Health hazard evaluation report: HETA-2000-0283-2823, Rehabilitation Services Commission, Columbus, Ohio.
On May 5, 2000, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) received a request from employees at the Rehabilitation Services Commission (RSC) regarding indoor air quality problems at the RSC building in Columbus, Ohio. Health concerns included chronic sinus infections, allergies, asthmatic bronchitis, and chronic pulmonary problems. On July 11 and 12, 2000, NIOSH investigators conducted a walk-through inspection of the building’s interior and exterior, and of the air handling units (AHU). Measurements to detect moisture incursion and general indoor air quality comfort parameters were also made. NIOSH physicians interviewed 29 employees to assess health complaints potentially related to the work environment. Moisture measurements on the inside of the exterior walls and the concrete slab did not indicate a chronic water incursion problem. The AHUs appeared clean and provided good air filtration. The condensate pans on some of the AHU were not draining properly. The building was under positive pressure; the cafeteria was under negative pressure to minimize odors in the building. One non-functional bathroom exhaust fan was identified. Several carbon dioxide measurements exceeded 800 ppm, indicating an inadequate supply of outdoor air. The AHUs were recently switched from a manual adjustment system to a computer-controlled system. Although the computer-controlled system indicated air intakes at 10%, they were actually closed. Thirteen of the 29 employees interviewed reported a physician diagnosis of asthma. Six of these employees reported a consistent increase in symptoms related to being in the workplace. In addition to asthma, 10 of the 29 employees interviewed reported upper respiratory symptoms or mucous membrane irritation temporally related to the work environment. Ten of the 29 reported having positive allergy tests for dust mites. Four employees reported no symptoms related to work. Medical records were obtained for three individuals who reported being diagnosed with asthma since beginning work at the RSC, and who reported a consistent increase in symptoms related to being at work. One of the three had information in the medical record possibly consistent with a diagnosis of asthma, but no evidence of a decrement in lung function at work; two did not have documented evidence of asthma. Among the 29 persons interviewed, the most frequently reported observation was that the work environment was dusty and the cloth-covered cubicles were dirty. Several persons complained of odors from the kitchen. In addition, several employees reported the use of ion-generating or electrostatic precipitator air cleaners (these air cleaners may produce ozone) at their desks. There was no evidence of a significant indoor air quality problem at the RSC building. Minor problems were noted, including a non-operational bathroom exhaust fan, a deficiency in supplied outdoor air, and the use of ozone generating air cleaners. Reported symptoms included asthma, and eye, nose, and throat irritation. Recommendations include repair of the bathroom fan, adjusting the outside air dampers to increase the supply of outdoor air, and elimination of ozone-generating air cleaners.