Sewage backups are very common in commercial and residential buildings. This usually happens when a blockage of waste becomes lodged or pipes deteriorate, causing sewage to backflow up from drains, cleanouts, showers, and toilets. This is known as blackwater. When a blackwater intrusion occurs, it can end up causing serious problems – from damage to your property to severe health concerns.
It’s not just the odor that’s off-putting, but the risk to your health. Bacteria from feces, urine, and other bodily fluids contained in blackwater can contaminate entire areas. And that can be a real challenge.
If you’ve been exposed to sewage through contaminated wastewater, you may experience any of these symptoms.
What Causes Blackwater Intrusions?
Common causes include:
Septic tank leakage
Leaking sewer pipes
Categories of Wastewater
There are three categories of wastewater, of which blackwater is the most contaminated.
Category I Clean Water: Clean water generally does not contain any contaminants. It refers to wastewater that has come from toilet tanks, appliance feed lines that have broken down, other broken water lines, water from melting snow, and rainwater. This water is initially free from anything that could contaminate it, but it can that can change quite easily once exposed to various elements.
Category II Gray Water: Gray water is usually discharged from appliances like dishwashers, washing machines, sinks, hot tubs, and showers. This can pose a potential risk to health as it can have chemical or biological contamination. The longer it is left untreated or stagnant, the worse it becomes. Gray water can turn into the most serious category in as little as two days.
Category III Blackwater: Blackwater is wastewater that comes from broken sewer pipes, septic tanks, or leaking and broken bathroom appliances and toilets. It can also occur in floodwater. Blackwater will almost always be a contaminant risk, as it contains feces, urine, and bacteria.
How Do I Know If There’s a Blackwater Intrusion?
Quite simply: it’s the odor, which is most potent near a bathroom. You may also see standing water near a sink, shower, toilet, cleanout, or in your basement. That’s another telltale sign.
What Should I Do If I Have a Sewage Backup and Blackwater Intrusion?
The first step in sorting out a blackwater problem is having the area tested for bacteria and contaminants by an independent testing company – one that does not also do sewage cleanup and remediation, as this would be a clear conflict of interest. RTK can help you sort out your sewage problems quickly, effectively, and with minimum hassle.
Once RTK has tested the area for bacteria, we will provide you with a blueprint for remediation. Then you can hire a professional to do the cleanup and sewage treatment. By having a blueprint, you can save thousands in unnecessary repairs, as you will only remove and remediate areas that are in need of it.
If you need bacteria testing for a water intrusion, call RTK Environmental at 800. 392.6468.
It’s mold weather. Hmm? Yes, mold weather. The combination of heat, high humidity, and thunderstorms will invite mold to rear its ugly head. It may seem innocent, but it can cause major damage to your health and home. Here’s why you need to pay attention to mold:
Mold causes health problems.
All mold—whether it is toxic or not — causes health issues, including allergic reactions, sneezing, runny, itchy eyes, red nose, and skin rashes. Mold can also cause asthma attacks and can irritate the eyes, skin, nose, throat, and lungs.
Mold damages homes.
Mold can destroy the things it grows on – including your home’s walls, floors, carpeting, and furnishings. Often times, mold grows behind drywall, under carpets, and under floorboards. This is dangerous because by the time you find out it’s there; you usually have a major problem. In extreme cases, mold can grow to the extent that the home cannot be remediated, and needs to be knocked down. The key is to control moisture in your home and eliminate mold growth before it takes over.
TIP: Keep your humidifier set at 50% or below during humid summer months.
Don’t wait – take immediate steps to prevent mold, especially after heavy rain.
The most important thing you can do is to control moisture levels in your home. If water enters your home, take immediate steps to get rid of it. Remove anything that gets wet. Use vacuums and fans to rid surfaces of any residual moisture.
TIP: Take action within 24 hours, as mold can invade your home in less than a day.
Another preventative measure is managing the water runoff from your house. If the water pouring off your roof has nowhere to drain, it can and will find its way into your home. Keep your gutters and downspouts debris-free. Also, make sure that your downspouts are adequately angled away from the house. Otherwise, water will collect at the edge of the house and leak into the foundation and basement.
Make sure the company you hire to test does not also do remediation. An independent, certified testing-only service has no incentive to magnify the problem and increase profits through remediation services. They won’t bait you with “free testing”, and have nothing to gain financially by inventing problems in your home or business, therefore can potentially save you thousands on unnecessary repairs. Click here for more information.
The Environmental Protection Agency offers a free download, Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture and Your Home. Check it out HERE.
