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Environment Inspector's Notebook

Winner of 2020 RTK Scholarship Announced, Aditi Madhusudan

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.

The RTK Scholars Program is now accepting applications for the 2021 award. The application deadline is May 31, 2021. If you would like more information or to apply, please visit RTK Environmental Science Scholarship Program.

 

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Healthy Home Inspector's Notebook

While We’re in Your Home or Workplace, Your Safety is RTK’s Priority

While We’re in Your Home or Workplace, Your Safety is RTK’s Priority

RTK’s mission has always been about protecting your health through environmental testing. As we’re adapting to the times, RTK will continue to take precautionary measures while we’re in your home or workplace, and provide the unmatched care you’ve come to expect.

As long-time environmental inspection experts, RTK understands the importance of safety. We protect you against contaminants. Now, during this health emergency, we are taking even more stringent steps to protect you during our visits. Our inspectors take extra precautions to prepare and operate in the safest manner:

  • Inspectors wear rubber gloves and other protective equipment such as booties, Tyvek suits, and respirators as needed, to protect themselves and you from direct contact and any dangerous airborne particles.
  • Additionally, disinfectant wipes and solutions are used before and after use of equipment and contact with surfaces, and during the course of inspection services.
  • Safe, but manageable, distances are kept from you to provide extra comfort during this trying time.

We at RTK feel it is important to let our valued clients know of the steps we are taking to continue our service in a way that is as safe as possible for all involved.

As an essential service, RTK remains fully operational, and is readily available to provide environmental testing services at homes and workplaces to those in need. If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at 800.392.6468 or RTKENVIRONMENTAL.COM.

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Asbestos Healthy Home Indoor Air Quality & Radon Inspector's Notebook Lead Mold

Safe Home Renovations

Safe Home Renovations

With everyone stuck at home under coronavirus quarantine, many of us are using this opportunity to complete home improvement projects. Whether you are renovating or simply painting, there are precautions you should take to preserve your health. Make sure you don’t disturb any toxic materials, like lead or asbestos, especially if you live in a house built before 1978.

Ask yourself these questions before you begin:

  • What type of surfaces and materials will you disturb?
  • Do you have crumbling pipe insulation or tiles? They may contain asbestos.
  • Will you disrupt any pipes? They might leach lead into your water.
  • Are there painted surfaces that are chipped? The paint may contain lead.

If any or all of the above apply, you’ll want to take some precautions. Otherwise, you may be subjecting yourself and your family to unnecessary health risks, caused by the very particles you’ve disturbed. Now, more than ever, it’s important to take the proper precautions. Here’s how:

Tip #1: Test for Lead Paint.

If your home was built prior to 1978, you probably have lead paint somewhere. (Paint containing lead was banned in 1978.) When paint containing lead is kept in good condition, it does not pose a significant health risk. But, if it is disturbed, it releases dangerous lead dust into the air, and when that dust settles onto flat surfaces is the leading cause of lead poisoning. Lead poisoning is known to cause autism, ADHD, brain damage, lower IQ, and a host of other physical and mental issues.

So, before you start your painting project, have a certified lead risk assessor test your home for lead paint. They can use an XRF spectrometer to look deep into layers of paint on walls to determine if there is lead paint not only on the surface, but also underneath in underlying layers.

If you are not comfortable with having a lead inspector come to your home while you are in quarantine, you may want to wait on that project, or treat it as if there were lead paint on your walls or trim. Follow the EPA’s recommended Renovation, Repair, and Painting rule for DIYers, which can be found here.

If, instead, you move ahead and disturb surfaces that contain lead paint, chances are you will 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 a serious health hazard.

If you think you may have lead paint, call in an environmental testing company to have your home tested. If the test reveals toxic lead dust, a lead inspector can tell you the exact locations of the lead. Be sure you follow lead-safe work practices, or hire a contractor certified in lead-safe work practices.

Tip #2: Check for Asbestos.

asbestos testBefore any renovation or demolition, you need to know if you are about to disturb any materials containing asbestos. Asbestos is banned in many forms because of its toxicity. Inhalation of asbestos fibers can cause serious, even fatal illnesses, including malignant lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis.

