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Sci Total Environ. 2005 Jun 1;345(1-3):69-80. Epub 2005 Jan 18.

Geothermal ground gas emissions and indoor air pollution in Rotorua, New Zealand.

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Natural Hazards Research Centre, University of Canterbury, Private Bag 4800, Christchurch, New Zealand.


The emission of toxic gases from the soil is a hazard in geothermal regions that are also urbanized because buildings constructed on geothermal ground may be subject to the ingress of gases from the soil directly into the structure. The Rotorua geothermal field, New Zealand, is extensively urbanized but to date no studies have evaluated the extent of the ground gas hazard. The main gases emitted are hydrogen sulphide (H2S) and carbon dioxide (CO2), both of which are highly toxic and denser than air. This paper reports preliminary findings from a study of selected buildings constructed in the gas anomaly area. Properties were investigated for evidence of ingress by H2S, CO2, and 222Rn, with a view to determine the means and rates of gas entry and the nature of any consequent hazard. H2S and CO2 were investigated using infrared active gas analysers and passive detector tubes left in place for 10-48 h. 222Rn was measured over a period of 3 months by poly-allyl diglycol carbonate sensors. Eight of the nine buildings studied were found to suffer problems with soil gases entering the indoor air through the structure. The primary means of gas entry was directly from the ground through the floors, walls, and subsurface pipes. Indoor vents were located and found emitting up to approximately 200 ppm H2S and approximately 15% CO2, concentrations high enough to present an acute respiratory hazard to persons close to the vent (e.g., children playing at floor level). In some properties, gas problems occurred despite preventative measures having been made during construction or during later renovations. Typically, these measures include the under-laying of concrete floors with a gas-proof butanol seal, under-floor ventilation systems or the installation of positive-pressure air conditioning. Recently constructed buildings (<10 years) with butanol seals were nevertheless affected by ground gas emissions, and we conclude that such measures are not always effective in the long term.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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