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ENVIRONMENTAL FACTS

Sick Building Syndrome or Sick House Syndrome can wreak havoc on the general health of a single member or entire household. Understanding the exposures can help homeowners reduce or identify causes of environmental related illness  

Below you will find facts about your indoor air quality that is effected by MOLD, LEAD, RADON, ALLERGENS & MORE.

MOLD

Molds are simple, microscopic organisms whose purpose in the ecosystem is to break down dead materials. Molds can be found on plants, dry leaves, and on just about every other organic material. Some molds are useful, such as those used to make antibiotics and cheese.

Some molds are known to be highly toxic when ingested, such as the types that invade grains and peanuts. Most of the mold found indoors comes from outdoors.

Molds reproduce by very tiny particles called spores. The spores are very light and can float in on the air currents and find a suitable spot to grow. If mold spores land on a suitable surface, they will begin to grow.

Molds need three things to thrive- moisture, food and a surface to grow on. Molds can be seen throughout the house, and can be found in most bathrooms. Mold growth can often be seen in the form of discoloration, and can appear in many colors- white, orange, pink, blue, green, black or brown. When molds are present in large quantities (called colonies) they can cause health problems in some people.

Who Does Mold Affect?

Mold spores can cause adverse reactions, much like pollen from plants and some molds are more hazardous than others. They can cause health problems when they become airborne and are inhaled in large quantities. Although everyone is exposed to mold in some concentration in the outdoor air, indoor exposure to molds is not healthy for anyone. In particular, people with allergies, existing respiratory conditions or suppressed immune systems are especially susceptible to health problems from mold exposure. Additionally, infants and children, pregnant women and the elderly can be sensitive to the effects of mold exposure. For some people, a small number of mold spores can cause health problems, whereas for others, it may take many more.

What Are Symptoms of Mold Exposure?

There are many symptoms of mold exposure and the severity of the symptoms depends on the sensitivity of the exposed person. Allergic reactions are the most common and typically include: respiratory problems such as wheezing and difficulty breathing; nasal and sinus congestion; burning, watery, reddened eyes or blurry vision; sore throat; dry cough; nose and throat irritation; shortness of breath; and skin irritation.

Other less common effects are: nervous system problems (headaches, memory loss, and moodiness); aches and pains; and fever. If you have any of these symptoms, and they are reduced or completely gone when you leave the suspect area, chances are you have been exposed to some sort of allergen, quite possibly mold.

How Can I Tell if I Have Mold in My Home?

Some mold problems are obvious- you can see it growing, others are not so obvious. If you can see mold, or if there is a musty odor in your home, you probably have a mold problem. Areas that are wet, or have been wet due to flooding, leaky plumbing, leaky roofing, or areas that are humid (such as bathrooms and laundry rooms) are most likely to have mold growth. Look for previous water damage.

Visible mold growth may be found underneath wallpaper and baseboards, behind walls, or may be evident by discolored plaster or drywall. If you don’t have any observable mold, but are experiencing symptoms likely to be mold-induced, the mold could be growing in areas you can’t see, such as the ducts of a heating/cooling system. In this case, the only way to know if you have mold spores is to test.

Many home inspectors or Industrial Hygienists can conduct air sampling to detect the presence of these spores in your home. If you have obvious mold, you can conduct a swab test that can be analyzed to determine the molds that are present. Testing is the only way to determine if you have a mold problem and what type it is. Take a copy of the laboratory report along with you when you visit your doctor or allergist. This will aid in determining a method of treatment.

What Should I Do If I have Mold?

The first course of action is to determine why the mold is growing. Investigate any areas that are moist, and repair the source of the moisture. There could be a roof or plumbing leak, or groundwater leaking into your basement. Your air conditioning drip pan could have mold growing in it or your air duct system could be contaminated with mold. If you see mold in your laundry room, chances are that your dryer is not properly vented to the outside.

Clothes dryers generate humidity and should never be vented inside the house. Mold will grow on any surface that provides moisture and food. Substances that are porous and can trap molds, such as paper, rags, wallboard and wood, should be thrown out. After you have made all the repairs, it is time to clean. Use the following pointers:

Mix a household cleaner that does not contain ammonia with hot water and scrub affected areas before sanitizing with a bleach solution such as Clorox that is no more than 10% bleach and 90% water.

Wear gloves when handling moldy materials. If you are sensitive to mold, you may wish to wear a particulate-removing respirator or facemask. Also wear protective clothing that is easily cleaned or may be discarded.

