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ErinFudge said:   If you aren't leaving in the meantime; is there no way you can temporarily seal off the window and kitchen vent? If there is some measurable improvement, perhaps the landlord would at least take that as a direction to look in, and if not perhaps there's slightly less fumes while you look for another place.

Plastic sheeting, foam/magnets for the vent, or some of the heat shrink sheets that are supposed to help with drafty windows? It could be very minimal effort to see if there's any difference.

  
Thank you for the suggestions!  (This is genuine.  I don't want to sound like an ingrate.  The suggestions you bring up are definitely some of the the first things one should consider in my circumstances.)

That all being said, I've pretty much gone to the ends of the earth to solve the problem on my own.  I bought and installed two window kits that are both on the window now and extra window-insulation tape, which was needed because the window draft kept blowing off the sides of the plastic.  I also purchased heavy window blinds to apply pressure to the first window kit and help keep it on.  (The draft was sort of making it bulge out away from the wall and the blinds press it down.)  Over all of that, I'm using a plastic drop cloth and painter's tape as a 4th layer to try to keep fumes/drafts from coming in the window.  The draft/fumes are still blowing through though.  And I think they are coming through cracks in the wall, under the floor vent, and through the bathroom vent from the boiler room adjacent to my apartment as well.

The oven vent is covered, however, the wall behind the kitchen area is in bad condition.  There are huge cracks in the wall, or more accurately there is sort of a large piece of wood (maybe 12'x5') nailed on top of who-knows-what (probably a hole) on the upper part of the wall behind my refrigerator, and counter.  A draft and fumes (the sweet burnt plastic smelling ones) seem to come in from behind the kitchen.  Maintenance says that the only thing behind the kitchen, other than kitchen vents, is a brick firewall.

Oh, and as an update, the head of maintenance is terrible.  I called him today to tell him that there's been toxic fumes entering my apartment at about 1:30 a.m. and he flat out refused to address any fumes that happen at night.  The head of maintenance said that he's only willing to check for fumes in the daytime and if I don't stop complaining about fumes he's going to "kick me out."  What a nice guy!

gooddealie said:   Google is a wonderful tool. Entered: sweet burnt plastic smell and got many results, including the following:
The smell of crack cocaine smoke has been described as similar to burning or melting plastic, rubber or styrofoam.

OP you might be looking for more of a problem with the nighttime activities of your neighbors, rather than one related to heating fuel. Might explain why the fumes make you fell  "like you're doing somersaults" too.
Gauss44 said:   
If it were merely a smell, I wouldn't have a problem with it.  One breath of these fumes and you feel as though you're doing summer salts.  Very toxic, not just an odor. 


  
Yeah, I think one of the only options I have left is to call the police next time fumes are strong.  I'm not sure what to say really.  Several years ago, I worked in security and had to call the police a couple times as part of my job.  I was never good at talking to 911.  They have no patience and in the past would cut me off so I couldn't make my point.  Then 911 would just hang up on me.  Maybe something like this would work:  911: "911 what is your emergency?"  Me: "There's toxic fumes in my apartment making people sick."  Or, "There may be a meth lab in my building."

I really don't know where to start or how to explain this to 911.

If it really is drugs, calling the police is likely to solve the problem if they send out the right officer and/or a drug dog (assuming drug dogs can sniff out meth and cocaine).  Thanks for this great suggestion.  I think I would have been too embarrassed to contact the police about "fumes" if it weren't for the drug discussion on here.  This advice is very valuable, potentially life saving.  Thanks, and thanks again!

Edit: Maybe something like: 911: "911 what is your emergency?"  Me: "I believe there are either strong meth fumes or crack fumes in my apartment."  911: (whatever they say)  Me: "Can an officer or drug dog come out to identify these fumes?"  What do you think of that?

Gauss44 said:   
ErinFudge said:   If you aren't leaving in the meantime; is there no way you can temporarily seal off the window and kitchen vent? If there is some measurable improvement, perhaps the landlord would at least take that as a direction to look in, and if not perhaps there's slightly less fumes while you look for another place.

Plastic sheeting, foam/magnets for the vent, or some of the heat shrink sheets that are supposed to help with drafty windows? It could be very minimal effort to see if there's any difference.

