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

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. 

                  In a 30-minute time span, environmental hysteria can overtake an entire community. A mold story can “whip up” a sentiment long before it is possible to research and understand what may (or may not) be happening in a school environment.


It’s not just mold.  The environmental issues that can confront a school district and its administration include:

                Asthma Triggers


                Lead in drinking water

                Lead dust



                Communicable diseases



                Insects or insect treatment chemicals

                Carbon monoxide

                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:

  • Roof, wall foundation or other leaks from the exterior
  • Plumbing leaks
  • Malfunctioning or poorly designed HVAC Systems
  • Condensation issues relating to building envelope dew points
                               Just as we teach our students that the term paper is not going to magically appear the morning it is due, school districts need to have a plan and take action on the plan before the problem becomes the news of the day. Even financially stressed schools can make environmental improvements that are low cost and meaningful.  Many of these may actually save money in the long run.                     If you are like most people facing a new challenge, your first question is “where does this begin?” A great start is the EPA “Tools for Schools” program. It is recognized as an excellent program to put systems in place to avoid environmental issues and respond when they occur. This can be found at: https://www.epa.gov/iaq-schools/indoor-air-quality-tools-schools-action-kit  This kit establishes procedures and involves the entire facility team in ownership of a good environment. From administrator, to teacher to nurse and custodian, everyone needs to do their part for the best outcome possible.

                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

Do not

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      


Do not

                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. 


Posted by Dan Howard on April 3rd, 2018 9:43 AM

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 and ineffective.”

-Health Reformer, 1871

Posted in:Schools and tagged: MoldLeadhealthyschool
Posted by Dan Howard on May 8th, 2017 10:52 AM

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: 

  • Implements a regular testing and green treatment program for mold and allergens. Look for a regular service providers notice of treatment


  • Has an infection control program that includes all of the best practices including washing, dis-infection, avoidance of risky sharing of items that have not been cleaned, supply of tissues and proper control of diaper changing and bathroom activities


  • Has a cleaning service that utilizes green products as opposed to harsh chemicals


  • Has paints, finishes and materials in good condition without peeling paint or wear


  • Provides toys and other materials manufactured in the US and free of the lead as often found in imported colored plastic and paint finishes


  • Has the mechanical systems regularly serviced and tested and has smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.


  • Has been tested for radon and asbestos and remediated if necessary


  • Had safe and non-toxic chemicals used If pest control is necessary for the facility
Posted by Dan Howard on December 12th, 2016 10:07 PM



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