Vapor Intrusion: What FMs Need to Know

Vapor intrusion is the migration of potentially harmful chemical vapors into a dwelling or occupied building from a subsurface source. This migration can lead to an accumulation of chemical-containing vapor. Evidence of toxic vapor intrusion is often found at various sites where manufactured chemicals such as petroleum hydrocarbons and chlorinated solvents are present in the groundwater, soil, or soil vapor. As vapor intrusion occurs, a building’s habitable indoor air quality is negatively affected and can lead to possible health risk. The types of chemicals which are major culprits in the concern of vapor intrusion are volatile organic compounds (e.g., trichloroethylene), petroleum hydrocarbons (e.g., gasoline), and semi-volatile organic compounds (e.g., naphthalene).

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, recognition of soil vapor intrusion to buildings and other enclosed spaces occurred in the 1980s with concerns over radon intrusion. There was an increasing awareness that  man-made chemicals in soil, groundwater, and sewers could pose a threat to indoor air quality.

In addition to health risks that vapor intrusion poses, there are financial implications to this environmental condition as well. There are lawsuits on record of having been filed against various businesses for their dangerous air quality due to vapor intrusion. Class action lawsuits have been settled at upwards of $8 million in certain cases.

The source of a vapor intrusion risk is not always on the property being developed. Soil, groundwater, and soil vapor contamination can migrate a great distance, depending on soil characteristics, from the initial location of release onto adjacent properties as well as properties considerably down gradient. This movement of chemicals may result in a vapor intrusion risk below a proposed or existing structure without there having been any history of storage or use of these chemicals on the property at issue.


From a new construction point of view, land assessments are continuing to become more thorough. Doing their due diligence on the history of the land and being sure to test for the presence of the volatile chemicals is becoming a standard operating procedure before finalizing plans on a new development. If it is determined that vapor intrusion is indeed a real potential risk for the site, architects are now specifying that something be done to mitigate this risk. This mitigation comes in the form of chemical vapor barriers, not to be confused with standard moisture barriers (too often referred to as vapor barriers). Chemical vapor barriers are being laid down underneath the foundation to block dangerous vapors from migrating into the habitable zone of the future building. Contractors are receiving the specifications of new projects that include a chemical vapor barriers on a more regular basis.

But what if there is a vapor intrusion risk in a facility that is already standing? Is there anything that can be done at this point? Fortunately, there are solutions for this type of situation.

There are chemical vapor-barrier products that are specifically designed for existing structures. Sealant materials are applied to the top of the slab as opposed to the bottom, as they would if the chemical vapor barrier were applied before the foundation is laid. Facility managers are finding this retroactive installation of a chemical vapor barrier attractive because it not only acts as a useful vapor mitigation system but it also doubles as a finished floor surface. Because it coats the floor, the system is always “on” and always working. Alternatively or in addition to the sealant product described above, is the installation of a depressurization system below the slab in order to provide a piped pathway leading chemical vapors away from the interior of a structure. These are known as sub-slab depressurization systems. Essentially, these systems act as a fan blowing out any contaminants. However, these systems do have to be continually powered, require a level of maintenance to ensure continued effectiveness, and require trenching below the slab and reconstruction of the slab to install.

It is important for a facility manager to understand if there are harmful chemical vapors migrating into an existing structure. After testing, if it is determined that there is a risk, the next step would be to consult a chemical vapor installation professional to do a site assessment and help determine the best course of action.

Wesley Robb is director of technical strategies and applications of Vapor Mitigation Strategies and has more than 23 years of environmental field and laboratory experience including several years of soil vapor sampling and analyses. He can be reached at

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Foul Smell around You? Could be an Indoor Air Quality Problem

Have you been puzzled lately by various types of odors such as scented products, air fresheners, laundry detergent, personal care scents, or others? A survey of selected consumer goods showed some of these kinds of products may emit volatile organic compounds. Some of these compounds are classified as toxic or hazardous by law. Some of these aromatic compounds can be the source of IAQ problems. These compounds may be inorganic or organic in nature. They can emit pleasant and unpleasant odors.


By the end of the 19th century, more synthetic ingredients started replacing the natural products, such as essential oils in perfumes and other cleaning products. Over 3000 fragrance ingredients are estimated to be used in these products. Approximately over 12% of the population suffers from Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS). The emitted volatile chemicals by these products may pose an issue or nuisance to these individuals.

The United States Consumer Product Safety Commission regulates the cleaning supplies, air fresheners, and laundry products and the Food and Drug Administration oversees the personal care products. However, the manufacturers are not enforced to disclose some of the ingredients due to copyright and trade secret issues. Some common compounds which may be toxic or unpleasant includes, but is not limited to, acetaldehyde, acetone, ethanol, benzaldehyde, isopropyl alcohol, pinene, benzyl acetate, ethyl acetate, isoamyl acetate, cymene, limonene, etc. These compounds, after emitting from their source materials, can also give rise to byproducts such as ozone, formaldehyde, etc. which have adverse effects on health and hygiene.

Therefore it is important to take people’s complaints seriously on the above issue. To assess the exposure risks, it is essential to estimate these chemicals in and around the individual’s dwellings. A number of tests, from Do-It-Yourself screen tests to detailed environmental diagnostic evaluations are available to help identify indoor environmental contaminants of these chemicals resulting from various products used in our day-to-day lives.

Contact Dr. Rajiv Sahay, CIAQP, FIAS at (800) 422-7873, Ext. 304 for additional information.

Environmental Diagnostics Laboratory (EDLab):

Alan Wozniak founded Pure Air Control Services, Inc. in 1984 as a small, mechanical, contracting firm and has since set the industry standard for indoor environmental quality diagnosis, environmental laboratory and remediation. Pure Air Control Services has serviced more than 600 million square feet of indoor environments in over 10,000 facilities.

The Environmental Diagnostics Laboratory (EDLab) (established in 1992) at Pure Air Control Services (PACS) is an environmental lab offering complete and comprehensive indoor environmental microbiology laboratory services. They include: microbiology, aerobiology, chemistry, allergen assays and microscopy designed to meet all your indoor air needs. EDLab supports IAQ investigations by assisting with strategic sampling plan development and supplying media collection equipment while performing a wide range of environmental analyses.

The company’s expanding client roster includes the General Services Administration (GSA); US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Allstate Insurance; Carrier Air Conditioning; US Naval Air Warfare Center, Orlando; and Naval Air Station – King’s Bay, Georgia, and many other Fortune 500 companies, school boards, and city, state, and county governments, making Pure Air Control Services/EDLab the reliable industry leader in IAQ.

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How Clean Indoor Air Helped a Cancer Survivor

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Several homeowners nationwide regard Field Controls’ Healthy Home System as a premium-tier whole-house indoor air quality solution. In addition to offering multiple layers of fresh, pure, and clean air, the Healthy Home System recently played an ancillary role in one family’s recovery from the aftermath of childhood cancer.


Kevin and Jessica McKnight were due for some relaxation. The pair, along with their then 3-year-old daughter, Evelyn, had just arrived at Myrtle Beach and prepared for a few relaxing days along the Atlantic Ocean shoreline. Under the shade of a beach umbrella, the McKnights watched their daughter repeatedly lift handfuls of sand only to let the grains cascade between her fingers as gravity returned them to the shoreline.

As Evelyn turned to scoop another handful, Kevin McKnight noticed something abnormal just below his daughter’s shoulder blade, along her ribcage. Bringing her near, he examined the spot and confirmed the existence of an odd-shaped protrusion beneath her skin. Concerned, he and his wife called the children’s hospital in Greensboro, four hours away from the beach. Staff encouraged the pair to bring her in immediately for an examination. They quickly packed and headed home. After several X-rays, CT scans, and other medical tests, the doctor brought the McKnight’s terrifying news: “Your daughter has cancer.”

