If you need vapor intrusion testing/sampling assistance as discussed in this article, call us at 1-800-344-4414 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for details and a free estimate.
Written By: Robert E. Sheriff, MS, CSP, CSP, President
November 5, 2018, Updated June 2019
What Exactly is Vapor Intrusion?
Vapor intrusion is the condition where contamination in soil or groundwater rises to the surface and penetrates into the building above. The source of the vapor intrusion can be as varied as the chemicals themselves.
Soil contamination could be from a former chemical manufacturer on the site where buildings were torn down and new structures built on the site. Another possibility is the neighbor businesses such as dry cleaners or dry cleaners next door dumped, leaked or spilled into the soil for years and now they pose a health risk to current residents. Understand that concrete basements, floors, and foundations are actually quite porous and the chemicals in the soils can be pushed into the occupied parts of the building due to increase in soil temperature, rise in water table, pushed laterally from nearby contamination, or just migrate upward due to vapor pressure—through the porous concrete, sump pump wells, or cracks in the foundation. We already have had some experience with a “vapor” intruding into our buildings-RADON! Radon is a gas and one of the final degradation stages of radioactive uranium. Its source is uranium containing veins in the rock upon which our buildings are built.
This can occur even if there are no signs of vapor intrusion such as odors, stains, or “sheen on the water.”
Often it takes an illness or a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) to recognize that the building was built on a former landfill, or there was a pesticide manufacturer who operated nearby for 25 years and there is a record of soil contamination and chemical migration.
Conducting Research Into The Cause
Research into nearby sources or past activities nearby can give some insight into the possibility of conditions for vapor intrusion. Chemicals that can migrate into a building in vapor form are generally confined to solvent type chemicals that evaporate. This can generally include what is defined as, “volatile chemicals or semi-volatile chemicals” because of their ability to evaporate where they come in contact with the air. There are others such as pesticides—especially water-soluble ones—that can break down over time and those decomposition products can be volatile. There are other things that can contaminate soils but generally, do not create vapor but can result in adverse health effects such as lead. Those contaminants will be discussed in later articles.
Vapor Intrusion Testing/Sampling
Selecting the proper test/sampling sites are complex, as is the number of test sites to get a true picture of the extent of the vapor intrusion.
The actual vapor intrusion testing/sampling method is now reasonably simple. 1) Drill through the foundation into suspected soils. 2) Obtain evacuated cylinders. 3) Seal the opening around the sampling line. 4) Slowly draw air into the vacuum cylinder—usually 24-hour sample. 5) Send sampled cylinder to a qualified laboratory with instructions for analysis (TO-15, volatiles, semi-volatiles). 6) Match results to EPA or other reference thresholds.
Chemicals Causing Health Problems
Some of the more common chemicals that may be found in soils that are known to cause health problems include:
- Formaldehyde – from insulation, adhesives, preservatives, chemical production
- Perchloroethylene – dry cleaning chemical
- Trichloroethylene (TCE) – a degreaser, solvent
- Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA) – a paint ingredient, cleaner, disinfectant
- Gasoline – vehicles and reeking fuel tanks
- No. 2 Fuel Oil – heating oil – spills and leaching tanks
- Toluene and Xylene – paints, solvents
Interpretation of vapor intrusion sampling results can be a complex process requiring input from geologists, industrial hygienists, and building engineers. If individuals have illnesses that are suspected of coming from vapor intrusion then physicians, allergists, toxicologists, and epidemiologists may also need to participate.
Investigate and Identify
Atlantic Environmental has the experience to investigate Vapor Intrusion – Health Hazards from Below and the possible situations where vapor intrusion may be present. We also have the ability to identify test sites and perform the testing that will confirm—or deny—the presence of harmful chemicals as a result of vapor intrusion.
- “Guidance for Evaluating Soil Vapor Intrusion in the State of New York,” health.ny.gov/environmental/investigations/soil_gas/svi_guidance/
- Vapor Intrusion by State http://vaporintrusion.blogspot.com/
Our primary service areas for Sampling/Testing are: NJ, NY, NYC, PA, CT, DE, (Boston) MA, RI, Wash DC, WI, MD, MI, (Chicago) IL, VA, IN, (Atlanta) GA, AL, NC, SC, TN, (Dallas, Ft Worth) TX, OK, DC, AR. We can service most other areas of the U.S. but with some added travel charges.
Get help today for your Vapor Intrusion – Health Hazards from Below