A large, recently completed school was receiving multiple complaints of symptoms that occupants believed were related to poor air quality within the building. The school had been open for several months, and a number of students, teachers and workers were experiencing symptoms. Some staff were experiencing more severe symptoms, and were reluctant to return to the work environment until a cause could be identified. An internal investigation did not identify a clear source of the reported symptoms, and the media had become involved in reporting the issue to the public.
We were contacted to perform an indoor air quality investigation and helped to identify a number of air quality issues through the following approach:
- Meetings were held with building staff to explain the nature of our involvement in investigating the air quality complaints, and to explain how we would be approaching the investigation.
- Interviews were conducted with building occupants to identify key complaint areas and assess the nature of the reported symptoms. Telephone interviews were conducted with occupants who were currently away from work.
- A review was conducted of all previous air testing that had been performed on the building.
- A physical site inspection and walkthrough of the building was performed.
- An IAQ investigation team was assembled.
- A review of relevant building mechanical systems and HVAC operation was performed.
- Air quality monitoring was performed according to a detailed sampling plan.
- A meeting was held with the School Board, Building Administration and the Provincial Infrastructure Department to review the air quality monitoring results and report recommendations.
- We assisted the Client in preparing a detailed action plan to deal with the report recommendations.
- The testing results were shared with building staff, and a meeting was held to review the results of the investigation with them directly. At this meeting, the action plan was reviewed.
- We performed risk communication on the status of air quality at the school for the media including the local radio station and several newspapers.
- We provided support, as necessary, during implementation of the investigation recommendations.
Staff absentee days diminished to normal levels and the complaints of poor air quality ceased. Following the correction of the main deficiencies identified in the investigation, the air quality within the complaint areas of the school was greatly improved. Appreciation was expressed from individuals within all the key stakeholder groups for the thoroughness of our approach, our involvement of all stakeholder groups, the sensitivity with which we interacted with affected individuals, and the way we presented information to the media. Several staff members who had been off work for extended periods of time were able to return to work.