Why It’s Important to Check For Mold in the Spring
Here’s How Mold Can Affect Allergies, Health, and Your Home
April showers may very well bring May flowers, but spring’s warmer temperatures and wet weather can certainly dampen one’s health.
April showers may very well bring May flowers, but spring’s warmer temperatures and wet weather can certainly dampen one’s health.
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.
According to GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com, approximately 43% of employees work remotely with some frequency. And with the current Coronavirus situation, these numbers are temporarily much higher. While there may be benefits to working in your pajamas, you may unknowingly be subjecting yourself to some health hazards.
For starters, the only exercise you might be getting is walking from your desk to your fridge. (Take a walk outside instead!) And you may be missing the daily cleaning service you once enjoyed at the corporate office. (A University of Arizona study found that the average office desk has about 400 times more bacteria than a toilet seat!) If your office is located in your home or basement, environmental toxins such as mold, asbestos, radon, and poor indoor air quality also are a concern. The truth is, home offices can be, well, downright unhealthy, and could be making you sick.
Not to worry. RTK Environmental has five tips to help you keep your home office from becoming a mini-microbial metropolis:
This is a biggie! If you find you are wheezing, sneezing, or coughing every time you work in your basement office, there may be unseen mold growing, a problem not uncommon in spaces that are partially or fully underground or have poor humidity control, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Use dehumidifiers, increase ventilation, use fans, and insulate cold pipes. If your basement has ever been flooded, replace carpets as they might contain mold or mildew. Mold feeds on moisture, so keep your office dry.
Here’s another hazard that you can’t see, and often can’t smell: poor indoor air quality. Even worse, if there’s radon in your home, you may be at risk of developing lung cancer. According to the Harvard Business Review, not only is poor air quality dangerous, but can make you less productive. Office equipment, furniture, cleaning products, drapes, and other everyday items can be creating a caustic and unhealthy environment. A professional indoor air quality test can identify mold, formaldehyde, PCBs, and many other toxic elements.
Be aware of asbestos-containing materials in your home, such as insulation, floor materials, ceiling tiles, wallboards and pipes. Any damaged or decomposed materials which contain asbestos, can pose health problems.
Are you eating at your desk? Multi-tasking might be making you more productive, but if you aren’t disinfecting your desk as you would your kitchen counter or other surface for eating, you could be creating a health hazard. Germs that make us sick can live on these surfaces – some for more than 48 hours! Eating at your desk gives germs an easy ride into your body on your food and hands, increasing your chances of getting sick. And if you think that critters, from rodents to bugs, are not enjoying the crumbs and leftover food reside on your desk, you can think again.
Dust that accumulates in hard to clean or neglected areas can cause chronic coughs and scratchy throats, itchy eyes, and even headaches. Take time regularly to clean computers, mice, phones, plugs, window blinds, baseboards, window wells, and other hard-to-reach areas. Maintain HVAC systems and change filters regularly to avoid dust build-up.
To be absolutely sure your home office is free of environmental toxins, call in a professional services company to test. RTK Environmental Group provides a full complement of environmental testing for mold, lead, asbestos, radon and indoor air quality. Because RTK does not provide remediation services, you can rest assured that the test results will be accurate and unbiased, as there is no conflict of interest.
RTK uses state-of-the-art equipment, and offers expertise and education to its clients. Experienced, knowledgeable investigators identify environmental hazards and identify solutions for cleanup and remediation. Follow-up testing can also be done after remediation, to ensure the toxins were addressed.
To schedule an inspection with RTK Environmental Group or for more information, call us at 800.392.6468.
Humidifiers and HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) systems can make life a lot more comfortable, but can also make us sick, according to several institutions, including the Mayo Clinic and Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC), who report that if humidifiers aren’t maintained properly or if humidity levels are kept too high, can grow and spread mold and bacteria that causes lung and respiratory illnesses, including Legionnaires’ disease.
