The General Services Administration (GSA) has doubled down on its promise to find the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) a new home and pledged by the end of the year to give Congress a “workable solution” for consolidating the bureau’s headquarters.
Michael Gelber, acting commissioner for GSA’s Public Buildings Service, recently said “Yes, sir” when asked by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) if he would deliver a plan within 120 days.
Richard Haley, chief financial officer and assistant director of the facilities and logistics services division at the FBI, chimed in with “absolutely,” when asked the same question during a recent hearing of the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works.
“It is clear from today’s testimony that the FBI needs a new headquarters. Fixing up the Hoover building with its $100 million backlog of maintenance needs makes little sense,” Barrasso said. “The elaborate plan to swap the Hoover building for a new headquarters facility was, in hindsight, not the best option. We need a new, cost effective and achievable plan to get the FBI into a new headquarters facility.”
Some of the committee members also expressed their concern for both the welfare of workforce in the building and impact the outdated structure could have on national security.
“We can all agree that there is an obvious need to move the FBI out of the Hoover Building to a new location and to consolidate other FBI locations,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) “Simply put, the Hoover building is an aging building that no longer meets the needs of the FBI. It suffers significantly from deferred maintenance, and the employees bear the brunt of that lack of investment.”
Originally designed to support an occupancy level of 850 people, the Arcbest corporate headquarters has grown to now have 1,085 people plus visitors. Ten percent of the people work at night, requiring 24/7 air conditioning. The increase in occupancy drove a need to introduce more outside air to maintain air quality. All of this outside air had to be conditioned, increasing electrical energy costs. In addition, the extra outside air caused draftiness on cold winter days, and, during the summer, the extra outside air flow through the air handlers resulted in some parts of the building getting too cool. “I previously got calls from people that they were cold during the summer, which was a direct result of having to introduce so much chilled air into the building to meet the appropriate CO2 levels,” said Richard Rieske, director of corporate facilities at ArcBest. “Likewise, they felt drafts during the winter due to all the outside air that was being used to ventilate the building. When the HLR modules are running, our people are more comfortable.”
The corporate headquarters building is in Fort Smith, Arkansas — a warm and humid city in the Southeastern U.S. The 190,000-square-foot building has five floors of office space separated into two wings (east and west primary zones), which are each served by a dedicated air handling unit (AHU). Two staircases connect all building floors.
The building has a central core (bathrooms, coffee rooms) and a peripheral open office plan. There is a computer room on the first floor and executive offices and conference rooms at the southern side of the fourth and fifth floors.
Building return air is an open plenum suspended ceiling type while air is ducted to line diffusers. Building pressurization is regulated on each floor by return air mounted exhaust fans.
The building has a Carrier iVu Building Management System (BMS) running BACnet over MSTP, which can optionally be integrated with enVerid’s HLR® BACnet to control the outside air (OA) damper.
All outside air intake for the HVAC system is demand-control ventilation (DCV) dependent (controlled by space CO2 sensors). The outside air damper is actuated based on an averaged CO2 value on a per floor section basis. Each floor has about 10 CO2 sensors strategically distributed. Although each floor has an open floor plan, CO2 sensors residing in the eastern section on each floor were averaged separately from those in the western section. CO2 set point is observed by the BMS to actuate outside air damper position.
At the start of the project, the building’s central plant on the ground floor had two packaged hermetic centrifugal liquid single-speed chillers (375 tons each). On warm days, the second 375-ton chiller was required, but now, with the enVerid HLR modules, they typically only need a single chiller. The peak HVAC cooling capacity has been reduced by about 273 tons.
“Running a second chiller significantly increased our energy utility costs” said Tom Daigle, manager of building systems at ArcBest. “By using the enVerid HLR modules, we are not conditioning as much outside air, and we are projected to save $63,709 annually.
The kickoff began with a site survey by the enVerid team of the building mechanical layout, an indoor air quality (IAQ) assessment and identification of potential locations for integrating the HLR 1000E systems. The number of HLR modules needed and the resulting outside air reduction were calculated according to ASHRAE Standard 62.1 — Indoor Air Quality Procedure (IAQP) for a typical office building.
The site survey assessed the spaces that are cooled and heated (including stairways and closeted spaces); and documented the existing hydronic systems; power meters; and all DCV, variable air volume (VAV), and AHU interactions in the building, including dampers, sensors, and exhaust systems.
