by Jared Smith, CSP, Senior Project Manager
What is that smell?
When most people get that question at work it’s because someone violated the commonly accepted law of not microwaving fish leftovers. But I get that question in a whole different context.
As a Certified Safety Professional, when I (or one of my colleagues) am asked about smells, it generally refers to indoor air quality (IAQ). There’s obviously a lot of concern about the outdoor air we breathe, and we’ve taken many steps and enacted many regulations to reduce smog, emissions, and other air pollutants. But I think a lot of people may not often consider the air we breathe indoors, and most of us spend about 90% of our lives inside. And one-third of that is just sleeping! You may be surprised to know that interior spaces typically have around two to five times the amount of air “pollutants” when compared to the exterior ambient environment.
IAQ is a combination of many things, including airborne particulates, microorganisms, volatile organic compounds, odors, gasses, and many others. Each one of these general (and scary sounding) categories is a combination of multiple elements. For example, the broad category of “particulates” can include exhaust from diesel engines, smoke, fibers, hair, pollen, skin cells, insects, fungi/mold, and many, many others.
So I get to go out to a variety of places (schools, healthcare facilities, residences, municipal buildings, manufacturing sites, offices, etc.) and address concerns.
No two IAQ assessment are the same. We manage each issue on a case-by-case basis and tailor our response to fit our understanding of the reported issue. Sometimes when I get a call related to an IAQ concern, the client doesn’t know where to start. In this case, experience has led me to ask the questions that will help narrow down the potential scope of work.
As noted, our response to each concern varies. In some case we will rely on information from occupants and from visual and olfactory assessments. In other cases, we will use direct reading instrumentation or will utilize the service of a laboratory to analyze samples collected in the field. Regardless of the response to the issue, we utilize a systematic approach with the goal of finding the root cause.
During some projects, we find a “smoking gun” and are able to rectify the issue fairly quickly; however, in many cases, the issue is a combination of multiple factors, and each item needs to be addressed separately to understand how things relate to one another. In other words, if we try to fix everything all at once, we won’t know what actually corrected the issue. This process can take time and may require multiple site visits. But we always do our best to resolve the issue.
About the Author
Jared Smith is a Certified Safety Professional and Senior Project Manager at Fuss & O’Neill. He is an IAQ specialist and has managed numerous IAQ projects, including post-fire IAQ and vapor intrusion investigations, as well as evaluations of mold, formaldehyde, and other contaminants. When not responding to “what is that smell”, Jared enjoys golfing, working on various remodeling projects at home, and spending time with his family, including three young children.