Humidifiers, whether portable or built into a central heating and cooling system, can ease a slew of problems caused by dry air, from dry sinuses to cracked lips. But without regular maintenance, bacteria, mold, and fungi often grow in tanks and on the filters of portable room humidifiers, or in reservoir-type HVAC systems. These toxins can be released in the mist that the machines emit. Breathing in harmful particles carried by the mist can lead to respiratory problems, including flu-like symptoms, asthma, allergies, and serious infection – even humidifier fever, a respiratory illness caused by exposure to toxins from microorganisms found in wet or moist areas in humidifiers and air conditioners – especially for those of us who already suffer from allergies.
• Change the water daily. Empty the tank, wipe all the surfaces, and refill the water daily to reduce the growth of microorganisms. Using water with a low mineral content, such as distilled or demineralized water, will help reduce build-up of mineral scale and the dispersal of minerals and bacteria released into the air.
• Keep your humidifier clean. A humidifier should be cleaned every three days, at least! Be sure to unplug it, and wipe down any deposits or film from the tank with a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution, disinfectant, or chlorine bleach and water mixture. (Follow guidelines recommended by the manufacturer for your particular humidifier.) Be sure to rinse the tank and surface areas after cleaning it.
• Change humidifier filters regularly. People tend to wait until they can see signs of mold on the filter before they change it, which can be too late. Be sure to change your filter as often as the manufacturer recommends, or sooner if usage has been high.
• Don’t try to keep your home too damp. An ideal humidity level is between 30 and 50 percent. If you see condensation on surfaces, walls, or floors near your humidifier, you run the risk of breeding mold, bacteria, and dust mites. You can use a hygrometer to monitor humidity levels. It is not recommended that you run your humidifier round-the-clock.
• Fully clean and dry your humidifier at the end of the season before you put it away. This will help to prevent mold and bacteria growth while in storage.
• Read the instruction manual or ask your HVAC specialist about proper maintenance for your unit. There are four main types of whole house units that have a variety of maintenance schedules and operations.
• Be sure the humidistat, which controls humidity, is set between 30 – 45 percent. Anything higher than 45% and you risk mold and bacteria growth through condensation and particles settling in the bottom of ducts, which can spread spores through your entire house quickly.
• Reservoir (drum) style humidifiers require monthly maintenance. This includes cleaning the foam evaporator pad, which should also be replaced annually. Clean the foam pad using a 1:3 solution of water to vinegar, or use a commercial calcium removing fluid. Soak the foam pad until the deposits dissolve. Rinse the pad generously with clean water. If the pad is ripped or does not come fully clean, replace the foam pad.
With a little humidifier TLC, the air in your home or office can make it a happier and healthier place to live or work!
It’s that time of year that many of us dread. Seasons are changing, and cool nights and warm days are moving in. It’s back to school for many, and suddenly there seem to be a lot more common colds, coughs, and sniffles. But if you notice that your symptoms only occur in a specific location, such as your office, school, or apartment building, you may be suffering from sick building syndrome. Sick Building Syndrome is a term used to describe buildings where occupants experience health issues and discomfort while inside, but feel better shortly after leaving.
So what is actually in your office, workplace, or school that’s making you sick? Here are 6 of the most common offenders:
Mold is the leading cause of Sick Building Syndrome and can have dire effects on your health. In fact, in about 80% of sick building syndrome cases, mold infestations (black mold and other types) are the main cause of illness.
Indoor mold is not only disgusting, it’s also extremely unhealthy. Mold, which can either be toxic or an allergen, thrives in damp environments and spreads easily. Mold is typically found in basements, bathrooms, kitchens, attics and other areas of buildings that may be susceptible to high humidity levels. Mold infestations can be caused by pipe breaks, water leaks, roof leaks, and other water intrusions. Mold spores can spread to an entire building through the heating and air duct system.
We all cringe when we have to breathe recycled air on an airplane, yet the indoor air quality in our office or workplace may not be too much better! According to the Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air may be up to 100 times more polluted than outdoor air. Poor air circulation and inadequate ventilation may force us to breathe in toxins and chemicals, including lead dust, exhaust, radon, formaldehyde, asbestos, and VOCs from adhesives, upholstery, printers, carpeting, copy machines, manufactured wood products, pesticides, and cleaning agents. Yuck!