The survey measured and planned for the positioning and installation of the HLR modules, ensuring that they would fit and could be easily moved into position. In this phase, the team also checked for wireless connectivity options and suggested connection points to the BMS.
Lastly, the team took snapshot baseline measurements of CO2, energy use, and other air quality indicators. This information was shared with the facilities management team.
The central plant mechanical room on the first floor houses two AHUs: one conditions the western side of the first floor, and the other conditions the computer UPS room, which is isolated and separated from the office space. The computer room was not included in the HLR retrofit as the outside air intake is fixed at a low level. The eastern mechanical room contains the AHU that conditions the eastern side of the first floor.
Inside the mechanical rooms, each AHU has supply air (SA), return air (RA), and outside air (OA) ducted. Each mechanical room has an outdoor air inlet ducted from a louver on the mechanical room’s northeast exposure. A return air exhaust fan (separated from the return air duct with a gravity damper) is connected to a louver on the mechanical room’s northwest exposure.
In the installation phase, the enVerid project team selected and supervised electrical and mechanical subcontractors with the customer’s approval. Ten HLR modules, installed in each of the building’s mechanical rooms, will cover all spaces within the building. A split-stream of return air from AHU is ducted through the HLR module to be cleaned. Outside air used for regeneration and regeneration exhaust from the HLR are ducted to the louvered outside air in each mechanical room. Figure 1 shows an example of sorption and regeneration paths. Figure 2 shows a schematic of HLR module by-pass connection to the AHU.
Additionally, the enVerid project team continues to work with ArcBest’s facilities management post-installation to optimize energy, IAQ, and environmental comfort. ArcBest data continues to be captured for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to provide documented consumption information to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
ENERGY AND AIR QUALITY MEASUREMENTS
Using HLR technology, ArcBest could take advantage of ASHRAE 62.1 Indoor Air Quality Procedure (IAQP) and use 65 percent less outside air compared to using the ASHRAE 62.1 Ventilation Rate Procedure (VRP). As a result, the annual energy savings for heating and cooling are calculated to be $63,709.
For IAQ, contaminant concentrations were measured prior to the HLR operation, then again after the HLR module had been installed and running for at least one week. Indoor air quality monitoring was performed per U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards, and the results were analyzed and certified by an independent lab (PRISM Analytical Technologies).
This investigation included environmental and indoor air quality sampling of temperature, relative humidity, CO2, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), aldehydes (e.g., formaldehyde), and particulate matter. These include all the contaminants of concern found in office buildings. The investigation included sampling throughout the building at 10 different locations for CO2, and two different locations for VOCs. Instruments used were calibrated before each use and functioned within the limits of performance specifications appropriate for pollutants measured in indoor environments.
Peak HVAC load reduction — The HLR reduced peak HVAC load by 273 tons, which corresponds to a 36 percent decrease in total HVAC load. On warm days, ArcBest’s second 375-ton chiller was required, but now with the enVerid HLR modules they typically only need a single chiller. This savings impacts the “demand charges” on ArcBest’s utility bill, which in many locations, has a major impact on the overall cost of electricity. In addition, when ArcBest replaces the HVAC equipment in the future, the peak capacity required will be 36 percent less, providing significant savings in capital expense.
Energy savings of $63,709 per year — Based on sensible and latent energy calculations, the energy savings for reducing outside air by 26,640 cfm equates to $63,709 annually using a standard energy model as applied to Fort Smith, Arkansas, outside temperature and relative humidity data downloaded hourly over the past five years.
Water savings of $11,535 per year — ArcBest was also able to conserve on cooling tower water, but a separate water meter wasn’t available, so this information was not included in the overall project savings. However, based on standard calculations, ArcBest is saving 2.17 million gallons of water and $11,535 in water and wastewater charges.
Earned a one-time energy rebate — The local electric utility offers rebates for energy efficiency projects. The rebate amount is still being determined by the utility.
Maintained Indoor Air Quality — CO2 levels vary throughout the day but are maintained at levels below 1000 ppm.
DCV system no longer necessary — By incorporating HLR modules and using IAQP to manage how much outside air is used for ventilation, ArcBest no longer needs to rely on its DCV system. Additionally, by using the HLR and IAQP, ArcBest is now managing ventilation based on all contaminants of concern instead of just CO2.
