Question? Just ask us!
Free Encyclopedia of Building & Environmental Inspection, Testing, Diagnosis, Repair
InspectAPedia ® Home
ODORS GASES SMELLS, DIAGNOSIS & CURE
AIR CLEANER PURIFIER TYPES
AIR FILTERS for HVAC SYSTEMS
AIR FILTERS, OPTIMUM INDOOR
AIR LEAK DETECTION TOOLS
AIR POLLUTANTS, COMMON INDOOR
AIR QUALITY IMPROVEMENT STRATEGIES
AIR TEST FOR MOLD: ACCURACY
ALLERGEN TESTS for BUILDINGS
ANIMAL ALLERGENS / PET DANDER
ANIMAL ENTRY POINTS in BUILDINGS
ANIMAL or URINE ODOR SOURCE DETECTION
ASBESTOS IDENTIFICATION IN BUILDINGS
ATTORNEYS and EXPERT WITNESSES
BACKDRAFTING HEATING EQUIPMENT
BIBLIOGAPHY for ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH, MOLD, IAQ
BIO-FUEL PRODUCTION & USE
BOD WASTEWATER TEST
BLOWER DOORS & AIR INFILTRATION
BLEACHING MOLD, Advice about
BOOK MOLD, CLEANING
BOOKSTORE - ENVIRONMENTAL
BUILDING SAFETY HAZARDS GUIDE
CACTUS FUNGI / MOLD
Carbon Dioxide - CO2
CAR MOLD CONTAMINATION
CARBON MONOXIDE - CO
CARPETING & INDOOR AIR QUALITY
CAT DANDER in buildings
CHIMNEY INSPECTION DIAGNOSIS REPAIR
CHINESE DRYWALL HAZARDS
CHEMICAL CONTAMINANTS in WATER
CHEMICAL ODOR SOURCES
CHLORINE IN DRINKING WATER
CHLORINE in WATER, HOW TO TEST FOR
CHLORINE IN SEPTIC WASTEWATER
COMBUSTION GASES & PARTICLE HAZARDS
CONDENSATION or SWEATING PIPES, TANKS
CPSC Indoor Air Pollution Book Online Copy
DIRECTORY of MOLD / ENVIRONMENTAL EXPERTS
DIRT FLOOR MOLD CONTAMINATION
DISINFECTANTS & SANITIZERS, SOURCES
DISINFECTING BUILDINGS with BLEACH
DRYWALL MOLD TESTING
DRAFT HOOD, GAS HEATER
DRAFT MEASUREMENT, CHIMNEYS & FLUES
DRAFT REGULATOR, DAMPER, BOOSTER
Diethylstilbestrol - DES
DUCT SYSTEM & DUCT DEFECTS
DUST ANALYSIS for FIBERGLASS
DUST, HVAC CONTAMINATION STUDY
DUST SAMPLING PROCEDURE
EMERGENCY RESPONSE, IAQ, GAS, MOLD
ENVIRO-SCARE - PUBLIC FEAR CYCLES
ENDOCRINE DISRUPTERS at BUILDINGS
FIBERGLASS INSULATION MOLD
Fireplaces & Woodstove Contaminants
FLOOD DAMAGE ASSESSMENT, SAFETY & CLEANUP
GASES, EXPOSURE, TESTING
GAS DETECTION INSTRUMENTS
GAS EXPOSURE LIMITS & STANDARDS
GLARE, Sunlight/Lighting Control
GLUES ADHESIVES, EXTERIOR CONSTRUCTION
HEATING OIL EXPOSURE HAZARDS, LIMITS
HUMIDITY CONTROL & TARGETS INDOORS
INDOOR AIR HAZARDS TABLE
INDOOR AIR QUALITY & HOUSE TIGHTNESS
INDOOR AIR QUALITY IMPROVEMENT GUIDE
INDOOR AIR QUALITY METHODS COMPARED
INSULATION INSPECTION & IMPROVEMENT
LIGHT, GUIDE to FORENSIC USE
GAS LP & NATURAL GAS SAFETY HAZARDS
LEGIONELLA LEGIONNAIRES' DISEASE
METHANE GAS SOURCES
MILDEW in BUILDINGS ?