  
Thank you for the suggestions!  (This is genuine.  I don't want to sound like an ingrate.  The suggestions you bring up are definitely some of the the first things one should consider in my circumstances.)

That all being said, I've pretty much gone to the ends of the earth to solve the problem on my own.  I bought and installed two window kits that are both on the window now and extra window-insulation tape, which was needed because the window draft kept blowing off the sides of the plastic.  I also purchased heavy window blinds to apply pressure to the first window kit and help keep it on.  (The draft was sort of making it bulge out away from the wall and the blinds press it down.)  Over all of that, I'm using a plastic drop cloth and painter's tape as a 4th layer to try to keep fumes/drafts from coming in the window.  The draft/fumes are still blowing through though.  And I think they are coming through cracks in the wall, under the floor vent, and through the bathroom vent from the boiler room adjacent to my apartment as well.

The oven vent is covered, however, the wall behind the kitchen area is in bad condition.  There are huge cracks in the wall, or more accurately there is sort of a large piece of wood (maybe 12'x5') nailed on top of who-knows-what (probably a hole) on the upper part of the wall behind my refrigerator, and counter.  A draft and fumes (the sweet burnt plastic smelling ones) seem to come in from behind the kitchen.  Maintenance says that the only thing behind the kitchen, other than kitchen vents, is a brick firewall.

Oh, and as an update, the head of maintenance is terrible.  I called him today to tell him that there's been toxic fumes entering my apartment at about 1:30 a.m. and he flat out refused to address any fumes that happen at night.  The head of maintenance said that he's only willing to check for fumes in the daytime and if I don't stop complaining about fumes he's going to "kick me out."  What a nice guy!

  
You may recall my earlier post about negative pressure that draws air into your home and positive pressure that pushes it out.
A simple way to check the current of air around your home it to take a length of toilet paper, say three to four feet and hold it at one end and see what direction it moves... usually just lifting to one direction and staying there, even in a seemingly still room.  open your from door six inches and hole the paper in the opening and you will see what I am talking about...  does air flow into your apartment or out?  do this by the vent in the bathroom and the kitchen.  cover those vents and open the window and check the front door again... basically change the source of air drawn into the apartment to something else and keep the toxic fumes out. 
I once had a neighbor that smoked constantly and I could not bear it any more.  The landlord was useless and did not want to get involved.  I figured out that much of the neighbor's cigarette smoke was coming from the kitchen vent.  I asked the landlord if he would put an exhaust fan on top of the stack of the passive kitchen vent (passive vents is all that was required by code for the small building) so that the exhaust fan would drawn the stink out of the building instead of making it loft around the passive (and connected) kitchen vents and find its way into other apartments.   I then simply covered the kitchen vent which helped a lot but still did not eliminate the problem.  Then I figured out that the stinky air was being drawn into the apartment through the apartment door.  I didn't understand why at first since I had the vents in the apartment covered but then realized it was because of temperature differences between the hallway and apartment.  Then I figured out that if I turn on the oven (which was pretty close to the door) heat would go from the apartment to the hall and effectively reverse the air flow... presto, no more stink.  And as an added bonus, since gas was included in my rent it cost me nothing.  The expression on the landlords face when I told him that I would not bother him about the exhaust fan anymore as I can just run the oven when they smoke was priceless (he understood that he would be paying for all of that gas).  Of course I did have to crack a window when running the oven so that I did not suffocate but that only meant even more costs to the landlord in heating oil. 

ps, other common sources of air exchanged between apartments is from electrical outlets (which can be covered with clear wide packing tape and then plugs punched through the tape to plug something in), and gapes between the floor and baseboards or heating and pluming pipes and that flooring or wall (which can be filled with expanding foam which can then be cut flush with the surface).

PM'd you re Boston rental laws, hope it helps!

How about you quit being a pushover? You have clearly exhausted efforts. If you smell toxic fumes call the police/fire department. This is why you pay taxes. Let them identify the issue. Reach out to the Boston Housing Authority. Instead of spending time typing useless crap here take a walk down there now. Hop on the T and make it happen.