Additional Savings — A 65 percent reduction in outside air can extend the lifetime of the outside air filters by two to four times. Also, a reduction in outdoor air intake provides several secondary benefits that include extending the useful life of the existing mechanical equipment and ductwork.
“enVerid’s people are Class A, top-notch, and the HLR system works as advertised,” said Daigle.
“Shut the school down and move my child.” Those are the words of Valarie Gibbs, one of dozens of parents worried that a Texas public school is making their children sick.
I agree with her. The students and staff of Nichols Junior High in Arlington, most of them black and Hispanic, should be immediately removed from their school building. Something there seems to be sickening them, according to a recent lawsuit, which alleges that they were “exposed to dangerous mold and/or unknown toxic substances.” Since this current school year began, 522 medical complaints have been filed by employees and students’ parents. And these aren’t just kids playing pranks or faking sickness like Ferris Bueller.
Numerous teachers and administrators, including a former principal, nearly passed out or lost consciousness, according to the lawsuit and interviews with parents. Some were put on IVs and oxygen. At least a dozen staff members have reported symptoms. Several staff members have resigned or been reassigned — and some allegedly told parents that they refuse to ever step foot in the building again. They believe it’s that toxic.
Since September, students and staff members have complained of dizziness, muscle spasms and weakness, leg cramps, nausea, vomiting, headaches that last for hours or even days, strange tingling feelings, and exhaustion, according to the lawsuit. Among the hundreds of complaints filed this school year, many report that symptoms nearly disappear on the weekends and improve significantly when they leave the school grounds at the end of the day. In the midst of it all, the Arlington Independent School District (AISD) removed the principal and multiple teachers from the school with little explanation.
“We’re losing teachers, the principal. Students are falling ill as well. It’s a lot to deal with,” Delilah Perreira, PTA president for Nichols Junior High School, said in a February interview with NBC station KXAS-TV.
The lawsuit seeks to have the school closed and students and staff relocated until the cause for the illnesses is “correctly identified and fully remedied.”
The district — which filed a motion last week seeking to dismiss the case — released a statement saying it has conducted “extensive testing” at the school and has been transparent about the results, publishing them online.
“The Board and district are confident in the results of both the internal and external testing and analysis … done thus far that indicate nothing in the building would cause a health risk and will continue to work with industry experts to correct any potential issues in the building,” Arlington Independent School District said in its statement. “The district continues to monitor the campus closely and will address concerns promptly and comprehensively and share information with staff and parents as it is received in order to continue to ensure the safety and health of our staff and students.”
In a Feb. 2 letter, the district acknowledged a foul odor at the school — known as “dirty sock syndrome” — and wrote that while the situation is “unpleasant and may lead to a general feeling of discomfort,” it was “not reported to be a health risk.” AISD also said that attendance patterns at Nichols this year appear normal.
Dr. Alisa Rich, a widely respected toxicologist and environmental scientist, was contracted by attorneys representing families and staff members of the school to evaluate this crisis. Her determination, published March 21 after she reviewed multiple reports from the school district and conducted her own analysis, is that students and staff are being exposed to an airborne Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) and that the school system, out of an abundance of caution, should order the “immediate removal and relocation of personnel and students from the facility to avoid prolonged exposure and possible irreversible harm.”
Dr. Rich continued, “It is strongly encouraged that personnel and scholars are not allowed to return to the Nichols facility until appropriate tests are conducted to rule out exposure to VOCs and/or natural gas.” Rich is deeply worried about the potential for brain damage or long-term nervous system damage.
Parents carry similar concerns.
“For the kids’ sake, close the school so that it doesn’t prolong whatever’s going on with these kids,” said Joshua Harris, a father of a 7th grader at Nichols Junior High.
When asked whether the inconvenience of moving all of the students out of the school would be worth it, Joshua, standing alongside his wife, Kaneia, without hesitation, declared, “I’d rather my son live a long, healthy life than be sick going to school here every day.”
For its part, the school district has conducted numerous environmental tests, but none seem to adequately explain the severity of symptoms reported by students and staff. The district says it continues to work with county public health officials and sent six letters to parents about indoor air quality concerns at the school.
