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Health Healthy Home

Essential Oils: Nature’s Surprising Air Cleanser

Essential Oils: Nature’s Surprising Air Cleanser

Essential Oil

You may have heard about essential oils, but do you really know what they are, or how they can cleanse your home and your body? Lisa Zawrotny, a Wellness Advocate, known as the Ultimate Oil Mom, gave us some excellent insight on the therapeutic benefits of using essential oils for fighting off seasonal discomfort and indoor air quality issues.

What is an Essential Oil?

“It’s the essence of a plant. It is found in the seeds, bark, stems, roots, flowers, and other parts of plants, like the zest from a citrus fruit – it’s a fragrant oil, not greasy,” says Zawrotny. She explains the aroma gives plants their distinctive fragrance and also protects plants from natural enemies, like mold and insects. Essential oils have long been used for beauty treatments, health care practices, and food preparation.

How Do You Extract An Essential Oil?

AromatherapyEssential oils are extracted through one of two processes: cold pressing or steam distilling, Zawrotny explains. There are four levels of oil purity, which determines what you can use the oil for: smell, flavor, aromatherapy, or natural health. The highest level of purity is certified therapeutic grade, a quality protocol to which essential oils are carefully and thoroughly tested against.

How Do You Use An Essential Oil?

The benefits of essential oils are obtained in three ways: aromatically through diffusion, topically applied to the skin after being diluted with a carrier oil (like coconut oil), or internally through ingestion. All three approaches work well to support the body, but new research is showing an even greater impact with diffusing oils than previously thought. We weren’t surprised to learn that only therapeutic grade oils can be used for health purposes, but we were surprised that it seems the body can benefit from the aroma even when it is not delivered through the nose. Scientists are finding odor receptors throughout the body, where they play a pivotal role in a host of physiological functions. You can read The New York Times article here.

Essential Oils Can Help Protect Against Seasonal & Environmental Elements

Lemon Oil“There are several oils that can help you to combat seasonal discomfort naturally,” Zawrotny says. A few of her favorites include Peppermint, Lavender, and Lemon. “These are cleansing oils, and can be diffused in your home to help cleanse the air, and promote clear breathing and healthy respiratory functions,” she explains. Eucalyptus supports the respiratory system, and helps to maintain clear airways. Whether used alone or in combination, these oils have been known for thousands of years to promote healthy inflammatory response, as well as help bolster the immune system, creating calming and balancing effects, internally and externally.Eucalyptus Tub

TIP: Add a few drops of Eucalyptus or Peppermint oil to a hot bath or on a washcloth under your feet in the shower – the aromatic properties will blend with the steam to open airways and help quickly relieve seasonal symptoms.

Essential Oils Can Improve Air Quality

Aromatherapy DiffuserNot only do essential oils smell good, but also some have strong air purification properties. Remember, these oils were inside the plant to help protect it from mold, so it has powerful properties to cleanse your air. Cinnamon, Melaleuca (tea tree), Oregano, Clove, Thyme, Grapefruit extract, and Rosemary oils can be diffused into the air, providing additional support to soothe potential symptoms. However, it can’t be used to rid your home of mold. If you think you have a mold problem, have your home tested by an independent inspector to make sure you and your family is not in danger. If the problem is serious, the inspector may recommend professional remediation.

Bonus: When oils are diffused into the air, they are also absorbed into your body through your nose and skin and can help build immunity and have a healing impact, including cell renewal.

467249269Clean Green

Essential oils make great cleaning agents. You can use the oils directly on surfaces to clean naturally. Certain oils work very well for cleaning, including Clove, Lemon, Wild Orange, Cinnamon, Rosemary, and Eucalyptus. Fill a small spray bottle with vinegar and add 10-20 drops of your favorite oil – it makes a great natural cleaner! You can diffuse it in the home, or add a few drops to a pot of boiling water to purify and freshen the air.

Essential Oil ApplicationEssential oils have many potential benefits, but Zawrotny suggests doing your own research. A great place to start is www.aromaticscience.com. If your home has an environmental issue, like mold, lead, or poor indoor air quality, oils alone will not solve the problem, and your health could be in danger. The only way to know if you and your family are in a safe environment is to have your home tested. Once you know what you may be dealing with, you can then determine the best way to proceed.

