Commercial property owners, lenders and developers should all be aware of vapour intrusion, as this environmental issue is a major factor in real estate transactions in the commercial arena. While this environmental threat is not new, there are a number of newly developed environmental auditing standards and federal guidance that has changed the way that it is managed.
But what exactly is vapour intrusion? Where does this environmental and health threat come from, how does it work and what are the dangers that are associated with it? Let’s take a closer look and find out more about vapour intrusion.
What is Vapour Intrusion?
Vapour intrusion is essentially when harmful vapours “intrude” on a building and create an unsafe and unhealthy level of toxins in the indoor air. The problem of vapour intrusion starts when chemicals are spilled or dumped on the ground. These harmful chemicals then pollute the soil and groundwater. If the chemicals are volatile organic compounds, they can easily evaporate into the air. When they evaporate from the polluted soil and groundwater, they will rise toward the surface of the ground.
If these toxic vapours encounter a basement as they are traveling toward the surface of the ground, they will enter through the cracks in the foundation or through the pipes or drain system. These harmful vapours will enter into the building and contaminate the air inside.
The term “vapour intrusion” refers to the way that these harmful vapours move from the soil to the indoor air.
What Are the Dangers of Vapour Intrusion?
When vapour intrusion affects a building, what are the dangers that are involved? There are a number of health problems that result, from immediate symptoms to long term issues. Here are some of the risks that are associated with this type of pollution:
When these types of vapours are in high concentration in the indoor air, people in the building will be able to smell them and will experience physical symptoms. These symptoms can include eye and throat irritation, headaches, nausea and other symptoms. Usually these health effects will fade away when the person exits the building and breathes fresh air again.
Long Term Exposure
Another danger of vapour intrusion is the long term health effects that it causes on people who live and work within the building and are exposed to it on a low level for a long period of time.
It has been found that long-term exposure to some of the Volatile Organic Compounds that are found at vapour intrusion sites are associated with an increased risk of damage to the immune system, the nervous system and the developing foetus.
Also, long term exposure to these chemicals has also been found to increase the risk of developing a number of different types of cancer. While these are low risks, they are avoidable and in order to prevent them, vapour intrusion must be eliminated.
When vapour intrusion is identified in a public building, it becomes an environmental liability problem for the building owner. Vapour intrusion could be a real problem for a business if they have not accounted for it in their risk management programs.
How Can Vapour Intrusion be Stopped?
Environmental data resources like the ones at EDRnet.com are very valuable when it comes to learning about vapour intrusion and identifying the problem. However, when it is detected that vapour intrusion is a problem in a commercial building, how can it be stopped?
It is possible to clean up the site if the soil and the groundwater are found to be contaminated. This will usually involve the process of digging up and removing the contaminated soil. Also, a soil vapour extraction system can be employed which will pump out the contaminated groundwater and treat it.
In order to protect the health of the people within the building, it might be necessary to install a system which will direct the vapours away from the indoor air. The vapours will instead be directed to the outside air. These types of systems are cheap to operate and simple to install.
Vapour intrusion can be difficult to manage, but it is very important that commercial building owners are aware of this risk and take care to prevent it.
Sam Mulder works in the field of environmental data and is concerned about the impact of our growing industrial society on the cleanliness of our rivers, air and water. He writes about sustainability for a number of environmental blogs and publications.