High Humidity is the Same as Water Damage

In some basements a relative humidty in excess of 60% can create the same damage as a water event.  Foreclosed homes, vacant homes, and homes that just do not properly manage the humidity create an environment where mold colonizes on floor joists, walls and other surfaces.

Mold colonized on floor joists due to a high relative humidity in a basement area

Mold colonized on floor joists due to a high relative humidity in a basement area

Friable vs. Non-Friable Asbestos: Which is Safer?

When worried about asbestos and possible exposure it is important to understand the term “friable”.  The EPA has categorized some types of asbestos into two categories: friable and non-friable asbestos containing materials.  Friable means that someone can take a piece of the asbestos crumble it with simple hand pressure when dry – thus giving it the potential to become airborne.  Since asbestos is considered a hazardous air pollutant it is important to understand which materials can easily become airborne and potentially create a health related problem.

Friable asbestos can easily become airborne.  Materials containing asbestos such as; pipe insulation, boiler insulation, and sprayed on fireproofing are examples of friable asbestos.  Items such as transite cement board containing asbestos and floor tile containing asbestos are considered non-friable materials.  You can’t crumble transite cement board with simple hand pressure nor can you crumble asbestos containing floor tile.  These products were manufactured with asbestos as binders but it is difficult to cause the asbestos to become airborne.

Therefore, friable asbestos is more dangerous than non-friable asbestos.  However, if someone drills into a non-friable asbestos or saw cuts the material  then the conditions change and the asbestos in the product can become airborne.

Asbestos has been around for a long time and has many beneficial characteristics.  I have seen buildings burn down and the only thing left is the asbestos, it is practically indestructible.   While in college I worked in a foundry and we wore asbestos containing aprons to protect us from sparks and popping metal when we poured the liquid metal in the sand lined forms.  Over 3,000 building materials were made with some type of asbestos until it was outlawed in the United States during the 70′s.  Asbestos is in more products than you can imagine.

Hiring an inspector that understands the potential dangers of asbestos without an alarming attitude is important.  Contact us if you have questions conerning asbestos.

thom@environmentalcare.com or 314-644-4930

Thom Wellington, Licensed EPA Inspector & Management Planner

Is Mold Really a Problem?

It seems like Mold has all of the sudden become an environmental issue that home owners and building owners worry about. Why?  Why is MOLD a big issue when it has always been around so long, heck its even mentioned in the Bible.

Unfortunately, we hear people asking “what’s the big deal” all the time.  Building owners and managers have employees or tenants that complain and specifically mention that there is a mold problem in the building.  Homeowners that have lived in their homes for decades decide to sell and a building inspector tells the prospective buyer that the home is contaminated with mold.  Yikes!!!

Even though mold has been around forever, it has worked its way up the publicity charts.  Thirty percent of our children have asthma or allergy conditions which provides parents with an incentive to start closely examining their homes and their workplaces.  Their investigations produce a discovery of mold.  Eventually this news works its way into newspaper stories and nightly TV news reports.  Doctors start to understand that someone’s home or place of work can be a cause of their patient’s sinus problems and ask them to have an area tested – this also drives more interest in our indoor environment.  You can see that Mold is gaining more focus and consequently more people are interested, it just keeps growing.

To make matters worse, some Mold Contractors and Inspectors add more sensation to the mix by alarming people that their buildings are making them sick.  Sure, this can really happen but not as often as people think.  Very few buildings actually have a situation that is out of control and making people sick.  After taking air samples in building or homes, some inspectors don’t understand the variables that come into consideration when reading mold reports and then make outlandish requests for items to be destroyed or trashed.

Mold is definately gaining in awareness and in most cases a good remediation plan can significanly improve conditions for those suffering from asthma or allergies.  Watch out for the rip-off artists that try to scare you to death and then recommend their friend to take ten thousand dollars from you to fix a small issue.  Most all situations concerning mold can be solved.  Use someone that is qualified and has a good reference list.

Contact me if you have questions: thom@environmentalcare.com

LEED Testing for Points

Testing for LEED points after a project is beneficial not just from a public relations standpoint, an employee health perspective, but from a building manager’s understanding of how to provide a healthy indoor air environment to the occupants.

The testing process can be a little complicated and the results provide a great picture of the indoor air quality but the reports are difficult and time consuming to read.  Most facility managers are taking care of buildings with fewer staff members, more complex equipment, and some customers that complain at almost anything.  Consequently, it is always beneficial to review the highlights of the LEED test results with the crew that is in charge of controlling the HVAC equipment.  Too often the report is written, it goes to purchasing or construction, the plaque is hung on the wall and the press release goes out saying how great our building is for the environment.  Lost in the shuffle and the applause is the buildings’ management crew.

An in-service training meeting to highlight how LEED testing is performed and what is monitored along with how these tested items can benefit or harm building occupants.  Information concerning the test results and how to maintain the building set points helps technicians understand that even small adjustments to some equipment can make a big difference in how the building’s population feels and works.

Contact me if you would like more information or a summary of talking points for your LEED in-service meeting.  thom@environmentalcare.com

Property Owners & Managers: Protection Tips / Asbestos Exposure Legal Action

Unfortunately, most property owners and managers are so busy keeping their buildings functioning, tenants happy, and rain out that little thought goes into managing any asbestos in the building.  Plumbers working on pipes may remove insulation containing asbestos just so they can quickly repair a leaking pipe.  Contractors may expose and disturb asbestos during renovations without really knowing, or outside maintenance vendors could accidentally disturb asbestos while performing a task.  It happens all the time.  Electricians are not informed that the ceiling they are working on contains asbestos, demo contractors are unaware that the floor tile they are removing contains asbestos, or the cabling company starts drilling into transite asbestos boards to attach their cable without knowledge of the asbestos in the board material.

Shouldn’t these contractors know asbestos could be present?  Who is responsible?

These same workers that disturbed the asbestos in your facility can come back in a few years to add the building owner and the manager in a legal action claiming asbestos exposure.

Worse than that the building’s housekeeping and maintenance staff also can return with claims.  Asbestos diseases are latent and can take a decade or even two decades before they become prominent.  This quiet time gives many a false sense of safety thinking nothing will happen since all these years have gone by and nothing – no exposure cases.  However, being prepared really does not take that much time, money, or even an ultra sophisticated plan – but it can be a valuable tool to protect your assets.

Protecting yourself as a building owner and as a building manager involves just a few actions that can demonstrate you have taken reasonable care when working around asbestos.  Here is a shortened version for your review so you get the general idea:

- Establish a protocol in writing concerning what contractors and employees can and cannot do in the building regarding suspect asbestos containing materials.  Distribute it yearly, and make all personnel sign a form that they received the protocol.

- All purchase orders to contractors working in the building should require them to be aware of asbestos and not to disturb asbestos containing materials.  Provide the contractors with a list of steps to take and make them sign the purchase order so that they acknowledge receipt of your instructions.  Don’t hide them on the back of the form, make them noticeable.

- Provide a yearly Asbestos Awareness Training course (have all attendees sign in) informing workers that they are not to touch asbestos and if they are unsure whether a material contains asbestos then provide them with the steps they take to have someone test it.

- Don’t throw away the asbestos testing results if they say the material does not contain any asbestos.  These negative results are actually more valuable than the positive results.  Keep both in an easy to find binder.

- Keep good records.  Unfortunately, building management can turn over a few times in a decade and each successive manager needs to have access to the asbestos records.  Make them easy to find.

- Performing an asbestos survey of the building is good but too often surveys are difficult to read and understand.  Often, it is best to sample again as suspect materials are encountered.  All surveys are not as valuable as specific material testing in keeping the worker safe and knowing exactly whether or not a product contains asbestos.

- When asbestos testing is performed let everyone see the results and tell them where you keep them if someone wants to examine the test results.  Some managers post the results on a bulletin board for a day and them file them in the asbestos management file.

- Communicate with all parties concerning asbestos in the building.  This can mean posting a notice so building occupants are aware, providing meetings for housekeeping and maintenance personnel where asbestos products in the building are discussed (keep agenda records and attendance records).

- Take pictures!  Some of the best ways to prove you communicated information about asbestos is by taking pictures of notices posted on bulletin boards, pictures of items you had tested, and pictures from training classes.  The photos can be valuable evidence in court.

Hopefully you are starting to get the picture on how to manage asbestos.  I could go on an on providing management tips and ways to reduce asbestos liability.  Fortunately, for many years I saw first hand how asbestos litigation is handled while helping the Pentagon Army JAG Department and others prepare defense cases.  I witnessed what worked and what did not work.  In fact, I wrote an asbestos management book titled Reasonable Care for Asbestos that is used in many facilities to help guide them in the right direction.

Contact me if you would like more information on Reasonable Care, I will be happy to meet with you and explain the benefits.  Email: thom@environmentalcare.com

Cat Allergy Perplexes Professor

A professor was experiencing significant daily allergy symptoms while at work in the Psychology Building at a university.  We were called to preform indoor air quality testing in the relatively new building to get to the bottom of the professor’s allergic reactions.  An thorough interview with the professor identified known cat allergies however this university building did not have any animals nor any animal experiments in the building or adjoining buildings.