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Healthy Home Environment Mold

Pets and Environmental Toxins: What You Need To Know

Pets and Environmental Toxins: What You Need To Know

Sasha 2Ask any pet owner if their cat or dog has ever consumed something harmful or poisonous, and most likely an epic story will follow, usually with a happy ending. There are countless common products that we use every day that can poison our pets. Many of these are obvious – bleach, certain houseplants, prescription medications, some human foods – and we try not to expose our pets to them. But what about the potential dangers that are not so obvious? What if we didn’t personally bring the hazard into the home in the first place? What if we don’t even know it’s there?

Sasha and Natalie

About ten years ago, I drove my best friend, Natalie, to the Humane Society to adopt her first cat. We left with a petite tortoiseshell with white paws, and she purred from the backseat the whole way home. Natalie is the kind of cat mom that makes me want to be a cat. Sasha was not only loved abundantly, but she was up to date on her shots and vet visits. She ate the right food, and lived indoors in a clean environment. Or so it seemed.

Three years ago, Sasha had to be euthanized. The vet discovered masses inside her lungs. She developed a chronic cough that would break your heart to hear. In her last weeks, she was struggling to breath. Her lungs filled with fluid that needed to be drained daily by the vet. Not only was this painful for Sasha, but it was strenuous. I saw my friend try everything possible until she had to weigh the depleted options against Sasha’s quality of life. You can cry on a thousand shoulders, but you can’t explain to your animal what is happening and why. And nothing makes it harder than not actually having that answer.

Cleaning products and dogsWe later found that it was due to environmental toxins, and possibly mold, in the apartment. Many animals have health issues that impact them later in life or even suddenly and without warning.  While we can’t control all things, we can increase our awareness and minimize potential unknown dangers to our pets. We have historically used poisonous products and materials to clean, build our homes, and control pests. Common household products that are known to be poisonous to dogs and cats include detergents, fabric softeners, enzymatic cleaners, deodorizers and sprays, toothpaste and mouthwash, Firestarter logs, hand sanitizer (ethanol), liquid potpourri, essential oils, and more. For many of these, we can now source nontoxic and pet friendly options. Consider how much closer our pets’ noses and mouths are to the residual chemicals of these products.

 

pesticides in soil harm animalsRecently, RTK tested a multi-million dollar home in Westchester County, New York. The owners had moved in, and three months later, their Golden Retriever puppy got very sick, and developed cancer. When the test results came back, there were elevated levels of a pesticide in the soil called chlordane, that was outlawed in 1988, and known to cause cancer and a host of other ailments. The puppy passed away just after she turned 6-months-old.

In older homes, the risk of lead and asbestos exposure to animals is as relevant as it is to humans. We don’t always know if we have lead-based paint on our walls, both inside and outside, and we may not be aware of how many building materials contain asbestos. Symptoms from lead exposure include changes in behavior, gastrointestinal or neurologicCats and detergents problems, and anemia. Inhaling asbestos fibers can cause mesothelioma in dogs and cats and the disease develops much more quickly than in people. Pesticides and insecticides are the cause of thousands of reported poisonings each year, and although the EPA monitors all pesticide ingredients before they are produced, pesticides will remain in soil around homes for years. The half-life of chlordane, for example, is more than 30-years. So even if you don’t personally utilize pesticides around your home, your animals and children are not necessarily safe. If you move into a home, whether it’s old, new, or just new to you, these environmental hazards are important to be familiar with.

Sasha 3Natalie and the vet who treated Sasha discussed mold, asbestos and other possible reasons for her condition. One major question mark was that like many of us, Natalie and Sasha lived in three different apartments during her short life. That her death was ultimately a result of exposure to a toxic substance is something Natalie regrets, and wishes she knew which apartment was the culprit, so that she can warn the current tenants. The most sobering piece of this sad puzzle is that Sasha’s symptoms were not remarkable until it was past the point of a treatment option. For that reason alone, we owe our unknowing pets the most discerning awareness about their surroundings. Consider it fair trade for the endless, unwavering love they give us.

The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center published an article about potential hazards animals face during home renovations and the website for Mesothelioma Treatment Centers has information about asbestos exposure signs and treatment options for mesothelioma. The Nation Pesticide Information Center has information on individual pesticides and resources if animals or people are exposed. 

