Environmental Issue & Sick Building Syndrome Blog

 

Click Here for a .PDF copy of this article News Years Resolution for Your Home.pdf 

            We look to the New Year for a fresh start and better times. Why not include our homes in that time of renewal ?

            What catches us off guard is that things often wear out a little at a time. The extension cords rubs a little, moves a little and three years later has bare exposed wires that can start a fire. That process happens with every part of our home.          

Make your Home a Safer Place

            Everyone knows to install and regularly check the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. It is important enough that it needs said again.

            Walk through your home and check for water leaks and mold. These can sneak up on any homeowner. That tiny leak can cause a big mold problem over time. The earlier leaks are found , the less damage they cause and  the easier they are to correct.  

            Have the radon checked in your home.  Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer and South Western PA  area has over a 50% failure rate.


           
Check your clothes dryer vent for blockage. Blocked vents can also cause the dryer heater component to overheat and fail. At best a lint blockage in the dryer vent can cost you a couple of hundred dollars in appliance repairs. On the hand, dryer vent pipe blockage is a leading cause of fires and carbon monoxide in the home.

            We live in a world of chemicals. Some to clean, some to make things smell, some to make things work better and others  to make our homes look pretty. Many of the chemicals can make some of us very ill.  

            Check the bottles and cans in cleaning closets for leakage. Remove chemicals such as pesticides, paint thinner and gasoline from inside of your home and garage. Storage in an exterior yard shed is a safe alternative.           

            Have your furnace cleaned and serviced each year. Hire a furnace company that also checks for carbon monoxide and natural gas leaks.  

            If you have and use a fireplace, have the chimney cleaned and checked each year before use. Check every heating appliance for safety, especially the portable heaters.   

            Consider having  a home inspection. We usually only consider these when purchasing a home, but having a home checked for safety by a professional can be a good thing while you are still living there. It also could be a great gift for a senior or other family member not able to keep up with their home maintenance. 

            There are over 200 million appliances that have been recalled.  Check for recalls to avoid fires or save major appliance repair or replacement. You can check www.CPSC.gov  or use a fee based data base entry service  to list and automatically recheck your appliances each month such as:  http://www.appliancerecallcheck.com/           

Prepare a Plan for Disaster

            A natural disaster or serious world event could leave us unable to pick up our cell phone and find our families.  Massive power or communication failures are no longer only a possibility in science fiction. These failures have become a possible means of terrorism.   

            It takes moments to plan locations for a family to meet if communication systems fail. There should be a local place and one outside of the area. It could be a landmark or the home of a relative. It takes moments to discuss and decide where to meet if things go terribly awry.     

            Create an Emergency Kit.  Food, fuel and light are critical for survival. Take a moment and consider all of the items that will not work without power and create an alternate plan. The best resource for creating emergency kits is www.Ready.gov.  They have many sample lists designed for a wide range of needs such as families, seniors, businesses and many other groups.  

            Without electricity, the Automatic Teller Machine will not spit out money into your hand no matter how much money is in your account or how many times you ask. Keep some cash on hand in a safe place.  

            Take a pictures or a video  of your home's furnishings and its contents.  It is a reality  that disasters can occur in any home, even yours. It could be a fire, flood or major theft, but each of these disasters require documentation of the home and its contents for insurance recovery.        

            Once you have the pictures or video of your home, store a copy of that information "off site." You can upload them to a cloud service or simply hand a digital copy to a close friend or relative. The object here is to avoid is losing your backup pictures in the disaster they were taken for recovery.     

Improve Your Home's Environment

            These suggestions will make you feel better in your home. It is your castle and should be the very best it can be. Ironically, your castle should be a lot more comfortable than a real castle.     

            Take  a couple of weekends and pick from the list of chores that can make your home healthier and more pleasant.

  • Streamline and de-clutter
  • Install "daylight" type light bulbs
  • Give away unused "stuff"
  • Clean the rubber gasket at the door of front loading clothes washers
  • Replace appliance filters
  • Run a dehumidifier in damp areas
  • Ventilate bathrooms, kitchens, attics and basements
  • Identify and remove things with bad odors

            As a final suggestion, walk through and look at what is inside of  your home. We are talking about your pictures, furnishings, clothes or even paint colors.  If what you see conjures up bad memories or feelings:  get rid of it ! If you notice something that is hidden away that makes you feel good, get it out where you can see it. Now!  That can be a wonderful New Years gift to yourself.  