Asbestos is common in older homes, and you can be exposed to asbestos fibers through demolition of many items, most commonly:

  • Flooring materials
  • Roof shingles
  • Pipes
  • Insulation
  • Walls
  • Ceilings
  • Tile

Be smart. Have an asbestos survey performed prior to your renovation project. The 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 or updating your bathroom could have serious implications. If you are unsure and are not ready for testing, hold off on the project.

Tip #3: Take Proper Precautions.

If a test confirms that environmental hazards are present, take appropriate steps to keep yourself and your family safe. Follow these precautions:

  1. Evacuate vulnerable family members.

While you are working, be sure children, the elderly, pregnant women, and pets leave the area while work is being performed. They can return after the work has stopped and the area has been thoroughly cleaned.

  1. 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 ductwork, doors leading out, and windows with the sheeting. Your goal is to prevent toxins from contaminating the rest of the house.

  1. Dress for the occasion.

Look for a mask or respirator with an N95 rating or higher (if you can find one), which filters out very fine particles. And be sure you wear it for the entire time you are working and cleaning. Also, use a Tyvek suit to protect your clothes. If the work takes more than a day, use a new one for each day. 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. If you can’t find a Tyvek suit, be sure to remove your clothes in the containment area, place them in a sealed plastic bag, and put them in the washing machine straight away. Then shower immediately.

  1. Avoid sanding.

Lead dust accounts for most of the pediatric lead-poisoning cases a year. Sanding releases fine lead dust particles, which fly through the air, infiltrating the entire house. Unfortunately, these particles remain in the home for a long time. Therefore, sand as little as possible and when you do wet the surface first to keep dust down.

  1. Clean up thoroughly.

Use a HEPA vacuum to clean the entire work area. Then use warm water and clean rags to wash all surfaces. Then HEPA vacuum again. Every exposed surface must be cleaned well. It’s a good idea to have your home tested post-renovation to ensure all toxic materials were properly removed.

This extra time at home is a gift, so make sure your home is safe for you and your family.

If you want to schedule a lead, asbestos, or mold inspection, call us at 800.392.6468 or click here.

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Inspector's Notebook

RTK Awards Coveted Science Scholarship to Outstanding New Jersey Student


Future Keyport Environmental Biotechnologist Heads to Boston College This Fall

 

Congratulations to Joseph Vecchio of Keyport, New Jersey, who is the recipient of the RTK Scholars Award for 2018. Vecchio was chosen from an impressive pool of applicants with remarkable accomplishments in various science-related fields. Vecchio will receive $1,500, which will be applied to his studies at Boston College this fall in his pursuit of environmental biotechnology.

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Healthy Home Inspector's Notebook

Purchasing a Home? Watch for These Costly Hidden Pitfalls.

HEALTH HAZARDS IN THE HOME

Before buying a home or apartment, ordering a home inspection to detect any leaks, structural issues, and other problems is a no-brainer. But often times, it’s not enough. While an inspector will check hundreds of common items, there may be other issues percolating that are not covered by a standard home inspection.

buying a homeChecking for mold, lead, asbestos, indoor air quality, radon, and poor water quality are generally not included in a home inspection. Those hazards can be extremely harmful to you and your family, causing lifelong health problems. To detect them, you need an environmental inspection performed by a licensed professional.

And while it may be annoying to consider yet another cost when buying a home, consider this: You’re about to spend hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars on one of the biggest purchases you will ever make, and you will likely be living in the home for a long time. So, an environmental inspection that helps ensure that your home is safe will help you sleep soundly from your first night on.

“These tests should not be seen as ‘extras.’ They are an important part of buying a home,” counsels Robert Weitz, Founder of RTK Environmental Group, an environmental testing company that has been servicing the northeast for over 20 years.

“When you find out that the home you are about to spend $500,000 for has a serious mold problem, contaminated water, or toxic lead paint, which will cost tens of thousands of dollars to remediate, you may think twice about the purchase and walk away before you are in over your head. If you still decide to purchase the property, you will at least know what you are getting into.”