A standard IAQ test routine was performed along with specific cat allergen testing to see if any of the other personnel in the area were transporting cat dander into the building.  Surprisingly, the cat allergen testing spiked prompting further investigation to determine how or why cat allergens were present.  During a secondary visual inspection of the building a small bowl was noticed on the floor in the vending area next to the professor’s office.  Tracking down the reason for the bowl on the floor lead to the cause of the symptoms.  Every night, one of the housekeeping technicians was letting in a stray cat and feeding the cat.  The cat was welcome for the full 8 hour shift and then returned outside when the housekeeping personnel locked up the building.  This guest relationship had been going on for a few months before it was discovered.

Strange as it may sound, this nightly cat visit was enough to cause the daily sneezing and wheezing experienced by the professor.  After discovery, the housekeeping personnel were informed of the incident and today that cat has found another home.  The professor is back to living a normal life in his office.

Let us know if we can help you investigate an indoor air quality complaint.  Contact me: thom@environmentalcare.com

ERMI vs. Air Testing for Mold

Here is a problem to consider when determining whether or not a space has a problem with MOLD.  Should I perform a wipe test and have it analyzed using the ERMI index or should I take air samples?  Both have their benefits but there is a difference when other factors come into play.

For instance, you are analyzing a large home to determine if mold is a problem.  A simple ERMI wipe test will tell only a portion of the picture and can be misleading.  Taking multiple air samples in the home can also paint a picture as to the condition in the home in relation to mold.  Of course, I am assuming that a visual inspection will be performed no matter which direction you are planning to go.  The visual inspection plays an important role in determining if moisture remains in the home and can provide valuable insight concerning the environment for mold colonization.

Consequently, if the home is dry and no indication of mold colonization and you want a full picture of the home – I recommend multiple air tests along with an outside sample for a comparison.  A single ERMI wiped even if collected from multiple sources can be valuable in providing a sense of fungi in the building – it could mean “past” mold vs. a new problem.

The identification of exact DNA of the Mold using the ERMI is important in some settings but not that important when just wanting to know if a problem exists.

Both have benefits as described but sometimes technical analysis using an ERMI is not as important as discovering what is in the air.  More individuals will react to airborne fungi and pollen than they would touching the top of a door frame where a wipe was performed.  Keep in mind a visual inspection is a key player in determining if mold will be a problem in the home for a purchasing family.

For more details, contact me at thom@environmentalcare.com

Indoor Air Quality – Mold

As spring (finally) arrives the increase in allergies and asthma awareness is understandable.  Pollen levels increase, airborne mold is more prevalent, and rain brings about many problems for buildings including homes.  Heck, we even see more commercials for allergy relief and Kleenex tissues to remind us of the spring rituals.

Mold needs three (3) main conditions to colonize: a nutrient base, temperature, and moisture. Leaks occurring in homes usually means drywall (cellulose – main nutrient for mold) gets wet or basements get humid (over 60%) due to moisture in the air. The increasing spring temperature range is also inviting to fungi.  Sometimes water gets into the duct work on commercial buildings and dampens the insulation-lined ducts - the musty odor is quickly noticed by occupants of the building who complain to the facility manager.

All of these are common conditions in the spring and most continue right through the summer.  Performing indoor air quality testing can tell us “what” is in the air but not always provide information on “why”.  Determining “why” indoor air quality problems occur is really the main focus of an indoor air quality study – testing is secondary to find out how to repair and improve the indoor environment.

Hiring someone who knows how building systems work and understands construction is just as important as someone that knows what to test for and how to read the results.  Many times we have been called in after someone has run a mass spectrum of tests but does not know how to properly interpret the results nor do they understand the air conveyance systems of the building.  Some consultants even proclaim buildings contaminated or scare occupants with their comments as they are performing the tests.

Often, solutions can easily be found for indoor air quality problems and allergy symptoms can be reduced or asthma incidents reversed.  A wide range of chemicals are now available to kill and remove mold not to mention some of the new green technology that also works such as UV-C.  Knowing when to use chemicals and which ones to use is just as important as understanding the population of the building or home.

Enjoy the coming of spring rather than dreading it, there are quality solutions that won’t ruin your budget.

Thom Wellington  thom@environmentalcare.com


Residential Real Estates’ Latest Woes – Meth Residue

We are seeing a significant increase in Meth clean ups and testing.  Some municipalities are requiring homes where meth dealers lived or were arrested to be inspected and tested (and cleaned up if necessary) prior to issuing occupancy permits.  Many real estate agents are scratching their heads wondering “who do I can?”.

Many of the same municipalities that are requiring the inspection and testing also have an approved contractors list as well as a protocol that is to be followed.  Make sure you check with the city’s engineering department so you follow the guidelines they require – it may end up saving you from unnecessary sampling and high laboratory fees.

We are currently investigating a septic system for meth chemical residuals as directed by the lending agency.

Make sure you know what guidelines you are to follow and hire a professional that will save you from unnecessary sampling and won’t falsely alarm you or your customer.

Contact us if you would like more information.

Thom Wellington