So, you’re heading to the beach as summer season begins. The thought is delicious! But don’t be surprised if you’re greeted by a musty odor after you walk into what you had hoped would be your home away from home. Mildew! Mold! Whether you are at the Jersey Shore or the Hamptons, there’s an excellent chance that the home you’re renting or own has been flooded during a hurricane, been exposed to excess moisture and humidity, or has had a leak. Now, your nose is getting a strong whiff of the result. So what can you do?
“The first thing to do is open the windows and get air to circulate,” advises Robert Weitz, Certified Microbial Investigator and principal of RTK Environmental Group. Weitz says this is a common problem, as many vacation homes sit empty and closed up over the winter months, collecting moisture, especially since air conditioning or heat has been turned off for the season. “Mold is not picky – it only needs moisture and a food source, such as wood, ceiling tiles, carpet or sheet rock, to begin growing. The house next door may be fine, and yours may be a serious health hazard.” The important thing is to have your home tested right away so the problem can be fixed, your health is not compromised, and your summer is not ruined.
Whether you hire a mold inspector or put up with it will probably depend on whether you are the owner or renter, how long you will be there, and whether you or your vacationers have allergy or breathing issues.
Short-Term Solutions to Summer House Mold:
– Keep the windows open as much as possible if the weather is dry;
– Use a dehumidifier to reduce moisture;
– Change the filter in the air conditioner before you turn it on;
– Wipe off any visible mold on walls, floors and tiles with a bleach/water mixture;
– Ask that the inspector pinpoint if the mold is toxic or not;
– Have the mold properly remediated.
Remember, if you own the house or plan to be there for an extended stay, mold could affect your health, causing wheezing, asthma, and allergy symptoms. The home should be tested by a certified microbial investigator, who can then advise you as to the next steps depending on the outcome of the mold testing. In New York, it is illegal for the same company to test and remediate on the same job. Whatever the case, mold can become a big issue quickly, so don’t ignore it!
First Time Homebuyers: What You Need to Know About Environmental Toxins
The coronavirus pandemic has urbanites fleeing the city in droves and moving into their first house. Many are snatching them up at a quick glance, not realizing that the house comes with more than just additional space and fresh air. Environmental hazards like mold, asbestos, lead and radon may be lurking in your new home, and without a proper environmental inspection, you may not know until health symptoms develop.
Homes, anywhere and at any time, can harbor mold, asbestos, lead, or radon, and contain poor indoor air quality, polluted water, or volatile organic compounds (VOCs), any one of which can threaten one’s health. That is why investing in environmental testing services prior to purchase or once you’ve made the investment is a good idea.
5 Environmental Hazards to Watch Out For:
Mold can be visible or hidden behind walls, ceilings, or floors, under carpets, and even in HVAC systems. Mold can cause serious health issues including trouble breathing, allergies, headaches and dizziness. Mold can also be present and affecting your health even if no symptoms present themselves – everyone if affected differently. Testing for mold can pinpoint the source of the problem so that proper steps can be taken to remediate the issue.
Lead is found in most homes built prior to 1978, the year lead paint was banned for residential use. Lead dust is the most common cause of lead poisoning, as lead dust can spread throughout a home and even into the soil surrounding your home. Unfortunately, most of the time you cannot see lead in dust or soil, so unless you test for it, you may not even know that this hazard is present. Lead poisoning can cause serious host of issues including neurological and cognitive deficits, autism-like symptoms, mood swings, and violent behavior.
Asbestos is commonly found in older homes in pipe insulation, tile, and attic or wall insulation, among dozens of other places. Breathing in asbestos fibers can cause serious health implications. At the least, asbestos is a breathing irritant. At worst, asbestos can cause mesothelioma, a serious cancerous condition that can lead to debilitating health problems and usually death.
Radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas, is extremely hazardous to your health. It’s the second leading cause of lung cancer in the US. It is an odorless, tasteless and invisible gas produced when uranium naturally decays in soil and water. Since 90 percent of the land in the Northeast is likely to have elevated radon levels, every home should be tested for radon.
Poor Indoor Air Quality
Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, and mold make up almost 90% of indoor air quality issues. VOCs are toxic fumes that are off gassed from many building and everyday materials including new flooring or carpeting, paint, cleaners and detergents. Poor indoor air quality can cause headaches, nausea, allergies, difficulty breathing, and rashes, just to name a few.
A Traditional Home Inspection Isn’t Enough
Home inspections are obviously necessary for the sale or purchase of a home. But what many buyers are realizing is that these inspections usually do not take into consideration mold infestation, lead, asbestos, and water quality. Most home inspectors lack the knowledge and certifications necessary to test for potentially toxic substances.