One local community organizer compared the situation at Nichols Junior High to Dallas public housing built in the 1950s that contained high levels of lead.
“In 1972, the city of Dallas acknowledged the problem, however, it took them ANOTHER 21 years to rectify it… and that was only after the West Dallas Boys and Girls closed their doors when they discovered lead levels in their soil to be 36 times the level considered dangerous for children,” Michelle Williams, President of the local chapter of the Urban League, said.
This is the definition of environmental racism. Marginalized people are exposed to dangerous toxins and when it’s abundantly clear that something terrible is happening, solutions are slower than they ever would be in predominantly white communities of privilege.
“I knew they were testing the air,” said parent Natasha Jackson. “They said ‘oh, everything’s fine.’ Well if they’re still getting sick, everything’s not fine.”
And that’s the point. In spite of test after test, students and staff members are still getting sick and it appears that the school system, according to the lawsuit, has overlooked the well-being of those who deserve to be protected.
This is why we say “Black Lives Matter.” It appears that this Title 1 school, which primarily serves students and families of color, is not being properly protected.
Civil rights attorneys Jasmine Crockett and Lee Merritt have been brought on to represent at least 15 plaintiffs in the suit against the school district. “New families and staff members are joining are suit every day. Educators and parents have come together to file a lawsuit against the district to get the building evacuated until the hazard is identified and resolved. Much like the contaminated water in Michigan or the habitual practice of placing landfills next to black communities, this would not be happening if these students were not minorities,” Merritt said.
Sadly, I agree with him. Like the moment where Erin Brockovich dared opposing attorneys to drink the contaminated water that was making people sick, I seriously doubt that the school officials accused of being slow to stand up for the people of Nichols Junior High would let their loved ones attend or work there.
These kids and their families are stuck. Many families who live in that school district really don’t have any other options but to continue sending their kids to a school they believe is making them sick. No person should ever be forced to make such a choice, but these are the painful decisions too many communities of color face all over this nation. What do you do when you own a home in a city that can’t guarantee your drinking water is clean or that your children aren’t being sickened by something in the ground or in the air?
has been elected as State Director of the California Real Estate Inspectors Association (CREIA).
Mr. Zivolich and has been providing home and mold inspections for 17 years in the North Bay and Orange County with his family owned firm, Guaranteed Property and Mold Inspections, http://www.gpinspect.com.
The elected position of State Director provides a direct liaison between the general membership of certified home inspectors and the CREIA board of directors. The Director also serves as a member of the Policy and Oversight committee which is responsible for reviewing financial procedures and historical board decisions. In addition, the position completes an annual staff performance report, that is submitted to the board of directors.
Since 1976, CREIA, a non-profit organization has been providing education, training, and support services to the real estate inspection industry, as well as to the public in the State of California. Certified inspectors must adhere to CREIA’s Code of Ethics and follow the CREIA Standards of Practice developed by the association. CREIA requires its certified inspectors to successfully pass a written test of property systems and complete 30 hours of continuing education each year.
Home inspections began as a new consumer real estate service in the early 1970s, when buyers began hiring general building contractors to perform inspections on homes they wanted to buy. As the home inspection industry grew, it soon became apparent that the depth of knowledge required to properly evaluate a home’s systems and components was beyond the capability of most general contractors. Slowly the term “Contractor’s Inspection” was dropped in favor of “Home Inspector” as Certified Home Inspectors were now looked upon as industry experts to confirm the current condition a home’s overall health. By the 1990s, mostly due to California real estate law and increasing consumer awareness, home inspections became “de-facto” and the majority of homes sold in today’s market are inspected. Locating and scheduling home inspectors was generally in the realm of the real estate agent representing the buyer or seller, but as Certified Inspector associations like CREIA grew, more home buyers have begun seeking qualified CREIA home inspectors on their own.
Many real estate agents are still threatened by the home or mold inspection industry, but more experienced agents recognize the idea that a professionally performed inspection not only could be employed as a marketing tool, but may help shield them from potential litigation after the close of escrow for both the agent and their client.
