Vapor Intrusion – Health Hazards from Below

If you need vapor intrusion testing/sampling assistance as discussed in this article, call us at 1-800-344-4414 or email us at info@atlenv.com for details and a free estimate.

 

Written By:  Robert E. Sheriff, MS, CSP, CSP, President

January 2, 2018

 

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.

This can occur even of there are no signs of vapor intrusion such as odors, stains, or “sheen on 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.

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 are defined as, “volatile chemicals or semi-volatile chemicals” because of their ability to evaporate where they come in contract 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 a vapor but can result in adverse health effects such as lead.  Those contaminants will be discussed in later articles.

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.

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

Trichlorethyene (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.

Atlantic Environmental has the experience to investigate 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.

 

References

  1. epa.gov/vaporintrusion

 

  1. https://www.nj.gov/dep/srp/guidance/vaporintrusion/vig_main.pdf

 

  1. “Guidance for Evaluating Soil Vapor Intrusion in the State of New York,” health.ny.gov/environmental/investigations/soil_gas/svi_guidance/

 

  1. Vapor Intrusion by State http://vaporintrusion.blogspot.com/

 

Our primary service areas for Vapor Intrusion 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) TX, OK, DC, AR, we can service most other areas of the U.S. but with some added travel charges.