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Indoor Air Quality & Radon Healthy Home Mold

Spending More Time Indoors? Here’s What You Should Know About the Air You’re Inhaling, Especially Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

Spending More Time Indoors? Here’s What You Should Know About the Air You’re Inhaling, Especially Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

There’s nothing like fresh air, but with the winter approaching and pandemic measures hampering mobility, you’re apt to be spending more time indoors. And because of that, the air you are breathing may be a problem. Why? Because mold spores, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), lead dust, radon, and other sources of indoor air pollution may be present. If they are, your health may be affected.

A Word About VOCs

Volatile organic compounds, which are in the form of a gas, are toxic vapors that emanate from man-made materials and everyday household (and workplace) items. A multitude of different chemicals fall under the umbrella of VOCs, including formaldehyde, benzene, plasticizers, and by-products produced by chlorination in water treatment, such as chloroform.

volatile organic compoundsProblem is, VOCs are found in thousands of different household and office products, from electronics to paint to carpeting to furniture, and are off-gassed over time. That means your home’s indoor air quality is likely to become polluted. Now, especially during flu season and the coronavirus pandemic, when these diseases affect the lungs even more, we need to be extra vigilant about keeping indoor air as clean as possible. Otherwise, the impact of VOCs on your health can be pretty steep.

VOCs and Your Health

Short-term exposure to and inhaling air containing elevated levels of VOCs can cause throat and eye irritation, nausea, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, and headaches. Long-term exposure, however, is linked to cancer, as well as damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system.

Top Sources of VOCs

formaldehyde sourcesOne of the biggest sources of formaldehyde, in particular, are new building materials, according to a recent article in the New York Times, that points out that new plywood, particleboard, adhesives, varnishes, paints, and carpeting are all common offenders. Even if your home isn’t brand new, you can still be exposed to VOCs through painting, renovations, new furniture or bedding, household cleaners, disinfectants, cosmetics, and more.

Other Common Sources of VOCs

  • Electronics, such as copiers and printers
  • Scented candles
  • Fabrics
  • Adhesives
  • Toiletries
  • Composite wood products, like furniture and cabinets
  • Vinyl, such as shower curtains or tile
  • Air fresheners
  • Moth balls
  • Dry cleaning and laundry detergents
  • Caulk
  • Wood burning stoves

According to the New York Times, one of the best defenses is to keep levels low in the first place by looking for “low- or no-V.O.C.” or “low formaldehyde” labels when shopping for paint, couches, mattresses and wood products. If you do purchase an item that has that “new car smell” or some other chemical odor, you should let it off-gas in a garage or an outdoor area before bringing it indoors.

What Can I Do?

The best defense against elevated levels of VOCs is fresh air and proper ventilation. This can be a challenge during colder months, of course, but there are additional steps you can take.

  • prevent poor indoor air qualityOpen your windows – even for just a few minutes a day – to circulate fresh air.
  • Make sure your HVAC system is in tip top shape. Mold and dust can easily build up in HVAC systems if you don’t maintain them properly, and pollutants will spread throughout your home, compounding the indoor air quality and VOC issues.
  • Test your indoor air quality. Mold and VOCs are responsible for approximately 80% of indoor air quality issues. Once you have identified a problem and the source, you can take steps to mitigate the issue.
  • If you have a newer, air-tight home, you may want to consider a whole-house ventilation system, as your house is less likely to “breathe” and release the build-up of toxins on its own. These systems can be costly, however, and don’t work in all homes.

indoor air quality testing

With us spending more time at home during COVID-19, it’s more important than ever to ensure your indoor air quality is healthy. If you think you may have an indoor air quality issue, contact RTK Environmental today to find out more about your options.

Live well!

 

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Healthy Home

7 Holiday Hazards and How to Avoid Them

The holidays should be filled with joy – not health hazards. These scrooges may show up during the holidays, but they don’t have to ruin your festivities if you use common sense to protect yourself.

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Healthy Home Mold

7 Tips To Ensure Your Home is Healthy and Holiday Ready

7 Tips To Ensure Your Home is Healthy and Holiday Ready

Before the guests arrive, make sure your home is in tip-top shape with these often overlooked household checks. After all, healthy guests make for much happier holidays!