The famous Easton vs. Strassberger lawsuit changed this idea from a theory to a fact. This landmark case occurred in 1984 when the court held that the duties of a real estate broker include “the affirmative duty to conduct a reasonably competent and diligent inspection of the residential property listed for sale and to disclose to prospective purchasers all facts materially affecting the value of the property that such investigation would reveal.” Many real estate agents now recognize that it is prudent to refer CREIA independent experts to provide a complete and thorough inspection for their client.
This had the effect of a major increase in homes being checked by professional certified CREIA inspectors before the close of escrow and according to a 2009 NAR statistics close to 90% of all homes in California are now inspected. In some parts of the country the percentage of homes inspected are even higher.
“CREIA is truly dedicated to consumer protection and education,” stated Steve Zivolich, “When you choose a home or mold inspector, you should specify membership in CREIA. When choosing a home or mold inspector, let the final selection be your own. Don’t rely on others to make the choice for you. What you want is the most meticulous, detailed home and or mold inspector available—the one who will save you from costly surprises after the close of escrow, as well as protecting the health and safety of your family.”
Mr. Zivolich’s two year term as State Director begins on July1, 2016. He also serves on the National Microbial Certification Board, for the American Council for Accredited Certification.
It is possible for medium density fiber (MDF) board to promote mold growth anywhere in your home including your sub-floor.
With enough water and time the semi porous fibers and glue begin to expand and allow mold to grow on and in the MDF board. If recognized during a mold inspection, a certified mold inspector may recommend that the building materials have to be removed and replaced. In this case, the mold inspector may have recognized that the overall integrity, moisture level, and composition of the materials have been compromised. It may seem odd and peculiar but mold growth may be in between the layers of wood. Water damage causes the materials to expand and create gaps. This space in between the material promotes the growth of mold. It soon becomes a dark and moist area for mold to thrive.
Items currently made of MDF board in your home may include your baseboards, bathroom cabinet, dressers, kitchen cabinets, crown moldings, window moldings, exterior plywood, and even the sub-floor.
Medium-density fibreboard (MDF) is an engineered wood product made by breaking down hardwood or softwood residuals into wood fibres, often in a defibrator, combining it with wax and a resin binder, and forming panels by applying high temperature and pressure. MDF is generally denser than plywood. It is made up of separated fibres, but can be used as a building material similar in application to plywood. It is stronger and much denser than particle board.
The name derives from the distinction in densities of fibreboard. Large-scale production of MDF began in the 1980s, in both North America and Europe.
Air Quality Problems & Health Symptoms Persist over gas leak
The Aliso Canyon nightmare isn’t over. . . . .
for Sandy Crawford’s family and hundreds of other refugees from the methane leak in Los Angeles County.
Although the 112-day leak from an underground gas reservoir was permanently sealed more than a month ago, relocated residents returning to their homes report health symptoms similar to those that drove them out weeks earlier. Crawford’s two boys, ages 3 and 11, both got sick when the family moved home, and so did the family dogs, Betty and Blade. The Crawfords moved back to their hotel within days.
“The limbo is what’s killing us,” Crawford said. “Not knowing the long-term effect and not knowing if we are just going to take [our children] home and expose them to more stuff, and what it is that we are even exposing them to, it’s such an uneasy feeling.”
Since the leak was sealed Feb. 18, the Los Angeles County Health Department has received health complaints from nearly 300 individuals who either returned home or attempted to do so. The symptoms are similar to the 700 reports of headaches, dizziness, rashes, eye, nose and respiratory irritation, and abdominal pain from Oct. 28 to Feb. 18, when the leak was active. The causes haven’t been identified.
This has set up a clash between residents and Southern California Gas Co., the owner of the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility. The unit was the source of the largest natural gas leak in U.S. history. Under orders from state authorities, SoCal Gas has been paying to temporarily shelter more than 6,000 households from Granada Hills, Porter Ranch and neighboring communities. Public health authorities and SoCal Gas say air quality in those neighborhoods has returned to normal and residents can safely move back home.
The dispute is coming to a head this week. A state judge in LA County ruled Friday that the company is not required to pay for temporary quarters beyond Tuesday. SoCal Gas said it would pay hotel bills through checkout time this Friday. As of last Tuesday, roughly 5,000 families still hadn’t returned home from temporary housing, according to SoCal Gas spokeswoman Melissa Bailey.
