With autumn in full swing, take advantage of the crisp days and sunshine to prepare your home for winter. Whether you do it yourself or hire a professional, complete these tasks and you won’t spend a fortune on home repairs this winter.
Clean your gutters.
It’s a hassle, but you should clean your gutters before the temperature drops to help prevent ice dams, which form when melted snow pools and refreezes at roof edges and eaves. This ridge of ice then prevents water caused by melting snow from draining from the roof. Since it has nowhere to go, the water can leak into your home and damage walls, ceilings, and insulation. Water damage will soon be followed by mold. No matter what the season, gutters filled with heavy leaves can pull away from your house and cause leaks that damage your home and lead to mold growth. Also be sure your downspouts are angled away from your home to prevent leaks in the basement.
Check your roof for leaks.
You certainly don’t want to start your winter with a leaky roof. Check your ceilings for water spots, mold, or stains. If you spot them, before you call in a roofer, have a mold inspector test your home for mold. That way you’ll know exactly what needs to be replaced so the mold doesn’t come back. You may have small stains or dark spots now, but once the heavy snow sets in, the problem could get much worse, and you could wind up with a full blown mold infestation. You should also check your attic for moisture, as mold can easily grow there if it is not properly ventilated.
Clean your HVAC units, fireplace, furnace, and wood-burning stove.
Indoor air quality suffers in the winter because your home is closed up most of the time. Toxic fumes, including carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), can be emitted from fireplace and wood burning stove smoke and may back up into the house, which can cause serious health issues. Mold and dust can also build up in HVAC units over the summer months, then spread throughout your home when the heat is turned on. To make sure your indoor air quality is at an acceptable level, schedule a test from an environmental inspector like RTK Environmental Group. They will test for VOCs, mold, particulate matter, and other chemicals. For additional tips on indoor air quality, visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s Web site.
As Schools Reopen, Keep an Eye on Poor Indoor Air Quality: It’s Not Just About Coronavirus; Pollutants Are Also in the Mix
As we move toward the reopening of schools during a quieter phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, health concerns are top-of-mind. While the public is focusing on social distancing and masks, there should be one other item on the check list: indoor air quality. Because the air students, teachers, and staff breathe will play a critical role in their health going forward.
Besides coronavirus droplets, the vapors and particles given off by VOCs or volatile organic compounds, can negatively affect ones’ health, leading to compromised immunity, allergies, and other health problems. VOCs are emitted from various products used or found indoors such as arts and crafts products, disinfectants, pesticides, flooring, furniture, disinfectants and cleaners, and aerosol sprays.
VOCs can irritate eyes, throat and nasal cavities and cause breathing difficulties, and, if you or a loved one is exposed to these vapors over a long period of time, damage to the central nervous system and even cancer can occur. Symptoms can include headaches, fatigue, dizziness, and nausea.
While VOCs contribute to poor indoor quality, so does mold. Over the last several years, mold has proliferated in dozens of schools in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, even causing delayed openings for some last year. So, while school systems and daycare centers are working to comply with the new coronavirus regulations, they also need to pay more attention to their overall air quality. Happily, some are and are opting for upgraded filtration and air purifying systems. Others have a way to go.
We’ve created this guide to explain what you need to know about two major indoor air pollutants – mold and VOCs – and alert you to the symptoms and signs of both that may appear in schools and other buildings.
Your Guide to Preventing Indoor Air Pollution in Schools
VOCs in Schools
Unfortunately, VOCs are commonly found in school buildings and are given off by many man-made materials including: arts and crafts, carpeting, furniture, printers and copiers, adhesives, cleaning and disinfecting chemicals, aerosol sprays, and paint. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found concentrations of VOCs in indoor air to be as much as five times greater than those found in outdoor air. Indoor levels of VOCs may reach 1,000 times that of the outside air during certain activities. New buildings or newly renovated schools are especially prone to VOCs because all of the new materials are off-gassing simultaneously. Therefore, because children spend between 35-40 hours per week for 9-10 months of the year in schools, potentially they are being exposed to harmful chemicals.