Here is a list of the potentially dangerous and costly items that require an environmental inspection, that are generally not covered in a general home inspection:

Lead

Test for lead paintExposure to lead paint can cause irreversible neurological damage. A home inspector can point out where paint is chipping or flaking, but they cannot determine with certainty whether the paint in your prospective home contains lead unless they are an EPA certified lead inspector, and conduct comprehensive lead testing. Lead dust is the most common cause of lead poisoning, and can be released from disturbing lead paint during renovations, opening and closing windows and doors that contain lead paint, or simply by putting a nail in a wall that contains lead paint.

In plumbing, while a general inspector can spot leaks and can point out outdated pipes and faucets, he cannot tell whether the pipes or water supply contain lead. This heavy metal cannot be seen, and it has no odor.

This topic has become top of mind since the catastrophe in Flint, Michigan, and people are becoming aware that exposure to lead is extremely dangerous, especially to children. It causes permanent brain damage, autistic-like symptoms, learning and behavior problems, hyperactivity, slowed growth hearing issues and anemia, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Pregnant women exposed to lead are at risk of passing problems on to their unborn children.

Asbestos

environmental testing nycExposure to even a few fibers of asbestos can cause cancer and respiratory problems. In general, inspectors may note visible elements, like pipe insulation or tiles, that may contain asbestos. But they won’t touch it.  Asbestos has been used in roofs, attics, flooring materials, ceiling tiles, wallboards, and more. It is now known to cause lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma. It may never present a problem if it is in good condition and untouched, but it becomes a hazard when it is disturbed, releasing its highly fibrous particles into the air. If you are planning a renovation, you need to know if the areas that will be worked on contain asbestos.

Mold

wall board MoldIndoor mold is a health hazard and should be properly removed. It is classified as either toxic or allergen, and neither is healthy. Home inspectors may notice mold if it’s visible on the outside of a wall, or they notice a musty odor, but they won’t be able to determine whether it is a toxic variety of black mold or not. Nor can the inspector identify the mold if it is behind the walls, under rugs, or in any of many other less accessible areas including basements, attics, and bathrooms. Another important note: if you are purchasing a home in the winter, mold may be dormant because the conditions aren’t ideal for mold. But as soon as heat and humidity come into play, mold becomes active and you could have a full-blown mold infestation.

Radon

test for radonMost everyone has heard about radon in homes. This dangerous, naturally occurring, radioactive gas is responsible for 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year, according to the EPA. That makes it the second deadliest cause of lung cancer behind smoking. And unlike cigarette smoke, you can’t see or smell radon; the only way to detect it is with proper sampling techniques. It is found in homes all over the United States, especially in the northeast, and it is detected in elevated levels in one out of every 15 homes, according to the EPA. So testing for radon is a must for all homebuyers.

Water

radon hazardsA basic home inspection will tell you if your faucets and pump work, but won’t tell you about your water quality. A comprehensive analysis of your drinking water is important. Heavy metals in pipes, arsenic that naturally occurs in groundwater, radon that is naturally produced when uranium decays in soil and water, and pesticide contamination are just some of the things that can taint the water you are drinking, bathing in, and using every day.

“Don’t neglect these important items,” said Weitz. “It doesn’t make sense to have a home looked over for working faucets and a roof in sound condition only to move in and learn the hard way that there was a health hazard you never saw coming. Smart homebuyers go the extra step, and know that environmental testing is just as important as a home inspection.”

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. If you would like to find out more about a what a basic home inspection covers, read Why Do I Need A Professional Home Inspection.

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Healthy Home Inspector's Notebook

Why Do I Need A Professional Home Inspection?

 

You may think hiring a professional inspector is just another unnecessary added cost when buying a home, and that you can do it yourself. You’ll flip the light switches, test the stove burners, and take a close look at the paint for chips and cracks. That way, you figure, you can save a few bucks. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Home inspectors do a lot more than you realize and are an important part of the home buying process.

In fact, if you overlook one hard-to-detect sign of a problem that a home inspector would have detected, you may find yourself paying a lot more to fix the problem.