MOISTURE CONTROL in BUILDINGS
MOLD: A COMPLETE GUIDE to TEST CLEAN PREVENT
MOLD ACTION GUIDE - WHAT TO DO ABOUT MOLD
MOLD or INDOOR AIR EMERGENCY RESPONSE
MOLD TEST KITS
MOTHS, MOTHBALL ODORS
MSDS MATERIAL SAFETY DATA SHEETS
MVOCs & MOLDY MUSTY ODORS
NOISE / SOUND DIAGNOSIS & CURE
ODORS GASES SMELLS, DIAGNOSIS & CURE
OIL, HEATING, EXPOSURE HAZARDS, LIMITS
OIL HEAT ODORS & NOISES
OIL SPILL CLEANUP / PREVENTION
OIL TANK LEAK & ODOR CAUSES
OIL TANKS INSPECT LEAK TEST ABANDON REGS
OUTHOUSES & LATRINES
OXYGEN - O2
OZONE MOLD / ODOR TREATMENT WARNINGS
PAINTS & COATINGS ODORS IN BUILDINGS
PARTICLE SIZES & IAQ
Particulates & Allergens Indoors
PESTICIDE EXPOSURE HAZARDS
PET ALLERGENS / PET DANDER
PET STAINS & MARKS in BUILDINGS
PET STAINS on WALLS
PLASTIC CONTAINERS, TANKS, TYPES
PLASTIC PLEXVENT ULTRAVENT RECALL
PLASTIC ODORS-SCREENS, SIDING
PLUMBING SYSTEM ODORS
PVC - VINYL BUILDING PRODUCTS
RADON HAZARD TESTS & MITIGATION
SAFETY HAZARDS GUIDE
SAFETY HAZARDS & INSPECTIONS
SEPTIC & CESSPOOL SAFETY
SEPTIC SYSTEM ODORS
SEPTIC TREATMENTS & CHEMICALS
SEWAGE & SEPTIC CONTAMINANTS
SEWAGE CONTAMINATION in BUILDINGS
SEWAGE BACKUP, WHAT TO DO
SEWER GAS ODORS
SMELL PATCH TEST to FIND ODOR SOURCE
STAINS on & in BUILDINGS, CAUSES & CURES
STAINS on CONCRETE
STAIN DIAGNOSIS on BUILDING EXTERIORS
SULPHUR & SEWER GAS SMELL SOURCES
TEST KITS for DUST, MOLD, PARTICLE TESTS
THERMAL EXPANSION CRACKS in BRICK
THERMAL IMAGING, THERMOGRAPHY
THERMAL IMAGING MOLD SCANS
THERMAL TRACKING & THERMAL BRIDGING
TRAPPED MOLD BETWEEN WOOD SURFACES
UREA FORMALDEHYDE FOAM INSULATION, UFFI
URETHANE FOAM Deterioration, Outgassing
UV LIGHT BLACK LIGHT USES
VAPOR BARRIERS & CONDENSATION in BUILDINGS
VAPOR BARRIERS & HOUSEWRAP
VAPOR CONDENSATION & BUILDING SHEATHING
VENTILATION in BUILDINGS
VINYL CHLORIDE HEALTH INFO
VINYL SIDING or WINDOW PLASTIC ODORS
VOCs VOLATILE ORGANIC COMPOUNDS
WASTEWATER TREATMENT BASICS
WATER ODORS, CAUSE CURE
WATER TANK SAFETY
WATER TESTS, CONTAMINANTS, TREATMENT
WATER TEST CHOICES & WATER TEST FEES
WATER TREATMENT EQUIPMENT CHOICES
WATER, WELLS, WATER TANKS: TESTING GUIDE
WETLAND SEPTIC SYSTEMS
WINDOWS & DOORS
WORLD TRADE CENTER 9-11 DUST PHOTOS
Odorless gas or chemical hazards in buildings: this article discusses what to do about indoor contaminants that might not smell or give any ready indication of their presence. This website series provides articles on to diagnose, test, identify, and cure or remove a wide range of obnoxious or even toxic odors in building interiors, building mechanical systems, or in building water supply.
We discuss odors from a variety of sources including animals including pets, dogs, cats, or unwanted animals or dead animals, formaldehyde odors in buildings from building products or furnishings, plumbing drains, plastic or vinyl odors from building products, flue gases, oil tanks or oil spills, pesticides, septic odors, sewer gases, and even abandoned chemicals at properties.
Our page top photo shows outdoor evidence of a radon mitigation system at a building. Radon is an example of an odorless, colorless gas that at elevated levels can be a health hazard for building occupants.
Green links show where you are. © Copyright 2015 InspectApedia.com, All Rights Reserved.