“Air quality and health experts—including those from the county’s own public health department—have been saying for weeks that the air quality in the area is at normal levels, and is similar to the air quality in other parts of the county,” SoCal Gas said Friday in a statement. “Testing by a third party of over 70 homes, sponsored by SoCal Gas, showed no elevated levels of methane inside these homes, and did not detect mercaptans or other sulfur compounds associated with natural gas.”
The argument over environmental safety in LA echoes famous past disputes over the chemically tainted Love Canal neighborhood of Niagara Falls, N.Y., and water pollution in Hinkley, Calif., the subject of the film, “Erin Brockovich.” The mystery health effects show how difficult it can be for authorities to detect substances that sicken some people, or even to identify the causes of environmental illnesses.
Sandy Crawford, 39 and a vice president at a movie production company, and her family first returned to their home, a single-story ranch house on a quiet cul-de-sac in Granada Hills, on Feb. 19. They thought their troubles were over after more than a month in two adjoining hotel rooms. They had tired of eating cold cereal and microwaved eggs for breakfast. They wanted to resume hiking with their kids and dogs in the hills above their home and to quit driving an extra 20 miles to their hotel at the end of each day.
Before moving back home, Sandy and husband Alan, 46, an audio engineer, hired professional cleaners to scrub the house—twice. They opened doors and windows to air out the house, and ran air filters continuously for two days.
The next day, their 3-year-old son Diesel woke up and said he couldn’t breathe. Before leaving their home in January, the whole family experienced respiratory issues from bronchitis to asthma attacks that required visits to urgent care. Diesel and the others were free of symptoms while in the hotel.
In the following days, Sandy started having abdominal pain. Chancellor, the 11-year-old, began coughing up brown phlegm. His nose, throat and eyes hurt. The Crawfords had the gas company install air filters on their home heating and air conditioning system on Feb. 22. The next day Chancellor was too sick to go to school.
With a couple of days left before the SoCal Gas funding for relocation housing was to end, they returned to their hotel on Feb 23. They returned to their home a second time on the evening of Feb. 25, the day their housing subsidy was set to expire. Housing subsidies were subsequently extended, but the court last week rejected a further extension. Within an hour of returning home the second time, however, Diesel said he wasn’t feeling well.
Diesel Crawford’s nose bled upon returning home after the Aliso Canyon leak. Credit: Sandy Crawford
“I looked up at him, and there was just blood pouring down his face,” Sandy Crawford said, describing Diesel’s nosebleed.
Determining the cause of such ongoing illnesses is crucial for addressing the immediate and potential long-term health effects, according to public health authorities. No one knows what is causing the symptoms. Not everyone living near Aliso Canyon is affected, but for many residents, nothing short of leaving the area seems to make them go away.
“The symptoms that they are having now are difficult to determine in terms of what their origins may be,” said Cyrus Rangan, director of the Bureau of Toxicology and Environmental Assessment for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
One cause of persisting illnesses may be an oily mist that was released from the leaking well, known as SS-25. In mid-December, residents started reporting an oily residue on their cars, patios and yards. Before it became a gas storage unit, Aliso Canyon was an oil reservoir. Trace amounts of oil remained underground and are believed to have surfaced with the leaking gas.
“It appears that the substance was forced out of well SS-25 in the form of liquid droplets, along with the flow of natural gas emanating from the well,” wrote LA County Public Health Interim Director Cynthia Harding in a March 6 letter to LA County Supervisors.
The droplets may have entered nearby homes and may be responsible for ongoing health effects, according to one independent expert.
“You are essentially getting very small droplets that become an aerosol that can then penetrate indoors and conceivably would deposit on substrates, surfaces and in walls,” said Michael Jerrett, professor and chairman of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles. “If that were the case, you could be looking at the delivery of toxic materials into the homes.”
Another possibility is the formation of “secondary aerosols,” volatile organic gases that, once emitted from the well, undergo chemical reactions in the atmosphere, Jerrett said. These reactions could result in conversion of the gases into particles that penetrate homes and lodge themselves into carpets, walls and other surfaces.
Vaporized oil droplets or secondary organic aerosols are the most likely source of “something that would have biologically meaningful capacity to deliver a dose and still be toxic and potentially capable of eliciting some of the effects that people are reporting,” Jerrett said.
Officials with the Los Angeles County Health Department initially said the oily mist did not pose a significant threat.
