Researchers widen soil-gas study area, ask for more participants
Surveys track movement of gases from underground contaminated areas through soils into homes, businesses
Researchers who’ve been studying indoor air pollution caused by radon and other gases want to expand their survey area in Fairbanks. And they’re encouraging residents to help out with the project sensors placed in their homes that will monitor for the presence of those gases.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Environmental Conservation began their study of indoor air pollution last fall in an area west of downtown. And now they want to extend the survey area westward, toward Growden Park.
“We’re trying to sample in areas where there are traces of contaminants such as tetrachloroethylene and trichloroethylene,” says Lennie Siegel, who’s coordinating the study of how gases from contaminants like PCE and TCE move through soil and infiltrate houses and other structures.
“And there are soil-gas sampling results that show that there are some sources of those contaminants in the area to the west of the original area that we’ve been sampling,” he said.
The new sample area will extend from Cushman Street west to Stewart Street, and from Second Avenue south to 10th Avenue, including a stretch of Airport Way between Gaffney Road and Cushman. That area encompasses an already documented plume of contamination caused mainly by dry-cleaning businesses that operated decades ago around Gaffney Road. DEC has been monitoring the groundwater plume since 1997.
Siegel says the research project isn’t focused on finding contaminants. He says it’s intended to learn more about how gases from those substances in already documented contaminated areas rise up through soil and into structures -- a process called vapor intrusion.
“Soil isn’t solid,” he said. “It’s got openings -- pores -- that have gases. And those gases are what some up into buildings when vapor intrusion occurs.”
The Soil Gas Safe Communities project that Siegel is heading up is intended to help researchers learn more about how vapor intrusion occurs in different parts of the country. And to improve methods of monitoring the movement of those gases by, among other things, determining the best times of year to collect indoor air samples.
“The idea of the project is to figure out ways to better know when to sample for contaminants such as PCE and TCE,” he said.
Siegel says that requires help from area residents who agree to allow researchers to place sensors in their homes for a few weeks to monitor the presence of gases. Siegel hopes to get at least 14 more homeowners or renters in the survey area to participate, to add to the 11 who’ve already volunteered. And he says workers for project contractor Jacobs Engineering, of Fairbanks, will help get the word out.
“So we will be doing some door-knocking, putting some flyers on doors …”
Siegel says by participating, the homeowners will be helping improve the technology for monitoring sources of vapor-intruding gases. And they’ll get to know a lot more about their own home’s indoor air quality.
Editor’s note: Find out more about the project by going to the Soil Gas Safe Communities website maintained by RTI International, a North Carolina-based research institute the EPA has contracted to conduct the study. Residents of the survey area who want to participate should contact Madeline Collins, with project contractor Jacobs Engineering, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (618) 975-0323.