What Is an Environmental Home Inspection?
Mold testing, lead inspection, asbestos testing, water testing, and indoor air quality testing may all be performed during an environmental inspection. Environmental home inspections can vary depending on the age and condition of the home. Such inspections should be scheduled with a certified, independent testing company – even before your sign a contract. It’s important that the company you hire doesn’t perform both testing and remediation, as that is a conflict of interest.
Not all environmental hazards are obvious, and they can cause serious health issues. To detect them requires expertise, licensure, technology, and experience. If you would like more information on what types of environmental inspections may be right for you, please feel free to call us at 800.392.6468. Live well!
This is the time of year many of us DIYers are eager to get moving on home improvements. But before you start sanding and swinging that hammer, there are a few important things to think about:
What type of surfaces and materials will you be disturbing? Is there chipping paint? Crumbling pipe insulation? Smell of mildew?
If any or all of the above, you’ll need to take some precautions. Why? You may be subjecting yourself and your family to possible health risks, caused by the very particles you’ve disturbed. So, renovate the right way. Here’s how:
Tip #1: Know the composition of the materials you disturb before you even begin – have your home tested!
Mold that you cannot see may be lurking behind your walls. Pipe insulation may contain asbestos fibers. Layers of old paint beneath more recent paint may contain lead. When you disturb these materials, dust and spores from these toxic materials may be released in the air. Then, they may travel through your home’s HVAC system. Once that happens, you’ve contaminated your indoor environment. So, BEFORE you start the project, have a certified microbial inspector do some tests. If you wait until after you’ve disturbed these materials and discover that you have released toxins in the process, the clean up can be very expensive. Worst of all, you may have subjected yourself and your family to real health hazards.
If a test confirms environmental hazards, take appropriate steps to keep yourself and your family safe. Follow these precautions:
– Evacuate vulnerable family members. While you are working, be sure children, pregnant women, and pets leave the premises for the day. They can return to the house after the work has stopped and the area is thoroughly cleaned. Even a speck of lead dust can cause irreversible damage to one’s health.
– Contain the offending area. Close doors leading to the work area. Then use 4-6 mil plastic sheeting and painter’s tape to seal off the work area. Seal all duct work, doors leading out, and windows with the sheeting. Your goal is to prevent toxins from contaminating the rest of the house.
– Dress for the occasion. Look for a mask or respirator with an N95 rating or higher, which filters out very fine particles. And be sure you wear it for the entire time you are working and cleaning. Also, buy a Tyvek suit to protect your clothes. If the work takes more than a day, leave the Tyvek suit in the contained area. Be sure to cover your feet with booties, which also should never leave the contained area. Once you remove the Tyvek suit and the booties, head to your washing machine, strip, and wash your clothes.
– Avoid sanding. Lead dust accounts for most of the 500,000 pediatric lead-poisoning cases a year. Sanding releases fine lead dust particles, which fly through your air, infiltrating the entire house. Unfortunately, these particles remain in the home for a long time. Therefore, sand as little as possible.
– Clean up well. First, sweep up as much of the dust and debris as you can and put it into a plastic bag, which you then should seal with painter’s tape. Use a HEPA vacuum to remove any remaining lead dust particles. Then use warm water and clean rags to wash all surfaces. Every exposed surface must be cleaned well.
Tip #3: Protect your family from unnecessary health risks.
When the work is done, be sure to have a second environmental inspection performed by a certified testing company to be sure your home has been properly cleaned from lead, asbestos, mold, and other toxins. Otherwise, the health affects can be devastating.
Lead poisoning is shown to cause autism-like symptoms, ADHD, brain damage, lower IQ, and a host of other physical and mental issues. Mold causes asthma, allergies, and other serious respiratory ailments. Asbestos is a carcinogen that can cause lung cancer, mesothelioma, asbestosis and other serious respiratory ailments. Most asbestos-related diseases don’t arise until years after exposure.
Make sure your home is safe for you and your family. Test today.
A home garden is a unique and hands-on way to connect with your food. But it’s not just which vegetables and herbs you’re planting, it’s what you’re planting it in that counts, too. The fact is that contaminants lurk in your soil, and can greatly affect what you eat, and ultimately your health. Soil can be polluted by harmful contaminants such as lead, asbestos, pesticides, herbicides, and heavy metals; so it’s important to test your soil before you even start your garden.
