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Behind the Scenes: Environmental Testing For Films

Warehouse stairwell

While watching one of your favorite films or television series, there are often scenes in very unique environmental settings. Such as a chase through an abandoned tunnel or a scene involving an old warehouse. While many can be sets inside of a Hollywood studio, some producers choose to use real locations for an authentic look. This can save time on design but the properties may have environmental problems due to their dilapidated condition. In this blog, we will go behind the scenes and discuss some of the environmental issues that may be discovered before filming in abandoned locations.

Moisture and Mold

One of the most common issues that plague abandoned properties is moisture intrusion. As these properties have no upkeep or conditioning, they face problems such as seepage, elevated humidity, structural damage, and the freeze-thaw cycle of winter. Once moisture is present in a property with adequate nutrient sources such as drywall, wood, and dust, mold can start to grow. Chronically damp environments can lead to wood rotting, which can affect structural integrity. Elevated mold and moisture can cause health effects to those who are allergic or who have asthma.

Asbestos and Lead

Other common environmental problems that may be present are asbestos and lead. In properties that were built before the late 1970s, these contaminants may be present. While asbestos-containing materials and lead-based paints are not major health concerns while in good condition, they are typically disturbed in these properties. Moisture intrusion or humidity may render some asbestos-containing materials friable which means they can be crumbled into a powder with hand pressure. Asbestos is a health risk once it is disturbed and fibers are released into the air. Lead-based paint can become compromised due to moisture and begin to peel and turn into dust. Asbestos exposure is through inhalation while lead exposure is primarily due to the ingestion of its dust. For more information on where asbestos is used in properties please visit this previous blog on asbestos use in homes.

VOCs

Depending on the use of the space prior to its vacancy, there may be volatile organic compounds present. Volatile organic compounds, also known as VOCs, are what can easily be described as chemicals in the air.  These are compounds that evaporate off a liquid or solid surface and go into a vapor state. These compounds may be present from solvents used in a warehouse, leaking underground storage tanks, sewer gas, and other various sources. Depending on the type of VOCs present, elevated exposure can lead to a variety of health effects. 

Particulate Matter

Due to the poor upkeep of abandoned properties, particulate matter can become elevated. This is due to the accumulation of larger particles such as dust created from the soil outdoors, settled mold spores, insect fragments, dust mites, skin fragments, and other particles. Exposure to large particles can cause respiratory issues, especially when the particles are biological in nature.

Conclusion

Filming at the right abandoned location may bring a great aesthetic to a project; however it may come with its own set of environmental issues. At Indoor Science, we have worked with film studio production teams to test the indoor air quality in these types of properties to ensure the safety of movie stars and the filming crew prior to work activities. We recommend testing before filming in these types of properties to avoid exposures to contaminants and the related liability.  The crew and actors of a major production being exposed to these indoor air quality problems can lead to a true horror story. 

Ian Cull

Ian Cull is a nationally recognized expert in the field of indoor air quality. He is the Chief Science Officer of Indoor Science, a company he started in 2004. He speaks around the world on air quality topics and is a training provider of the Indoor Air Quality Association. Mr. Cull is a Licensed Professional Engineer (PE) and Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH). His degree is in Environmental Engineering from the University of Illinois - Urbana Champaign. Mr. Cull has developed 50 air quality related courses for the IAQA University and is the author of the book, “Fundamentals of Mold Remediation”. In his words… “Besides being passionate about indoor air quality, I enjoy cycling, music, the Chicago Bulls, and having fun with my three kids.”