Unusual source of odours in victorian building apartment

This investigation in middle of October took me to central London area. This area is well known for its beautiful architecture and magnificent buildings. The apartment I was investigating was situated in a larger building complex in a residential area but close to some major traffic routes in the city. The house was approximately 200 hundred years old but the apartment was newly refurbished to a very high standard.

The family living in the apartment has moved out just before my investigation so I have lost the benefit of actually speaking directly to somebody living in the apartment. The information that reached me into the apparent problems went through at least three people and was therefore somewhat diluted. But the gist of the complaint remains as unpleasant odours causing illness to a degree that the family has decided to move out.

When I inspected the apartment it looked very nice without any obvious signs of damage. My usual measurements of ozone, particles concentration, moisture mapping did not show any finding I would considered as significant. Small area of mould contamination was found on the upper most floor, but was more or less insignificant in the extent. The indoor air quality in respect to airborne mould could be described as good even though I slightly elevated spore count was identified indoors.  The distribution of fungal genera in samples was more or less constant with very little deviation and the total count was exceeding the outdoor count by only about 50 percent. However without any obvious source of mould in the house I would consider these finding as not significant.

I have also collected samples for indoor gasses such as aldehydes and volatile organic compounds. As I was sitting in the apartment and contemplating further step it occurred to me that it might be a good idea to investigate the building services. So I have opened and closed all the windows, check extraction fans, turn the heating on, and run the water in all the room in the hope that I might be able to spot something.

When I returned into the living room I was greeted by an unusual odour which I would described and mild but sickly, difficult describe but definitely unpleasant. I have tract the source of the odour to a small radiator situated in the open plan kitchen.



Offending radiator unit


Chemical sampling in the vicinity of the radiator showed elevated levels of biphenyl and pyridine compounds which was very unusual. A later comparison test with laboratory pyridine solution showed that the odours were very similar if not identical. I have inspected the radiator from all sides but was unable to identify any leak or damage. My conclusion was that there must be a microscopic fracture in the radiator body which allows the radiator fluid to leak and instantly evaporate causing the unpleasant odour.

My recommendation in this case was the remove the unit.

By Tomas Gabor

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Hi, I have been working in my job as an Indoor Air Quality Investigator for a number of years and decided to share my experience with you. You can find lot of related information on my website toxic black mould
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  • Martin

    Very unusual problem!

    January 2, 2014, 2:13 pm permalink