When was the last time you cleaned your computer or dusted your blinds? If you said ‘never,” you’re not alone. Simply put: Offices are filthy. Dust mites build up in neglected areas (have you looked at your printer cords and vent covers lately). Take notice of the fans being used to keep electronic equipment from overheating. Chances are you’ll find a lot of dust, lint, pollen, and dirt particles, building up over time. You’re breathing all this stuff in.
Between the off gassing of VOCs, and serving as a haven for bacteria and mold spores, you’ll never look at carpeting the same way again! Every time you roll your chair back and forth on the mat, every footstep you take, you may be releasing mold spores and unhealthy bacteria into the air. Doing so may cause asthma, allergies, and a host of other ailments.
Ever look in the office fridge and try to figure out whether you should put your sandwich near the container of green, fuzzy stuff or on the sticky orange patch with mystery debris stuck in it? Leaving food in the garbage and not storing food properly are big no-nos in an office, and can cause biological contamination. Cleaning the refrigerator out frequently will help prevent odors and mold, which can lead to health problems.
The guy who eats at his desk every day may seem motivated, but he could be making you sick. If he is not keeping his eating area clean, he may be attracting pests, like rodents and insects. Cockroaches have been linked to respiratory problems, and according to the EPA, certain proteins in cockroach droppings and saliva can cause allergic reactions and trigger asthma symptoms. Eww!
Before you assume it’s your building making you sick, get some more information. Talk to your coworkers and other building occupants. If a number of them are experiencing similar health problems that only occur when you are in the building, there’s a good chance that you’ve got a “sick building” and that you are suffering from Sick Building Syndrome.
If this is the case, report the situation to human resources, the office manger, or landlord, and request a thorough environmental health inspection. An independent testing company, like RTK Environmental, will conduct indoor air quality testing to determine if mold, VOCs, radon, or other harmful toxins are present in your environment. You may also want to see your physician to rule out any other possible medical conditions. Be sure to tell them if the symptoms occur when you are in a specific location. If you would like to schedule an indoor air quality inspection or have questions about sick building syndrome, call us today at (800) 392-6468.
If you had a leak from an ice dam, there may be hidden danger behind your walls. What seems like a small leak from your roof into your home could be a sign of hidden issues including wet insulation, standing water, and saturated wall board. The only way to know how extensive your damage from ice dams may be is to have your home tested for mold and moisture. If left untreated, you could develop a serious mold infestation.
This video shows the extent of the damage an ice dam can cause from just a small leak.
Winter weather has been pummeling the northeast. With more snow and ice in the forecast, it’s time to take a hard look at the problems these cold-weather plagues cause to homes and other buildings.
Pretty icicles hanging from the gutter? Danger ahead! Icicles hanging from gutters and eaves are the first signs of ice dams. Ice dams can cause leaks, and those can lead to structural damage and mold infestation.
“When melted snow refreezes at roof edges and eaves, it forms an ice dam, which is a ridge of ice that prevents the melting snow from draining off the roof,” said Robert Weitz, a certified microbial investigator and founder of RTK Environmental Group. “When the water has nowhere to go, it is forced back up under the shingles, and often into the ceilings or walls inside the home. And then the trouble begins.”
In addition to roof and water damage, ice dams can cause mold and mildew to form in attics, ceilings, insulation, and on wall surfaces, he explains. “The leak itself is certainly a headache, but it’s the mold that follows after the leak that will cause the most damage to your home, and possibly your health,” he warns.
A mold colony can be established in less than 24 hours. When inhaled, mold spores can cause chronic headaches, allergies, fatigue, skin rashes, wheezing, throat and eye irritations, and many respiratory problems including asthma – especially in children.
If you’ve had a leak or water intrusion, test your home for mold. It’s best to select an independent testing company, like RTK Environmental Group. They can conduct air monitoring and surface sampling tests; identify affected areas and measure the amount of mold; and determine if the health of your family is at risk.
Sparkling snow and ice may be beautiful to look at, but when they invade your gutters and forms ice dams that cause leaks into your home, it’s not pretty at all. Sure, we appreciate the warm-up during the day that melts the winter snow and ice, but when the temperature drops at night, the water refreezes to form ice dams, which can cause major damage to your home.
