EPA mobile lab joins southeast Grand Rapids air testing efforts

Jun 22, 2016

Sign posted outside the evacuated connected structure on the corner of Hall Street and Madison Avenue SE.
Credit Kayla Tucker

A federal mobile laboratory is in town, testing for possible indoor air contamination in homes and properties near an evacuated structure in southeast Grand Rapids.

"So this week, one of the major things that we’re working on is we started sampling the neighborhood that we’re targeting for additional vapor intrusion assessment – just to verify the indoor air is safe."

Betsy Nightingale is an on-scene coordinator with the Environmental Protection Agency. She’s been in town since May testing found unsafe levels of chemicals in indoor air at a connected structure on the corner of Hall Street and Madison Avenue SE.

An updated EPA site map shows testing areas of interest (red lines). The orange circle is the initial site where officials found high levels of indoor air contamination.
Credit Hilary Farrell / Map courtesy of EPA

  The agency is working to remediate the site as well as test the surrounding area for potential issues.

"We spent a couple weeks – a week and a half or so trying to get access to roughly 60 properties that we were hoping to do indoor air sampling within."

Nightingale says they gained access to about half of those properties.

The EPA also expanded the site radius in order to test all areas of possible concern, which brings the total number to about 75.

And this week they’re collecting the samples for testing.

EPA chemist Dave Mickunas and a co-worker perform testing on the agency's TAGA mobile response bus.
Credit Kayla Tucker

They can do this in real-time with an EPA mobile laboratory called the TAGA, or Trace Atmospheric Gas Analyzer.

It’s kind of similar to an RV - at least, on the outside. And it’s been all over the country, says EPA staff chemist Dave Mickunas. 

"As far west as California, as far north as Maine and Seattle, as far south as Florida – and everywhere in between."

Nightingale says they’ll collect and test site samples through Tuesday night. More testing may follow.

She says the agency expects to know more in the next couple of days.