Project intended to prevent fumes from entering airport basement
BY KEVIN BONESKE
Work was completed last week on a project to address complaints about fumes in the Rhinelander-Oneida County Airport basement, where the county’s University of Wisconsin-Extension office is located, said airport director Joe Brauer.
“We believe it’s helped quite a bit,” said Brauer, who noted the bid for all three phases of the project came in at $19,000 with the airport and the county each agreeing to cover half the cost.
For years, there has been an issue with how to handle situations when some UW-Extension staff members reported they were not able to work in the airport basement when they noticed the presence of fumes from diesel exhaust, which has been more prevalent during the winter months.
Diesel exhaust was confirmed in the airport basement, during time periods when a jet aircraft was on the ramp or baggage was being unloaded, in an “industrial hygiene survey” completed in February 2016 by Sharon Bessa of Bessa and Associates and Daniel Karamanski of the UW-Extension.
However, that survey also found the various emissions detected that could be related to diesel exhaust, such as nitrogen dioxide and carbon dioxide, did not exceed allowable federal limits for the workplace.
The county Conservation and UW-Extension Education Committee last year recommended that the UW-Extension office be moved out of the airport basement, but that proposal didn’t receive the financial backing from the Administration Committee and the full County Board.
The UW-Extension last year requested an “air evaluation study,” which was conducted by R.E. “Bear” Daniel of the architectural, engineering, environmental and planning firm ISG. Daniel traveled to the airport Nov. 23 to meet UW-Extension personnel and investigate the existing conditions while also receiving input from Extension employees regarding their perception of the objectionable fumes.
The study recommended a series of measures to put in place that included:
- Completely enclosing the three heating, ventilation and air conditioning ducts located in the baggage tunnel where they traverse from the mechanical room to the northeastern-most storage room.
- Installing a pressurized air curtain at the point the baggage conveyor enters the tunnel.
- Installing an air filtering system on the HVAC ducts supplying air to the northern lower-level office and storage areas.
The study also noted there is a chance that “under certain atmospheric conditions” objectionable fumes could travel over the wall that separates the parking lot area and the runways and get into the building’s HVAC air intake, though the study described the likelihood of that as a “rare occurrence.”
County 4-H/Youth Development agent Lynn Feldman, who heads up the UW-Extension office in the airport basement, said it has been “so far, so good” for the measures put in place to improve air quality in the workplace, but she noted it is too early to determine whether the work will keep the fumes away.
“Right now it’s a matter of checking it out,” she said.
Feldman said not all the Extension staff who had a problem with the fumes returned back in the airport basement, noting one employee is still working at the courthouse while the office may wait out how the air quality will be over time.
The county’s Buildings and Grounds Department presently has a contract with the Airport Commission for a 20-year lease – which took effect March 1, 2015, and runs through Feb. 28, 2035 – for the UW-Extension to use 3,713 square feet downstairs at the airport. Though the county has been paying $40,000 annually for the lease, the contract could be terminated with a six-month notice.