Posted by Dan Howard on December 30th, 2018 9:11 PM

http://m.petmd.com/dog/slideshows/mold-poisoning-pets-causes-symptoms-and-treatment 

Mold and its potential effect on your pets is an important subject to our staff and many of the people we work with. Our dog, Buddy has Asthma, and a mold free environment is VERY important for him. 

Just as mold can affect the health of people, pets can have health problems caused by mold exposure.

If you think about it, most of our pets spend more time in the home than we do, giving them a higher level of exposure. No wonder they can get sick before we do! 

It’s a shame we cannot send them out to do the shopping, visit our relatives, attend events and in general make appearances in our behalf when we would rather be staying home….but…then we would have the higher exposure to any potential contaminants in the home.  

                This is a great slideshow from PetMD.com.  Rest assured we understand that the health of your pests is important, and as pet owners take the healthy home goal seriously for you and your family, including the 4 legged members of the household

In this picture, Left to Right  Noah the Assassin (You can  ask  how he earned his name) and Buddy Howard  (as sweet a dog as ever lived)

Noah wanted it mentioned that we care about mold for him too. He is 17 years old and though he has not had Asthma like Buddy has, his health is important to us too!

Posted in:pet health home and tagged: HomepetToxic
Posted by Dan Howard on September 30th, 2017 11:58 AM

 

If we took a poll, probably a vast majority of people would recognize asbestos as a hazard. We know that it gets ripped out of schools and other public buildings. We recognize that people die from asbestos and that there are big class action lawsuits about the mineral.

There is a lot more we should know about this hazard previously thought of as a miracle product.

The use of asbestos dates back to the Greeks and Romans who used it to make cloth. It is a natural mineral, which varies by name and color depending upon where it is mined. There are 6 different minerals all lumped into the category of asbestos.  

Asbestos is resistant to heat and most chemicals. The tough fibers were used as reinforcement and for heat resistance in many products for industry, homes and commercial buildings. It is a sneaky carcinogen because it was easy to add the mineral to a host of products that can disguise its presence to the naked eye. The reason for its widespread use is that it saved lives from fire hazards and improved the characteristics of many products.

Asbestos is Real Personal for Millions of Workers

You might scratch your head on how this happened. There was evidence of the medical risks of asbestos as early as 1920, but workers were not told of the dangers until the mid 1970’s.

Millions of workers including my father have died of asbestos related cancer. As a young man, I was exposed to asbestos in everything from joint compound to insulation and ceiling tiles while working in the family construction company.

With that said, my work as an asbestos testing professional is highly personal. Asbestos exposure still occurs today in many products and when it is removed by unsuspecting workers. Asbestos is still heavily mined in Russia and does find its way into products being manufactured today.

Asbestos in the News and on TV

Within the last two months, asbestos made the news when the WTDV reporters found that samples of a highlighter makeup called “Just Shine Shimmer Powder” that is sold in Justice stores contained asbestos. By the way, this product targeted for young people also contained a handful of toxic heavy metals.

Another example of possible asbestos that appears regularly on HGTV is popcorn or stipple ceiling finish material. Up until 1999, some manufacturers were adding asbestos to that material. Aspiring homeowners love to remove texture from ceilings which in turn contaminates a building with asbestos fibers.       

Posted in:asbestos and tagged: HomeInspectionAsbestos
Posted by Dan Howard on August 26th, 2017 10:40 AM

In older homes, asbestos can be found in a many areas of the home, from roof tiles and decorative ceilings to wall insulation and vinyl floors. Below is a list of some of the most common asbestos containing materials.