Common symptoms of VOC exposure include:
Fatigue and listlessness
Mold in Schools – Where is It Found?
Classrooms, hallways, offices, and building corridors often harbor mold spores and dust mites, as do the building’s ventilation systems. If your child has allergies, you should find out how often the school cleans its HVAC vents, and if it uses high-efficiency air filters to remove mold, pollen, and other particles from the air. This may help to alleviate some of a child’s mold allergy symptoms. Libraries, art rooms, and gym locker rooms are typical areas for mold to grow in because they harbor moisture.
Mold and Children
All mold, toxic or not, is a health hazard. While toxic mold is the most harmful to a child’s health, all mildew and mold can cause health issues—especially for those who suffer from allergies. The younger a child is, the less developed his or her lungs and other organs are so the child is more vulnerable to contaminants, putting the child at special risk, whether at school or home.
Is It a Cold, Mold Allergy, COVID or Something Else?
How do you know if your child has a cold, the flu, seasonal allergies, COVID, or a mold allergy as many of the symptoms are the same? If a fever is present, this pretty much rules out allergies. But the fever might be caused by the flu, a virus, a cold or something else.
Signs and symptoms of a mold allergy:
Runny or stuffy nose
Itchy eyes, nose and throat
Cough and postnasal drip
Symptoms of toxic mold exposure:
Sensitivity to light
Joint pain and stiffness
Poor memory or difficulty finding words
A tingling or numbing sensation on skin
Multiple chemical sensitivity, which causes varying symptoms due to low-level exposures to commonly used chemicals
If you child is fine in the morning, but returns from school with any of these symptoms but the symptoms quickly subside, there is a good chance that there’s an irritant at the school. If the pattern continues over time – child fine in the morning, returns home with symptoms that eventually subside, suggest to your school that they test their indoor air quality. However, if symptoms persist and do not subside, or if a fever develops, contact your physician.
Mold and Asthma
If your child is allergic to mold and also has asthma, his or her asthma symptoms may be triggered by exposure to mold spores. The symptoms can sometimes be severe. Your child may experience acute coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. To reduce asthma attacks caused by mold, ask your school to test for mold and air quality to see if the school’s indoor environment is the cause. Also, speak with your doctor about managing your child’s condition.
The Importance of Indoor Air Quality Testing
Testing a school’s indoor air quality should be on everyone’s list. If the result is poor indoor air quality, there are several remedies, including upgrading the building’s HVAC and ventilation systems. Low emission paint, better flooring, and using different cleaning products also are a great start to lowering VOCs in schools. Carnegie Mellon University reviewed five studies evaluating the impact of improved indoor air quality on asthma, and found an average reduction of 38.5% in asthma in buildings with improved air quality.
What Else Can You Do?
Ask other parents or members of the PTA/PTO if they have noticed any signs of mold or VOCs at the school or symptoms of these toxins in their children. Ask if they are aware of any unusual, strong, or musty odors in the school. Also, determine if there has been any recent construction or renovation work done in the school. If the answers are in the affirmative, and if children are experiencing health issues, request that mold and indoor air quality testing be done. If mold or VOCs are discovered, there are remediation protocols that should be followed. Those include post-remediation clearance testing to ensure the remediation was done properly and there is no longer a health hazard present.
If you have questions about mold or VOCs in schools, please feel free to call us at 800.392.6468. We’ll be happy to answer your questions.
Longer days and extra daylight make summer an ideal time to tackle home improvement projects. Don’t allow the lazy, hazy days of summer blind you to the potential environmental hazards that turn up during do-it-yourself renovations. Whether you are painting the house, updating a kitchen, or redecorating the kids’ rooms while they are away at camp, take heed.
