Formaldehyde levels vary in test results on Henness Flats apartments | SierraSun.com

Formaldehyde levels vary in test results on Henness Flats apartments

Jenny Goldsmith
Sierra Sun

Test results from two different laboratories analyzing formaldehyde levels in Truckee’s Henness Flats apartments were inconsistent and have generated further questioning from concerned tenants.

Representatives of Pacific West Communities ” developer of Henness Flats apartments ” met with a group of residents Thursday after reports surfaced of an investigation into formaldehyde levels in the complex.

“We ran 31 tests in 14 different units in a variety of conditions in both occupied and unoccupied apartments,” said Caleb Roope, chief executive officer of Pacific West. “All 31 tests came in below the recommended exposure level set by the Environmental Protection Agency.”

The results ranged from .015 parts per million to .091 parts per million, a concentration lower than the EPA’s recommended 0.1 parts per million, said Christopher Watt, Director of Environmental Services for LACO Associates, the independent environmental consulting company that conducted the tests before sending them to a state-certified laboratory for analysis.

In addition, the building materials used to construct Henness Flats are consistent with materials used in standard homes in California, Watt said.

Roope said the insulation and carpet in the building is free of formaldehyde, and management is investigating where other materials came from to identify a possible source.

Although concentration levels were found below the EPA and American Lung Association exposure recommendations, the guidelines do not take into consideration sensitive groups, such as infants or the elderly who may be more sensitive to formaldehyde exposure than healthy adults, said Dr. Jack Thrasher, a Minden, Nev.-based toxicologist and Technical Director of the National Toxic Encephalopathy Foundation in Las Vegas.

There are no federal regulations on formaldehyde exposure levels, but there are recommended minimum risk levels researched and set by the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry that depend on the duration of exposure, Thrasher said.

For example, the minimum risk level for a healthy adult is a recommended 0.03 parts per million during a period of 14 to 365 days, Thrasher said.

“It’s based on the individual. No level can say what is safe and what is not safe,” Thrasher said. “We need to do away with the use of formaldehyde in all construction materials and furniture.”

The test results provided by the management differed from concentration levels found by Advanced Chemical Sensors Incorporated ” a Florida-based laboratory that analyzed eight of the 92 units at Henness Flats, and detected unsafe levels of formaldehyde in all eight units ranging from .03 parts per million to .17 parts per million, Thrasher said.

Although elevated concentration levels were found in a Henness Flats unit where an infant died recently, the cause of death is still pending, according to the Nevada County Coroner’s office.

The difference in the findings could largely be due to ventilation, exposure time and temperature, said Thrasher, who worked alongside the Sierra Club to expose toxic levels of formaldehyde in manufactured trailers issued to displaced Hurricane Katrina victims by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“Temperature is very important. As the temperature rises, molecules become more excited and move much faster. Thus, the concentration increases with the rising temperature,” Thrasher said. “Management claimed their test results showed formaldehyde concentrations found in other California homes, but they can’t make that claim unless we know what the temperature was.”

During the first tests conducted by LACO Associates on May 14 in several unoccupied units, the heat was not turned on and the units had never been ventilated, Watt said.

“We did not record the temperature,” Watt said of the first round of tests in unoccupied units. “But given the heat outside, I speculate it was pretty warm in there.”

Of the occupied units tested, the ventilation and temperature conditions varied depending on the circumstances each individual tenant lived in at the time, and those variations were recorded, but have yet to be reviewed and released, Watt said.

One of the occupied units tested by LACO was set to a maximum of 55 degrees ” according to the tenant ” and found lower formaldehyde concentration levels than when it was set to 65 degrees and was tested through the Sierra Club, Thrasher said.

“The results from the management do not indicate what formaldehyde levels would be at a standard 70 degree temperature,” Thrasher said.

Both testing methods are used industrywide and are standard techniques, said Thrasher, who used the same test in the early 1980s to expose toxic levels of formaldehyde in Southern California trailers.

Management agreed to provide and pay for further testing if requested by a tenant, to pay for a purification of the unit, and also recommended “increasing ventilation in the home by opening doors, windows and using fans for air circulation,” Roope said.

“These residents are my customers and they are my priority,” Roope said. “If by some reason a test comes in above the levels recommended by the EPA, I am committed to helping the residents find the source.”