Truckee apartment owner works to clear air | SierraSun.com

Truckee apartment owner works to clear air

Jenny Goldsmith
Sierra Sun

Seth Lightcap/Sierra SunMaking sure the air inside these windows at Frishman Hollow is as fresh as the air outside the windows has become a top priority for the developers of the new affordable housing project on Highway 89. The air quality at their previous affordable housing project, Henness Flat, was brought into question.

Spurred by an investigation into formaldehyde levels in Truckee’s Henness Flats apartments, modifications are now being made to the neighboring Frishman Hollow complex to ensure safe air quality.

“We’ve taken a new position ourselves in dealing with indoor air quality,” said Caleb Roope, chief executive officer of Pacific West Communities ” developer of Henness Flats and Frishman Hollow.

Although there are no federal regulations on formaldehyde exposure levels, Roope said his company will now be installing a state-of-the-art air circulation system in Frishman Hollow to improve ventilation, and they are looking into installing the device in Henness Flats.

Pacific West is also exploring possible techniques to seal off the particle board used in cabinetry that emits formaldehyde gas, Roope said.

Frishman Hollow ” located between Pioneer Trail and Alder Drive on Highway 89 north ” is a 32-unit apartment complex for lower-income tenants, and is similar to Henness Flats in design and structure.

Construction is expected to be completed this month and tenants will start moving in come August, Roope said.

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Pacific West also conducted pre-occupancy tests for formaldehyde in Frishman Hollow, and found concentration levels lower than the Environmental Protection Agency’s recommendations, Roope said.

“We’re looking to take our [air quality] standards to a new level, and hopefully other developers will follow our lead,” Roope said.

After reports surfaced of an investigation into formaldehyde levels in the Henness Flats complex, Pacific West hired an independent environmental consulting company to conduct third-party tests for additional analysis.

Twenty-three occupied units, 28 unoccupied units and one outdoor location were sampled under varying conditions, according to a report from LACO Associates ” the company hired to do the testing.

Results ranged from .015 parts per million to .091 ” a concentration lower than the EPA’s recommended 0.1 parts per million.

However, the report also indicated that test results from one unoccupied unit that was “heated to a maximum temperature of at least 80 degrees” found concentration levels above 0.1 parts per million.

The unit was later retested under normal conditions and found to have indoor formaldehyde levels of less than 0.1 parts per million, according to the report.

“We find the testing method certainly acceptable,” said Wesley Nicks, director of the Nevada County Department of Environmental Health. “We don’t feel any need for immediate protection.”

Both Nicks and representatives from LACO Associates say the levels found in Henness Flats are consistent with those found in typical California homes.

However, the test results provided by the management differed from concentration levels found by Advanced Chemical Sensors Incorporated ” a Florida-based laboratory that was used to detect dangerous levels of formaldehyde in manufactured trailers issued to displaced Katrina victims by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Becky Gillette, a formaldehyde campaign director with the Sierra Club and driving force behind the Gulf Coast toxic trailer issue.

“Out of nine tests, we had three that were over the 0.1 parts per million,” Gillette said. “I just don’t think it is right that the health department accepts the apartment building owner’s tests as valid and evidently ignores the Sierra Club tests when giving this apartment complex a clean bill of health.”

Formaldehyde experts also say the problem lies in the fact that there are no standards to regulate the amount of toxic substances contained in building materials, so no one can say what is truly safe for each individual.

Because sensitive groups such as children, the elderly, and people with health-related illnesses may be more vulnerable to toxic substances, the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry has recommended minimum risk levels for formaldehyde that depend on the duration of personal exposure, said Dr. Jack Thrasher, Technical Director of the National Toxic Encephalopathy Foundation in Las Vegas.

“People have to understand that the EPA’s 0.1 parts per million is not a standard, it’s just a suggestion and does not cover the sensitive population, which many of the residents at Henness Flats are,” Thrasher said. “The bottom line is formaldehyde should not be allowed in building materials and furniture.”

National attention is now being brought to the formaldehyde issue, particularly since the Sierra Club helped expose dangerous levels of the suspected carcinogen in trailers issued to displaced Katrina victims by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Gillette said.

“The EPA is now in the process of beginning rule-making on formaldehyde, but it could be years before anything is adopted. In the meantime, people are still not being protected,” Gillette said.

In an effort to expedite the process, the Sierra Club has been urging Congress to set a deadline for the EPA to adopt formaldehyde standards, but no action has been taken yet, Gillette said.

In the meantime, the Sierra Club will continue to work with Henness Flats residents to answer requests for additional formaldehyde testing and to supply information on ways to reduce exposure, Gillette said.

“It is far past time for the U.S. to phase out the use of formaldehyde-based glues that caused this health threat. It is shameful that this known harmful gas is still allowed to be used in building materials, especially when safer alternatives exist,” Gillette said.