      • Vinyl Floor Tiles
      • Asbestos Cement Sheets & Garage Roof Panels
      • Textured Decorative Coatings (eg. Artex)
      • Roof Tiles
      • Storage Heaters
      • Airing Cupboard Walls
      • Cement Fireplace Surrounds
      • Fuse Boxes
      • Gutters and Drainage Pipes
      • Pipe Lagging
      • Central Heating Flues
      • Cement Water Tanks
      • Rope Seals and Gaskets
      • Roofing Felt
      • Asbestos Insulating Board (AIB) Ceiling Tiles
      • AIB Bath Panels
      • Sprayed Insulation Coating
Posted by Dan Howard on August 24th, 2017 7:53 AM

Craft Supplies and Dark Colored Plastics and Toys  
Even the products labeled “nontoxic” can contain solvents that are dangerous when inhaled.  Many glues, paints, markers and other craft supplies contain solvents that can be dangerous particularly to children.  Many imported products such as jewelry kits, makeup, plastic parts that can be chewed and paints contain lead which can do serious damage to children’s health.  When the author purchased a “Thomas the Tank” wooden train set (an expensive gift) the wooden pieces that my grandson was likely to put in his mouth at that age tested positive for lead. Dust from an artificial Christmas tree is another example of high lead content when tested by this professional.

Common Household Chemicals
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are chemicals released by many common products that you use in your home. Cleaners containing Pinene as the cleaner would be one example. Cleaning chemicals that contain ammonia or chlorine can also be a problem.   These can cause headaches, nausea, sore throats or runny eyes. Babies are often most at risk as these chemicals are usually more concentrated near the ground.

Formaldehyde and Furniture, Cabinets and Other Construction Products
Cabinets, furnishings, flooring products, construction components, draperies and many other examples can contain formaldehyde. This is one of the simplest organic chemicals and off gasses as the solvent used in production and as a byproduct of more complex chemicals breaking down. It is an irritant that children are especially a risk from serious health problems due to exposure.   

New Carpet
We all know about “new carpet smell”. Padding and adhesives can give off harmful gasses. One solution is the purchase of low VOC carpet and padding. Another solution is to have the carpet rolled out in another well-ventilated location for several weeks before installation. Install the carpet at a time of year that windows can be kept open to air out the carpet and pad.

Paint, Paint Thinners and Strippers
Use only low VOC paints and paint at time that windows can be left open.  Do not store solvents in the home, These can off-gas from sealed cans.

Yard Chemicals and Gas Cans
Pesticides, fertilizers, gasoline and other yard chemicals can off gas through the containers. Even when stored in a basement or attached garage those fumes can be pulled into the living space of the home,          

Second Hand and Third Hand Smoke
Second hand smoke refers to the exposure to smoke by the non-smoker in the home. Third hand is exposure to the many toxic chemicals from smoking that are absorbed by carpets, furniture, clothing and other objects that children and other people can absorb as they come in contact with these materials. As with so many exposures, children are most at risk from this hazard 

Improperly Installed or Operating Gas Appliances
Let me count the ways for exposure to from problem gas appliances.  Stoves emit combustion gases. Misuse or dirty burners can be toxic. Poorly or improperly vented clothes dryers and hot water tanks can create a toxic environment.  Improper heating systems can result in combustion fumes throughout a building.

Air Fresheners
In one study, one third of people with Asthma reported that they had breathing problems when exposed to air fresheners. Google the MSDS list of chemicals in some of these common products and you will be amazed at home many chemicals are found in each.    

Posted in:Healthy Home and tagged: HomeChemicals
Posted by Dan Howard on April 17th, 2017 8:43 PM

                The scientists use the phrase “mold is ubiquitous”, meaning it is everywhere.  Mold occurs naturally everywhere on earth where there is food and water for it.  As an example, some molds are Mother Nature’s recycling plant. There are molds that grow on the dead trees in the woods and turns them into topsoil so that new trees and plants can grow. Mold has many uses essential to the grand plan of the universe.

                Some types of mold can be very beneficial. Without mold we would not have cheese, antibiotics, wine and many other important products of everyday life. On the other hand we have some potentially toxic molds such as Stacybotrys also known as "toxic black mold"

                Mold travels through a number of methods. It can be carried by moving air or water. Mold can hitch a ride on an object, person or animal. Furniture, firewood or clothing can each carry mold from one location to another.

                If a spore lands on an object that is food for that mold and there is sufficient water for it to grow, it will create Colony Forming Units (CFUs).  These CFUs are the fuzzy splotches that you recognize as typical of mold growth.