Hard, non-porous materials can be cleaned with a solution of Clorox bleach and water, 10% bleach to 90% water. Use a sponge or cloth to wipe the area clean. Never mix bleach with other cleaning products; it can produce a toxic gas! It is important to clean thoroughly because if you leave some mold behind, the spores will be easily released back into the air when the material dries out.

Remove porous materials such as ceiling tiles, carpeting and sheetrock (drywall) and dispose of them. They are nearly impossible to clean and will surely produce more spores when dry.

If mold is the result of flooding, remove all drywall to at least 12 inches above the high water mark. Visually inspect the interior of the walls to ensure that you removed all contaminated drywall.

Allow the area to dry for 2-3 days after cleaning and sanitizing with the bleach solution.

Use a stiff brush to remove mold from block walls or uneven surfaces.

Have family members or bystanders leave the area while cleaning or abatement is being done.

How Can I Keep Mold From Damaging My Home?

Remove water damage as soon as it is noticed.

  • Watch for signs of moisture, such as condensation on windows, cracking of walls, loosening of drywall tape, warped wood or musty odor.
  • Clean any moldy surfaces as soon as they are noticed.
  • Install bathroom fans that vent humidity to the outside.
  • Vent your clothes dryer to the outside.

FEDERAL HOUSING COMMISSIONER TAKES ACTION ON MOLD

Dr. John C. Weicher, the Federal Housing Commissioner has issued a radon gas and mold Notice (H 2004-08) requiring that a release agreement (HUD-9548-E) be included in all sales contracts for HUD-acquired single family properties. The agreement notifies purchasers of the potential health problems caused by exposure to radon and some molds.

LEAD

Lead dust is especially dangerous to children and also to women who are, or wish to become, pregnant. Most houses built before 1978 contain some lead-based paint. Lead-based paint is not dangerous if it is properly cared for. However, when lead-based paint deteriorates, chalks or is disturbed during remodeling, repainting or routine maintenance, it creates an invisible, tasteless and odorless toxic lead dust.

Most cases of lead poisoning are caused by exposure to this dust. Even such seemingly harmless acts as opening or closing a window, or rubbing a door jamb, are enough to create and release significant levels of poisonous lead dust.

Lead dust settles on floors and other surfaces where children play. It gets on their hands and toys, and ends up in their mouths. Slowly and without noticeable symptoms, they are poisoned.

Many homeowners unknowingly contaminate their homes when they remodel or repaint rooms that contain lead-based paint. Even though homeowners may be careful to remove paint chips, they don’t realize that as they sand and scrape, lead dust is being created. That lead dust is easily spread throughout the home on their shoes, clothing and on air currents.

Pets are also highly susceptible to lead poisoning from lead contaminated dust. They pick it up on their fur and paws, and then ingest it while grooming themselves. Because of their relatively small body size, it doesn’t take much lead to poison a dog or cat.

What Are Some Sources of Lead Exposure?

Urban soil and dust (deposits from paint, gasoline and industrial sources)

Soil can become contaminated when exterior lead-based paint flakes, chalks or peels and gets into the soil. Homes near certain industries such as smelters or lead-acid (automotive) battery manufacturers may have lead in the soil due to close proximity to those operations. Use of leaded gasoline in America has left behind deposits of lead in much of the nation’s soil. Children often play in this soil, which is easily tracked into the home.

Drinking water (leached from lead pipes, solder, service lines and brass fixtures)

Lead contaminates drinking water primarily through corrosion of plumbing materials. As surprising as it sounds, some brand new faucets, new solder and new brass fittings can leach more lead than old ones. Although lead solder was outlawed for use in drinking water systems in 1986, it is still widely available for other uses and can be found in any hardware store. Studies of newer homes indicate that lead solder is being used, even though it has been outlawed.

Over time, minerals build up inside the piping system and act as an insulator between the water and lead containing components. Therefore, lead levels in water from older homes may be lower than lead levels in water from newer homes. Additionally, some treatments, such as “shocking” (super chlorination) will clean out the piping system. This cleaning removes the mineral deposits, causing the water to be exposed to leaded components once again.

Vinyl miniblinds (lead is used as a plastic strengthener)

For many years, an estimated 25 million vinyl miniblinds containing lead were imported into the United States each year. The plastic in the blinds deteriorates from exposure to sunlight and forms lead dust.