1. Musty Odors

You may think that musty odor is barely noticeable, but that’s likely because you’re used to it. Your guests will notice right away, and if they have allergies, sit them as far away from the turkey as possible, get them a box of tissues, and watch out for the sneezing that will ensue! A musty odor means that your home may have a mold problem, which causes allergies, asthma, and other health issues. You probably can’t see the source of mold, so hire an independent mold inspection expert and check this off your list!

 2. Indoor Air Quality Check

You’ve cleaned, touched up the paint, put in new air fresheners, and even replaced that old rug in the living room with brand new carpeting. You may think all these steps make for a healthier home, but each of these ordinary activities can actually cause poor indoor air quality. Dangerous VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, are released into the air from many man-made materials, like detergents, furniture, cleaning products, and candles can cause headaches, fatigue, and other health issues. Studies have shown that indoor air can be up to 100 times more polluted than outdoor air. It’s no wonder we tend to be sicker in the wintertime, when we’re sealed up indoors. Mold is also a major cause of poor indoor air quality. An indoor air quality test can assure that you and your guests are breathing clean air.

3. Clean the Bathroom Fan

This is a given, especially around Thanksgiving. Not only will a properly functioning bathroom fan help dispatch the stench from Grandpa Joe’s reading session, it will also quickly remove humidity from the air, preventing costly mold remediation after too many long showers and inadequate ventilation.

4. Holiday Decoration Hazards

Before you start swinging the hammer and staple gun to get those Christmas decorations up, find out if you are going to disturb possible toxins, such as lead paint or asbestos. If your home was built before 1978, it may contain lead paint, which is extremely dangerous when disturbed. If you are not sure, have your home tested. Also, many Christmas lights, artificial trees, and ornaments contain lead, so read the label carefully, and don’t put your family at risk for permanent neurological damage by purchasing products that contain toxins. Real trees can also be a problem, as they can release mold spores, as well as create mold on wood floors and carpets if you accidentally spill when watering them. Come January, you’ve got a moldy mess.

5. Check the Shower Curtain & Bath Mat

When was the last time you changed your shower curtain or bath mat? If you’re thinking to yourself, “never,” you’re not alone. But these two items are conduits for unhealthy mold spores, bacteria, and other nasty things. And if you have a guest bathroom that hasn’t been used in ages, you may assume it’s clean because it is not used that often. Do your guests a favor and look under the mat before you throw them to the spores!

TIP: An effective way to clean your bath mats and tub liners is to toss them into your washing machine on a gentle cycle with a few light-colored towels, laundry detergent, a cup of baking soda, and 10 or so drops of tea tree oil, which can kill mold. This should have them fresh and clean in no time!

6. Fix that Leaky Sink

In addition to wasting water, leaky sinks can cause big problems in your home. Moisture under a sink can immediately cause mold growth, which causes asthma, allergies, or other serious ailments. Since mold spores occur naturally in the environment, the best way to prevent mold growth is to curtail the moisture source.

7. Turn Up the Thermostat!

A frozen pipe that bursts during your festive dinner can be a disaster! To prevent a burst pipe, turn up the thermostat. This is even more important if you are going away for the holidays, because a quick drop in temperature may cause a pipe to freeze and burst, and you won’t know until you return – a week later – which can be catastrophic! Remember: It can cost more to repair damage from a frozen pipe than it does to keep the thermostat up a few degrees this winter.

Have a happy and healthy holiday season, and call us today to get ready for a healthy home for family and fun!

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Indoor Air Quality & Radon Healthy Home Mold

How Air Quality Affects Covid-19 Risks

How Air Quality Affects Covid-19 Risks

 

It’s long been known that the air we breathe can have an impact on our health. The new wrinkle is Covid-19, which highlights the need to pay closer attention to air quality.

covid-19 air pollution

A recent national study conducted by the Harvard University T. H. Chan School of Public Health has shown that Americans who have contracted COVID-19, who live in regions in the U.S. with high levels of air pollution, are more likely to die from the disease than those who live in less polluted areas. The study found that each extra microgram of tiny particulate matter per cubic meter of air over the long term increases the Covid-19 mortality rate by 11%. The implications are tremendous.

