Date: Mon, 16 Mar 2009 21:42:18 -0400
Reply-To: David Roberts <droberts**At_Symbol_Here**DEPAUW.EDU>
Sender: DCHAS-L Discussion List <DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**LIST.UVM.EDU>
From: David Roberts <droberts**At_Symbol_Here**DEPAUW.EDU>
Subject: Has anybody ever had this happen before?
Hello all,

We recently did a major renovation of our science facilities (5-6 years 
ago maybe now - it's all a blur and something I'd like to forget).  In any 
event, our new facilities are wonderful (given the size of our school) and 
we are very pleased with things.  But (you knew a but was coming), we had 
an odd situation recently that I will try to explain.

The chemistry floor is the top floor, occupying about 1/2 of the 3rd floor 
in our building.  Our building was built in phases, as we lived in it 
during the construction phase.  All of the chemistry air is vented out of 
the building, no recirculation at all (which is wasteful from a heating/coo
ling perspective but necessary for obvious reasons).  Prior to this event, 
we forgot that the air paths run side by side, in an attempt to steal heat 
(in the winter) from room air and give it to incoming air as the exhaust 
air is leaving (energy saving - works the opposite in the summer).

Anyway, a few weeks back we were running an organic lab and the floor 
stunk really bad, and it seemed to be worse on the south end of the 
building, and really it seemed to be coming in the incoming air vents.  We 
didn't think this was possible, so we attributed it to bad student 
technique taking their samples all over the place.  Come to find out, one 
of the air handlers (things were still working mind you, we have several 
of these I believe) had come off it's shaft, a bolt or two broke, and it 
torqued inside the cage, causing a buckle in the panel that separates the 
exhaust air from the incoming air.  As a result, the air streams were 
mixing, and we were in fact breathing in exhausted hood air.  Note that 
this is not a situation where our exhaust vents are located near our 
intake vents (I have heard lots of issues on that one; we don't have that 
case at all nor can that happen in our situation - which was what made 
this a puzzling thing to find as things seemed to be working)

We have since done a temp. fix on this waiting for parts, smelly toxic 
labs have stopped in the south end of our building, and we are in the 
process of fixing it.  We were diligent and things were discovered 
quickly, so there was little exposure, but we did have an annoying day or 

In any event, now for the question.  Has this ever happened to anybody?  
Does anybody know of a test that one can run to be sure something like 
this (as rare as it may be) isn't going on prior to doing a lab that 
really smells and can cause issues?  It seems to me that this probably has 
happened elsewhere, as the design is not that absurd, though I truly don't 
know.  A simple smoke test or a test using ammonia and/or vinegar would 
seem to me to be enough to know if something is wrong or not.

Any ideas on how we can test this before the canary dies?



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