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Chatham County takes action on odors reported in Chatham Community Library

Posted Thursday, November 25, 2010

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Pittsboro, NC - Chatham County has actively worked with an air quality engineer to identify and address odor issues reported in the Chatham Community Library in Pittsboro since its opening in mid-September. One odor source has been identified and has been fixed through the installation of a missing plug in a sewer vent.

The county enlisted the help of Herrick Engineering in Cary in mid-October to identify the cause of the odors and find solutions, according to County Manager Charlie Horne. In a Nov. 5, 2010 letter to the county, Robert Herrick stated that none of the tested airborne chemicals “were at levels that are recognized health hazards” and that “it is still appropriate to have normal use of the library.”

A “sewer” smell surfaced when it became cold enough outside to use the heating system. Engineers determined that a missing plug in a sewer vent “tee” allowed the sewer odor to be circulated by the heating system in parts of the library.

“We have provided a temporary fix for the missing plug, but plumbers are in the process of permanently plugging the vent and making sure there are no other related problems in the plumbing system,” Horne said.

Several people have periodically reported a similar smell outside the building, but investigations found that this odor is coming from manhole covers. Herrick Engineering noted that it is fairly common for this to happen. “Since it is like the odor people had detected inside the building when the heat was on, it makes sense to think that the same issue was causing both,” Horne said.

Herrick Engineering has determined that a “new smell” odor is likely due to a few pieces of furniture as well as cork and carpet flooring tiles used in the foyer and a few smaller rooms of the building. “The cork tiles have a unique smell that is fairly strong when you enter the library and some people are more sensitive to it,” said David Hughes, public works director. “The air quality engineer continues to run tests to isolate any other odor sources.”

David Hughes, director of public works, added, “The most important point is that air quality tests have consistently shown very low levels of specific airborne chemicals and the levels have remained fairly constant. The levels should decrease over time as the ‘off-gassing’ of items declines.”

The highest level of airborne chemical found as a result of indoor testing was pentane, a substance that may be found in foam furniture, carpet tiles and other items.

The tests showed that pentane was identified at 0.36 ppm (parts per million) in the library, while the permissible limit established by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is 600 ppm. Herrick Engineering reports that while there are no established environmental exposure limits for pentane from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it is recommended practice to apply a limit that is 100 times lower than OSHA’s. Using that measure, the level of pentane in the library is well below the adjusted level of 6 ppm.

The library also has a large number of new books in its collection and most new books have an odor for a while, Horne said. Those printed with soy ink may have a different odor than standard ink.

Horne said that the county is looking into installation of additional air filtration for the library and will continue to work with engineers to address odor issues. “We have made significant progress in the past two weeks, but we want to assure people that we are taking action and that we have been informed that the odors do not present a hazard.”

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