The study measured outdoor air quality. But, what about our indoor air quality? This is also something to be taken seriously as, according to the EPA, the air indoors can be up to 2 to 5 times more polluted than outdoor air, and in some cases those levels can exceed poor outdoor air quality by as much as 100 times.

“This is a good reminder that we need to be aware of the air we are breathing, indoors and out, as it clearly has an effect on our health,” says Robert Weitz, founder of RTK Environmental Group. “It’s not just pollution from cars and factories which can seep in through windows,” he adds. “Indoors, mold and volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are major pollutants that can be very harmful to our families’ health, and are the main causes of poor indoor air quality in homes and offices.”

coronavirus indoor airThe Harvard study looked at more than 3,000 counties across the country, comparing levels of fine particulate air pollution with coronavirus death counts for each area. Adjusting for population size, hospital beds, number of people tested for COVID-19, weather, and socioeconomic and behavioral variables such as obesity and smoking, the researchers found that a small increase in long-term exposure to particulate matter leads to a large increase in the COVID-19 death rate.

So, what can we do?

Homeowners and building superintendents should first be aware of the sources of poor indoor air quality, then test for them, and if found on the premises, remediate. Here’s a rundown of the big polluters:

VOCs

VOC causeSome of the very household products we’re using to scrub surfaces are off-gassing VOCs (volatile organic compounds). These are toxic vapors given off by bleach and aerosol sprays. VOCs can also come from the chemicals in new furniture, electronics, air fresheners, detergents, carpeting, and other products. If concentrated enough, they can cause headaches, dizziness, and nausea in the short-term and more serious problems long-term.

So, when you’re attempting to disinfect your home or have used that vacation money to buy new furniture, bedding, or electronics, remember to open your windows to allow fresh air to circulate. You may also want to have an indoor air quality test that will help you to identify or rule out any air quality issues.

Mold

air pollution healthAfter spending so much time at home during the pandemic, you may notice a musty odor, which is a tell-tale sign of a mold problem. If so, there’s no better time than the present to deal with it. Mold can exacerbate breathing issues, and also cause headaches, rashes, depression, listlessness, and allergies, let alone flu-like symptoms, especially in those who are immunosuppressed.

And mold can hide just about anywhere – behind walls, under carpeting or floorboards, or in air ducts. In order to pinpoint the source of a mold issue, testing is a good option.

Now is not the time to take risks with your health. Schedule an indoor air quality test today to ensure your home or workplace is the safest it can be. Call RTK at 800.392.6468. Live well!

 

 

 

 

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Healthy Home Asbestos Lead Mold

Planning Pandemic Renovations? Environmental Testing Should be the First Step. Here’s Why:

Planning Pandemic Renovations? Environmental Testing Should be the First Step. Here’s Why:

In recent months, there’s been a surge in people fleeing the city for a home in the ‘burbs. With housing stock fairly limited due to the pandemic, the house you get may get you plenty of fresh air, but it may need a little work.

kitchen renovationNow that you’re spending a good amount of time at home, improvement projects are getting your attention. The big question is, what do you do first?

Typically, renovation work uncovers hidden environmental hazards, such as asbestos, mold, and other toxic substances, all of which can negatively impact your indoor air quality. So, the first step when contemplating any renovation work should be to order an environmental inspection. This will enable you to plan for the potential hazards you may encounter and, ultimately, will protect your family’s health.

Here’s what to be aware of:

Dangerous asbestos fibers can be released into the air when disturbed

hidden asbestos

Before any renovation or demolition, you need to know if you are about to disturb any materials containing asbestos. Typically, asbestos is contained in walls, fireproofing materials, insulation, floor and ceiling tiles, among others.

Although banned in many forms because of its toxicity, asbestos still can be found in the home, especially one that was built prior to 1980. So, if you’re about to tear down your walls and ceilings, remove tile, flooring material or pipe insulation, for example, have an asbestos survey performed prior to your renovation project. An asbestos survey will determine if there are any materials containing this toxic substance. Something as simple as installing a ceiling fan, removing a boiler, or updating your bathroom could have serious implications.

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, which generally occurs 15–40 years down the road.

