Caution over air-quality problems causes Terre Haute high school to delay some practices

As a precaution, some athletic practices at Terre Haute North Vigo High School were delayed Thursday as the result of early-December air quality testing that showed mold/air quality levels in the gyms were somewhat “outside the norm.”

The district received results Thursday, which prompted a delay or postposting of practices in the auxiliary gym and main gym, said Rob Haworth, district superintendent. Both gyms were immediately cleaned, and some of the practices occurred later in the day.

The levels tested were not viewed as a significant issue, he said.

Each year, the district does air quality checks, Haworth said. The December indoor air quality testing was done by ACM Engineering and Environmental Services.

At North Vigo, the “normal” mold count range (based on comparative outdoor air samples) was 430, and air quality tests in the gyms were in the high 400s and 500 range, Haworth said.

In contrast, when West Vigo High School had serious mold problems in August 2016, some of the classrooms had mold counts at 5,000 to 7,000, with the highest about 31,000.

Last month, the North Vigo gyms also were cleaned after high concentrations of mold were found on the school’s gymnasium upper-level bleachers. That and an IOSHA complaint outlining other concerns prompted the school district to contact the health department and develop an action plan to address the problems, Haworth said at the time.

Last month, the health department said the school district responded promptly and appropriately in addressing the mold.

While significant cleaning took place last month and could have also addressed the issues identified in the early December air testing, those results didn’t come back until Thursday.

“We’re not taking any chances,” Haworth said. “We went back through and cleaned again today [Thursday],” in both North Vigo gyms.

“There is a greater sense of awareness right now, specifically I think for North,” he said. “We’re trying to be transparent.”

Because of problems with mold at West Vigo High School in August 2016, the district now does annual testing for air quality in schools, he said.

Two other schools, Deming and Terre Town elementary schools, also were tested in early December and results identified some issues.

“Crews were cleaning and addressing those areas as well,” Haworth said.

At Terre Town, air tests indicated an elevated concentration of mold spores in the cafeteria relative to the outdoor air sample, while at Deming, a surface tape lift sampling was conducted of a small amount of mold on a ceiling tile.

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NIOSH Develops Tools to Help Identify and Assess Areas of Dampness and Mold

NIOSH has developed and released the Dampness and Mold Assessment Tool to help employers identify and assess areas of dampness in both general buildings and school buildings.

“Implementing regular visual inspections for dampness can help to identify trouble areas before they become major problems and help to prioritize maintenance and repair,” said David Weissman, M.D., director of NIOSH’s Respiratory Health Division. “The Dampness and Mold Assessment Tools provide an inexpensive mechanism to investigate, record, and compare conditions over time.”

Close-up Photo of Tree Bark

Nonindustrial buildings like offices and schools can develop moisture and dampness problems from roofs and window leaks, high indoor humidity, and flooding events, among other factors. Dampness can promote the growth of mold, bacteria, fungi, and insects. Workers and others in damp buildings can be exposed to airborne pollutants from biological contaminants and the breakdown of building materials.

According to NIOSH, research has shown that exposure to building dampness and mold are associated with a number of health problems, including:

  • Respiratory symptoms (such as in the nose, throat, or lungs)
  • Development or worsening of asthma
  • Hypersensitivity pneumonitis (a rare lung disease in which lungs become inflamed as an allergic reaction to inhaled bacteria, fungi, organic dusts, and chemicals)
  • Respiratory infections
  • Allergic rhinitis (often called “hay fever”)
  • Bronchitis
  • Eczema

The Dampness and Mold Assessment Tools provide a guide for users to assess all rooms for areas of dampness and mold and identifying the source(s) of the dampness and mold. The tools include a checklist and instructions for assessing and recording any damage found and for tracking conditions over time.

Workers who suspect their health problems are related to exposure to building-related dampness or mold should report new, persistent, or worsening symptoms to their personal doctor and to a designated individual at their workplace per their employer.

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Mom raises awareness to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning

In January 2018, Karen Weiss’s son, Hunter, died of carbon monoxide poisoning. He and a friend were driving home when they decided to pull over to sleep and keep warm using a small propane heater.

“I’m sure the boys thought by having one window open that would be enough,” she says. “But I have since learned that you need to have a cross draft in order for that not to happen.”