A trained and experienced home inspector certainly will do all the obvious things, checking the lights, the stove, and the water faucets. But he will also do much more. An inspector certified by the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) will check more than 200 items throughout the home, says Frank Lesh, Executive Director of the organization.

An Objective Eye

Home inspections 101When you see a home you want to buy, you often don’t see the potential problems. You may be eager to snatch up the home because of its beautiful landscaping, swimming pool, and French doors leading to a sunroom by a brook, or new granite-topped kitchen island and stainless appliances. You can already picture your family sitting down beneath the vaulted ceilings of the dining room under the beautiful chandelier for a holiday meal, with the majestic fireplace roaring in the background. It’s okay to fall in love. But you also need to keep your feet on the ground. When you hire a home inspector, he will assess the home with an objective eye.

“An ASHI inspector has nothing to sell but the truth,” Lesh said. “We have seen all sorts of issues. Every ASHI-certified instructor has conducted an absolute minimum of 250 inspections. Most have done thousands. If you find a problem with water – is that a problem with the plumbing or a clogged gutter? An inspector will know exactly what to look for.”

So what does a home inspection cover? A basic inspection will report on anything that is in plain view or easy to access, and that may be broken or malfunctioning. That includes:

Structure

Home inspectors will visually inspect the structural components, including walls and foundation. An inspector may notice windows that are difficult to open and close – and they will know that that means the foundation has become uneven.

Exterior

An inspector will look at a host of items, including steps, windows, decks, porches, eaves, walkways, driveway, and drainage. They look at a home as an entire working unit, rather than a collection of individual parts. 

Interior

Inspectors will look closely at interior walls, ceilings and countertops. They will also generally check major appliances, such as washers, dryers, stoves, refrigerators, and dishwashers, to make sure they work properly.

Roofing

Inspectors will look at the materials a roof is made of and will scrutinize the roof drainage system, flashing and skylights for tightness and leaks. Has the flashing separated? (If you have to look up what “flashing” is, you definitely need a pro for the job.)

Systems 

Home inspectors will look over a home’s plumbing, electrical and heating systems, checking for leaks and other problems. They can comment on the wiring methods or tell you if the plumbing is outdated.

Insulation and Ventilation

Inspectors will inspect visible insulation, ventilation in attic and foundation areas, and exhaust systems and tell you approximate age, what sort of condition they are in, and when they may need to be replaced in the
future.

Fireplaces

They will look at installed fireplaces and stoves, as well as look at the exteriors of chimneys and vents. That’s just a sample of the items an inspector will check on, probing methodically, from the chimney to the basement floor, wall to wall and beyond.

Inspectors Are Not Just for Buyers

Home inspections are not just for buyers anymore. Now, home sellers are ordering inspections before putting their homes on the market, Lesh said. Some homeowners get an inspection every few years, even if they’re not moving, the way motorists bring their cars in for tune-ups periodically. Years ago, that was unheard of, Lesh said. These days, he selling a homeestimated, five to seven percent of sellers are ordering inspections. Those who do so don’t have to automatically accept the opinion of the buyer’s inspector. And if there is a problem, they can fix it before it breaks the deal or forces them to pay rush fees to order the work in the middle of negotiations.

“It takes away a lot of that ‘Oh my gosh!’ factor,” Lesh said. “You’ll have a good idea what to take care of before the deal falls apart. And checking regularly catches any problems before they grow too large. A house doesn’t have a check-engine light.”

However, it’s generally not the home inspector’s job to uncover the potential environmental health hazards. To check on those issues, an environmental inspection is prudent. “Smart buyers don’t throw away money,” says Robert Weitz, a certified microbial investigator and founder of RTK Environmental Group. “They want to know what they are getting into, and if there are going to be costly repairs or health hazards.” For more on what’s covered in an environmental home inspection, read our blog, Purchasing a Home? Watch for These Costly Hidden Pitfalls.

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Inspector's Notebook

Here They Are – RTK’s Environmental Scholarship Winners!

We are thrilled to announce the two winners of RTK Environmental Group’s semi-annual nationwide scholarship contest that supports students who plan to pursue careers in science.

scholarship winner
Nicholas Bulthuis

Nicholas Bulthuis, an undergraduate student at Loyola University Chicago, won first prize – a $1,000 scholarship – and Dylan Lukas McCloskey, a high school senior in Liberty, Missouri, won second prize – a $500 scholarship – in our competition.