Therefore, even homes without lead-based paint can be sources of lead exposure. Lead is dangerous because it is so easily overlooked, and many people are unaware that these hazards exist.

What Are Some Risks of Lead Poisoning?

Lead poisoning can keep your children from realizing their full potential.

Children are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning. Once in the body, lead interferes with the body’s production of chemicals called neurotransmitters, that are necessary for proper brain functioning.

A child who has lead poisoning may not look or act sick. Early detection of lead hazards in your home is crucial to preventing lead exposure and poisoning. The ONLY way to detect lead is to test.

Even low levels of lead exposure, persisting throughout childhood, can slow normal development and be the root cause of the following problems:

Birth defects

Hyperactivity: Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)

Lowered IQ

Behavioral problems

Learning disabilities











Women exposed to lead who become pregnant can pass lead directly to the developing baby.

This exposure does not have to be recent. Pregnant women and women of childbearing age face the risk of passing lead to their unborn child, because lead is stored in the bones and tooth dentin for extended periods of time. Changes that occur in a woman’s body during pregnancy result in the stored lead being released back into the blood stream. That lead can then pass across the placenta to the developing baby.

Lead exposure in pregnant women can cause:

Miscarriage

Premature birth

Low birth weight









Under no circumstances should an expectant mother be involved in the repainting or renovation of a nursery (or any other room) if it is at all possible that lead paint is present. Scraping and sanding may cause elevated levels of lead dust, which put the mother and her unborn child at risk of lead exposure. A lead dust test should always be conducted at the completion of renovation.

RADON

Radon is a naturally occurring gas caused by the breakdown of uranium and radium-containing rock deposits in the earth’s crust. Chronic exposure to radon can cause or contribute to lung cancer.

Where Does Radon in My Water Come From

As water moves through the ground, radon gas can be carried in the water to your tap. When well water is agitated at warm temperatures in the home, radon is released into the air. When you shower, bathe or simply run the tap, the radon in the water is liberated into the air, forming radon gas that can be inhaled. According to the EPA, radon levels in ground water are highest in New England and the Appalachian uplands of the Mid-Atlantic and Southern states. Certain areas around the Rocky Mountains, California, Texas and the upper Midwest also have elevated levels of radon in the ground water. These areas are most likely to have elevated radon in water levels, but radon in water can occur anywhere in the U.S.

How Do I Test for Radon in My Water?

Testing for radon in your water is actually quite simple. Simply contact your lab and obtain a testing kit. They will supply you with information and everything you need to take a water sample for radon analysis. You will receive special containers that you fill with water samples and ship to your lab. In a few days, the lab will send you a report detailing the radon content of your water.

If I Have Radon in My Water, What Should I Do?

Simple aeration removes up to 99% of radon from water. Radon is rarely a problem in public systems because the water is aerated during water treatment. Unfortunately, this does not occur in water being drawn from a private well. Aeration treatment equipment aerates the water, and then vents the gas to the outside. This treatment option requires that the gas be vented above the roof line; otherwise the gas may enter the home.

Another option is granular activated carbon filtration. In this type of treatment, the water is filtered through carbon which absorbs the radon. This type of filter requires relatively large amounts of carbon and a long contact time to be efficient. The carbon from a radon filtration system may have to be handled specially for disposal since the potential build up of radioactivity can make it hazardous.

FEDERAL HOUSING COMMISSIONER TAKES ACTION ON RADON

Dr. John C. Weicher, the Federal Housing Commissioner has issued a radon gas and mold Notice (H 2004-08) requiring that a release agreement (HUD-9548-E) be included in all sales contracts for HUD-acquired single family properties. The agreement notifies purchasers of the potential health problems caused by exposure to radon and some molds.

ALLERGENS

What Are Biological Pollutants?

Biological pollutants are or were living organisms. They promote poor indoor air quality and may be a major cause of days lost from work or school, and of doctor and hospital visits. Some can even damage surfaces inside and outside of your house. Biological pollutants can travel through the air and are often invisible.

What Are Some Common Indoor Biological Pollutants?

Animal dander (minute scales from hair, feathers and skin)

Dust mite and cockroach parts

Fungi (molds)

Infectious agents (bacteria or viruses)

Pollen

Some of these substances are in every home. It is impossible to get rid of them all. Even a spotless home may permit the growth of biological pollutants. Two conditions are essential to support growth: nutrients and moisture. These conditions can be found in many locations, such as bathrooms, damp or flooded basements, wet appliances (such as humidifiers or air conditioners), and even some carpets and furniture.