Gauss44 said:   
gooddealie said:   Google is a wonderful tool. Entered: sweet burnt plastic smell and got many results, including the following:
The smell of crack cocaine smoke has been described as similar to burning or melting plastic, rubber or styrofoam.

OP you might be looking for more of a problem with the nighttime activities of your neighbors, rather than one related to heating fuel. Might explain why the fumes make you fell  "like you're doing somersaults" too.
Gauss44 said:   
If it were merely a smell, I wouldn't have a problem with it.  One breath of these fumes and you feel as though you're doing summer salts.  Very toxic, not just an odor. 


  
Yeah, I think one of the only options I have left is to call the police next time fumes are strong.  I'm not sure what to say really.  Several years ago, I worked in security and had to call the police a couple times as part of my job.  I was never good at talking to 911.  They have no patience and in the past would cut me off so I couldn't make my point.  Then 911 would just hang up on me.  Maybe something like this would work:  911: "911 what is your emergency?"  Me: "There's toxic fumes in my apartment making people sick."  Or, "There may be a meth lab in my building."

I really don't know where to start or how to explain this to 911.

If it really is drugs, calling the police is likely to solve the problem if they send out the right officer and/or a drug dog (assuming drug dogs can sniff out meth and cocaine).  Thanks for this great suggestion.  I think I would have been too embarrassed to contact the police about "fumes" if it weren't for the drug discussion on here.  This advice is very valuable, potentially life saving.  Thanks, and thanks again!

Edit: Maybe something like: 911: "911 what is your emergency?"  Me: "I believe there are either strong meth fumes or crack fumes in my apartment."  911: (whatever they say)  Me: "Can an officer or drug dog come out to identify these fumes?"  What do you think of that?

  That sounds like abusing the 911 system.  If this has happened nightly for months, why is it suddenly an emergency?  Just call the NON-EMERGENCY police number during the day, or better yet stop by the local station, explain the situation (briefly and to the point as to how it pertains to the police, not rambling on and on about the landlord and other irrelevant crap), and maybe they can have someone stop by on a slow night/tell you drugs are an unlikely cause/whatever they say.  I'm not saying involving the police is a good or bad idea, but calling 911 is not appropriate regardless.

Gauss44 said:   
gooddealie said:   Google is a wonderful tool. Entered: sweet burnt plastic smell and got many results, including the following:
The smell of crack cocaine smoke has been described as similar to burning or melting plastic, rubber or styrofoam.

OP you might be looking for more of a problem with the nighttime activities of your neighbors, rather than one related to heating fuel. Might explain why the fumes make you fell  "like you're doing somersaults" too.
Gauss44 said:   
If it were merely a smell, I wouldn't have a problem with it.  One breath of these fumes and you feel as though you're doing summer salts.  Very toxic, not just an odor. 


  
Yeah, I think one of the only options I have left is to call the police next time fumes are strong.  I'm not sure what to say really.  Several years ago, I worked in security and had to call the police a couple times as part of my job.  I was never good at talking to 911.  They have no patience and in the past would cut me off so I couldn't make my point.  Then 911 would just hang up on me.  Maybe something like this would work:  911: "911 what is your emergency?"  Me: "There's toxic fumes in my apartment making people sick."  Or, "There may be a meth lab in my building."

I really don't know where to start or how to explain this to 911.

If it really is drugs, calling the police is likely to solve the problem if they send out the right officer and/or a drug dog (assuming drug dogs can sniff out meth and cocaine).  Thanks for this great suggestion.  I think I would have been too embarrassed to contact the police about "fumes" if it weren't for the drug discussion on here.  This advice is very valuable, potentially life saving.  Thanks, and thanks again!

Edit: Maybe something like: 911: "911 what is your emergency?"  Me: "I believe there are either strong meth fumes or crack fumes in my apartment."  911: (whatever they say)  Me: "Can an officer or drug dog come out to identify these fumes?"  What do you think of that?
 

  
Around here I would call 311 (the non-emergency version of 911) instead.  I don't know if all places have it, though.

First choice- just move out. Break the lease and litigate if necessary.

Second choice- take a sample of the fumes and get them tested. Work with landlord to resolve source.

I appreciate all of the suggestions, and especially those who took time to research this.