We hold our contest to assist students studying environmental science, biology, engineering and related physical sciences. Such students make up the majority of the college graduates who become the foremost experts in environmental testing.

In his essay, Bulthuis wrote that he expected to find an ideal setting to observe the connection between humans and the world around them when he began studying biology in Chicago and living just a block from Lake Michigan. But what he discovered was vastly different from the harmonious relationship he’d anticipated.

“(W)hat I experienced in my first year was far from the fascinating science experiment I expected. It was a poignant mess. Soggy plastic bags coated train stations. Fast food cups clogged street gutters. Ducks picked carefully amongst weeds of candy wrappers, searching for a meal below the filth. What I saw was surely the whirlpool I expected, but one that was in the process of drowning all life, not keeping it afloat.”

His biology studies would deepen his understanding of ecological issues. It was just a matter of asking the right questions, he explained.

“What about mold enables it to spread so quickly? How does the quality of a soil impact the health of those who consume its produce?” he wrote.

Bulthuis chose a neuroscience minor – not traditionally seen as an environmental discipline – because “I believe that any program undertaken with a certain mindset can be an environmental one. It is an awareness of the cycle that exists between humanity and nature and a willingness to explore it head-on that lies at the heart of environmentalism.”

He plans to continue his studies in a “neuroscience-based doctoral program.”

“I have already learned of many toxins that harm neural development (asbestos and lead, for example), and I would like to research these effects in detail,” he wrote.

RTK scholarship winner
Dylan McCloskey

The winner of the second prize, Dylan Lukas McCloskey, wrote about his avid involvement in several activities at Liberty North High School, including the Environmental Science Club, which he founded and has served as President and Vice President.

“I personally designed and initiated the project where we planted Asclepius, a Missouri native plant, in front of the high school,” he wrote. “As an environmentalist one of my proudest accomplishments is I have been instrumental in converting many Liberty High School faculty members and students into environmentally friendly recyclers.”

The school now recycles tons of paper and other materials each year, he wrote.

McCloskey plans to earn an Environmental Science or Environmental Engineer’s degree to “launch a career that helps me to help others on a much larger scale.”

In his other activities, he has gained leadership skills as a member of the Liberty North Student Council’s executive council and public speaking as a Religious Education Instructor at Saint James Catholic Church. He also has had opportunities to help the disadvantaged volunteering at Saint Mary’s Food Kitchen and Harvester’s Food Bank.

“These are the people I would strive to help most through quality of life innovations,” he wrote.

We congratulate both winners and wish them success as they continue to pursue their careers and goals.

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Inspector's Notebook

The Smart Way to Lower Additional Living Expenses (ALE)

When disaster strikes, time is of the essence to an insurance company. The faster the damage or spill is repaired, the lower the Additional Living Expenses or ALE bill. Yet, many insurance adjusters overlook one important way to shave thousands of dollars off of costs, according to Charles J. Reilly, Jr., President of Edward R. Reilly & Co., Inc., who is also the former Regional Vice President of the National Association of Independent Insurance Adjusters, and past President of the New York Association of Independent Adjusters, Inc. Reilly advises that using the right environmental inspection firm can help Homeowners Insurancekeep the ALE down. We spoke to him on how adjusters should choose an inspector.

“When it comes to dealing with disasters that involve mold, oil, asbestos, petroleum, and the like, we need to move quickly and carefully to minimize the impact on everyone involved,” Reilly says. Of course, companies need to be experts in what they do, and they should have a tried and true track record. But he says he also looks for four key qualifications when hiring inspection firms:

1. Independent Firms With No Conflict of Interest

“We will not work with a company that has dual capabilities – one that does both testing and remediation,” says Reilly. “That is a conflict of interest, so we only hire companies that do testing or remediation, but not both. That’s why, when choosing a technical inspector, the first thing we look for is an independent firm,” he continues.