Here’s our “Watch Out” list with renovation tips:
1. Watch Out for Lead When Sanding or Disrupting Painted Surfaces
If you live in a home built prior to 1978, paint containing lead can be anywhere. Before starting any renovation project – big or small – test for lead paint. It can be extremely dangerous. Even a speck of dust from lead paint can cause lead poisoning, which leads to neurological issues, brain damage, and other serious, irreversible health consequences.
Whether you are remodeling your kitchen, sanding and staining the deck, or doing something as small as hanging pictures on a wall that contains lead paint, proper EPA Lead Safe work practices, outlined in the Renovation, Repair, and Painting Program (RRP), should be followed. Although following RRP work practices is not required for DIYers, it is the best way to safeguard your health and the health of those around you. For more information on Lead Safe work practices for DIYers, click here.
2. Watch Out That You Don’t Release Asbestos Fibers Into the Air
Before any renovation or demolition, you need to know if you are about to disturb any materials containing asbestos. Even though it is a naturally occurring mineral fiber, asbestos is banned in certain forms because of its toxicity. Once used for everything from insulation and decoration to fireproofing, asbestos now is restricted to certain products, but is still used.
Therefore, you can be exposed to asbestos fibers through demolition of walls and ceilings, tile, flooring materials, roof shingles, pipes, and many other items throughout your home. Inhalation of asbestos fibers can cause serious and fatal illnesses, including malignant lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis. Experts state that even a few hours’ exposure to the toxic fibers can be enough to trigger illness from 15–40 years down the road.
Be smart – have an asbestos survey performed prior to your renovation project. An asbestos survey will determine if there are any materials containing this toxic substance that you are about to disturb. Something as simple as installing a ceiling fan, removing a boiler, or updating your bathroom could have serious implications.
3. Watch Out for Mold
When conquering DIY projects, be mindful of mold hidden under sinks, behind walls, or anywhere that has cellulose material, warmth, and moisture. Mold can cause health problems.
Robert Weitz, a certified microbial investigator and founder of RTK Environmental Group, knows how prevalent mold can be. “Too often, we are called in to test for mold after a DIY project has gone wrong, or after someone tried to remediate mold on their own,” he says. “One of the most common mistakes homeowners make is ripping out wallboard, ceilings, and other building materials that are wet without mold testing or proper containment,” says Weitz, who saw this mistake repeatedly after Hurricane Sandy. “When extreme situations occur, like a hurricane, basement flooding, or a roof leak, people panic and start ripping things out with the intention of making the problem go away faster,” Weitz explains. “In doing this, they spread the mold spores throughout the home and ventilation system. Next thing they know, they have a full-blown mold infestation.”
So what should you do? First, if you know there has been water damage or a leak in the area, have it tested for mold. If mold is found, you can choose to have it professionally removed by a remediation company, or you can do-it-yourself following strict EPA mold remediation guidelines. DIY mold removal requires specialized equipment, air filtration, negative air pressure, protective personal wear, and more. Angie’s List shares information on the possible hazards of DIY mold removal.
For more information on environmental testing and tips to keep you healthy and safe, contact us.
Storm Cleanup: After a Storm, Don’t let Mold or Toxins Take up Residence in Your Home
As massive cleanup efforts and power restoration continue throughout the region after a lightning-fast-moving storm, homeowners should be aware of the potential that flooding and water damage are causing.
Storms can bring on drenching rains, flooding (both indoors and outdoors), and high winds causing leaks and other issues that contribute to mold growth and poor indoor air quality. Problem is, we often don’t realize the extent of the damage until days or weeks after the storm, and a musty order usually signals the problem. That’s when you know that mold growth has really kicked in. The problem with mold is that it can cause structural damage, poor indoor air quality, and health issues.
Look for these signs of mold after a storm.