                In our homes, if mold spores find a suitable food source such as drywall paper, wood or dirt, they will grow. This is no different than when Johnny Appleseed (whose real name was John Chapman) traveled through Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana with apple seeds. He dropped apple seeds in the soil and left a legacy of apple trees.    

                The lesson learned from how mold starts to grow is that the underlying conditions of high moisture and a mold food source need changed after treatment for mold is complete.  If the old conditions continue, new spores will land and the mold problem will return. 

                The use of enzyme treatment systems such as Oceanic is an effective way to eliminate mold with a treatment system that is safe and healthy for building occupants. Enzymes differ from most mold treatments by digesting the mold rendering it inert. This differs from the bulk of treatment products that poison the mold and can harm pets and family members if exposed. 

                Moisture control can be achieved by dehumidification, correction of leaks or changes in the heating systems and vapor barriers. There are times that building materials can be changed to materials less favorable to mold growth. Changing how contents are stored can be the difference that keeps a healthy home free from mold. 

                Understanding mold is building science. Solutions to mold problems require professionals that understand the science behind mold problems. Your  Envirospect professional is trained and dedicated to making your home, business, school or office a healthy environment. Envirospect is a Testall approved company                

Posted by Dan Howard on September 14th, 2016 10:47 PM

                HGTV stages homes to sell to get the best price in the least time. So should you.  Even if you need to move out of the home quickly, get listing pictures with the furnishings in the home.

                My suggestion is to use a bugler alarm system. Empty homes are a commonly broken into by thieves and vandals to steal pipes and appliances. SimpliSafe has an alarm system that can be moved when the sale is over and offers a month to month monitoring service. 

                  There is a subliminal psychological component to most home sales. Rid of the home of odor and clutter. A smelly home can cost you $10,000 or more in sales price. A dirty or cluttered home can do the same.  By the way, removing clutter does not mean removing tasteful personal stuff. Buyers need to picture themselves in the home. You can provide emotional props such as family pictures as reminders of a happy life in that home.

                Remove pets and distractions at showings. A barking dog does not leave potential buyers with a positive experience in the home. 

               Time the sale for the season that best shows your home. For instance, if you have a steep driveway avoid winter. If you live five miles from a ski resort, embrace winter.

                No matter how you slice it, the Real Estate process is difficult, and as we started this discussion, “not entertainment”. Preparation and research takes time and effort, but can reduce the chance of problems. You will probably find yourself wishing for a time machine that can jump you through the waiting times. That’s not happening.         

Posted by Dan Howard on September 2nd, 2016 9:48 PM

 

Giving heavy duty electrical extension cords and checking that they are plugged into outlets designed to carry the load can save lives. Too many people fall victim to the logic that the cord that did not burn the last time they used it, will be safe the next time. That’s just not how that works.  Go to a quality hardware store and purchase cords that are rated at 14-2 for 15 amp circuits or 12-2 for 20 amp circuits.

            If there is a fireplace or wood burner in use, have the chimney checked. The high temperatures of burning wood and then cooling off damages chimney. Wood leaves a flammable creosote coating that can ignite that creosote and start a house fire. The cost of cleaning and checking a chimney is typically between $150.00 and $200.00. That is a wonderful gift for a family you care about. Check with the National Chimney Sweep Guild ( http://www.ncsg.org/) to find a qualified technician.

            The issues of home health and safety can become more complicated than the examples above. Just as parents, family and friends can help with the other important issues above, a significant portion of Sick Building Syndrome work is arranged by caring family members rather than the residents of the sick or moldy building.

            Picture the family with asthmatic children, or the senior that has pneumonia four times in a year. These and hundreds of other health issues are often the result of environmental problems that need corrected.  Caring relatives or friends can arrange for the needed assessment and testing.

The big problem with this issue is finding qualified professionals working with accurate laboratories. A recent development is helping bring dependable environmental testing across the country. Testall.com is a source to find the right person serving where your family member lives.  

                      The Christmas season is the time of year we give the very best. Taking the time to notice what someone you love really needs is about as good as the joy of gift giving gets. I can clean my own windshield and lights, but do miss my dad being there and sneaking out to do it, just because he cared
Posted by Dan Howard on November 28th, 2015 7:54 PM

Christmas is a wondrous and joyous time of year. It’s a time of giving, caring and sharing. That time of beauty is also a time of fires, carbon monoxide poisonings, falls and other tragedies in homes.

