Case Study 4: Workplace Air Analysis

Strong odours and offensive chemical fumes made life difficult for Ballarat shopping centre tenants.


During the refurbishment of a shopping centre floor surface, tenants expressed concerns about strong odours and airborne chemical residues. The refurbishment involved removing the existing tiles and progressive replacement with a proprietary polyester resin/aggregate mixture in a four-step process.


Tenants reported experiencing symptoms including: headaches; dizziness; nausea; itchy eyes; blurred vision; and in one case, exacerbation of pre-existing Parkinson's Disease.


Despite the fact that the Material Safety Data Sheets for the five materials were reviewed and gave a safety warranty, the owner wanted to be sure that there was no chemical hazard to tenants and visitors from the refurbishment.


The Solution.


A sequential night-time/day-time air sampling campaign was designed in order to conduct air testing for concentrations of volatile organic compounds. Samples were taken both during application, when the concentrations would be expected to be greatest, and again after the polyester resin had cured, when the concentrations should have been substantially lower.


Air sampling stations for VOCs (volatile organic compounds) were set up and samples were taken over 6 hours during the night shift, while floor-restoration work was being undertaken. After the resin had cured we followed up with another 6 hours air sampling.




A distinct odour was observed near the resurfacing work-site, particularly during the night shift.


However, the air analysis indicated that the level of VOCs measured, even during the night shift, were several orders of magnitude less than Safe Work Australia Time Weighted Average (TWA) values.


In order to eliminate the odours, a recommendation was made to use carbon filters while flooring refurbishment works proceeded. This would reduce the recirculation of the odour through the indoor air of the building.


The analysis of the daytime exposures at the monitoring location nearest the resurfacing works were comparable to the BTEX exposures reported in the Department of Environment and Heritage's report on "Living Cities".


Our client commented on aspects they were most impressed with during this project: these included: promptness of service; testing was undertaken within 24 hours; the scientific rigor – "it wasn't just a bloke in a van"; and the personal reassurance given to anxious tenants.


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