The lump was identified as a Wilms tumor, which doctors identified as the most common cancer in children. Surgery to remove the lump would occur in two short days.

“It was a very emotional time for our family,” said Kevin McKnight. “We discovered the lump on Saturday, she was in the emergency room on Sunday, and she was in the operating room on Tuesday.”

The surgery was a success, though doctors did have to remove one of Evelyn McKnight’s kidneys completely. On the bright side, the physicians assured her parents that it was highly unlikely the cancer would reappear. The road to recovery would include a full year of chemotherapy, multiple years of observation, and consistent testing.


Doctors urged the McKnights to take every precaution possible to ensure their daughter’s full recovery. This involved identifying and overcoming the challenge of IAQ threats in the family’s recently purchased home.

“We were just moving into a new ‘old’ house when we discovered Evelyn’s cancer. The house is really old and had some carpet and other concerns that needed to be replaced,” said Jessica McKnight. “It was pretty obvious the previous owners had dogs. We were already sensitive to the quality of the air, and that concern only grew given Evelyn’s condition.”

The McKnights dialed up Chris Tucker, residential sales and installation manager at Air Treatment Inc. in Greensboro, North Carolina. Tucker suggested the family consider installing Field Controls’ Healthy Home System, a whole-home indoor air quality solution that improves air quality by treating the entire home as a system. Tucker said the Healthy Home System’s controller, ventilation, filtration, and purification components would offer the family a comprehensive IAQ solution.

Fresh Air Dampers were tied into the return via flex duct. The dampers automatically power open when the system requires fresh air, and, as outside air enters the return, it’s filtered, purified, and tempered before entering the home. The system’s Media Air Cleaner traps particles as small as 1.0 micron — including pollen, dust, and dander — creating fresh, clean, and pure air. Providing yet another layer of purification is the system’s UV-Aire® product. Available in portable or in-duct configurations, UV-Aire neutralizes and reduces airborne germs, bacteria, viruses, mold, and fungi; eliminates mold growth on air conditioning coils; and prolongs the life and efficiency of the equipment.

All components are managed through an intelligent control that monitors central fan activity and engages the fan on a regular schedule to keep air that is fresh, clean, and pure circulating throughout the entire home, even when the system’s neither heating nor cooling. The Healthy Home System Control is set by the contractor and works independently of the thermostat, providing consistent operation.

“Field Controls makes great products,” said Tucker. “The instructions are easy to understand. The UV lights, media filters, and fresh-air dampers are extremely effective on homes, especially when a home’s been tightened up.” The McKnights’ two-story colonial structure was served by a 3-ton Trane gas pack system, which is controlled by one thermostat for both levels.

Since the Healthy Home System is installed as an add-on to an existing HVAC system, Tucker said it’s often a better value than stand-alone systems that can cost thousands of dollars more. “The McKnights’ new home really had no IAQ system in place until we added in the Field Controls unit,” said Tucker. “We performed a home analysis and located some missing duct wrap and a section of crawl space that was unwrapped and took care of both of the areas. With a two-man crew, the entire job probably took us a bit more than six hours to complete.”


Three years have passed since Evelyn McKnight’s diagnosis, and, other than a scar that traverses across her stomach and a few lingering doctor visits, her bout with cancer is in the rear-view mirror. “We were determined to make sure there was nothing in the air that was going to hurt her,” said Jessica McKnight. “We don’t have to worry about that anymore.”

In addition to helping Evelyn McKnight recover, Jessica McKnight noted the Healthy Home System has helped minimize the family’s spring allergies, which tend to be problematic in North Carolina. “Last spring, Evelyn’s eyes were puffy and runny, and, this year, that hasn’t been the case,” she said. “Kevin’s also struggled with allergies, but we’ve noticed those have not been as bad since we added the Field Controls system.”

