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Indoor Air Quality Problems – If it Isn’t Mold, What Is it?

If you need assistance with indoor air quality (IAQ)-mold testing/sampling call us at 973-366-4660 or email us at info@atlenv.com for details and a free estimate.

Written by Robert E. Sheriff, MS, CIH, CSP, President and Henry P. Shotwell, Ph.D., CIH, Vice President
April 5, 2020

Why are you experiencing IAQ problems At Work?

There are a number of employees in our office who have itchy, watery eyes, nasal congestion, headaches, lethargy, and trouble concentrating. Most of the affected folks report they feel better at home and worse after they’ve been in the office for about an hour. We had the office tested for mold but nothing remarkable was found. What’s going on? Are you all asking, “if it isn’t mold, what is it?


While exposure to molds can certainly produce some or all of the symptoms listed above, mold is not the only cause. The complaints could be triggered by an allergic response to pollen from trees, grasses, or indoor potted plants. They could be caused by bird dander that passed through the HVAC system’s filters. There could also be chemical causes. Aside from obvious external sources, such as a nearby smokestack industry, your employees could be responding to carbon monoxide levels resulting from a leak in your gas furnace’s exhaust duct. Or, the symptoms could result from a drop in oxygen levels and a simultaneous build-up of carbon dioxide due to insufficient fresh make-up air.  Food allergies can produce the same symptoms as well!

Indoor Air Quality Problems –  Identifying The Problem

How can you identify the real cause? Well, you’ve already eliminated one of the most common sources of these symptoms: mold. We can eliminate the common cold or viruses because your employees feel better outside the office and worse when they come back in again. On-site, real-time measurements of oxygen, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide levels will quickly reveal if these are the culprits. Other tests can be performed using direct-reading instruments for mercury, volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), methane, hydrogen sulfide (sewer gas), metals. Where flooding has occurred which may involve sewage, bacteria sampling is recommended. Collecting samples of the office air and examining for animal dander, fibers, pollen’s and chemicals will pinpoint any of these agents as the source of the complaint.  Surface samples may also be useful in identifying possible sources.

In the absence of any positive findings, the source of the problems could be an agent that has not hitherto been identified or suspected. It is also possible that the complaints stem from Mass Psychogenic Illness. Our experience in this field, however, suggests that these last two potential causes are rarely encountered. In the absence of any specific causes, a general range of tests is advisable. This includes mold, other particulates/dust, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, VOCs, temperature, and relative humidity. This can often be significant to identify the problem. If not, it often suggests other tests that may be needed.

This series of tests can also confirm that the source is not coming from the building.

So if it isn’t mold, what is it? Let Atlantic Environmental find out for you. You can call us, email us or simply fill out our easy contact form to get in touch and let us help you.

Our primary service areas for Indoor Air Quality Problems, Mold Testing/Sampling, and Consulting are New Jersey NJNew York NY, (New York City)Pennsylvania PAConnecticut CTDelaware DEMassachusetts, (Boston) MARhode Island RIWashington DCWisconsin WIMaryland MDMichigan MIIllinois (Chicago) ILVirginia VAIndiana INGeorgia (Atlanta) GAAlabama ALNorth Carolina NCSouth Carolina SCTennessee TNTexas (Dallas, Ft Worth) TXOklahoma OKDCArkansas AR, Florida FL. We can service most other areas of the U.S. but with some added travel charges.

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