What is that odor?

Odor complaints are among the most common complaints received.

If an odor is apparent in many rooms (i.e., the entire floor or wing of a building), it's likely the odor is being distributed by the supply air system itself.

Occasionally there is an odor source near the air intakes for the building. In these circumstances odors may be from vehicle exhaust, work performed on/near air intakes, and work performed inside air handler rooms.

The vast majority of odor complaints affect only a single room or suite. This usually means the odor source is somewhere in the room with the smell. It often seems the smell is coming from the vent. This is because the air moving from the vent pulls room air along with it, giving the impression that the supply air is the cause.

Odor sources may include

  • Dry drain trap. This is a common odor source.  The smell comes and goes and may, at times, be very strong. It is often a rotten egg smell, but is sometimes described as a chemical odor. Sink and floor drains are equipped with a trap, usually in the form of a U-shaped pipe. Liquid is trapped in the bend and forms a seal, preventing sewer gases from escaping out of the drain into your work area. In general, campus rooms are maintained at a negative pressure. Consequently, if the trap is dry, any odor in the sewer can be pulled into the room. Dry traps are often found in cup sinks (those little sinks in the middle of lab benches), floor drains, sinks covered by equipment, and open condensate drains. 

    Recommendation: Run water in all sinks and drains at least once a month. Then, pour a couple of tablespoons of mineral oil in to prevent the water from evaporating.  If that is unsuccessful, call or email the PPD Service Desk or Environmental Health and Safety for assistance.


  • Natural Gas leaks - Smells like Natural Gas.

    What to do?  Call the NMSU Police at
    911 or 646-3311


  • Forgotten/lost food - Perishables occasionally fall behind a desk and food can be placed in drawers and forgotten. These smells tend to be localized to a room and remain fairly constant over the course of a day (as opposed to dry traps which can vary greatly in intensity over short periods of time).

    What to do? Search your area; look in drawers and behind furniture


  • Dead animals - This smell is fairly obvious.

    Call or email the PPD Service Desk.


  • A fluorescent light ballast - A smell of burning plastic confined to a single area may be a failing light ballast.

    Check to make sure there is nothing else burning (computer monitors as well as other equipment may fail and smoke). Turn off power to any equipment that is failing. Call or email the PPD Service Desk for ballast evaluation and replacement.



Are there restrictions on the use of glues, adhesives, or paints in NMSU buildings?

over_exposure3.gif (14513 bytes) Yes, in the interest of employee and student health, the use of volatile organic compounds (solvent-based glues, adhesives, paints and other solvent based materials) in occupied NMSU buildings is limited to areas with extra ventilation, to trained personnel, and to only approved compounds.  Please see policy on hazardous materials - volatile compound use.


 (Question List)


Contact Information 
 Environmental Health& Safety: MSC-3578, P.O. Box 30001, Academic Research Bldg. C, Rm. 109
    Street delivery address: NMSU, 1620 Standley Dr., Academic Research Bldg. C, Las Cruces, NM 88003
    Training Office: Academic Research Unit C, rm110 (see map ), 
    Telephone: 505-646-3327; FAX: 505-646-7898. Website - http://www.nmsu.edu/safety
    Send email to David Shearer, EH&S (click here) with questions or comments about this web site. 
    This page was last updated on 05/11/2006