An Odor or a Stench, Get Rid of It

February 1, 2002
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For facility managers, an educated approach to malodorous intervention is the best approach.

Facility managers who are overwhelmed by odoriferous malodors penetrating their facilities and putting a dent in their search for first class Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) should take note: Remediation is as simple is identifying and eliminating.

But first, it's important to distinguish "odor" from "IAQ." According to microbiologist Jason Welch, of Spartan Chemical Company, Maumee, Ohio, the two aren't necessarily related. IAQ, he says, is generally related to a preponderance of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), microbial volatile organic compounds (MVOCs), microbial contamination, pollen counts and dust counts.

"Just because a room has a foul odor doesn't mean it has poor IAQ," he says. "Take clogged toilets in a men's room. The VOC content in there isn't going to be very high, and the IAQ could be acceptable because there isn't anything contributing to VOCs. But go into the ladies' room where a bunch of young ladies are preparing for the prom, spraying their hair with hairspray and surrounded by bouquets of flowers. The VOC content could be high because of the hairspray, and a high pollen content due to the flowers."

In short, the IAQ in that room could be worse than the bathroom.

What Are Odors?
Les Brodie, director of sales for New Hyde Park, NY-based CDC Products Corp., says IAQ is generally judged on the "perception of cleanliness." He says there are two odor categories relating to air quality: Transient odors, which become present, last for a period of time and then disappear (such as foot or body odor); and organic source odors, which result from surface penetration (such as urine soaked carpet).

Most odors result directly from bacteria feeding on an organic food source (organic soil). The resulting microbial digestion produces the foul odors. For example, pseudomonas will produce an ammonia smell, while salmonella bacteria will generate that sulfurous, rotten egg stench.

"These are things you really can't see," says Spartan's Welch. "But you can kill those things with a disinfectant. In conjunction, you can use a biological cleaner, which contains specifically selected organisms. When these biological digesters feed on organic soil, they produce carbon dioxide and water as waste byproducts, which is a much cleaner breakdown."

SBS
The most prominent IAQ problem is Sick Building Syndrome, or SBS. All odor problems and resulting health issues can be traced to poor maintenance of air handling systems, which spread odor and bacteria throughout a facility.

However, a careful review would lead the building maintenance professional or facility manager to one important conclusion when dealing with odor problems in their facility: An HVAC system that spreads VOCs or MVOCs throughout a facility isn't the cause of the problem, it's a symptom.

Find and Eliminate the Source
If you're stymied by an odor problem in your facility, a studied approach to understanding the problem is in order, says Jim Parker, a regional representative for Sussex, Wis.-based Vaportek, Inc., a manufacturer of odor control products and machines.

"I use a six-step problem solving process: Recognize and define the problem, gather information about the problem, list possible solutions to the problem, test possible solutions, select the best solution and implement it," says Parker.

He says the search begins with a question: What is the problem?

"Many people confuse the problem with the symptom," he explains. "People see mold and mildew as the problem when it is not. It's a symptom. You need to find the moisture source if you're going to eliminate mold and mildew."

The key, all three agree, is finding the source and type of odor problem, and identifying it "so an appropriate course of disinfectants can be used to attack the problem," says CDC's Brodie. "Once that has been accomplished, a regular program of maintenance should be put into place."

Parker calls this the "listing and testing" of possible solutions. Screening criteria eliminates many courses of action and an evaluation criteria rates the remaining. Assign numerical ratings to the evaluated courses of action for each criterion to identify the best solution.

Involve the Staff
Gather information: You can never have enough information. As you gather information, you may realize what you thought was the problem is not the problem at all.

For facility managers, it's important that they gather information from various sources. Conduct brainstorming sessions to solicit comments from staff. Parker says, "Never reject any comment or suggestion. If you do, you're saying their ideas or suggestions are not important." However, put a time limit on brainstorming sessions.

A Regular Odor Maintenance Program
Once you've identified the source of the odor and eliminated it, it's important that the facility adopt an ongoing odor maintenance program. For some facilities, this is an easy task. Most restaurant odors originate in grease traps, floor drains and dumpsters. The same holds true for many floors and bathrooms, such as those found in senior citizen facilities or hospitals.

In either case, the most effective odor counteractant solutions are biological digesters, enzymes that eat and digest odor-causing organic waste and fragrances. These, says Welch, can destroy the source odor while refreshing the air with a pleasing, long-lasting scent. Some products not only clean and disinfect a floor, they also "leave specifically selected biological digesters behind for continuous cleanup," Welch adds.

Brodie suggests that facility managers or building maintenance professionals also use an EPA-registered biocide within air handling and commercial refrigeration units as an effective counteractant to bacterial growth.

The Odor Control Program
* Pre-season maintenance and cleaning of equipment using non-acid cleaners will not only keep HVACs and refrigeration units running properly, but also prevents further bacterial growth.
* Water-soluble liquids can be used to treat transient odor problems on hard floor surfaces while bio-enzymatic liquids can be used to deep clean organic source odors on both hard and porous surfaces (such as the grout between bathroom tile).
* Bio-enzymatic spot cleaners can be used on organically stained carpets, while powder deodorants are useful in providing odor control as a regular part of carpet maintenance.
* Fabric and drapery odors are combated with dry, non-staining, VOC compliant aerosols.

"Last but not least are the line of restroom care odor counteractant products such as urinal screens, rim sticks, stick-up wall deodorants, gels and metered aerosols," says Brodie. "The facility manager needs to set up a regular maintenance schedule that incorporates all of the above-mentioned areas for odor control."

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