Tests of residue deposited by the mist determined it consisted of “relatively long-chain hydrocarbons found in crude oil,” the department’s Harding wrote in her letter to county supervisors. “Based on the chemical composition and physical state of the residue, it presents minimal risk.”
County health officials have since spoken with Jerrett and are giving his theory of vaporized droplets and aerosols serious consideration.
“Chemical transformation is something we are considering,” said Angelo Bellomo, deputy director of the department’s protection division. “We’re continuing to talk with [Jerrett] because we think his work is very important to helping us understand what could be going on.”
Jerrett began independent in-home air testing two weeks ago. Preliminary results found elevated levels of benzene and hexane in two of seven homes tested, although it is unknown whether the levels are high enough to pose a health concern, according to a statement by the county health department on Saturday.
The department is working with Jerrett and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Indoor Air Quality Program to develop its own in-home testing, to begin late this week. When completed, results of both sets of in-home tests will go far beyond the tests SoCal Gas did last week that checked only for methane and mercaptans, a class of odorants added to natural gas to help in detecting leaks.
Another possibility is Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Syndrome (MCSS), in which people become sensitive to toxins at very low levels of exposure—levels that would not typically elicit an adverse reaction.
“If people have experienced the insult originally, then it may not take the same levels of exposure that would be a problem in a healthy person,” said Rodney Dietert a professor of immunotoxicology at Cornell University. “It can seem to be precipitated by fairly low doses.”
Health department officials, however, say MCSS is a theory that hasn’t been proven.
“We don’t really have that kind of evidence that would suggest that people would be exposed to these compounds and then have this sort of elevated level of sensitivity at a later time,” Rangan said.
Rangan’s view corresponds with that of the American Medical Association.
“A report presented to the American Medical Association in 1991 from one of its advisory councils found no scientific evidence that supports the contention that Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Syndrome (MCSS) is a significant cause of disease,” AMA spokesman Robert Mills said. Until “accurate, reproducible, and well-controlled studies are available, the AMA Council on Science and Public Health believes that multiple chemical sensitivity should not be considered a recognized clinical syndrome.”
Dietert said much of the controversy over MCSS reflects the medical profession’s lack of understanding of how different people respond to chemical exposures at different levels.
“If we’re not smart enough to figure out all the things that go into it, it doesn’t take away from the fact that they are experiencing those symptoms,” Dietert said.
While causes aren’t well understood, people with MCSS typically have some loss of function of barrier tissues such as mucous membranes in the nose, he said. That allows chemicals from the environment to more easily penetrate underlying body tissue.
“How you get to that from a gas leak event is still a bit of an open question,” Dietert said.
Before determining whether chemical sensitivity is to blame, it’s important to know more about what residents are being exposed to when they return to their homes, said Janette Hope, a physician in Santa Barbara, Calif., who treats patients for chemical sensitivity and is the past president of the American Academy of Environmental Medicine.
“I would definitely want to make sure that their home and indoor air quality and outdoor environments are clean and safe for them before I would describe it as simply chemical sensitivity to very low levels,” Hope said. “I would need to be confident that they weren’t being exposed to toxic levels, and I don’t know if that has been looked at.”
LA County Health Department officials are seeking an extension of several more weeks to complete their indoor air monitoring.
If the Crawfords’ dogs, who have been at home since their relocation approval ran out a month ago, are any indicator, something still may not be right. Betty, the family’s 4-year-old boxer, has thrown up five times since returning home. Blade, the 4-year-old Chihuahua, recently started panting excessively, coughing and having trouble breathing.
The Crawford family, in more carefree times. Credit: Sandy Crawford
As health experts try to determine the cause of the lingering illnesses, residents are unsure what to do. The Crawfords had their home cleaned a third time, took down the curtains, threw out a carpet and replaced a mattress and all of their sheets, all at their own expense. They tried moving back home a third time last Monday.
Although no one got sick again, the family left Wednesday after a radon detector registered an elevated level of the radioactive gas, which can cause cancer after long exposure. There’s little evidence of elevated radon in the neighborhood, and the Crawfords say they don’t know what to make of the reading.
“I don’t really know if we are going to go home and be safe again,” Sandy Crawford said. “It’s the one place that you are supposed to be able to go and feel safe and you don’t.