How to Think About Indoor Contaminants that Avoid Detection - Gases or Chemicals that do not Produce a Smell
Question About Indoor Chemical or Gas Hazards that Don't Smell
I am writing to ask you whether it is true that some chemicals are odorless. The reason for the question is that the smell seems to be dissipating. However, since we we do not know what the source of the smell was, we cannot know for sure whether the source causing the smell can still be harmful to our unborn baby. -- Jacqueline Saenz, CA.
OPINION: Some chemicals are odorless - for example see "Fish Tale" in the New York Times. The article discussed a type of food poisoning (not a building material or sewer gas issue) associated with unsafe seafood - ciguatera poisoning (eating fish contaminated with a toxin that grown on reef algae) stating "Unlike most other causes of food poisoning, this toxin is colorless and odorless and isn't destroyed by cooking."
RADON HAZARD TESTS & MITIGATION
Similarly, carbon monoxide (CO) gas, can be found in buildings where there is a gas burning appliance or chimney defect, is odorless and colorless.
But neither radon nor CO is ever smelly. So if there was an indoor odor present that later dissipated, it was not likely to be one of those particular hazards.
Because your original question (not included above) concerned sewer gas, it would be methane, not CO gas would have been more likely to be detected in your building. Sewer gas, a complex of gases, is not normally odorless. But sewer gas odors can indeed "come and go" depending on several variables, as we discuss below.
Building Indoor Odors / Smells that Eventually Diminish or Stop Completely
The types of building materials that smell for a while but then stop on their own, with no discover, repair, or removal of the offending source, include:
Building Odors / Smells That May Come and Go
So How Might we Suspect and Decide to Test for an Odorless Gas or Chemical in Our Apartment?
Luckily, in most cases in buildings and building materials, problem chemicals or gases are delivered in a soup of materials, not in a pure form, and even if the dangerous material is odorless, most often it is in a soup that has an odor. For example, see BOILER NOISE SMOKE ODORS.
For example, carbon monoxide may be odorless, but if it's being delivered by a chimney leak or a car exhaust, other ingredients in those gases are often noticeable.
Watch out: often does not mean always. If building occupants are asleep during a CO poisoning hazard they could be asphyxiated without ever waking up. That is why it is really smart to have both working smoke detectors and working carbon monoxide detectors in your home.
How can I Check for or Test for Odorless Indoor Toxic Contaminants and Chemicals
OPINION: It is not cost-reasonable to try to test for every possible contaminant in a building, chemical or gas: there are just too many possibilities, and there not any simple inexpensive broad-spectrum "catch all" test.
See TOXIC GAS TEST PROCEDURES. Don't just make a "wild guess" and then just test for that contaminant - doing so may lead to a false sense of security while you may be ignoring a problem that was not detected because it was not looked-for.
Make a Quick Amateur Do-it-yourself Building Contaminant Risk Assessment
Therefore our approach is to decide when further investigation or action is needed (do we need to "hire an expert") based on an initial level of risk assessment:
Other Building Hazards are Latent - Odorless, Colorless, Until an Event: Building Fire or Flood
Other indoor hazards are simply lurking, like a stair-fall: nothing happens until something else happens.
Reader Question: Suspected Chemical Hazards in a Converted Industrial Space: Tetrachloroethylene exposure testing, hazards, MSDS
I got your website address from one of the Dutchess County health inspectors. He tried to help us but he could only test for organic solvents. He said sorry when he could not find anything and told us we needed to hire a private company to do testing.
We moved into a newly converted industrial space at [redacted for privacy] in Poughkeepsie. The building use to be a metal factory for the last 60 years until they turned it into rental units. On the 5th day of working there I noticed a strange vapor in the air that smelt like "welding" or something.
For about a month after that I was in like a zombie like state. When I felt to sick to go to work and stayed home for a few days I snapped back to myself. Over those few days I was shaking like I was going through withdrawal or something. I downloaded a list of hazard waste shipments that this metal company shipped out and my symptoms fit well with tetrachloroethene exposure
I called the health dept and they told me to go to the emergency room which they said the only treatment would be fresh air and rest. I guess the health dept meet with the landlord and they were not able to find anything. One day a few days later I was there I could smell the stuff in the air that's when the inspector meet with me and said they can only test for solvents.
I bought one of these Haz Mat smart strips It tested positive for oxidizer and the Cyanide test turned a funky color that is not on the chart.
