Killer Concrete

During the construction phase of the Beijing Olympics local development was booming far above levels seen today. To increase the production rates of construction sites the ingredients used in the concrete production where modified to speed up the setting process. To do this urea-based anti freeze was added to the concrete in large quantities. While the addition of the urea-based anti freeze enable the concrete to harden and set in a much shorter time span the long term repercussions of this chemical are far more detrimental. Once hardened the concrete begins to release gaseous ammonia, this process is amplified dependant on temperature, when in a hot climate the process is accelerated and more ammonia is released.

A study conducted in 2006 in regards to the effects of human exposure to ammonia released from concrete walls shows that the release of ammonia will continue to occur for over 10 years after the manufacture of the concrete. Ventilation in these spaces is key to reducing the concentration of the ammonia and thus reducing the potential for human harm. Typical symptoms of exposure to ammonia gas include headaches, burns, and even permanent damage to the eyes and lungs.

It is highly recommended that if you live or work in a building constructed in or around this time you investigate the ammonia levels found in your environment to ensure that any potential risk is minimised.

Environment Assured is fully equipped to investigate any suspected ammonia or indoor environmental concern you or your family may have. Feel free to contact us to discuss any environmental concerns.

Bai Z., Dong Y., Wang Z., Zhu T.(2006) Emission of ammonia from indoor concrete wall and assessment of human exposure, Environment International 32 (4), 303-311


2 thoughts on “Killer Concrete

  1. Liora says:

    We had to move out of Concordia apartments (Jia He Li Yuan, in Beijing, Xiaoyun Road, near Ladies Street / U.S. embassy) for just this reason! (more below about that)

    I think the cumulative VOC problem in indoor environments in China is poorly understood by consumers. I believe the VOC problem is MUCH worse than most people think. We have pressed wood furniture, lacquers, and unknown building material sources and wall paints, in addition to the “normal” VOC’s we actually buy and bring in: formaldehyde in new clothing, dry cleaning returns, soft furnishings, personal care products and fabric softeners, magic markers, rubber backed area rugs, that pair of fake converse whose soles stink like cheap Chinese plastic…..the list goes on and on…..

    When you notice that even major brands like CROCS and furniture from IKEA smell bad, you just know all the rest of the things in our lives are sitting there, silently adding up to be even more hazardous.

    And this is also why I believe BlueAir ‘s flimsy little Smokestop, with hardly any activated carbon, is totally inadequate to the task. (IqAir V5 cell in the HP250 is great, Austin Air is also great, I believe they have even more carbon!)

    More info about the ammonia problem specifically…in Concordia not all the floors/ buildings have this problem. The management is well aware but it is hush hush unless you bring it up. Once I brought it up, they told me clearly which floors/buildings had problems. According to them, all floors in A,B,C below floor 10 have ammonia problems, and all of building C (which is probably one big reason it is owned, or perhaps managed, separately all these years). We were 4th floor in Building B. In the winter months, all was fine. Then springtime came and WHEW the ammonia started leaching right out of the walls. I was worried it was urine odor somehow, and I washed and rewashed all the cloth diapers, soft fabrics etc…. My 3 month old baby begin having red eyes, we were worried about our toddler too, and moved right away once we figured out it was the walls! Our landlord was very understanding. He said there had been some special sealing of the walls and it was supposed to have been fixed, anyway, he let us out of our lease and returned all security deposit. Bummer, it was a beautiful apartment, a large square jacuzzi where my son was born in a home birth, and large L shaped living areas, with 4 bedrooms (one of which we used as a play room and nap room off the living room). This was Spring of 2006. I hear that this is still a problem, i.e. all the apartments still emit ammonia. If you’re looking to move to Concordia, and it is less than 27C outside, bring this up with your agent, and/or press management about the issue, to ensure your apartment is not one of the ones affected.

  2. Liora says:

    by the way, back when I researched this, ammonia use in concretes was supposed to have been banned around the year 2000. But as we see, stuff still happens here.

    Another thought. You would think the ammonia would dissipate after some years, but Concordia, built in 1996 I believe, is still emitting noticeably some 18 years later!

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