With very little upkeep, the family gets to enjoy the benefits of fresh, pure, and clean air with very few maintenance concerns. “All we have to do is change the filter and, over time, we’ll have to change the UV bulb, but that’s it,” said Kevin McKnight. “You essentially set it and forget it.”

Tucker said the McKnight install has been one of the most rewarding he’s performed in his career.

“When you see a little girl dealing with something like that, it’s human nature to want to help as much as you possibly can. We feel the Field Controls products can help her prolong a healthy lifestyle, and that’s touching. All the sweat, pounding of the pavement, and crawling into crawlspaces that comes along with being an HVAC contractor — this makes it all worth it.”

At the end of the day, Jessica McKnight said she’s absolutely pleased with the Healthy Home System. “I’ve been recommending it to friends and family,” she said. “Whether it’s allergies or ridding a residence of stale air, the Healthy Home System is just what the doctor ordered.”

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Indoor Air Quality With Innovative Smart Vent

Enerbee, a French start-up company supplying an innovative motion-based energy generating technology, will demonstrate Smart Vent, its new product that transforms the way indoor air quality is monitored and air distribution is controlled for HVAC applications, at the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas, January 5-8th , 2017.

According to the World Health Organization “Indoor air can be eight times more polluted than outdoor air and is the cause of 4.3 million premature deaths in the world”. The growing challenges of indoor people’s health and comfort drive the need for more sensors to generate smart data and eventually provide a better air quality control. Enerbee’s Smart Vent is ideally suited to meet these challenges as it provides a unique combination of key features and benefits.

It’s easy to install and it’s fully autonomous. Enerbee’s Smart Vent brings indoor air quality control to new standards of intelligence. It embeds air flow measurement, air quality sensors and RF connectivity powered by Enerbee’s patented energy generator. Temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide, pressure and volatile organic compounds levels are measured and computed to locally monitor the vent and the air distribution.

Enerbee’s Smart Vent solution is the first product able to both collect information on air quality at relevant places in homes and buildings and adjust the indoor environment so inhabitants are always comfortable and safe, while optimizing energy at the same time. With no wires or batteries, Enerbee’s Smart Vent is fully autonomous so, simply install it and forget.

The company’s patented technology uses the piezo magnetism principle, the energy peak is converted to useable energy via an innovative electronic stage, delivering highly-efficient, autonomous energy in the 1mW to 10mW range.

Visit us at Eureka Park, (booth #50656) the “innovation lab” of CES.

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Electronica 2016: Smart Dust Sensor Designed for Indoor Air Quality Monitoring

The Smart Dust Sensor, a high-tech, particle detection device designed for indoor air quality monitoring, has been unveiled at this year’s Electronica trade show.

Designed by Amphenol Advanced Sensors Telaire product line, the Smart Dust Sensor, also known as SM-PWM-01C, combines infra-red sensing technology with special algorithms to differentiate between small and large particle sizes.

“The reliable sensor design is based on 20 years of engineering and manufacturing expertise”, said Chris Ranwell, global product manager for Telaire. “It can be used in all applications that require detection of particulates that decrease air quality”.

At 59mm wide and weighing only 20g, the product is small, but is said to match the accuracy and reliability of many larger sensors. The sensor detects particle concentration in the air by using an infrared light-emitting diode (IR LED) and a photo-sensor. The IR LED is shone into the air and reflected by any present dust particles. This information is then detected by the photo-sensor.

Where it differs from other sensors of its size is in the ability to detect very small particles measuring just one micrometre, such as those found in cigarette smoke, as well as larger particles such as house dust (typically 20 micrometres).

Following detection, the sensor provides a signal in proportion to both particle size and concentration, which can be translated into data on the concentration of dust, smoke and other particles present within indoor environments.

The product could be implemented into the design of a range of devices which depend on air quality monitoring, including household air purifiers and smoke detection applications. In the future, with further developments, the sensor could also be optimised for use in outdoor environments, for use in pollution monitoring.