The landlord is a large company based in Westchester they seem to not care. The keep saying to write down dates and times and get blood tests. They never return our calls We tried to get blood tests but the doctor said we need to find out what we exposure to.
This nightmare has gone on for 2+ months my business is pretty much destroyed. I will be homeless in a month if someone does not help Can you please help us pro-bono or on a payment plan Thanks, R.S. - Poughkeepsie, New York
This question was originally posted at RENTERS & TENANTS: MOLD ADVICE
I am sorry to read of the difficulties you describe, and also to report that because my forensic expertise is with particles, mold, allergens, and not chemical contaminants, I'm not the best person to assist you. I agree that there could be chemical contaminants left from the prior industrial use of your building, including oils and solvents, and on an older building such as those along Cottage St. in Poughkeepsie, even pesticides.
Tetrachloroethene, also referred to as tetrachloroethylene or as "perc" was used in dry cleaning as well as a degreaser for metal working.
Watch out: while it is quite reasonable to suspect that tetrachloroethylene was and may remain present in a building where metalworking was conducted (used as a degreaser solvent that is both volatile and persistent in the environment), it would be a serious mistake to jump to the conclusion that it is the chief or only hazard in your building just as it would be risky to guess at your own exposure or to diagnose your complaint without consulting a qualified expert physician and hygienist.
Just as an example, depending on the kind of work performed, metal plating, for example, can leave other hazards such as cadmium or other heavy metals behind in a local environment.
Watch out: Similarly, the "Smart-Strip" test kit that you purchased is a warning badge intended for emergency responders not comprehensive building surveys for chemical hazards. It was developed by Mike Reimer and is sensitive to chlorine, abnormal pH levels (identifying highly acidic or highly caustic agents), Fluoride, some nerve agents, Oxidizers, Arsenic, Sulfides, and Cyanide. It is by no means intended as a broad spectrum analyzer to identify specific chemicals among the thousands that may be used among various industries and industrial processes.
This chemically reactive "badge" is intended to be used or worn by first responders and emergency workers in the field to make very broad identification of hazardous conditions. It is not intended to identify specific chemicals or contaminants. And while this badge is widely accepted as a rough hazard screen, with this or many other chemically-based tests for contaminants, the presence of some chemicals or gases will affect the detection of others.
In contrast, an expert building investigator will consider the history of use of the building, the site, even nearby sites, as well as actual onsite observations, and occupant interview results in choosing an approach to screening for specific hazards.
I'm not sure you have to identify the exact solvent or chemical for a physician to be of assistance. If s/he has experience in environmental medicine or can refer you to someone who has that experience, there are most likely somewhat more broad exposure tests to hydrocarbons, solvents, including the one you name.
I suggest contacting an industrial hygienist willing to work on residential exposure questions, or perhaps Paul Ciminello at Ecosystems Strategies. But I am doubtful that many others besides myself are willing to take work like this on a pro-bono basis. And expert services can be costly.
Watch out: In my OPINION the safe inhabitability of a building is the responsibility of the building owner, and more, that the building owners may be inadvertently accepting a very very large liability risk if they have not had the building adequately surveyed and assured safe for occupants.
If you make that concern clear, in writing, you may find that the owners will be willing to have proper inspection and testing performed. We can understand that an owner, not wanting to face or exacerbate what they may feel are avoidable expenses or troubles, may hope to find someone who will be quick, cheap, and who will give a clean bill of health to the building.
But the risks of sloppy, careless or superficial work are so great for both owners and occupants, that in my view that would be a dangerous approach, and one to be avoided.
At RENTERS & TENANTS GUIDE TO MOLD & INDOOR HAZARDS we give advice to renters concerned about mold or other indoor contaminants - that may be helpful to you,
If you think it will assist your building owners in deciding what action is appropriate, when you write to them (phone calls alone are not adequate if serious building risks are suspected) you can include a copy of our correspondence, along with your own description of your concerns, along with
Continue reading at HEALTH DEPARTMENT HELP for RENTERS or select a topic from the More Reading links shown below.
Suggested citation for this web page
Green link shows where you are in this article series.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
No FAQs have been posted for this page. Try the search box below or CONTACT US by email if you cannot find the answer you need at InspectApedia.
Use the "Click to Show or Hide FAQs" link just above to see recently-posted questions, comments, replies, try the search box just below, or if you prefer, post a question or comment in the Comments box below and we will respond promptly.
Search the InspectApedia website
HTML Comment Box is loading comments...
Technical Reviewers & References