The Basics of Soil Vapor Intrusion

Curious about soil vapor intrusion, but don’t really know much about it? Vapor intrusion occurs when chemicals in soil or groundwater migrate to indoor air above a contaminated site. It can also happen when contaminated groundwater itself enters a structure. This can happen in sumps or flooded basements, where pollutants dissolved in the water may be released into the indoor air.

In most cases, vapor intrusion occurs when there is a migration of volatile chemicals from contaminated groundwater or soil into an overlying building. These hazardous chemicals can release vapors that can work their way through subsurface soils and into indoor air spaces of overlying buildings — similar to how radon gas seeps into homes. A wide-variety of volatile chemicals may be present, including volatile organic compounds, select semi volatile organic compounds and some inorganic analytes, including elemental mercury, radon and hydrogen sulfide.

Developers are forced to either find a way to prevent the contaminants from getting into the building or remove them after they have already entered the structure. It is possible to stop vapor intrusion during the construction phase or to update an existing building.

Dangers of Soil Vapor Intrusion

Ordinarily, chemical concentration levels are low or they may not exist at measurable concentrations. However, the main concern in buildings with low levels of hazardous chemicals is whether they pose a dangerous risk of chronic health effects caused by long-term exposure. In extreme cases, the vapors may accrue in dwellings or occupied buildings to high levels that could cause near-term safety hazards, severe health issues or noticeable aesthetic concerns.

Exposure to vapor intrusion does not necessarily mean that a person will experience adverse health effects. The body’s reaction is governed by several factors, including length of exposure, amount of exposure, frequency of exposure, toxicity of the chemical and the person’s sensitivity to the chemical.
If you’re concerned about soil vapor intrusion at your home or work site, contact your state health department immediately.

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