2. Speedy, High-Quality Service

Fast ServiceIt is important to move quickly – not only for those who are the victims, but for the insurers as well. ALE quickly add up in situations involving water intrusions, asbestos, and petroleum/oil issues. Therefore, high-speed and high-quality environmental testing is critical.

“Everyone needs to work together quickly – the carrier, adjuster, and technical team,” Reilly says. “An environmental testing company needs to get to the site fast and with the appropriate technical people for the job at hand. We hope for an inspector to be on site within 48-hours of the incident. The faster you’re out there, the better off everyone is. Then we can stabilize the situation and start moving forward.”

3. Timely Test Results

E000392Once the inspector assesses the scene and takes samples, prompt turnaround time is just as important as initial response time. “We know that it takes time because there are labs, analysis, and reporting involved, but getting results back in a timely matter is critical,” Reilly says. “We want to minimize the exposure of a problem, and get the ball rolling on remediation. The faster we can do that, the lower the ALE or loss of income for a business will be.”

4. Actionable Reports and Follow Up

Insurance AdjusterReilly says the inspector’s initial job isn’t over after the report is submitted. There must be ongoing communication among the adjuster, testing firm, insurer, and remediation company. And, the inspector’s report must be in clear and understandable language, and present the best method to approach the situation. “I like to have interaction throughout the process, and on some jobs will test midway through to make sure the job is being done properly and to avoid problems down the road,” Reilly emphasizes. He also recommends post-job testing to make sure the cleanup is done correctly. “When we’re pushing the envelope hard, people can make mistakes. Post-construction cleanup testing is really important – for everyone’s benefit.”

How much can ALE really add up to?

We know that ALE can accumulate quickly, but we wanted to find out just how much. Robert Weitz, founder of RTK Environmental Group, provides some insight. “We’ve had insurance adjusters come back to thank us because we saved them tens of thousands of dollars,” says Weitz, a certified microbial investigator. “In one recent case, where there was a water leak at a high-end apartment in NYC, the ALE were around $12,000 per day. We were on the job within 24 hours, and had a report completed within a few days. Based on their expected turnaround time, we saved the insurance company close to $48,000, and got the insured back home quickly, which made everyone happy.”

If you would like to speak with an expert at RTK about their services for insurance companies, please call us at (800) 392-6468 or email us at welcome@rtkenvironmental.com.

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Inspector's Notebook Mold

Shocker: Construction Snafu Causes $250K in Mold Damage

By Robert Weitz, CMI, Principal and Senior Mold Inspector at RTK Environmental Group

I was dispatched to a high-end clothing store among a row of businesses in beautiful Greenwich, Connecticut. What appeared to be just an ordinary mold inspection was about to turn into a far more complex environmental investigation. Under ordinary circumstances, I’d enter the business, conduct a visual mold investigation, take multiple air samples to analyze mold spore counts, a few other samples of suspect mold growth, spend time educating the client, then send out the samples to our independent laboratory to analyze the results. That didn’t happen on this day.

Before I can dive into the story, I must tell you a little about the tony town of Greenwich. It’s located about 30 miles north of New York City and is one of the most prestigious communities in America. Its residents include heads of industry, countless celebrities, Wall Street tycoons, and all-around “fabulous” people. Essentially, people either live in Greenwich or aspire to do so. The Greenwich business community caters to the ultra-rich with discerning taste; there are a multitude of shops that closely resemble Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills or Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Shops are brimming with high-end fashions and home goods. Inventories are plentiful and expensive. So when an expensive inventory is ruined by carelessness, hundreds of thousands of dollars are on the line.

The retailer who hired RTK Environmental Group is a nationally-known, high-end brand (our policy is not to reveal the names of our clients—even our “A-List” celebrity clients—yes, we are mold inspectors to the stars), that had a very serious mold problem. After briefly interviewing the store’s management, we quickly realized that the mold problem stemmed from a neighboring restaurant that had hired a shoddy contractor.

The Trouble Begins

In Connecticut, restaurants are required to construct their kitchens according to a very specific set of building codes. The rules are in place to prevent the spread of fire, but also aid in helping to prevent the transfer of moisture and odors as well. The contractor in this case did not follow several of these precautionary measures. Adding to this error , the restaurant’s dishwasher was improperly installed from day one, allowing a slow leak to occur that penetrated the wall surface.

