When COVID hit New York City in March, many residents who could, opted to flee to second homes or rentals in the Hamptons, Westchester, Fairfield, Putnam, Dutchess, and other Metro areas. Additionally, offices closed and employees worked from home. After Labor Day, office and commercial spaces began to reopen and many people returned to their apartments and brownstones, only to find an unpleasant and unhealthy surprise – mold.
“We have seen the number of insurance claims for mold damage and inquiries about mold testing increase in the city that had been caused by a plumbing issue or leak while premises were vacated,” says Robert Weitz, founder of RTK Environmental Group, a leading environmental testing firm in the northeast.
Pipe breaks, plumbing leaks and roof leaks happen all the time in New York City, but when you don’t catch them right away, mold can develop and become a serious problem. Mold also can be caused by humidity in spaces that are closed up without ventilation. After a water intrusion occurs, mold can take hold in as little as 24 – 48 hours. You can imagine the damage it causes after several months of going unchecked.
What to do if you find mold
If you do return to find a mold issue, the first step is to have a mold inspection. Hire a company that only does independent mold testing and not remediation, so there is no conflict of interest. This will enable you to get an unbiased evaluation of the situation, and a blueprint for remediation. Once you have the report in hand, you can rest easy that the company you hire to remediate will only do the work that’s necessary, and not claim a problem that doesn’t exist.
Once remediation is complete, the best practice is to have the testing company return for a clearance check. This ensures the work was done correctly, and that the mold was properly removed. If it wasn’t, the remediation company should come back to finish the job completely, at no cost to you. As mold can impact your health, this is a prudent course to follow.
RTK Environmental Group has been providing mold testing services to NYC and the tri-state area for over 25 years. If you have a mold issue or have questions, please contact us at 800.392.6468 or click here.
With autumn in full swing, take advantage of the crisp days and sunshine to prepare your home for winter. Whether you do it yourself or hire a professional, complete these tasks and you won’t spend a fortune on home repairs this winter.
Clean your gutters.
It’s a hassle, but you should clean your gutters before the temperature drops to help prevent ice dams, which form when melted snow pools and refreezes at roof edges and eaves. This ridge of ice then prevents water caused by melting snow from draining from the roof. Since it has nowhere to go, the water can leak into your home and damage walls, ceilings, and insulation. Water damage will soon be followed by mold. No matter what the season, gutters filled with heavy leaves can pull away from your house and cause leaks that damage your home and lead to mold growth. Also be sure your downspouts are angled away from your home to prevent leaks in the basement.
Check your roof for leaks.
You certainly don’t want to start your winter with a leaky roof. Check your ceilings for water spots, mold, or stains. If you spot them, before you call in a roofer, have a mold inspector test your home for mold. That way you’ll know exactly what needs to be replaced so the mold doesn’t come back. You may have small stains or dark spots now, but once the heavy snow sets in, the problem could get much worse, and you could wind up with a full blown mold infestation. You should also check your attic for moisture, as mold can easily grow there if it is not properly ventilated.
Clean your HVAC units, fireplace, furnace, and wood-burning stove.
Indoor air quality suffers in the winter because your home is closed up most of the time. Toxic fumes, including carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), can be emitted from fireplace and wood burning stove smoke and may back up into the house, which can cause serious health issues. Mold and dust can also build up in HVAC units over the summer months, then spread throughout your home when the heat is turned on. To make sure your indoor air quality is at an acceptable level, schedule a test from an environmental inspector like RTK Environmental Group. They will test for VOCs, mold, particulate matter, and other chemicals. For additional tips on indoor air quality, visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s Web site.
Longer days and extra daylight make summer an ideal time to tackle home improvement projects. Don’t allow the lazy, hazy days of summer blind you to the potential environmental hazards that turn up during do-it-yourself renovations. Whether you are painting the house, updating a kitchen, or redecorating the kids’ rooms while they are away at camp, take heed.
Here’s our “Watch Out” list with renovation tips:
1. Watch Out for Lead When Sanding or Disrupting Painted Surfaces
If you live in a home built prior to 1978, paint containing lead can be anywhere. Before starting any renovation project – big or small – test for lead paint. It can be extremely dangerous. Even a speck of dust from lead paint can cause lead poisoning, which leads to neurological issues, brain damage, and other serious, irreversible health consequences.
Whether you are remodeling your kitchen, sanding and staining the deck, or doing something as small as hanging pictures on a wall that contains lead paint, proper EPA Lead Safe work practices, outlined in the Renovation, Repair, and Painting Program (RRP), should be followed. Although following RRP work practices is not required for DIYers, it is the best way to safeguard your health and the health of those around you. For more information on Lead Safe work practices for DIYers, click here.
2. Watch Out That You Don’t Release Asbestos Fibers Into the Air
Before any renovation or demolition, you need to know if you are about to disturb any materials containing asbestos. Even though it is a naturally occurring mineral fiber, asbestos is banned in certain forms because of its toxicity. Once used for everything from insulation and decoration to fireproofing, asbestos now is restricted to certain products, but is still used.
Therefore, you can be exposed to asbestos fibers through demolition of walls and ceilings, tile, flooring materials, roof shingles, pipes, and many other items throughout your home. Inhalation of asbestos fibers can cause serious and fatal illnesses, including malignant lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis. Experts state that even a few hours’ exposure to the toxic fibers can be enough to trigger illness from 15–40 years down the road.
Be smart – have an asbestos survey performed prior to your renovation project. An asbestos survey will determine if there are any materials containing this toxic substance that you are about to disturb. Something as simple as installing a ceiling fan, removing a boiler, or updating your bathroom could have serious implications.
3. Watch Out for Mold
When conquering DIY projects, be mindful of mold hidden under sinks, behind walls, or anywhere that has cellulose material, warmth, and moisture. Mold can cause health problems.
Robert Weitz, a certified microbial investigator and founder of RTK Environmental Group, knows how prevalent mold can be. “Too often, we are called in to test for mold after a DIY project has gone wrong, or after someone tried to remediate mold on their own,” he says. “One of the most common mistakes homeowners make is ripping out wallboard, ceilings, and other building materials that are wet without mold testing or proper containment,” says Weitz, who saw this mistake repeatedly after Hurricane Sandy. “When extreme situations occur, like a hurricane, basement flooding, or a roof leak, people panic and start ripping things out with the intention of making the problem go away faster,” Weitz explains. “In doing this, they spread the mold spores throughout the home and ventilation system. Next thing they know, they have a full-blown mold infestation.”
So what should you do? First, if you know there has been water damage or a leak in the area, have it tested for mold. If mold is found, you can choose to have it professionally removed by a remediation company, or you can do-it-yourself following strict EPA mold remediation guidelines. DIY mold removal requires specialized equipment, air filtration, negative air pressure, protective personal wear, and more. Angie’s List shares information on the possible hazards of DIY mold removal.
For more information on environmental testing and tips to keep you healthy and safe, contact us.
Storm Cleanup: After a Storm, Don’t let Mold or Toxins Take up Residence in Your Home
As massive cleanup efforts and power restoration continue throughout the region after a lightning-fast-moving storm, homeowners should be aware of the potential that flooding and water damage are causing.
Storms can bring on drenching rains, flooding (both indoors and outdoors), and high winds causing leaks and other issues that contribute to mold growth and poor indoor air quality. Problem is, we often don’t realize the extent of the damage until days or weeks after the storm, and a musty order usually signals the problem. That’s when you know that mold growth has really kicked in. The problem with mold is that it can cause structural damage, poor indoor air quality, and health issues.
Look for these signs of mold after a storm.
If you see mold, then you clearly have a mold issue. If you see water stains, you probably have a mold issue as well. The question then becomes how big is the problem? Because mold is often hidden, growing on the back sides of walls and sheetrock, and under carpets and floorboards, the only way to be sure is to have a mold inspection performed by a certified professional.
Mold Creates a Musty Odor
But what about the mold you cannot see? Musty odors usually point to mold, and mold causes poor indoor air quality. RTK can test to see where the odor is coming from so that you can remediate with confidence, and don’t miss any hidden sources or spots. Summer months are particularly prone to mold growth as high humidity and heat accelerate the proliferation of this fungus.
Health Symptoms from Mold and Poor IAQ
If you are having physical symptoms such as itchy eyes, cough or wheezing that occur in one location of the premises that clear up when you are elsewhere, it’s a sure bet that the location is harboring mold. If you have any of the following unexplained symptoms, they may be caused by MOLD EXPOSURE and poor indoor air quality. In that case, you should have a mold and indoor air quality test.
Runny or stuffy nose
Itchy eyes, nose and throat
Cough and postnasal drip
Structural Damage Can Cause Mold
If a storm caused a leak from your foundation walls or your roof into your basement, mold is sure to follow. A mold colony can grow within 24 – 48 hours. So, it’s important to test for mold because when the next storm hits, the structural issue that allowed water intrusion will likely occur again if it is not repaired. Mold can eat away at wood structure, floorboards, and sheetrock, leaving them susceptible to decay.
Avoid Mold Removal Scams
Never hire a company that does both mold testing and mold remediation. Why? It is a clear conflict of interest. Often, unscrupulous companies will embellish a mold problem or offer testing on the cheap in hopes of making money on the remediation to follow. But at RTK, we only test for mold and do not remediate, so there is no conflict of interest. Once we have tested your premises, we provide you with a blueprint for mold removal, and you can hire the remediation company of your choice.
If you had flooding or a water intrusion from a storm and think you may have mold, call and schedule a test today at 800.392.6468.
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!
Seasonal Allergies? A Cold? COVID-19? Something Else?
This is going to be an allergy season like no other, as every sneeze, sniffle and cough will spark concern. Our best advice is to try not to panic. There can be several explanations for a cough that might have nothing to do with the coronavirus outbreak at all.
During this time of the year, flu, the common cold, and seasonal allergies cause respiratory distress. And now, with us spending so much time indoors, there can be allergens – like mold – that can be causing runny noses and coughs.
Here are a few things to consider about your symptoms.
Check for a Fever
If you are running a fever, this pretty much rules out allergies. But the fever might be caused by the flu, a virus, a cold or something else.
Seasonal Allergies or Cold
Doctors note that cold is not usually associated with itchy eyes, so if your eyes are red and irritated, you may be allergic to pollen or an allergen like mold. If you have a cough with no fever, it likely doesn’t mean that you’ve contracted the coronavirus. Check with your physician if in doubt.
Is it a Mold Allergy?
If you are having respiratory issues and other symptoms when you are in one location that clear up when you move elsewhere, it’s a good sign that you have a mold allergy. Signs of a mold allergy and symptoms of mold exposure include:
Runny or stuffy nose
Itchy eyes, nose and throat
Cough and postnasal drip
If your allergy symptoms do occur in one place more than another, you may want to have the location tested for mold. RTK safely performs mold testing, as it is regarded as an essential service. Call us at 800.392.6468 to schedule a test or if you have any questions.
The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a report on coronavirus symptoms. It found that almost 90% of COVID-19 patients had a fever, and nearly 70% had a dry cough. Additional symptoms of coronavirus have included:
Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing
Loss of taste and smell
The bottom line is, when in doubt, check with your physician. If you believe you have a mold problem, call RTK at 800.392.6468.
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-like symptoms, 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.
Before 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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic, there has been a rise of professionals working from home. But if you set up offices in your basement, you could be soon wheezing and coughing. And the problem never seems to go away.
That’s because these barons of the basement are probably subjected to long-term mold exposure, since basements are often moist, and moisture and mold go hand-in-hand.
“Mold is not just ugly looking, it’s increasingly recognized as a serious health hazard,” says Robert Weitz, a certified microbial investigator and principal of RTK Environmental Group, the leading environmental testing firm in the Northeast. Mold has been known to trigger allergies that cause headaches and coughing, as well as irritate the nose, skin, and eyes. For people with asthma, mold can make breathing particularly difficult.
Mold can get a jump start anywhere you’ve got leaky pipes, drippy appliances, or water creeping into the house via the roof, gutters, siding or foundation. To survive, mold simply requires two elements: a source of moisture and a source of food. Mold spores will adhere themselves to porous materials like paper, carpeting, and sheetrock, all things commonly found in home offices.
If you think you can simply throw away paper files contaminated with mold, think again. Some mold spores have been known to sporulate or “throw themselves” toward moisture sources. Once airborne, the microscopic mold spores can easily float and be carried by the gentlest air currents. Additionally, there may be mold hidden behind walls, in air ducts, under floorboards, and places you’d never think of. It can be detected only through proper testing.
That’s why it is prudent for people who work at home to call in experts to detect mold problems and pinpoint the infestation’s possible causes.
For more information or to schedule a mold test, call RTK Environmental at 800.392.6468.