Mold can contaminate the whole house

black mold bathroomMold spores are everywhere, but once they take hold, mold growth can cause serious health problems for you and your family. When embarking on renovation projects, be mindful of mold hidden under sinks, behind walls, and under carpets or floorboards. Mold is easily spread through HVAC systems, which can cause cross-contamination, spreading mold spores throughout your home.

If you suspect there has been water damage or a leak in your home, have it tested for mold. Musty odors can be a tell-tale sign. If mold is discovered during the test, 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.

Watch out for lead when sanding or disrupting painted surfaces

lead paint testingIf you live in a home built prior to 1978, there may be layers of paint containing lead. Before starting any renovation project – large or small – test for lead paint. Once disturbed, the dust that results can be extremely dangerous. Even a speck 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 minuscule as hanging a picture on a wall, if that wall 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.

“We’ve seen so many renovation projects go awry because the homeowner didn’t start with an environmental inspection,” notes Robert Weitz, founder of RTK Environmental Group. “Even something as simple as upgrading a bathroom sink can turn into an environmental disaster. Mold, lead, and asbestos are commonly uncovered during renovation work and can cause poor indoor air quality,” he says. “But if you know they are there, you can contain them and avoid further issues, including a hefty remediation bill.”

For more information on environmental testing and tips to keep you healthy and safe, contact us.

 

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Healthy Home

Indoor Air Quality and Your HVAC System: Steps to Take Now

Indoor Air Quality and Your HVAC System: Steps to Take Now

In the northeast, it’s time to turn on the heat. But before you do, check the condition of your HVAC system. If it is not clean, you may wind up with poor indoor air quality, and that can open a can of worms. This is especially important now that we are in our homes most of the time due to the Coronavirus pandemic. If the air we are breathing is not healthy and contains toxins, we are more susceptible to getting sick.

dust in hvacOver time, dust and debris collect in HVAC and heating units, which means when you turn on the heat, you may get a dirty surprise. Worse, the system may also be harboring mold.

During summer months, condensation, which can cause mold growth, often occurs in HVAC units and associated ducting. Once the heat is turned on, microscopic mold spores can easily spread through ductwork. The spores can contaminate clean spaces anywhere in a home or office.

Signs of Mold In Air Ducts:

  1. There is a musty smell in the home or office.
  2. You are experiencing allergic symptoms, which may include a runny nose, trouble breathing, rash, or watering eyes.
  3. When you turn on the heat, your nose, throat, and eyes feel irritated.
  4. You suffer from unexplained headaches that go away when you leave the premises.
  5. You feel nausea, fatigue, and dizziness only when you are home or at the office.
  6. You see mold growing in the intake vents and around the air ducts and drip pans.
  7. There is staining around the vents.

hvac moldIf you think you may have mold in your HVAC system, the best course of action is to have the system tested. An independent company, like RTK, can assess whether you will be spreading mold spores when you turn on the heat. If you’ve already turned on the heat and weren’t aware that you had an issue, you may opt for a mold and IAQ test to ensure mold didn’t spread when it was initially turned on, as this can cause further problems.

Meanwhile, be sure to have your HVAC unit cleaned prior to turning on the heat to prevent indoor air pollution. Also, be sure to change your filters and clean the drip pans.

Mold and VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are the most common causes of indoor air pollution, and can easily be tested for and treated. Call RTK to schedule a test today. We follow strict health protocols for COVID, and wear our masks and protective equipment properly.

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Healthy Home

Indoor Air Quality in Schools

Indoor Air Quality in Schools

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.

indoor air quality in schoolsBesides 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.

Indoor air quality testingWhile 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

VOCs in schoolsUnfortunately, 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:

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue and listlessness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Nervousness
  • Difficulty concentrating

Mold in Schools – Where is It Found?

water stain moldClassrooms, 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:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Itchy eyes, nose and throat
  • Headaches
  • Cough and postnasal drip
  • Watery eyes
  • Wheezing 

Symptoms of toxic mold exposure:

  • Sensitivity to light
  • Joint pain and stiffness
  • Poor memory or difficulty finding words
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • A tingling or numbing sensation on skin
  • Fibromyalgia
  • 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

asthma indoor air qualityIf 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.

 

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