Our client, the high-end clothing retailer, began to smell a strange odor emanating from the rear of the store. When visible mold on the baseboard was discovered, the landlord was called to solve the problem. The landlord quickly discovered the restaurant’s leaky hose and a kitchen that was not quite up to snuff with building codes. Wisely, the landlord immediately made the restaurant take action. Here is where the drama really begins.

A Series of Costly Errors

The restaurant couldn’t have handled the situation worse. The first mistake the restaurant made was they did not get an independent assessment of the mold damage first by bringing in a mold expert like my company, RTK Environmental Group. The restaurant was essentially flying blindly, not aware of the costly damage they were about to create.

The second mistake the restaurant made was hiring a contractor with no experience in handling mold remediation. The most reputable mold remediators insist on independent, third-party mold testing from companies like RTK to pinpoint the mold source and identify where hidden mold could be hiding. Companies like RTK also identify the type of mold—whether it is toxic or an allergen—to ensure worker and occupant safety during and after remediation. The inexperienced contractor skipped the independent mold testing step and created a mold health hazard to workers, destroyed an inventory in the retail space worth six figures, sparked costly legal action, and put countless customers in both establishments at risk of respiratory and other health risks.

The contractor came in, cut out lower wallboard between the restaurant and the retailer, and carted out the damaged sheetrock through the building. All of this was done without setting up proper containment. When the contractor cut the wall open, millions of mold spores (which later were identified to be toxic), were released into the air in both the restaurant and the retailer. The inside of the wall cavity was rotted with an unfathomable amount of mold growth. The spores silently spread like wildfire throughout the restaurant and the store. The contractor patched up the wall and left.

Patrons continued to eat at the restaurant and shoppers and employees were frequenting the retailer. But a few weeks later, employees at the retailer began complaining about headaches, were coughing, and exhibiting flu-like symptoms. A disgusting, musty odor began permeating the store. With high-end retailers, image is everything—especially in discerning Greenwich—and RTK was called in to investigate.

I set up and took samples. Even I was shocked to find that spore counts were exceptionally elevated. Lab results confirmed the spore samples obtained on site contained Stachybotrys, Aspergillus, and Penicillium, all highly toxic molds. It was a clear health hazard.

Now, we had the potential for a Jerry Springer episode. We had a tenant-tenant dispute, a tenant-landlord dispute, and a tenant-contractor dispute as all the parties involved sought to assign blame and financial responsibility for the remediation. For our part, RTK provided a detailed report that included remediation recommendations for a properly-trained contractor to come in and fix the problem. The inventories in both businesses had to be thrown away. The restaurant and the store had to be thoroughly cleaned, and the wall separating both establishments had to be properly removed using the proper containment procedures (including negative air pressure) and rebuilt.

The restaurant, understanding it was facing a six-figure cleanup bill, refused to lose revenue by closing for repairs. Instead, a complex and precise remediation was planned.

At 11:00 p.m. on a Sunday night, the restaurant closed. A team of properly trained remediation workers arrived, stripped the restaurant and the retailer, removed the affected components from the kitchen, cleaned and restored appliances, tables, chairs, and anything that could be salvaged. The expensive inventory was carted off. The wall was removed—properly—according to our specifications, and was put back together by 9:00 a.m. the following morning. I took air samples and gave the OK that mold spore counts were at “acceptable” levels. The health and building inspectors arrived on scene shortly thereafter and signed off on the repairs.

There were many mistakes made by the restaurant’s owners and contractors. If they had meticulously followed building and health codes—and had the dishwasher been installed properly could have saved the restaurant hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage to the structure, and the store’s ultra-expensive inventory. Lawsuits, tenant disputes, landlord disputes, court proceedings, and a whopper of an insurance claim, could have all been avoided, if a $1 rubber hose had been properly installed .

And, most importantly, if they had contacted RTK Environmental Group first, our recommendations would have protected the restaurant from a series of mistakes that would ultimately cost nearly $250,000.

