed that the property was well ventilated.
Further measurements of dust and ozone levels also did not show any deviation from the expected norm. To perform a more detail evaluation of indoor chemical contaminants I have collected samples for volatile compounds and aldehydes. The formaldehyde levels in the property were very low in the levels of expected environmental background concentrations and volatile organic compounds were also very low. I have identifies a range of chemical compounds such as, ethyl acetate, toluene, butyl acetate, xylem, pipene and other but all were present as extremely low concentration and most likely originated either from outside or decorative pieces in the house, soaps, washing powders etc.
Butyl acetate was the most concentrated compound detected at concentration of 3.5 µg/m3. This chemical compounds has a characteristic sweet smell of banana. It is an organic compound commonly used as a solvent in the production of lacquers and other products. It is also used as synthetic fruit flavouring in foods such as candy, ice cream, cheeses, and baked goods. Butyl acetate is found in many types of fruit, where along with other chemicals it imparts characteristic flavours.
Quantitative assessment of indoor mould contamination showed that at the time of assessment there was significantly lower concentration of mould spores in the indoor environment in comparison to the external background sample. Qualitatively the indoor samples are dominated by Cladosporium and Aspergillus/Penicillium types of moulds spores but at the concentration below the existing background level. The composition of fungal species detected indoor suggests that the detected indoor mould originate from the outside environment
In the course of the investigation I was not able to identify any problem that could have had a significant impact in the indoor air quality in the property. Unfortunately the gentleman’s health continued to deteriorate up to the point he was admitted to the hospital. Medical investigation showed that he was suffering from a fungal infection following a significant exposure to Aspergillus moulds.
Later I was informed that the most likely cause of his infection was his pastime. The gentleman was very active in the community and in particular in the local church where he often spent significant time cleaning and tiding old papers and various article of furniture from which many were covered in mould.
In the course of the indoor air quality investigation a consideration must be taken not only of the immediate environment under investigation but also workplaces, places and activities sufferers like top perform, past exposure during work related activities and many others.