            These stories are sad any time of year, but particularly during the time that is supposed to be a celebration of joy. Many times a few timely gifts like smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, proper extension cords or a service call for a furnace could make the difference between life and death, or inconvenience and homelessness. 

            Sometimes it’s a senior, sometimes a financially struggling family, other times it is a person with health challenges. It is those people who have the toughest time recognizing what they need to do or buy to keep themselves and their homes safe.  What better gift to give than one that could save the life of someone you love?

            Writing this article reminds me about what my dad did during winter weather. When all of the kids came over for dinner on Sundays, he would disappear for about 15 minutes. He would sneak outside with rags and a bucket of windshield washer liquid. He cleaned all of our windshields and headlights. He quietly came back in when he was done. We usually didn’t even know a thing about it until we went to our cars. Never, ever did we ever talk about it. The message was simple, and we all knew that he loved us. That is exactly the kind of gift I am suggesting here.   

 

            Giving new smoke detectors, or even changing the batteries in existing smoke detectors is easy to do and inexpensive. Even 15 seconds of warning about a fire can be the difference in survival. If the “change the battery” idea sounds strange to you, imagine the senior that can’t climb a ladder or the young family that used all of their batteries for their children’s toys. Getting up to a smoke detector to change the battery could be as far as the moon for a senior that had a broken hip.     

 

            Carbon monoxide detectors are as important as smoke detectors. Purchase carbon monoxide detectors that have both a digital readout and a loud alarm. The “sound only” CO detectors have a delay that allows levels in some models as high

400 PPM (parts per million) without making a peep. The threshold level that is considered unsafe is 10 PPM. The digital readout allows earlier warnings and is well worth the difference in cost. Make sure the detectors are installed near gas appliances or warm air furnace vents and where the residents can see the reading. 

            There will be many tragic news stories over the holidays that have their start with a furnace that was defective or not working at all.  People freezing or ill from a malfunctioning furnace is one set of problems. Carbon monoxide poisoning or fires can be another outcome.

               Having a furnace serviced and the needed repairs completed for someone in need can be a very loving gift. A service call where the furnace operation and vent system are checked and adjusted usually costs between $75 and $150.  It is a great idea to make sure that the gas lines or oil lines and tanks are checked at the same time. 

             Taking the time to help someone apply of LIHEAP fuel assistance could be a gift of an hour’s time that make winter bearable for someone in need. This can be done online at http://www.dhs.pa.gov

            There are a number of things to check in a home when someone is using supplemental heaters to try to stay warm. Check the heaters themselves for evidence of wear, fraying or burning.  If there is any damage to the heater, it needs replaced.

            Check the area where the heater is located. Make sure there is a safe distance to combustible materials and surfaces. Oil filled heaters are generally safer than those with exposed elements.

Posted by Dan Howard on November 26th, 2015 9:30 AM

 

Risks for Mold in Your Home

  • Roof leaks
  • Plumbing leaks
  • Leaking basement
  • Finished basements
  • Exposed soil in basements or crawl spaces
  • Energy Star rated homes
  • Interior french drains
  • High humidity homes
  • Oversized air conditioners
  • Basements full of contents that can grow mold
  • Under ventilated attics

 

More Contaminates than Mold can Affect Home Health

            All of the at high risk patient groups mentioned above can be affected by indoor contaminants. These include formaldehyde, chemicals used in hobbies, pesticides, previous drug activity, lead, radon and asbestos.

 

Keeping A Home Healthy When You Have "at Risk" Patients

  • Test a home before bringing an immunosuppressed person into a home
  • Test new homes before purchasing
  • Immediately address any type of water leak
  • Dry out any water leak as soon as possible
  • Monitor humidity in the home
  • Properly ventilate attics
  • Have HVAC equipment properly sized and installed
  • Add air to air exchangers in tight homes
  • Upgrade to sealed interior french drain systems
  • Provide weep holes for brick buildings
  • Keep roof and surface water away for the home

 

            The amazing fact is that most organ transplant patients, and other immunosuppressed patients do not have their homes checked for mold and other contaminants that could be deadly. It is time for that to change.   

Posted by Dan Howard on September 22nd, 2015 1:35 PM

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