Concern: Waterloo Elementary School: January 25th, 2022 (CWATES202200020B)

Hallway near boiler room
Date of IEQ Report Form
Date of Report
A staff member came to me in the office to report an unusual odor in the hallway near the boiler room. The odor was originally noticed on January 25.
IEQ Investigation Process

Identify deficiencies that may impact IEQ and/or sources of odor concerns. Typically includes the following depending on the nature of concern, but not limited to:

  • interview/questionnaire of concern individual(s)
  • inspection above drop ceiling (condition of roof deck, pipe insulation, return air plenum)
  • inspection of ventilation system (operation of variable air volume box and outdoor air dampers, check controls, measurements of carbon dioxide, temperature and relative humidity, sources near outdoor air intake, measure return and supply air volume, cleanliness of coils, liner and condensate pan)
  • inspection of exterior
  • inspection below drop ceiling (housekeeping, sink and floor drain traps, signs of past and present moisture concern via visual and/or moisture meter, mold growth, ensure connection of current and capping of abandoned sanitary vents, odorizers, excessive plants and fabric items, identify potential pathways, and measure volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, and lighting)

Dates of Assessment(s): January 26 and 28; February 4, 8, 11, 14, and 15

A preliminary walkthrough of the boiler room and hallway near the boiler room was conducted. No odors of the description ("shoe-polish") were noted. However, a slight paint odor was noted near the gymnasium.

Areas above the drop-ceiling were assessed in the boiler room/gym hallway with no odors detected.

An attempt was made to assess bathroom vent connections, however they could not be observed due to drywall ceilings. No odors were detected within or in the vicinity of the bathrooms. 

A different assessor walked the area the morning of January 28th, and did not sense any odors within the area.

The Building Maintenance Office was contacted to determine if recent work may be causing an odor concern. Additionally, the facility work order system was also reviewed. The following was noted:

  • Building Maintenance (Roofing) was not aware of any recent roofing work at the school.
  • Building Maintenance (HVAC) had recently installed a pump in a bathroom, however the technician indicated a solvent odor would not have been associated with the install. No odors were identified in the bathroom where the pump was installed nor is the bathroom located in the area where the odor was reported.
  • A boiler safety check been recently been conducted (January 24, 2022). No concerns noted.
  • Building Maintenance (Carpentry) reported that some painting work had been conducted in the gymnasium earlier in the week of January 31. A slight paint odor had been noted however this was different than the odor of concern.
  • The Office of the Environment discussed the possibility of freon from the HVAC system being a potential source of the odor. The HVAC department did not believe this to be a concern because the odor was intermittent.

The school informed the Office of the Environment that the odor had returned (February 8), however the location of the odor had changed from near the boiler room/gym hallway to the 4th Grade Pod. The Office of the Environment arrived onsite and did notice an odor comparable to spray paint. 

A photoionization detector (measures Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)) was utilized to attempt to identify an odor source. Low detections of VOC's were detected on February 4th in the main hallway (outside the pod), the 3rd grade pod, and the fourth grade pod (0.1-0.3 parts per million (ppm). Higher levels (0.5-1.1 ppm) were detected in Classroom 152. This classroom also exhibited a noticeably stronger odor compared to other areas in the space. 

Classroom 154

The classroom was assessed with a PID on various days. In general, the PID readings did not "lead" the assessor to a "hot spot" that may be the source of the odor.

The contents of shelves, cabinets, each student desk, and other storage locations were assessed for the odor or products that may be causing the odor to include nail polish, nail polish remover, spray paint, etc. No items of concern were noted. No one location exhibited a stronger odor than others. 

Several cleaning chemicals were identified under the sink to include non-issued aerosol sprays. The contents of the products did not exhibit an odor, similar to the spray-paint odor.

Areas above the drop-ceiling were assessed. The odor was not present above the drop ceiling. 

The space was assessed with a black light in an attempt to find residual staining (such as nail polish remover). No staining indicative of a spill was identified.

A water fountain adjoins the classroom. The water fountain was assessed by Plumbing to determine if there was a possible leak associated with the cooling system of the fountain.

The room was screened with a thermal infrared camera in an attempt to identify thermal anomalies. No thermal anomalies were detected.

Each supply diffuser in the space was examined. No odors appeared to be emanating from the supply diffusers.

An HCPSS issued air purifier was observed in the classroom and was in operation. No odors were sensed emanating from the air purifier. 

The HVAC system that serves the space was assessed. No odors or deficiencies were noted within the unit. 

With the exception of February 8, no odors were identified while on the roof. On February 8, an intermittent odor was identified on the roof. However, using the PID, it was determined that the odor was being emitted from an exhaust fan. Mechanical prints indicated that this exhaust fan served the boys and girls bathroom for the 4th Grade Pod as well as the faculty bathroom.  Each of these bathrooms was assessed for an odor with no obvious indications of an odor source identified. 

The Office of the Environment contacted the Howard County Bureau of Utilities which adjoins the school to the north and was upwind of the school during several of the site visits. They were not aware of any odors occurring at their facility that could be blown downwind and entrained into the school's HVAC system.

The exterior of the school was assessed for spray-paint or evidence of recent cleaning activities (graffiti remover). No paint, staining, or odors were identified on the exterior of the building around classroom 154. 

An adjoining counselor's office was also assessed. Although the room did have an odor, it was not the odor of concern. The counselor, was not aware of any odor issues within the office.

On February 15, the Office of the Environment utilized a consultant to assist in the assessment process. The consultant utilized a PID that was more sensitive than the PID used by the Office of the Environment (parts per billion (ppb) instead of parts per million). No detections occurred. The consultant did not identify an odor of concern during their visit. The consultant did not believe further action was necessary.

The odor has not been reported as of March 4, 2022.

Corrective Actions
March 4th, 2022

Several non-issued aerosol disinfectants were identified under the sink of Room 154. These are to be removed by the staff member who brought them in.

March 4th, 2022

If the odor re-occurs, please notify the Office of the Environment immediately. 

Tracking Number