If you see mold, then you clearly have a mold issue. If you see water stains, you probably have a mold issue as well. The question then becomes how big is the problem? Because mold is often hidden, growing on the back sides of walls and sheetrock, and under carpets and floorboards, the only way to be sure is to have a mold inspection performed by a certified professional.
Mold Creates a Musty Odor
But what about the mold you cannot see? Musty odors usually point to mold, and mold causes poor indoor air quality. RTK can test to see where the odor is coming from so that you can remediate with confidence, and don’t miss any hidden sources or spots. Summer months are particularly prone to mold growth as high humidity and heat accelerate the proliferation of this fungus.
Health Symptoms from Mold and Poor IAQ
If you are having physical symptoms such as itchy eyes, cough or wheezing that occur in one location of the premises that clear up when you are elsewhere, it’s a sure bet that the location is harboring mold. If you have any of the following unexplained symptoms, they may be caused by MOLD EXPOSURE and poor indoor air quality. In that case, you should have a mold and indoor air quality test.
Runny or stuffy nose
Itchy eyes, nose and throat
Cough and postnasal drip
Structural Damage Can Cause Mold
If a storm caused a leak from your foundation walls or your roof into your basement, mold is sure to follow. A mold colony can grow within 24 – 48 hours. So, it’s important to test for mold because when the next storm hits, the structural issue that allowed water intrusion will likely occur again if it is not repaired. Mold can eat away at wood structure, floorboards, and sheetrock, leaving them susceptible to decay.
Avoid Mold Removal Scams
Never hire a company that does both mold testing and mold remediation. Why? It is a clear conflict of interest. Often, unscrupulous companies will embellish a mold problem or offer testing on the cheap in hopes of making money on the remediation to follow. But at RTK, we only test for mold and do not remediate, so there is no conflict of interest. Once we have tested your premises, we provide you with a blueprint for mold removal, and you can hire the remediation company of your choice.
If you had flooding or a water intrusion from a storm and think you may have mold, call and schedule a test today at 800.392.6468.
Climbing into your car during the heat of summer is not always the most pleasant experience. Besides the heat, there’s that stale air and an odor that’s pretty off-putting. There’s a reason for that: it’s called VOCs or volatile organic compounds that are often contained in the car’s materials and structure.
What are VOCs?
VOCs are toxic vapors that are off-gassed from man-made materials. VOCs cause poor indoor air quality, commonly referred to as “indoor air pollution.” That “new car smell” is actually a combination of chemicals emitted from plastics, leather, and other parts that make up the interior of your vehicle. During the summer months, these chemicals are heated to extreme temperatures, and when confined in such a small space, make them more dangerous than usual when inhaled.
VOCs and Your Health
VOCs can cause a host of health issues. The most common are headaches, dizziness, and fatigue. Other symptoms of VOC exposure are nausea, nervousness, and difficulty concentrating. Long-term exposure to VOCs can be far more serious, though, as they can cause cancer, and damage to the kidneys, central nervous system, and liver.
Steps to Minimize Vehicle VOCs
The good news is that there are some steps you can take to minimize your exposure to the VOCs that are contained in your car. If you can open the car’s windows remotely, do so. If not, open the door, reach into your car, turn it on, open the windows, and wait a minute before you get in so that the air has time to circulate. When parking your car, you may want to consider keeping the windows cracked while you are away as well.
VOCs in the Environment
VOCs also can be a problem in your home or workplace. If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms with no known cause, there may be poor indoor air quality.
RTK can test for many VOCs, including formaldehyde and benzene, which are very common. We can help you determine whether the cause of your illness is your environment, and help you to feel better so that you can live well.
Winner of 2020 RTK Scholarship Announced, Aditi Madhusudan
Congratulations to Aditi Madhusudan of Alpharetta, Georgia, who is the recipient of the RTK Scholars Award for 2020. Madhusudan was chosen from an impressive pool of applicants with remarkable accomplishments in various science-related fields. She will receive $1,500, which will be applied to her studies at University of Georgia, where she is majoring in biology and economics, and intends to pursue a degree in medicine.