Condo and Co-Op Owners Take Note

You don’t need to have a restaurant next door to you to experience severe damage. We’re called out on countless inspections of co-ops and condos where a reckless neighbor improperly installs an appliance or has an unresolved plumbing issue and creates a huge problem among neighbors. Since 80% of homes have environmental problems like mold, a word to the wise would be to investigate carefully whom you hire. If you have an environmental problem—like mold or indoor air problems—bring in an expert like my company, RTK Environmental Group first. Your wallet will thank you for it.

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Inspector's Notebook

Reflecting Back: Asbestos Exposure at the World Trade Center on 9/11

I was standing on the balcony of the 17th floor of 39 Broadway in Lower Manhattan, where I worked as the communications director of a national nonprofit organization, drinking a hot cup of coffee on a crisp morning, September 11, 2001. The balcony overlooked Rector Street, and the view looking north included the south face of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. I watched, dumbfounded, as a Boeing jet dropped from the sky, flew in front of my nose, and crashed into the North Tower. Less than 10 minutes later, after watching the second plane hit, and seeing and smelling acrid smoke billow into our office, my colleagues and I slammed the balcony door shut, and evacuated the building.

Outside, we found chaos. Smoke-filled streets. Subway trains stopped. People looking up, watching for another attack. Uncertain about what would fall from the sky next, we returned to our lobby, where we huddled together for hours, watching the news—and waiting to learn when it was safe to walk home. At 11:30 a.m., 17 of us left together and walked north, through the dust of jet fuel and asbestos-laden building material. I fell through the door of my apartment on 35th Street around 3 p.m. Traumatized. But safe.

A Day to Remember

For many—myself included—9/11 is a day to remember the details. To never forget that a single terrorist act took the lives of our family, friends, and colleagues. I remember it as the day I stopped being so naïve about my safety. For days, ATMs were out of cash. Gas stations dried up. Grocery store shelves empty. We felt trapped, and violated.

I remember observing the U.S. military campaign “Shock and Awe” unfolding on the other side of the world, and feeling that going to work every day felt like visiting a war zone. Toxic dust covered the streets. I stopped sitting on the balcony to drink coffee. I started wearing a dust mask to walk from the subway to my office. I remember hearing about first responders getting sick from working at “the Pile.” And thinking, I’m only a few blocks away.

A Time to Reflect

In the 13 years that have passed since the terrorist attacks, I got married, had two children  and moved an hour north, to Westchester County. The world has changed. I’ve had a chance to reflect on the amazing generosity of others who reached out to us New Yorkers and helped in the days, weeks, and months after 9/11. Over a decade later, many still dedicate their lives to helping those affected by 9/11.

I’ve learned about the strength of some of those affected, like Liz and Steve Alderman, who founded the Peter C. Alderman Foundation, in honor of their son, who was killed on 9/11. Their work has benefited the mental health of thousands of trauma victims around the world. I also admire the work of the Feal Good Foundation, an advocacy group that assists first responders whose health suffers as a result of their rescue and recovery work at Ground Zero. I’ve encountered local heroes who died as a result of illnesses contracted from working in the rubble—and learned about the scope and dangers of 9/11 illnesses, including deadly cancers such as mesothelioma, that have affected tens of thousands exposed to toxic dust in Lower Manhattan. Many health organizations continue to offer service to 9/11 responders, such as the World Trade Center Health Program at Mt. Sinai Hospital.

Studies have shown that Ground Zero workers needed more than a dust mask to protect themselves from the direct exposure to the poisonous, asbestos fibers released into the air after the collapse of the Twin Towers. Exposure to asbestos from the World Trade Center is a large-scale public health problem that will take decades to remedy.

Working with RTK Environmental Group has opened my eyes to just how much (or little) exposure to asbestos can cause serious health problems, including mesothelioma, asthma, and other respiratory ailments. Most people—as I was—are unaware that thousands of building materials used in the construction of homes and commercial spaces have been manufactured with asbestos (think insulation, pipe insulation, floor tiles, adhesives, roof shingles, siding, and textured ceilings).

Sadly, the collapse of a 110-story building is how many people first became aware of the dangers of asbestos exposure.

-Lisa Buchman