Another possibility is that these burnt plastic sweet smelling fume are some sort of aeromatic or aerosol pesticide. The main reason I would suspect that is that the fumes keep coming from the wall or vents behind the kitchen* where we've had rodent complaints in the past.  If someone were setting off pesticide "fog" or sprays, I suspect that could cause this problem.  (Maintenance says they only use non-toxic traps, no sprays or fogs.  I guess it could still be them or someone else in the building.)

The problem remains that these fumes are not constant and are usually at their worst around 1:30a.m.

I continue to try to find a place to move to and have rented out a temporary room for the next 2 weeks (for $280 for the 2 weeks, the cheapest I could find).

*By "kitchen," I meant the kitchen area of my studio apartment which is about 10 feet long.

A major problem I'm still likely to encounter is trying to "prove" this.  I did contact the police and they suggested having Hazmat come over.  The police said that Hazmat could probably find the source even if they couldn't smell it.

OP: When did Hazmat come over and what did they find? You did call them, right?

Ex-wife of a firefighter here. The Police are not the correct agency to call for fumes/smells (unless you suspect a decomposing body). Call the Fire Department. They will come right away and can determine if it's gas, CO, or whatever. If they suspect its someone's meth lab, they will call the Police for you and there won't be any dicking around with 911.

Now that that's settled, let us know what they say after they leave.

valueinvestor said:   I seriously think it's a meth lab.

GTFO immediately before you die from inhaling these fumes, or the place blows up. Go stay at an extended stay hotel for a few weeks, bill the landlord for it, and find another place as soon as possible. Document everything in case the landlord tries to sue.

  As someone who works in law enforcement, it also sounds to me like there is a strong possibility this could be a meth lab.  The best advice in this thread so far is to call 911 next time you smell it, either that or just get the heck out of there.

I'm wondering if it could be a similar problem to this: http://www.doityourself.com/forum/gas-oil-home-heating-furnaces/... 

The oil boiler in my building was unusually noisy all winter long like the person in that forum above.  The person in that forum doesn't say anything about the fumes being poisonous or making people dizzy though.

Or maybe something similar to this (only my water smells fine): http://www.ar15.com/forums/t_1_5/1478460_New_water_heater__and_n...

https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20130315232846AA4lr...

This post became irrelevant due to a change of circumstances.
 

Update:

I'm moving!!!!!!!

I'll be out of this nasty apartment with the poisonous fumes by May 1st!  Got the keys today as well as a lease signed by someone on behalf of the landlord and by myself.

At this point, I don't know if it's worth it to call hazmat and/or the housing inspector.  On the one hand, that could generate evidence that my old apartment was uninhabitable so lack of a month's notice to leave might be forgiven legally; on the other hand, that could just seem like me being a jerk to the landlord who's already been informed about the fume problem.  Additionally, who knows if the fume problem will be fixed or become the problem of the next tenant (maybe that's not my concern, especially since I've already reported it to landlord, maintenance, police, fire department, and National Grid).  Maybe those fumes are a sign of a dangerous problem (still might not be my concern).  Your opinion is welcome.


Gauss44 said:   
Update:

I'm moving!!!!!!!

I'll be out of this nasty apartment with the poisonous fumes by May 1st!  Got the keys today as well as a lease signed by someone on behalf of the landlord and by myself.

At this point, I don't know if it's worth it to call hazmat and/or the housing inspector.  On the one hand, that could generate evidence that my old apartment was uninhabitable so lack of a month's notice to leave might be forgiven legally; on the other hand, that could just seem like me being a jerk to the landlord who's already been informed about the fume problem.  Additionally, who knows if the fume problem will be fixed or become the problem of the next tenant (maybe that's not my concern, especially since I've already reported it to landlord, maintenance, police, fire department, and National Grid).  Maybe those fumes are a sign of a dangerous problem (still might not be my concern).  Your opinion is welcome.


  
I recommend contacting the housing inspector while you still have access to the property.  If the landlord is already fixing the issue (doesn't seem likely), then he has a great story to tell the city.  If not, you might prevent future tenants from enduring the same nonsense and health concerns that you have been facing. 

Congrats on a new home! another prayer answered    I concur with NEDeals



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