“Students like Aditi who have such passion, understanding, and dedication to finding the underlying causes of health issues are the next generation of doctors and scientists,” said Robert Weitz, Principal and Founder of RTK, a leading environmental testing company, which initiated the RTK Scholars Program in 2015. “Her ambitions are extraordinary, and her understanding of the complex role toxins play in our environment as they relate to our health is impressive,” he adds. “RTK is committed to supporting and furthering students’ scientific education, and our scholarship program helps them succeed.”
In her essay, Madhusudan explained why she was attracted to the subject.
“As a future doctor, I want to bring awareness to illness caused by environmental triggers and encourage people to get their households tested for mold, air quality, and/or allergens depending on their symptoms. Through advocacy in the medical community, I hope to work towards overcoming these health issues associated with environmental triggers and change the culture of medicine to view patients more holistically in the context of their day-to-day environments,” she said. She emphasized that she is aiming to make the world a healthier place through knowledge and education.
The RTK Scholars Program has awarded over $10,000 in recent years. Past winners include Joseph Vecchio of Keyport, New Jersey; Katie Galletta of Goffstown, New Hampshire; Renwick Wilson of Greenwich, Connecticut; Kolby Galloway of Easley, South Carolina; Elliott Davis of North Potomac, Maryland; Nicholas Bulthuis of Chicago, Illinois; and Dylan McCloskey of Liberty, Missouri.
According to GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com, approximately 43% of employees work remotely with some frequency. And with the current Coronavirus situation, these numbers are temporarily much higher. While there may be benefits to working in your pajamas, you may unknowingly be subjecting yourself to some health hazards.
For starters, the only exercise you might be getting is walking from your desk to your fridge. (Take a walk outside instead!) And you may be missing the daily cleaning service you once enjoyed at the corporate office. (A University of Arizona study found that the average office desk has about 400 times more bacteria than a toilet seat!) If your office is located in your home or basement, environmental toxins such as mold, asbestos, radon, and poor indoor air quality also are a concern. The truth is, home offices can be, well, downright unhealthy, and could be making you sick.
Not to worry. RTK Environmental has five tips to help you keep your home office from becoming a mini-microbial metropolis:
1. Check for mold
This is a biggie! If you find you are wheezing, sneezing, or coughing every time you work in your basement office, there may be unseen mold growing, a problem not uncommon in spaces that are partially or fully underground or have poor humidity control, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Use dehumidifiers, increase ventilation, use fans, and insulate cold pipes. If your basement has ever been flooded, replace carpets as they might contain mold or mildew. Mold feeds on moisture, so keep your office dry.
2. Test your indoor air quality
Here’s another hazard that you can’t see, and often can’t smell: poor indoor air quality. Even worse, if there’s radon in your home, you may be at risk of developing lung cancer. According to the Harvard Business Review, not only is poor air quality dangerous, but can make you less productive. Office equipment, furniture, cleaning products, drapes, and other everyday items can be creating a caustic and unhealthy environment. A professional indoor air quality test can identify mold, formaldehyde, PCBs, and many other toxic elements.
3. Be aware of asbestos-containing materials
Be aware of asbestos-containing materials in your home, such as insulation, floor materials, ceiling tiles, wallboards and pipes. Any damaged or decomposed materials which contain asbestos, can pose health problems.
4. Disinfect your desk
Are you eating at your desk? Multi-tasking might be making you more productive, but if you aren’t disinfecting your desk as you would your kitchen counter or other surface for eating, you could be creating a health hazard. Germs that make us sick can live on these surfaces – some for more than 48 hours! Eating at your desk gives germs an easy ride into your body on your food and hands, increasing your chances of getting sick. And if you think that critters, from rodents to bugs, are not enjoying the crumbs and leftover food reside on your desk, you can think again.