Lead is the most common pollutant, especially if your home (or surroundings) were constructed prior to 1978. Before that date, paint contained lead. So, every time the old paint is disturbed (whether renovating or sanding to repaint), lead dust is released. And that dust winds up in the soil and the air you breathe. Lead is highly toxic and can cause severe health problems, including damage to the brain and nervous system. Pregnant women and children are especially susceptible to lead poisoning.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring fiber that was commonly used in construction before the 1980s. Again, if those fibers are disturbed and released into the air, you can be affected. Exposure to asbestos has been linked to severely increasing your chances of developing mesothelioma and other cancers.
There are other poisons that can be found in soil – the very solvents, pesticides, and herbicides that are available to the general public and can cause damage to plants, can also affect the soil surrounding your home, and can contaminate water runoff. Pesticides and herbicides can cause neurological poisoning and affect memory, coordination, and response times—especially in children.
Polluted water runoff poses a risk to soil conditions, local water sources, and residential wells. Polluted runoff can result in a variety of health problems and waterborne infectious diseases, especially when water remains stagnant.
So, plant those gardens, but be aware of the noxious elements that can spoil your soil! And remember to have your soil tested by a non-biased environmental company, like RTK Environmental Group, prior to starting any landscaping or gardening projects.
Basements can be a paradise of space. We can put home gyms, TV or game rooms, and laundry facilities there, and use it for storage. All great ideas. Except…you’ve got to be sure it’s safe. What you might not realize is that poor indoor air quality can turn your basement into a health hazard. Air quality is affected by the presence of mold, radon, and other toxins. Symptoms can include:
Eye, throat, or nose irritation
Itchy, dry skin
General feelings of malaise
If you get any of these symptoms, especially while in or after spending some time in your basement, you may have a serious indoor air quality problem.
“Basements are often damp, and moisture and mold go hand-in-hand,” says Robert Weitz, a certified microbial investigator and founder of RTK Environmental. “Mold and poor indoor air quality have been known to trigger allergies that cause coughs and headaches, as well as irritations to the nose, skin, and eyes. If you are working out in an environment that is full of dust and mold allergens, it can be particularly difficult to breathe.”
If you have not had an indoor air quality test, you should. It can tell you if the air you are breathing is negatively affecting your health. “More and more, our daily lives revolve around being healthy – eating well, physical activity, regular wellness checkups, organic food, non-toxic products, and more,” points out Weitz. “What we don’t realize is that it’s all for nothing if the air we are breathing in is filling our bodies with toxins.”
Here are the most common things to watch out for:
Mold is the leading cause of poor indoor air quality in basements and can have dire effects on your health. In fact, in about 80% of “sick building syndrome” cases, where poor air quality spreads, mold infestations (black mold and other types) are the main cause of illness.
Mold thrives in damp environments and spreads easily.
2. Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs
We may cringe when we have to breathe recycled air on an airplane, yet the indoor air quality in our basements may not be too much better or even worse! According to the Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air may be up to 100 times more polluted than outdoor air. Because the air in your basement tends to be stagnant, it can breed unhealthy conditions. Poor air circulation and inadequate ventilation may force us to breathe in toxins and chemicals, including lead dust, exhaust, radon, formaldehyde, asbestos, and VOCs from adhesives, upholstery, appliances, carpeting, manufactured wood products, machines, pesticides, cleaning agents and even personal care products.
3. Gym Equipment
When was the last time you washed your basement elliptical (with soap) or really dusted your treadmill? If you say, ‘I can’t remember,” then listen up. Basements are generally dirtier than the rest of our house because they are dusted and vacuumed less frequently. Therefore, dust mites and vermin droppings can build up in neglected areas, like crawl spaces and behind the clothes dryer, and on fans used to keep you cool on exercise equipment. Chances are you’re breathing in lint, mites, dust, and other particles, and it’s not good for your health.
With rugs serving as a haven for dirt, bacteria, and mold spores, you’ll probably never look at carpeting the same way again. Every time you walk across that carpet, you may be releasing mold spores and unhealthy microorganisms into the air. Doing so may cause asthma, allergies, and a host of other ailments. So, you may want to move your yoga mat upstairs before your downward dog brings you within inches of a health problem.
5. The Washing Machine
Ever open the washing machine and get a whiff of an awful stale scent? That’s mold and mildew. Washing machines are prone to harboring mold, especially front loaders. Failure to clean your washer rigorously can result in the growth of fungi and bacteria that can cause lung inflammation. Cleaning the washing machine frequently will help prevent odors as well. Be sure to leave the door open in between washes to allow air to circulate and dry out the machine.