“Ice dams form when melted snow refreezes at roof edges and eaves, and this ridge of ice prevents melting snow from draining off the roof. Since it has nowhere to go, it can leak into your home, causing damage to walls, ceilings, and insulation,” said certified microbial investigator Robert Weitz. “You may think the leak itself is the worst part, but it’s the mold that comes after the leak that will cause the most damage to your home, and possibly your health,” he explained.
Once water gets into your home, it doesn’t take long for mold to take hold – a new colony can be established in less than 24 hours. When inhaled, mold spores can cause chronic allergies, headaches, fatigue, skin rashes, throat and eye irritations, wheezing, and many respiratory problems including asthma – especially in children.
Many people make the mistake of cosmetically repairing water damage without checking to see if mold has spread. That’s why when there’s water damage, it’s important to test for mold. To avoid potential conflicts of interest, don’t rely on your contractor to look for mold. Hire an independent mold inspector, instead.
Of course the best way to avoid mold is to take action if you see ice dams forming. Here’s what to do:
• Remove the snow from the bottom portion of your roof with a broom or roof rake;
• Don’t try to chip away the ice – this can cause further damage to your roof and shingles;
• Make sure your attic is well insulated and ventilated to minimize the amount of heat rising from the house. A colder attic will reduce melting and refreezing on your roof.
If despite your best efforts water seeps in, take these important steps:
• Take pictures of the damage, and remove the water immediately. Don’t wait for your insurance company to call you back. Waiting — even for a few hours — could accentuate your water and mold damage;
• Mop, vacuum, or pump water out of the affected area as soon as possible. Remove wet items and materials from the area;
• Dry out residual moisture that is left in the concrete, wood, and other materials. You can use a dehumidifier, fans or ventilation. Unplug electrical devices and turn off the circuit breakers in the wet area, if possible;
• If a material cannot be dried within 24 hours, it should be tossed. Unfortunately, this list includes mattresses, pillows, carpets, upholstered furniture, and items containing paper, including wallboard;
• Put aluminum foil under the legs of furniture to avoid staining floors;
• Have your home tested for mold.
If you have water damage this winter, an independent testing company can conduct air monitoring and surface sampling tests; identify affected areas and measure the amount of mold; and determine if the health of your family is at risk. For more information, visit www.RTKEnvironmental.com.
We tend to think that mildew is not a big deal — just a little discoloration that can be fixed with a spritz of ammonia or detergent. The ugly truth is that it is a form of mold, and may be a telltale sign of a much bigger problem – mold infestation. This happened to Anne M. of Katonah, NY. Here is her true story.
“Even though I cleaned my bathroom every week, there was one spot of mildew in the corner near the shower that would keep returning, even after I sprayed with a detergent containing bleach. This went on for a year, maybe a little longer. I never thought anything of it – just that the wall got wet from the shower, and caused this spot to reappear. Wow, was I wrong! Fast-forward one year.
One day, my husband noticed that the “throne” was bouncing a bit. Why would the toilet be moving? That’s when we decided we should test for whatever might be lurking under the floor. We called in RTK Environmental Group. They tested the floor as well as the walls and found that mold had eaten away the floorboards and the walls, in places that we couldn’t see it. We were completely infested.
When the contractors came in and ripped out the first wall, it was black. The insulation, drywall, beams – everything was covered with black mold. It was horrifying! The entire bathroom had to be ripped out. That little spot of mildew turned into a $25,000 repair.
I had no idea that this could happen! Had I known, I would have had a mold inspection right away. The test would have discovered the mold before it had a chance to proliferate. And a small, relatively inexpensive repair would have solved the problem. Lesson learned.”
So if you have what appears to be a small, innocent spot of mildew, have a mold inspector come in to test it. It may be nothing, but it also may be the start of a huge problem. Don’t wait! You (and your bank account) will be much happier in the end.
To schedule a mold inspection today, call RTK at (800) 392-6468 or go to https://rtkenvironmental.com.
Click on the link below to find out what you need to know about making your home safe for baby.
Tips for Baby-Proofing Your Home – Westchester Magazine – August 2013 – Westchester, NY.
Also, check out our Healthy Baby, Healthy Home site for additional tips and information.