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ENVIRONMENTAL HAZARDS - INSPECT, TEST, REMEDY
AIR CLEANER PURIFIER TYPES
AIR POLLUTANTS, COMMON INDOOR
AIR QUALITY IMPROVEMENT STRATEGIES
AIRBORNE PARTICLE ANALYSIS METHODS
ALLERGEN TESTS for BUILDINGS
ASBESTOS IDENTIFICATION IN BUILDINGS
BACKDRAFTING HEATING EQUIPMENT
BLACK MOLD, TOXIC & ALLERGENIC
BLEACHING MOLD, Advice about
BOOKSTORE - ENVIRONMENTAL
CADMIUM in the HOME
CARBON MONOXIDE - CO
CARPETING & INDOOR AIR QUALITY
CAT DANDER in BUILDINGS
CELL PHONE RADIATION
CHEMICAL CONTAMINANTS in WATER
COMBUSTION PRODUCTS & IAQ
DIRECTORY of MOLD / ENVIRONMENTAL EXPERTS
DUST SAMPLING PROCEDURE
EMERGENCY RESPONSE, IAQ, GAS, MOLD
EMF ELECTROMAGNETIC FIELDSRE
ENDOCRINE DISRUPTORS at BUILDINGS
FLOOD DAMAGE ASSESSMENT, SAFETY & CLEANUP
FLOOR TILE ASBESTOS IDENTIFICATION
FUNGICIDAL SPRAY & SEALANT USE
GAS EXPOSURE EFFECTS, TOXIC
HEATING OIL EXPOSURE HAZARDS, LIMITS
HOUSE DUST ANALYSIS
HOUSE DUST COMPONENTS
HUMIDITY CONTROL & TARGETS INDOORS
INDOOR AIR QUALITY IMPROVEMENT GUIDE
LAB PROCEDURES MICROSCOPE TECHNIQUES
LEAD POISONING HAZARDS GUIDE
Legionella Legionnaires' Disease
LIGHT, GUIDE to FORENSIC USE
METHANE GAS SOURCES
MILDEW in BUILDINGS ?
MOISTURE CONTROL in BUILDINGS
MOLD ACTION GUIDE - WHAT TO DO ABOUT MOLD
MOLD CONSULTANTS / INSPECTORS
MOLD DETECTION & INSPECTION GUIDE
MOLD EXPERT, WHEN TO HIRE
MOLD RELATED ILLNESS GUIDE
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
PET ALLERGENS / PET DANDER
PET STAINS & MARKS in BUILDINGS
PLASTIC ODORS-SCREENS, SIDING
PLUMBING SYSTEM ODORS
PVC - VINYL BUILDING PRODUCTS
RADON HAZARD TESTS & MITIGATION
SAFETY HAZARDS GUIDE
SAFETY HAZARDS & INSPECTIONS
SEPTIC METHANE GAS
SEPTIC SYSTEM ODORS
SEWAGE BACKUP TEST & CLEANUP
SEWER GAS ODORS
SMELL PATCH TEST to Track Down Odors
STAIN DIAGNOSIS on BUILDING EXTERIORS
STAIN DIAGNOSIS on BUILDING INTERIORS
SULPHUR & SEWER GAS SMELL SOURCES
UFFI UREA FORMALDEHYDE FOAM INSULATION
URETHANE FOAM Deterioration, Outgassing
VINYL CHLORIDE HEALTH INFO
VOLATILE ORGANIC COMPOUNDS VOCs
WATER ODORS, CAUSE CURE
Building odor & smell diagnosis & cure procedure: This article provides a methodology useful for tracking down the sources of odors in buildings. When you can't seem to find the source of an annoying building smell, we suggest using these investigation methods that include noting the time, weather, area, operation of equipment and similar conditions that will help track a building odor problem to its source. How to find the cause of odors, odor sources, and how to find and cure the source of smells in building air, water, heating and cooling systems, or other sources. Also see see SMELL PATCH TEST to Track Down Odors.
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We offer below a list of smell and odor diagnosis clues that any home owner, home inspector, or other investigator can follow in seeking to pinpoint the source of an annoying or obnoxious odor in buildings. Readers are asked to contact us to suggest additions or corrections to this list.
Often people's perception of odors varies with time and exposure or with a number of other site factors that make it hard to track down just where a smell is coming from. But if we think carefully about when, and under what conditions we notice odors, often that information is instrumental in tracking down an odor to its source and thus in helping us decide if an odor refers to a potentially dangerous or unhealthy condition.
This odor diagnostic checklist is in simple alphabetic order, not in order of probable cause, importance, or health risk, all of which can vary widely. A printer-friendly abbreviated PDF version of this smell diagnostic checklist is at Odor Diagnosis Checklist-PDF, thanks to reader Kathleen Black
Odors Related to Time, Weather, Events, Mechanical Systems - how to Keep an Odor or Smell Time & Data Log to Help Diagnose the Cause or Source of an Odor
Keeping a log sheet that records date, time, weather, operation of building mechanical conditions, sun, wind, etc. can help track down otherwise mysterious smells in or around buildings.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Question: concrete dust odor complaints: sources, causes, mitigation
I visited a school in Boston today. In some parts of the building there was an irritating smell that seemed like cement dust. I was told the smell has been there for at least a year. I had been to the building a few times about three years ago and I noticed no smell then.
The smell was exactly like what I remembered coming from a limestone rock I got in central Florida when I washed it. Tonight I smelled the rock when it was dry and put my nose right up to it and no smell. Then I got it wet and it had that same very strong irritating dust smell as the school. So at least with with my limestone rock it is washing and getting it wet that causes it. So it is not like dust you can wash away.
I think a woman at the school said they had done a lot of cleaning. Maybe getting cement/concrete wet? I remember this smell, but never as strong, from when I was a kid. Public schools or maybe my father's university office building built probably in the late 1960s earl 70s with exposed concrete.
The smell at the school really bothered me and one of the staff members was herself bothered by it enough to open a window. I am pretty sure it is not good for you especially if you have asthma. Any ideas you have on this will really be appreciated. - K.H. 9/17/2013
The smell seems so much like dust even though it is couterintuitive that it is caused by wetting my limestone rock. So maybe it actually is dust that is somehow chased out of the rock by wetting. Maybe the folks at the school keep mopping to clean it but that creates it. I remember at the school today the smell made me remember the that dusty smell from right after a school janitor would mop the hall when I was a kid. - K.H. 9/17/2013
Take a look at SMELL PATCH TEST to Track Down Odors and think about doing a couple of simple tests using that procedure.
Kenneth, I've thought about this further and have the same impression as you.
Please keep me posted on how things progress, and send along photos of the area you are discussing, or additional details if they occur to you, such as the relationship between the odor detection and time of day, weather, building cleaning operations, operation of HVAC systems etc. Such added details can help us understand what's happening and often permit some useful further comment. What we both learn may help me help someone else.;
Concrete Dust & Odor References
Some useful references are below. Some of these address the hazards of concrete dust or its control, others, odor sources.
Questions & answers on how to identify the source of smells or odors in buildings - an odor source checklist.
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Technical Reviewers & References
Related Topics, found near the top of this page suggest articles closely related to this one.