Skip directly to search Skip directly to A to Z list Skip directly to site content
CDC Home

Epidemiologic Notes and Reports Employee Illness from Underground Gas and Oil Contamination -- Idaho

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recently completed an evaluation of an office building in Boise, Idaho, in which workers were experiencing symptoms of headache and nausea related to intermittent noxious odors (1). The cause of the problem was gasoline vapors entering the building from an underground aquifer contaminated with petroleum products leaking from a nearby oil storage tank.

The affected employees worked in the basement of a five-story medical office building and had been experiencing the symptoms--which in one case included vomiting--intermittently for 10 months. The symptoms were occasionally associated with a petroleum odor that the NIOSH investigator found coming through cracks in the floor and the joints at which the floor met the foundation and the support pillars connected to the floor. Laboratory analysis confirmed the source of the odor as gasoline. The vapor concentrations at the cracks and inside one wall were above the lower explosive limit for gasoline of 14,000 ppm, and the vapor concentrations in the rooms ranged up to 280 ppm.

To determine the source of the contamination, six test holes were drilled around the building, A water sample from one of these holes had petroleum products floating on the surface. An evaluation has determined a large gas and oil tank farm, located two blocks from the building, is the source of the water table contaminants.

Based on recommendations by the NIOSH investigator, immediate steps were taken to correct the hazards. All accessible cracks and joints have been sealed, and the building ventilation system has been adjusted to pressurize the building relative to the outside air. Since these corrections were made, petroleum-product vapors are no longer detectable, and the employees' symptoms have ceased. Reported by the Hazard Evaluations and Technical Assistance Br, Div of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluations, and Field Studies, NIOSH Region X, CDC.

Editorial Note

Editorial Note: The employees' symptoms are consistent with the gasoline vapor concentrations found in the building and with the higher concentrations that probably existed intermittently in the past.

NIOSH has evaluated or is currently evaluating over 100 complaints of various symptoms among office employees. Although a large majority of these evaluations have found that the complaints derive from inadequate office ventilation, occasionally symptoms can be linked to substances measured in the environment, e.g., fibrous glass (2), fumes from spirit duplicators (3), and emissions from urea-formaldehyde foam insulation (4). In the Idaho situation, prompt correction was required to prevent a possible explosion of gasoline vapors. Although such situations are unusual, building occupants in areas near petroleum storage facilities (including gasoline service stations) should be alert to the possibility of environmental contamination--particularly of the water table by petroleum products.

References

  1. Apol A. Health hazard evaluation--Boise, Idaho. Cincinnati: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 1982. (Report no. HETA 82-062-1077).

  2. Tharr D. Health hazard evaluation--Schenectady, New York. Cincinnati: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 1980. (Report no. TA 80-080).

  3. Apol A. Health hazard evaluation--Everett, Washington. Cincinnati: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 1980. (Report no. TA 80-032).

  4. Gunter, B. Health hazard evaluation--East Helena, Montana. Cincinnati: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 1981. (Report no. HETA 81-108-883).



Use of trade names and commercial sources is for identification only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

References to non-CDC sites on the Internet are provided as a service to MMWR readers and do not constitute or imply endorsement of these organizations or their programs by CDC or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. CDC is not responsible for the content of pages found at these sites. URL addresses listed in MMWR were current as of the date of publication.


All MMWR HTML versions of articles are electronic conversions from typeset documents. This conversion might result in character translation or format errors in the HTML version. Users are referred to the electronic PDF version (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr) and/or the original MMWR paper copy for printable versions of official text, figures, and tables. An original paper copy of this issue can be obtained from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO), Washington, DC 20402-9371; telephone: (202) 512-1800. Contact GPO for current prices.

**Questions or messages regarding errors in formatting should be addressed to mmwrq@cdc.gov.

 
USA.gov: The U.S. Government's Official Web PortalDepartment of Health and Human Services
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention   1600 Clifton Road Atlanta, GA 30329-4027, USA
800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636) TTY: (888) 232-6348 - Contact CDC–INFO
A-Z Index
  1. A
  2. B
  3. C
  4. D
  5. E
  6. F
  7. G
  8. H
  9. I
  10. J
  11. K
  12. L
  13. M
  14. N
  15. O
  16. P
  17. Q
  18. R
  19. S
  20. T
  21. U
  22. V
  23. W
  24. X
  25. Y
  26. Z
  27. #