First Advisor

Elliott T. Gall

Date of Award

Fall 2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Mechanical Engineering and University Honors


Mechanical and Materials Engineering




School buildings -- Heating and ventilation, Volatile organic compounds -- Measurement, Indoor air quality, Harriet Tubman Middle School (Portland, Or.) -- Case studies




Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are a group of air pollutants that can adversely impact human health, engage in chemistry indoors, and meaningfully degrade indoor and outdoor urban air quality. While extensive research with regard to VOC emission rates from indoor sources has been conducted, it was not until recently that this work began to focus on characterizing emissions from humans and human activity in depth. As buildings are constructed to be increasingly airtight, and the materials utilized are chosen to reduce VOC emissions, it follows that human contributions are poised to become increasingly important indoor sources of VOCs. Utilizing data extracted from a three-month campaign conducted at Harriet Tubman Middle School in Portland, Oregon, this study modeled airflows through the school and quantified source strengths for VOCs over the course of two days. Emission rates for seven compounds that are traditionally associated with human metabolism and activity were calculated, as were source strengths for BTEX compounds (benzene, toluene, xylenes, and ethylbenzene), which are typically associated with traffic-related air pollution (TRAP). In terms of per-person VOC emission rates, it was found that the values determined for some of the chosen compounds were in close agreement with the limited literature that exists on the subject, and that some varied greatly, likely due to differences in the buildings themselves, the occupants and their activities, and dissimilar experimental designs across studies. In terms of BTEX compounds, source apportionment revealed that the majority of their presence was due to supply air, which was expected considering the elevated levels of outdoor TRAP constituents in the near-roadway building. Comparing source apportionment percentages of BTEX compounds to another study that took the same approach, similar distributions were found—an outcome that suggested that despite the school’s proximity to a roadway and elevated outdoor BTEX levels, the air-cleaning system was effective.


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