6. Your Family
Watch out for crumbs! Whether Dad’s eating a sandwich while watching the game or the kids are snacking on chips and soda while playing video games, if they’re not keeping the area clean, they may be attracting pests, like rodents and insects. Cockroaches have been linked to respiratory problems, and according to the EPA, certain proteins in cockroach droppings and saliva can cause allergic reactions and trigger asthma symptoms.
Your self-built shelves that hold your treasures, like Grandma’s china and your kid’s artwork from nursery school, keep clutter out of your main living area. But if those shelves have been relegated to the basement, they could be creating a problem. Moisture tends to collect in boxes, making it easy for mold to grow. Dust also can accumulate on stored items. Things like pesticides, old paint cans, and cleaning products, when stored inside, can cause harmful indoor air by emitting toxic VOCs. Shelve it elsewhere!
It is not uncommon for radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas, to be found in basements. It is an odorless, tasteless and invisible gas produced when uranium naturally decays in soil and water, and it is hazardous to your health. Because 90 percent of the land in the Northeast is likely to have elevated radon levels, every home should be tested for radon, an important part of indoor air quality tests.
How Do I Know if My Basement is Safe?
If you are experiencing any of the health symptoms we’ve listed after you’ve been in the basement for a while, or if you just want to be sure you are not harboring toxic material, have your indoor air quality tested. A thorough environmental health inspection will let you know if you have mold or VOCs, which are responsible for up to 90% of all IAQ issues, and how to alleviate the source of the problem. An independent testing company, like RTK Environmental, will conduct indoor air quality testing to determine if harmful toxins are present in your environment. You may also want to see your physician to rule out any other possible medical conditions. Be sure to tell them if the symptoms occur when you are in your basement.
If you would like to schedule an indoor air quality inspection or have questions, call us today at (800) 392-6468.
In recent years, testing revealed that 70% of wells in Stamford, CT were contaminated with uranium and arsenic. Wells from Boston to Washington, DC have tested positive for a variety of harmful contaminants. You may mistakenly believe that because your drinking water comes from a well, it’s pure and safer than water from reservoirs. But well water can contain a host of contaminants, including coliform bacteria, uranium, lead, arsenic, E. coli, nitrates, VOCs (volatile organic compounds) radon, pesticides, and MtBE (a gasoline compound), which can cause a wide variety of health problems, including skin problems; damage to the brain, kidneys, and neurological system; gastro-intestinal illness; hair loss; and immune deficiencies.
The only way to know if your water is harming your family is to have it tested by an independent testing service like RTK Environmental. If you are interested in learning more or setting up a test, call us at (800) 392-6468 or learn more about water testing here.
We’re all looking for simple ways to be healthier, especially in light of the COVID pandemic. Good health starts with a clean home environment. If we breath air that is unhealthy, our bodies eventually let us know. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to potential issues like mold, mildew, and other causes of poor indoor air quality.
Robert Weitz, founder of RTK Environmental Group, warns that if you see mildew on any surfaces, mold is often not far away. “Mildew is a form of mold, so if you detect a musty odor or see mildew, there is likely a bigger problem that needs to be addressed.” Mold and mildew are common causes of poor indoor air quality. Testing for mold is the first step in restoring the health of your home.
Mr. Weitz offers many tips to improve your indoor air quality. Poor indoor air quality can cause health issues, including headaches, nausea, dizziness, and fatigue.
Here are some of his top suggestions:
Be aware of common indoor pollutants. Around 80% of indoor air quality issues are caused by mold or volatile organic compounds, or VOCs.
Keep a tidy house. Be sure to remove household dust, as it contains all types of particulate matter – from dead insects to skin cells. Gross!
Add a certified HEPA vacuum to your cleaning arsenal to prevent smaller particles from being reintroduced into your environment.
Install a whole home air purification system. They can be put directly into your HVAC equipment and can filter out harmful particles.
Buy cleaning products that contain both disinfectant and surfactant to disinfect while removing contaminating particles from surfaces. Low-VOC cleaning products are recommended.
Be proactive against water damage events. If you have a leak or flood, act fast as mold can start to grow within 24 hours. Also, keep an eye on humidity levels in your home; they should remain below 50%.
Change the filters on your HVAC system at least every six months and clean all ductwork.
If you have water damage, test for mold, and then have remediation performed based on the results. When remediation is completed, you should conduct clearance testing to ensure the mold was properly removed.
Allow new furniture and carpeting to off-gas and release VOCs and other toxins before moving it into your home. This can be done outdoors or in a dry garage.
Be aware of your home’s indoor air quality, and always get an independent company to test when any suspicious odors, spots, or stains are present. Remember, when in doubt, check it out!