Complaints by occupants about air quality may require building operators and facility managers to respond with an IAQ assessment that includes VOC sampling. The first step is to use interviews and walk-through inspections to determine symptoms, odours, timing, related activities, as well as building conditions and operation of the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) system.

When assessing complaints it is important to note that feelings of discomfort and illness may be related to health conditions (e.g., the common cold or influenza) or to building issues such as noise levels, ther- mal comfort (temperature, humidity, and air movement), lighting, and ergonomics and many non-buil- ding issues or pre-existing medical conditions.

Poor air quality would be suspected if occupants develop symptoms within a few hours of being in the building and feel better after leaving the building, or after a weekend or vacation. It would also be suspected if several people report similar symptoms, or if all of the people reporting symptoms are in the same area of a building or HVAC zone. VOC exposure symptoms may include:

  • Eye, nose, and throat irritation
  • Headaches
  • Allergic skin reaction like a rash
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Nosebleeds
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of coordination
  • Confusion

If the initial investigation indicates the possibility that health or odour complaints are related to VOC sources, the sampling method will initially depend on whether the VOC source is known or unknown. Sampling may be needed if further information on the pathway or receptor is required, or if mandated by regulatory concerns or orders. Examples of sources of VOCs are provided in Table 2-3 of Module 2: VOC Sampling Strategies and Methods