UVM Indoor Air Quality Concerns

Quick Start:

For assistance with non-urgent questions about Indoor Air Quality at UVM, download an IAQ Assessment Form here.

The Risk Management and Safety Department  in cooperation with Physical Plant Department work together to address any inadequate indoor air quality issues that arise in campus buildings.  If you have an Indoor Air Quality issue to report, do the following:

  • Call UVM Service Operations (SOS) at 656-2560.
  • Press 1 to speak to a dispatcher.  
  • Explain your situation. 
Service Operations will then page both Physical Plant building zone maintenance personnel and Risk Management and Safety staff to respond to you swiftly.

Building zone maintenance personnel generally respond to the following:

  • Temperature or humidity problems,
  • Draftiness,
  • Lack of air or "stuffy" air, and
  • Dirt or particulates coming from your ventilation system.

Risk Management and Safety staff typically respond to complaints involving:

  • unusual odors such as chemical odors and exhaust, 
  • sickness associated with occupancy of the building such as headache, nausea, drowsiness, dizziness, congestion, swelling, itching, dryness or irritation of eyes, nose or throat, cough, shortness of breath, fever, chills and fatigue.  Remember that colds and the flu can have some of these same symptoms but they will not be associated with your occupancy of the building.
  • Visible mold growth


Indoor Air Quality issues can often take time to resolve since there is a lot of investigative work that needs to be done.. Often times, air monitoring is required as well.  Please be patient with the process.  Leave the area if you feel your health is in jeopardy.



Managing indoor air quality problems, particularly transient odors, can be a significant challenge. Experience has shown that effective response to these concerns is based on a working partnership between the building occupants, who best understand the problem, Physical Plant staff with knowledge of mechanical systems specific to the building involved, and Environmental Safety staff with the expertise to evaluate any hazards present. Information from all three of these groups is necessary to identify and prioritize potential solutions.

This document explains how this partnership works and describes three key elements:

  1. Roles of the various people involved;
  2. Primary responders' steps for evaluating the concern;
  3. Reporting and gathering information about the concern.

1. Response Roles


UVM's first priority is to protect the health and safety of the people in its building. This means the first question to be asked with regard to an unusual situation is: Is this an emergency? Because building occupants are the people most likely to notice an Indoor Air Quality problem, they must make the first determination as to whether the situation is an emergency situation or not.

Emergencies are indicated by fire, smoke, or unusual health symptoms that affect several people. If an occupant determines an emergency that warrants a building evacuation is underway, they should pull the building fire alarm to alert other occupants and summon the fire department. After leaving the building, they should call 911 to inform UVM Police Services why the alarm was pulled and/or meet arriving emergency responders. If the situation appears to be restricted to a specific person or area of a building, that area should be evacuated and 911 called to get assistance.

If the situation is not an emergency, building occupants can call UVM Service Operations at 656-2560 and select 1 to get response within one hour. The supervisor of the people noticing the problem should also be notified, so that they are aware that work may be disrupted.

Emergency Responders

Emergency Responders are available to arrive at the scene within 5 minutes of notification and are drawn from three groups:

  • UVM Police: in these situations, their role is to gather information from outside of the affected area in order to determine if additional resources may be required and to control the scene in order to provide clear access for Burlington Fire Department;
  • Burlington Fire Department: Once an emergency has been signaled by activation of the building fire alarm, Burlington Fire has legal control of the scene in order to manage fire and hazardous material control measures as well as the immediate safety of the general public/ building occupants.
  • UVM Rescue: Provides Emergency Medical Services on campus

Primary Responders

Primary Responders are available to arrive at the scene within 20 minutes of notification and are drawn from three groups:

  • Service technicians from the Physical Plant Department who respond to building service calls; and
  • Environmental Safety staff for health and safety evaluation of IAQ situations and to arrange for clean up of hazardous materials spills.

The role of primary responders is to:

  • Evaluate whether there is an emergency situation on scene using a four gas meter (instructions for the use of the meter in these situations are available here in a Word file) and their knowledge and awareness of the setting and any symptoms they notice in the setting. An "emergency" is a situation in which there is an imminent threat to human health or property. Such a situation is managed, as described above, by calling for an emergency response.
  • If the situation is not an emergency, the responder's role is to determine if any quick fixes are available to resolve the issue.

    "Quick fixes" are situations in which there is a clear source of an odor which can be quickly resolved. This resolution involves either stopping the process which is creating the odor or contacting the person managing the source of the odor and determine how long the odor is likely to continue.

