Reuse or demolition of industrial buildings that have been shutdown, idled or abandoned may pose a unique set of potential health issues to construction workers and future occupants. These issues must be considered as the owner or potential buyer determines the fate or reuse opportunity of a building along with the overall planning process. This is particularly true if there was extensive use of chemicals; however, there are many other variables that are of concern and critical in a health risk evaluation assessment, such as:
The first step in the evaluation process is to understand the current and historical manufacturing processes that occurred within the building(s). This may include discussions with past employees, library searches, review of production documents and orders, etc. It is critical that the entire process is well defined in order to thoroughly assess chemical usage. In addition, chemicals used in the building systems, such as asbestos, lead, PCBs and cleaning compounds must all be identified. Occasionally, there may be radiological issues related to masonry building materials and/or other radioactive sources such as measurement gauges.
The second step is to obtain material safety data sheets (MSDS’s) for all the chemical products. If they are not available at the facility, the next best source is directly from the manufacturer. The MSDS’s must be reviewed in detail to identify the chemicals of most significance, i.e., those producing the most serious health effects and dose responses, those with a longer residual life, etc. Once the chemicals are all identified and overlaid with the manufacturing processes, a determination can be made as to those areas of the buildings that may have a higher potential for contamination.
Residual chemicals will often accumulate in areas such as expansion joints, cracks in floors, sumps and porous materials such as concrete and wood. Identification of these accumulation points, or chemical reservoirs, is important as these are the points where samples can be collected if there is further need to define both the chemicals present and their concentrations.
Lastly, microbiological activity related to chronic moisture resulting in wood decay, fungi and endotoxin exposure plays an important role. As such, a detailed assessment of moisture sources and water infiltration should be conducted to define the impact that microbiological activity may have on the building systems as well as the future occupants.