Modern materials and construction techniques may reduce the amount of outside air brought into buildings which may result in high moisture levels inside. Using humidifiers, unvented heaters, and air conditioners in our homes has increased the chances of moisture forming on interior surfaces. This encourages the growth of certain biological pollutants.

The Scope of the Problem

Most information about sources and health effects of biological pollutants is based on studies of large office buildings and two surveys of homes in northern U.S. and Canada. These surveys show that 30% to 50% of all structures have damp conditions which may encourage the growth and buildup of biological pollutants. The percentage is likely to be higher in warm, moist climates.

Some diseases and illnesses have been linked with biological pollutants in the indoor environment, however, many of them have unrelated causes. Therefore, we do not know how many health problems are a direct result of poor indoor air.

Health Effects of Biological Pollutants

All of us are exposed to biological pollutants, however, the effects on our health depend upon the type and amount of biological pollution and the individual person. Some people do not experience one or more of the following reactions:

Allergic

Infectious

Toxic

Except for the spread of infections indoors, ALLERGIC REACTIONS may be the most common health problem with the indoor air quality in homes. They are often connected with animal dander (mostly from cats and dogs), with house dust mites (microscopic animals living in household dust), and with pollen. Allergic reactions can range from a simple flu-like symptom to mildly threatening, as in a severe asthma attack. Some common signs and symptoms are:

Watery eyes

Runny nose and sneezing

Nasal congestion

Itching

Coughing

Wheezing and difficulty breathing

Headache

Fatigue

Health experts are especially concerned about people with asthma. These people have very sensitive airways that can react to various irritants, making breathing difficult.

PHASE I ENVIRONMENTAL SITE
ASSESSMENTS

A Phase I Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) is conducted primarily for the protection of the purchaser of a residential, rental or community property from assuming an unknown environmental risk. Many financial institutions are requiring this assessment prior to loan approval.

What are Phase I Elements?

A Phase I Environmental Site Assessment determines, for a parcel of real estate, the “recognized environmental conditions.” That is, the presence or likely presence of any hazardous substances or petroleum products on a property under conditions that indicate an existing release, a past release, or a material threat of a release of the substance(s) into structures on the property, or into the ground, groundwater, or surface water of the property. It does this by accomplishing due diligence in:

  • Including walking over the entire site, ideally with the owner/manager/user present to answer questions.
  • A comprehensive photographic log.
  • Interviews with the owner/manager/user of all adjacent properties.
  • A thorough review of all “practically reviewable” records pertaining to the property and surrounding properties within ASTM guidelines.
  • A comprehensive written report.

Initial Components of an Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) Phase I

The first few steps in the process of an ESA are to evaluate the site that is to be investigated. After a review of the records and questionnaire supplied by the property owner, relevant records are to be collected on past and present activities regarding the site and neighboring sites that could be a contributing factor in an environmental concern.

Site Inspection

During a site inspection, the reviewer looks for site activities or uses which pose a high potential for environmental contamination. These “red flag” items include:

Storage tanks (underground and above ground)

Water wells (domestic, agricultural or industrial)

Waste water systems

Drums or chemical storage areas

Ponds or surface impoundments

Maintenance or shop areas

Sumps or storm drains

Stained soil or pavement

Transformers

Piles of waste or trash

Dead or dying vegetation

Unusual odors

If any of these “red flags” are observed, further evaluation may be needed to determine if a problem exists.

Interviews

In order to determine current and past site practices, interviews with persons familiar with the site are extremely valuable. Property owners, site managers, former employees, neighbors or local area officials can often provide useful information.

Historical Record Review

Review the use and improvements made to the site by conducting a title search, interviewing past and present owners, neighbors, and anyone else who may have knowledge of the history of the property such as building inspectors, health inspectors and assessors.

Review records, permits and licenses that give information on what has been built or installed on the property. This includes building, zoning, planning, sewer, water, fire, environmental and other department records that would have information on or have an interest in the property and neighboring properties.

Investigate the subject property and neighboring properties with regard to the EPA’s National Priority List or Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Information System (CERCLIS) List and similar state lists showing known locations of hazardous waste sites.

Analyze aerial photographs to determine the construction or destruction of buildings and the existence of ponds and disposal areas on the property over time.




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