    In either case, the primary responder's responsibility is to explain what they know of the situation to the occupants so that the occupants can make an informed decision as to whether to continue occupancy, in consultation with their supervisor. If a "quick fix" is not available, and the situation is not an emergency, it will be referred to a secondary responder for follow-up within 48 hours.

  • Document the incident for follow-up with IAQ Assessment Form

Secondary Responders

Secondary Responders provide longer term investigation of IAQ concerns. Secondary responders include:

  • Physical Plant staff with building resources and expertise;
  • Risk Management & Safety staff to manage the investigation.

2. Assessment of an Indoor Air Quality Incident by Primary Responder

Odors other than visible smoke or a strong or widespread burning odor are to be investigated by the Primary Responder before being considered an emergency. The potential hazards associated with Indoor Air Quality concerns vary significantly:

Many odor situations can be managed (i.e. investigated and resolved) by the Primary Responder. These situations are characterized by easy identification of a source and control of the source either directly or through a request to Service Operations. These are not likely to require the Investigation and Mitigation strategy described in Section 5, but should be documented as described below.

Odor situations which are beyond the scope of the Primary Responder will be referred to the Risk Mgt & Safety staff for further investigation and resolution. RM&S staff will work with Physical Plant and Architectural and Engineering contacts as appropriate to investigate likely source and remediation strategies. In these cases, supervisors of employees in areas affected by the odor should be advised to have affected employees move to a different location until the problem is resolved. An estimate of the time this will take will be provided to the supervisor by the RM&S staff managing the investigation.

Response Considerations

By their nature, fugitive odors are difficult to identify and evaluate. A balance between investigating the problem fully and resolving the problem quickly must be struck. This balance requires a partnership between the building occupants, primary responders, and secondary responders so that the appropriate information is collected to diagnose and resolve the problem as effectively as possible. The resources and time required for resolving odor complaints vary depending on the nature of the odor.  We can make general statements about the resolution process and its limitations by grouping odor complaints into four general categories as in Table 1.

Responding to Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) concerns is another piece of safety. Often we get reports of an unusual odor whose nature may or may not give a clear indication of its source (e.g. diesel exhaust, latex paint, specific laboratory chemicals). Some odors can be tracked back to its source and resolved in a straight forward way.  Others cannot. Resolution of indoor air quality concerns involves either stopping the source of the odor, or, if the source is a necessary part of building operations, determining how long before the odor is likely to dissipate. This information is generally provided to building occupants when there is a construction activity nearby or there is some planned maintenance being performed.  

If you smell an unknown odor and you cannot identify its source, call UVM Service Operations at 656-2560, press option 1 to speak to a dispatcher.  SOS will page  Risk Mgt & Safety staff and Physical Plant zone personnel to respond.

Odors whose source and/or nature are less clear, or whose occurrence is irregular in space and/or time can be more difficult to assess and control. In these situations, resolution of the situation may take anywhere from several hours to several months. External resources may be required to resolve this type of odor complaint.

3. Reporting the Incident

A variety of offices are likely to receive calls about IAQ concerns. These include:

  • UVM Emergency Response (911)
  • Police Services dispatch (6-3473)
  • Service Operations (6-2560)
  • Risk Management & Safety (6-3242)

Unless there is an indication of an emergency in progress, any of these offices will collect necessary information and dispatch a primary responder to the scene. The primary responder will report the situation and its resolution or need for follow-up to Risk Mgt & Safety staff.


Air Sampling

When the source of the odor is clear, direct reading equipment may be available on campus that can be used to determine the airborne concentrations of certain specific chemicals. Otherwise, air sampling to determine the source of the odor or the concentration of the chemicals involved is limited in usefulness and is likely take a week or more to produce results. On-site review of such situations by a qualified industrial hygienist is necessary to make the most effective use of any sampling done.

Air Quality Standards

In general, UVM is committed to keeping chemical exposures as low as reasonably achievable. Keeping specific exposures within Vermont OSHA Permitted Exposure Limits (PEL) will be considered the minimum requirement for building performance. Supervisors of workers with concerns about exposures below VOSHA PELs will decide how to accommodate these individuals in consultation with Risk Management staff.

Medical Evaluations

Assessing the potential health effects of odors on specific individuals requires medical expertise and must be referred to an occupational physician for evaluation of individual and any circumstances associated with any symptoms or potential health effects that may result from the exposure. All information gathered during the IAQ investigation process will be made available to the individuals and/or their physician as requested.