Officials continue to pursue source of Bennington building air quality

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(Host) State officials say they’re pursuing a hypothesis on a possible source of bad indoor air quality at the Bennington State Office Building.

The building closed in February after tests showed increased rates of asthma and a disease called Sarcoidosis among employees.

VPR’s Susan Keese reports:

(Keese) The state hired a Maine company, the Turner group, to carry out diagnostic tests in the so-called sick building.

In a draft progress report to the Department of Buildings and General Services, the engineers said one particular system merits further study. It’s a network of plastic pipes that drain condensation water from the air conditioning system.

William Turner is the Turner Group’s president.

(Turner) “We found what we would consider a few unique situations whereby the drainage from the air conditioning condensate has some potential to be blown into the breathing zone of the occupants because of some anomalies in the way the piping is put together.”

(Keese) Turner says the pipe system has little traps where water appears to be stagnating. He says if air were forced back into the building through that material, it could be unhealthy.

The engineers used theatrical smoke to trace the flow of air through the building’s heating and cooling system.

(Turner) “We inject that into various pipes and see where it shows up. And we did that weeks ago and said, gee, when we put it in here, what’s supposed to be a drain, it shows up in other parts of the building. We don’t quite understand how that is.'”

(Keese) Later this month the Turner group plans to expose the drainage system and study it. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health will collect and analyze any stagnant water or sediments in the pipes.

Turner’s report also recommended that the state take a look at other buildings with similar heating and cooling systems. Depending on what’s learned in Bennington, he says the state may want to make some changes.

But he also says the Bennington building’s odd air flow patterns are unique in his experience.

Vermont Commissioner of Buildings and General Services Tasha Wallis says there are other buildings with similar heating systems.

(Wallis) “So we’ll be looking at our other buildings, but we have no specific data to in any way suggest that employees should be concerned about the buildings.”

(Keese) Wallace emphasized that the current hypothesis is just a possibility, not an answer.

For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese.

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