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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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
School Professionals and Surviving the School Building Mold Science Project
With the return of students to school, many school districts are fighting environmental and Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) challenges, particularly mold problems. When we experience any school environmental issue such as mold, it can be front page headlines, TV, talk show fodder and Facebook news feed material.
Environmental issues in schools are not “just another student health issue”. These problems are a public relations nightmare, a staff human relations mine field, a facility management challenge, a budget buster, a political fiasco and a liability time bomb.
It’s not just mold. The environmental issues that can confront a school district and its administration include:
Lead in drinking water
Insects or insect treatment chemicals
Toxins (bus and car fumes as one example) brought in through HVAC “fresh air” systems
The sources for the exposures vary widely and unpredictably. Many of the problems started with compliance mandates that did not anticipate the environmental consequence. As an example, energy saving equipment and designs can create indoor air quality potential issues. Even asbestos started with well-intended fire protection mandates. The most common sources of environmental problems in schools include:
HVAC design mistakes
Moisture and leak problems
Original material selection
Material and equipment defects
Mixtures of events and construction conditions
Budget constraints limiting prudent maintenance
Problems created during renovations
Mold exposures are a timely example of how this whole environmental freight train gets rolling. The reason we find many mold problems when students return to school at the end of summer makes sense when looking at the most common sources of mold contaminations:
Even the very best school environmental plan is only a meaningless series of words until there is action and accountability. For action to happen there needs to be someone in charge with the authority to make things happen.
The EPA Tools for Schools program can provide a good background for “in house” management if that is the best method for the school district’s circumstances. Hiring an outside consultant is another approach which does have its benefits. It can allow for outside review and add credibility to the image that a school is taking prudent measures to protect the health of students and employees. Outside consultants have the advantage of not being subjected to pressure from school district staff.
To Do List for everyday facility environmental planning:
Establish a written system in place
Hire or assign a “person in charge”
Share the program and outline procedures for all staff
Create a communication system process for problem identification
Communicate needs such budgetary requirements to address potential problems
Correct the underlying causes that allowed contaminations to occur
Try to hide environmental problems
Paint over or disguise real issues
Withhold information such as bad lab testing results
To Do List for Environmental Events such as floods or discovered environmental risks such as mold, asbestos, contagions, pests:
Bring in qualified professionals immediately
Assign a spokesperson to handle media and public inquiries
Take action to limit personal exposures
Take all possible action to mitigate the damage to people or property
Communicate with staff and students about any health risks
Communicate with the solicitor for the school
Damage good will by hiding the situation from the public
Allow exposures to occur when a risk is first suspected
Risk personal safety by having issues cleaned before they are defined ‘
Selecting the right staff member or outside professional is the key to success of every system put into action. The best plan in the wrong hands can be worse than no plan at all. The advantage of engaging a staff employee may be constant on-site monitoring and in some instances cost savings. The potential advantages of an outside firm are access to specialists and an “on call” presence not influenced by the staff at the facilities.
Potential considerations in hiring an indoor air quality (IAQ) coordinator or team.
Training and credentials in the field
Experience and relationships in the related industries
Ability to evaluate conditions, write a plan and make and implement recommendations
Skill in testing for potential exposures or independent relationships in the field
A policy of not releasing suspected condition information unless the designated contact
An ability to deal with the media when authorized as the contact.
Building and executing a plan to maintain and healthy environment is school buildings is a win-win for all parties. From the asthmatic student who is avoiding chronic events, to the staff and tax payers, all can benefit from doing the best possible indoor air quality.
The issue of needing
healthy classrooms concerns most of us. They are essential for quality
comprehension and education as well the welfare of your youth.
One of many examples
is lead poisoning. The ingestion of lead from peeling paint affects the soft
tissue of a child. It can permanently affect the IQ of a child and cause
behavioral problems that affect them the rest of their life. Ingestion can be
secondary from hidden causes. It could be dust from the paint in the closet
where classroom books are stored over the summer. Lead dust can come from peeling paint scrapings
when a cafeteria is painted or on china plates used to serve lunches. The
source can be imported plastic toys in a kindergarten. There are a host of
other potential issues including pesticide residues, radon, fumes from idling
buses, mold, CO or CO2.
We know that there are classrooms and school buildings
that are making our children sick. Parents and teachers often do not know where
to start to identify or correct the situation.
That is nothing new.
We tend to think that today’s problem is a new problem, and often it isn’t. The
quote below “says it all” in that regard.
“In the construction of buildings, whether for public
purposes or as dwellings, care should be taken to provide good ventilation and
plenty of sunlight….schoolrooms are often faulty in this respect. Neglect of proper ventilation is responsible
for much of the drowsiness and dullness that….make the teacher’s work toilsome
-Health Reformer, 1871
The EPA states that there are so many sources of indoor air pollution in childcare facilities that the air is considered to be two to five times more polluted than outdoor air.
We want to select daycare facilities that are aware of these risks and have an active program to reduce the chance of your child being hurt by exposures. Look for a daycare that: