Mold Testing vs. Remediation

Buyer Beware: Is Your Mold Contractor Ripping You Off?

One-stop shops that both test for and remediate mold woo customers with low prices, but consumers can end up paying thousands more in the repairs.

The environmental testing industry is plagued by companies offering mold testing on the cheap, and when they claim to find mold conveniently offer their own remediation services to fix the problem. “This is a clear conflict-of-interest, with the result that the problem is not often remediated – if it exists at all,” warns Robert Weitz, a certified microbial investigator and principal at RTK Environmental Group, which only provides testing services. According to Weitz, the result is the consumer may be paying thousands of dollars for bloated repair estimates or an improper and ineffective remediation.

There is a very big distinction between environmental testing companies. Independent, certified testing companies do not do remediation and therefore offer consumers unbiased opinions and remediation recommendations. They won’t magnify or make-up the problem in hopes of making money on the remediation to follow.

Recently, investigative reporter Jeff Rossen conducted an undercover investigation on NBC-TV’s Today show into mold remediation, and the results were shocking. He found that some companies were willing to claim that eye shadow smeared on a wall was mold, then would charge upwards of $10,000 to remove the ‘mold problem.’

The bottom line is that a company whose practice is strictly limited to environmental testing and consulting and never remediation will assure you of an accurate and unbiased assessment.


Flooding & Water Damage Mold

Rain, Rain, Go Away – I Hope This Mold Isn’t Here to Stay!

Summer rains can be a welcome refresher. But when the rain gods are overly generous and the skies open up, so do the humidity the floodwaters in our basements. This leads to one thing – mold.

Rain plus heat equals mold. While it may not be mathematically sound, it is an equation you can count on. Humidity is mold’s best friend, and mold can grow on just about anything – but not without moisture.  Therefore, in order to prevent mold, it is crucial to control moisture.

You can start with a dehumidifier. During the summer months, the dehumidifier should be set to keep the moisture level at 50%. If you set it higher, you are defeating the purpose and allowing moisture to linger and mold to grow. Click here for more on humidifier settings.

Another preventative measure that is easy and very effective is managing the water runoff from your house. If the water pouring off your roof has nowhere to drain, it can and will find its way into your home.  Keep your gutters and downspouts debris-free. Also, make sure that your downspouts are adequately angled away from the house. Otherwise, water will collect at the edge of the house and leak into the foundation and basement.

If water does creep in, address the problem immediately. If you suspect that mold has already made its way in, schedule a test with a certified microbial investigator. He can provide you with an assessment of the situation, and give you a plan to move forward and send the mold on it’s way.

Gardening Soil and Water

Could Your Compost Be Contaminated?

You may want to think twice before biting into that home grown tomato! Sure homegrown produce tastes better, but using public compost could expose your veggies—and you—to damaging levels of lead. Here’s why: Many municipalities pick up lawn clippings and organic debris for composting to later be shared with the community. Unfortunately, as they recently found out in Boston, if the materials coming from homes are tainted with lead or other contaminants, consequently so is the compost.

Environmental officials recommend that compost containing lead concentrations of more than 150 parts per million not be used in gardens. Last year, Boston’s mean concentration of lead in compost was 299 parts per million, with a high of 480 parts per million (far exceeding limits). As a result of severely elevated concentrations of lead, thousands of tons of compost were ruled to be off limits to Boston residents who were hoping to take advantage of the free fertilizer. This lead-riddled compost, predominantly used to grow fruits and vegetables, is extremely hazardous to your health as the contaminants from the soil spread to the produce you later consume.

But Boston isn’t the only city with older homes, which typically have old lead paint. In the New York Tri-State area, more than 80% of homes were built prior to 1978, the year that lead paint was banned. If not properly cared for, simply opening a door or window in one of these homes could spread of toxic lead dust, not only in the house, but throughout the yard and neighborhood as well.

If you live in a home built pre-1978 or in an area with older homes, be sure to have your home and soil tested – especially if you plan to share your lawn clippings with your municipality for composting. Lead poisoning is preventable – be sure you do your part!




Health Lead

New Lead Standards Spark Confusion, Concern Among Parents

New Lead Standards Spark Confusion, Concern Among Parents

Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took a monumental step in protecting children from lead poisoning by cutting in half the “action level” of lead in the blood stream. Now, any child (age 1 – 5) with more than 5 micrograms per deciliter of lead in the blood is considered at risk.

Although almost 400,000 more children are now considered lead poisoned in the U.S., it means that early action will help us prevent serious health problems and save lives. Even small levels of lead exposure can irreversibly influence children’s development, from ADHD and autism-like symptoms to brain damage and lower IQ.

The other part of the announcement drew harsh criticism –the federal funding for lead poisoning was slashed 94% this year by Congress. So what does that mean for parents, and how are we supposed to protect our kids with limited funding?

Unfortunately, the burden is on us and we need to take action. Here are a few important tips:

1. Prevention is the key – test the house.

Once a child has lead poisoning, it becomes expensive and dangerous. Have your home tested by a certified independent inspector for lead paint. If you find that your home contains lead paint, they will provide you with a comprehensive abatement plan to remove the lead before it becomes a health issue.

2. Have your children tested for lead.

Only about 53% of pediatricians will do a routine lead test at age one. (Read more here on pediatricians and lead testing.) As a rule of thumb, all children should be tested at age one, and again at age two. If you live in a high-risk area, it may be more often. If you are unsure if your doctor performs the blood test routinely, ask and request that it be done.

3. Know the sources of lead poisoning.

Lead paint that is ingested is the primary cause of lead poisoning. It can be in the form of lead paint chips or lead dust released from window frames and doors, which gets into the air, water, soil, and on the floor. Lead dust can also be found on playground equipment and toys. Other sources of lead are older pipes, stained glass, toys, pottery glazes, leaded crystal, jewelry, antiques, folk remedies, food cans, and more.

To download the EPA’s brochure “Lead in Your Home: A Parent’s Reference Guide” click here.

To schedule a lead inspection, click here.


Unhealthy Mold and Its Horrid Consequences

Mold causes all sorts of headaches! It’s unsightly. It smells. And it causes allergies and asthma.

Testing by certified microbial investigators is the only way to find out where mold is lurking in your home or business. RTK Environmental Group’s investigators spend hours each day testing homes for mold. What follows are some of the frequently asked questions we get from our clients.

Q: Our home was flooded in the fall, and our plaster walls are now moldy. Do the plaster walls, like gypsum board, need to be ripped out?
Yes. If the plaster is moldy, chances are the wooden studs that support the plaster are moldy as well. Mold growing in the walls, out of sight, is a common occurrence.

Q: I bleached the mold that was growing on my basement walls. Will it still cause respiratory problems?
Without a professional environmental inspection, it’s impossible to tell if all your mold is gone. In most cases, bleaching alone is not enough to stop mold from spreading. Even one spore is enough to contaminate the area again. And a little known fact: Even dead mold spores can cause an allergic reaction, so be sure that the area is well ventilated.

Q. I am a really good housekeeper, yet no matter how hard I clean, I still get mold on my walls. Why?
Mold is everywhere, part of our natural environment. Outdoors, mold is an important part of nature, breaking down dead organic materials. Just look at what happens to fallen leaves; that’s mold at work. But indoors, mold is a huge problem. It doesn’t take much for mold to take hold, particularly if there is excess humidity in the home. Within 24 hours, if an area remains damp or wet, toxic mold can start growing. Mold reproduces by tiny spores, too small for the naked eye to see. And once these spores start floating through the air, they begin to latch on to other surfaces and multiply. Rest assured: Mold grows even in the cleanest homes.

Q. Since mold is everywhere, why should I care?
You have to care about mold, because it can make you and your family sick. The most common affect is an allergic reaction when mold spores are inhaled. Typical reactions include hay fever or asthma, and irritation of the nose, eyes, throat and lungs. Unfortunately, it is impossible to determine how you will be affected by mold until it attacks. And since allergic reactions can happen from both dead and live mold spores, killing mold with bleach is not a solution. It’s important to test for mold for two reasons: To find out where mold is lurking and to discover the type of mold in your home or office. Once you know those two facts, you can hire a remediation firm to remove the mold.

For more information, or to schedule a mold inspection, call RTK at 800.392.6468.

Asbestos Flooding & Water Damage Lead Mold Soil and Water

Healthy Homes

As we stressed in our last post, testing your home for environmental toxins — lead, mold, radon, asbestos — is vital, especially if your family consists of young children or pregnant women. Hidden dangers are lurking just about everywhere. In addition to testing, you can keep your family healthy and your home safe by following these suggestions from the Children’s Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

  • Energy-efficient heating equipment lowers your monthly energy bills and, if properly sized and maintained, reduces air pollution. Be sure all ducts are tightly sealed, which experts say can lower your bills by as much as 20 percent. Be wary of any equipment older than 15 years. It might need to be replaced.
  •  Organic fruits and vegetables minimize exposure to pesticides. If you can’t afford to buy everything organic, consider buying organics from following list of the most pesticide-saturated fruits and veggies, known as the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen”: apples, celery, strawberries, peaches, spinach, imported nectarines, imported grapes, sweet bell peppers, potatoes, domestic blueberries, lettuce, and kale/collard greens. And whether it’s organic or conventional, wash all produce well before eating to reduce risk of infection.
  • Find a new home for your old electronics – computers, television, cell phones, e-readers, etc. E-cycling reduces waste and helps manage toxic chemicals. Check your state’s environmental agency for information on where to recycle old equipment.
  • Many eat fish for health reasons, but beware: Big fish, such as shark and swordfish, often contain contaminants, including metals, industrial chemicals and pesticides. Safer options include tilapia, mussels, clams and shrimp.
  • Phthalates and bisphenol-A (BPA) are potentially harmful chemicals in plastics that can leak out and into our children’s bodies, negatively impacting brain development and reproduction. Choose plastics No. 1, 2, 4, and 5 for drinkware and containers. In addition, never heat plastic, especially in the microwave; wash plastic in the dishwasher; or pour warm liquids into plastic containers.
  • Water often contains lead, especially if plumbing is older than 10 years old. Test your pipes for lead. Also, run your water for a few minutes every morning or whenever it hasn’t been used for a while, and use cold water for cooking.
  • Smoking is the most common cause of indoor air pollution. Plus, secondhand smoke can cause asthma attacks, respiratory problems, and possibly cancer. So if you must smoke – and we hope you’ll consider stopping – smoke outside away from doors, windows, and vents.

We live in a world laden with pollutants, but these steps can help you keep your home pollutant-free.



How much lead dust is too much?

A speck of lead dust as small as a grain of sand is enough to poison a child, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But is the CDC too lenient in its standard for the level of lead allowed in the blood?

Health Lead

Angry? Restless? Lead Poisoning Could Be The Problem.

Adults often downplay the harmful effect of exposing children to lead in the home, especially those adults who grew up in a home or apartment built before 1978, the year lead paint was banned from residential use in the United States. They say: “Look at me. I’m fine. And I grew up when paint always contained lead.”

Health Lead

How lead endangers an unborn child

From the moment a woman discovers she is pregnant, her future child’s development takes center stage. Pre-natal health becomes paramount. But if she lives in a home or apartment constructed before 1978, she unwittingly might be subjecting her unborn child to lead poisoning.

Lead exists in every neighborhood, not just the inner city. It is found most commonly in paint and dust created by disturbing that paint in older homes, as well as in soil and tap water. If a pregnant woman breathes in or swallows the lead detritus, she can pass the toxic substance on to her unborn child. Unfortunately, just opening and closing a window can send lead dust flying through the air, easily inhaled by anyone in the vicinity.

Lead in the body of a pregnant woman can:
• Put her at risk for miscarriage;
• Cause premature birth and low birth weight;
• Adversely affect the fetus’s brain, kidneys, and nervous system;
• Cause learning or behavior problems, including autism-like symptoms, brain damage, lowered IQ, and ADD/ADHD, after the child is born.

Here’s an action plan that every pregnant woman living in a pre-1978 built dwelling should take:
• Have a blood test to determine if there is lead in your body;
• Have your home tested for lead by an environmental testing company. For any renovation, even a simple painting job, test your home before renovation to pinpoint where lead lurks, and after renovation to be sure all traces of lead are gone.
• Leave your home when it is cleaned, painted or remodeled.
• Talk to your doctor if you have the urge to eat soil or clay, a condition called pica. If you have pica, it is imperative to have the soil around your home tested by an environmental testing company.

Asbestos Lead

9/11’s toxic dust

9/11’s toxic dust

Sept. 11, 2001 has been memorialized by unforgettable images, among which were the buildings collapsing in a blanket of dust and smoke, and people rushing from the scene, covered in a white dust that we now know was toxic.

The numbers of Ground Zero workers with serious medical issues keep growing. Many are claiming the toxic dust they inhaled have caused a myriad of health issues, including cancer, asthma, persistent coughs (known among those afflicted as WTC cough), and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

At the time, workers and volunteers were assured by Christie Whitman, then administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, that the air was safe to breathe. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey asked Paul Lioy, director of exposure science at Rutgers University and Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, to collect and test samples of the dust. It turned out that the dust was a toxic cocktail of asbestos; metallic particles including lead; cement; gypsum; calcium carbonate; and glass fibers. The dust pH was highly alkaline and extremely caustic, and according to experts, caused severe medical problems for first responders and those who spent months cleaning the site.

This weekend, as we all remember and pay homage to those who lost their lives, it is also a good time to be reminded to pay more attention to the air we breathe daily. Lead dust – present in many pre-1978 built homes (the year lead paint was banned) – is poisonous to everyone, but especially children, pregnant women and pets. The list of health problems it causes is long and troublesome, including brain damage, loss of IQ, learning disability, hearing loss, nervous system and kidney damage.

Asbestos is a human carcinogen, and is linked to lung cancer, laryngeal cancers and malignant mesothelioma. Since these cancers develop 10 to 30 years after exposure, many of the 9/11 workers might be still symptom free.

If you suspect an environmental hazard might be lurking in your home, your first stop should be to have your home tested by certified inspectors. Once testing is complete and a remediation plan established, hire only contractors who are certified to remove the specific hazard.