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Health hazard evaluation report: evaluation of indoor environmental quality in a natural history building.

Broadwater-K; Page-E; Burr-G
Cincinnati, OH: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, HETA 2014-0037-3213, 2014 Jun; :1-11
The Health Hazard Evaluation Program received a request from a university health and safety office to evaluate employees' concerns about rashes, sore throat, and respiratory irritation when working on the seventh floor of a natural history building. This floor housed offices, computer workstations, and ornithology, mammology, and icthyology departments. Hundreds of bird and mammal specimens were stored in unventilated cabinets specially designed to minimize internal temperature and relative humidity fluctuations. The specimen storage and processing areas were next to offices and computer workstations and shared ventilation systems. Two rooftop variable air volume air handling units provided air-conditioning and heat. The exterior windows could not be opened. During our visit in February 2014, we evaluated indoor environmental quality, interviewed employees and students about their work and health, and reviewed reports of sampling for mold and chemicals. Although employees experienced a variety of symptoms, we did not find evidence of a single exposure for these symptoms. Allergy to animal allergens was likely responsible for some symptoms, but many of the non-specific symptoms reported by the employees are common in the general population, so attributing them to specific allergens is difficult. The ventilation systems were well maintained, however temperature and relative humidity levels were not within the recommended range for human occupants, and air flowed out of the biotic analysis lab into surrounding areas. When handling specimens, some staff wore nitrile gloves, but did not always use a ventilated cabinet or hood or work in the biotic analysis lab. We recommended the employer adjust the ventilation system so (1) air flows into the biotic analysis lab from the surrounding areas, (2) allergens and other contaminants from specimen storage and handling areas do not move into adjacent offices, and (3) temperature and relative humidity are within occupant comfort guidelines. We also recommended (1) isolating the specimen storage and handling areas from other work areas; (2) developing procedures for storing, handling, and preparing specimens; and (3) stopping sampling for molds and chemicals. Employees should wash hands regularly, especially after working with specimens and follow standard operating procedures for handling specimens, including using gloves and wearing a lab coat.
Skin-disorders; Skin-irritants; Throat; Throat-disorders; Respiratory-system-disorders; Indoor-air-pollution; Indoor-environmental-quality; Office-workers; Materials-storage; Ventilation; Ventilation-systems; Allergens; Education; Animals; Temperature-control; Relative-humidity; Laboratories; Air-flow; Ventilation-hoods; Manual-materials-handling; Personal-protective-equipment; Gloves; Protective-clothing; Molds; Author Keywords: Museums; allergies; IEQ; indoor environmental quality; birds; university; mold; bats
Publication Date
Document Type
Field Studies; Hazard Evaluation and Technical Assistance
Fiscal Year
NTIS Accession No.
NTIS Price
Identifying No.
HETA-2014-0037-3213; M062014
NIOSH Division
Priority Area
SIC Code
Source Name
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
Page last reviewed: September 2, 2020
Content source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Education and Information Division