Poor Indoor Air Quality in a South Yorkshire Courthouse

History of Poor Indoor Air Quality

South Yorkshire was home to our most recent project. We were invited to a Courthouse and instructed to carry out an assessment of indoor air quality in relation to selected biological contaminants. The Courthouse, a modern three storey building is situated in an industrial area of Sheffield. The second floor of the building consists of two open plan offices which are currently used as call centres with approximately 90 operatives working there. The ventilation on the floor is managed by a floor wide air management system. The air intake for the BMS system is situated on the roof in the central part of the building and is facing North in the direction of the other industrial facilities in this area with the exhaust of the systems situated on the roof level on the opposite ends of the building.

Due to the Courthouse being based in an industrial area it is surrounded by a number of factories which exhaust fumes into the outside atmosphere. These factories specialise in the production of rubber and plastic based gaskets and seals. At the back of the factories there are three chimney stacks which exhaust fumes into the outside atmosphere.

Our client contacted us due to the staff working on the second floor expressing several complaints regarding the air quality in the office. The staff listed headaches, respiratory irritation and eye irritations as the most frequently encountered symptoms. On several occasions the staff reported burn-like odours in the offices. The staff working on the second floor has a higher sickness absence record in comparison to other parts of the building. It was our surveyors job to investigate and identify the culprit of these reports.

Poor indoor air quality in a courthouse

Recommendations to improve Indoor Air Quality

When our surveyor arrived on site they noticed characteristic rubber/plastic and burn-like odours which were being emitted by the exhaust stacks. Detected volatile organic compounds and aldehydes were present on the second floor at very low concentration so they were very unlikely to be the source of the reported odours at concentrations detected.

Our surveyor believed the most likely source of the reported odours is the neighbouring manufacturing facility producing industrial gaskets and seals as the air intakes for the courthouse building are situated on the roof and facing this facility. The building’s air intake system is not currently equipped with carbon filters for odour management. It is likely that unfavourable wind conditions are carrying these odours towards the building’s air intake causing the reported odours. Based on the results of moisture mapping, visual observation and microbiological and chemical sampling and identification it was our surveyor’s opinion that the most likely reason for adverse health symptoms experienced by some of the employees working on the second floor is low relative humidity. In order to eliminate the odours we recommended the installation of carbon filters into the air management system.

Poor indoor air quality in a courthouse

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