5. Clean and maintain HVAC systems
Dust that accumulates in hard to clean or neglected areas can cause chronic coughs and scratchy throats, itchy eyes, and even headaches. Take time regularly to clean computers, mice, phones, plugs, window blinds, baseboards, window wells, and other hard-to-reach areas. Maintain HVAC systems and change filters regularly to avoid dust build-up.
To be absolutely sure your home office is free of environmental toxins, call in a professional services company to test. RTK Environmental Group provides a full complement of environmental testing for mold, lead, asbestos, radon and indoor air quality. Because RTK does not provide remediation services, you can rest assured that the test results will be accurate and unbiased, as there is no conflict of interest.
RTK uses state-of-the-art equipment, and offers expertise and education to its clients. Experienced, knowledgeable investigators identify environmental hazards and identify solutions for cleanup and remediation. Follow-up testing can also be done after remediation, to ensure the toxins were addressed.
To schedule an inspection with RTK Environmental Group or for more information, call us at 800.392.6468.
Living in New York City can be a wonderful thing. It can also be a nightmare. Leaving the soaring apartment rents for a moment, think about what you are breathing in and living with. You may be the cleanest person on this side of the Hudson, but your surroundings, and sometimes neighbors, can negatively impact your environment.
Whether you live in new construction, a landmarked brownstone, or a quaint pre-war walkup, ‘community living’ can easily compromise your health. This can include poor indoor air quality and mold growth where you can’t see it, as well as lead dust and asbestos particles in the air from neighboring repair work and renovation. The fact is your apartment may be harboring toxins.
Here are some of the top things to watch for, coming from someone who lived in a 100- year old building in Greenwich Village for over 15 years.
1. Mold from Leaks and Flooding – The Upstairs Neighbor Nightmare
I had a neighbor who would fall asleep in her bathtub, leaving the water running. I kid you not. On more than one occasion, water escaped into the hall. It also found its way into the walls and floors. Once, when we were away, we returned home to find a ceiling that had completely collapsed, bringing down the electrical wiring. Everything was covered with mold. The flood traveled through my apartment on the third floor, down to the first floor. Within a day, our building had a mold problem. Just like that!
Lesson learned: Whether caused by a burst pipe or small leak, mold from water damage can quickly affect an entire building. When that happens, mold testing is a must, then remediation, and then another test for mold to ensure the problem was properly removed and eradicated.
2. Lead and Asbestos from Improper Renovation Work – The Downstairs Neighbor Nightmare
My downstairs neighbor decided to renovate his apartment. He was kind enough to let us know that there would be noise from sanding, hammering, and demolition. What we were not counting on was the amount of debris that entered our apartment through the chimney and the incredible amount of dust that covered our apartment and almost three floors of the building. The dust also spread through the ventilation system and through open windows. On top of that, all the vibration from sanding and hammering caused some of the paint in our apartment to chip and peel.
To make matters worse, the construction on the first floor meant that everyone entering the building walked through the dust, and tracked it into the hallways and their apartments. We later discovered that that the debris contained lead and asbestos particles. I was pregnant at the time; my son wound up suffering from lead poisoning and now has permanent health issues.
3. Indoor Air Quality – The Next Door Neighbor Nightmare
When you live in NYC, you know that sometimes you will be exposed to bad odors that waft through the halls and walls. But when the person in the apartment next to you smokes, and then burns incense and candles to mask the smell, it can be downright unhealthy for the rest of us. Here’s why: everyday objects, like candles, air fresheners, deodorizers, and more contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) s that are toxins that cause poor indoor air quality, not to mention the chemicals contained in cigarette smoke.
The bottom line is this – if you live in New York City or any other urban area, have the air quality in your apartment tested to make sure you are living in a safe environment. You may need to test more than once, since nearby construction and tenant activity can cause changes in your living space – whether you are aware of them or not. Living in the city can be an amazing experience – as long as you protect yourself. Stay healthy, and live well!