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Indoor Air quality - Summary

This section describes the Burlington Board of Health's (BOH) long and difficult evaluation of indoor air quality complaints involving the high school. The complexity of the issue combined with the variety of the complaints and problems reported hampered BOH investigation. BOH efforts have been summarized in chronological order as each issue was discovered and reviewed. The problems investigated include: chemical odor complaints, chemical fume hoods, ceramic kilns, heating and ventilation system maintenance, and biological contamination.

BOH survey determined that there were a number of indoor air quality problems caused by roof leaks and the improper design, maintenance and repair of the heating and ventilation system. Additional problems were also noted with regard to certain instructional activities and chemical uses by the maintenance staff in the school. The resolution of these problems appears to be more difficult to resolve in comparison to repairing the physical plant.

The case study also contains a discussion of how BOH was successful in transforming the issue of indoor air quality from 'random complaints submitted by a disgruntled few' into a serious public health issue for the community. In four months, BOH was successful in going from a "non-issue," to gaining unanimous approval from the Burlington Town Meeting to fund $1.2 million dollars in repairs for the heating and ventilation system at the high school. Public education and involvement was the key to success. Also, the support and guidance of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency added undeniable legitimacy to the issue.

prepared by Todd H. Dresser, Environmental Engineer
(formerly of)
Burlington Board of Health, 29 Center Street, Burlington, MA 01803


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