Weiss says she wants to use this tragedy to help make sure this doesn’t happen to other families.

“I don’t want any other moms, or dads for that matter, to go through what I’ve gone through because it’s horrible and if we can just save one more life, then I’ve done my job,” Weiss says.

Experts warn heating devices that burn fossil fuels, such as portable camping and heating stoves, can produce dangerous levels of carbon monoxide.

“Those are the items that produce carbon monoxide and when it’s not properly ventilated, the person becomes sick with flu-like symptoms, headache and becomes nauseous,” Reno Fire Marshal Tray Palmer says.

“Don’t be afraid to call,” Palmer says. “That’s why you pay taxes. We’re here to respond.”

Palmer says RFD receives a higher volume of carbon monoxide related calls during the winter months because people turn on their heating systems and mistakenly warm their cars in garages. He recommends you to install a carbon monoxide detector in your home near the bedrooms.

The CDC has these additional tips:

– Have your heating system, water heater and any other gas or coal-burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year
– Do not use portable flame less chemical heaters indoors
– Never use a generator inside your home, basement or garage or less than 20 feet from any window, door or vent; fatal levels of carbon monoxide can be produced in just minutes
– Have your chimney checked and cleaned every year, and make sure your fireplace damper is open before lighting a fire and well after the fire is extinguished
– Make sure your gas appliances are vented properly
– Never use a gas oven for heating your home
– Never let a car idle in the garage
– Know the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning

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Four Person's High-fiving Each Others

Most of us believe that a good diet and exercise is enough to lead a healthy life to enhance longevity. Have you ever thought that the quality of the air you breathe can make a difference in your lifespan? If you haven’t, then start considering some facts that emphasize the importance of indoor air quality on health. In recent years, poor air quality has been linked to various health conditions. Some of these conditions include, but are not limited to, respiratory infections, ischemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, strokes and even lung cancer. Research has suggested a link between heart disease and red meat consumption, but a link has also been suggested to poor air quality. Considering Americans spend an average of almost 90% of their time indoors as shown in one survey, the consequences of indoor air quality on health can be especially significant.

Many of the above listed substances originate from a-biogenic or biogenic sources. Dispersal of these materials takes place due to air pollution. Manmade activities or natural disasters such as forest fires, volcanic eruptions, flooding, etc. are identified as the main causes of air pollution. Some common obnoxious chemicals that are reported from air tests include: asbestos, formaldehyde, gases, heavy metals, Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), Polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs), pesticides, microbial/volatile organic compounds (VOC) such as, endotoxin, mycotoxin, etc, plus several other inorganic and organic materials. Besides these, some frequently reported biologically active constituents from air have been microbes, pollen grains, insect/insect bio-detritus, plant and animal-borne particulates, and protozoan cysts among others. Many of them are allergenic, infectious and pathogenic in nature. Some studies suggest that you can find higher concentrations of hazardous substances in the indoor air rather than in the outdoor air.

Having clean air in your environment will not just provide potential improvement for allergies and asthma, but can also benefit health in the long term. It has been shown that a reduction of just 10µg of particles per cubic meter of air can add on at least another half year to your lifespan. A reduction of almost 15µg of particles per cubic meter of air can add nearly another year to your lifespan. A few basic steps such as Do-It-Yourself (DIY) tests can provide information on air contaminants responsible for polluting the air quality in your home and environments. It will also help in understanding the indoor air quality and its proper management. Enhanced indoor air quality can improve quality of life as well as the longevity of your life span.

For more information or questions about IAQ baseline testing please contact Environmental Diagnostics Laboratory at 1-800-422-7873 ext. 304 or by the contact form on this website.

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Repairs to Pensacola’s moldy federal courthouse to take longer than originally expected

Recent rainy and stormy weather has delayed the massive mold-removal project taking place at downtown Pensacola’s federal courthouse, according to the agency in charge of the building.

The $30.8 million project, which had been scheduled for completion in the fall of next year, will instead be finished late next year, said Adam Rondeau, spokesman for the General Services Administration.

“The project’s schedule has shifted due in part to the weather that’s impacted the Florida Panhandle over the last few months,” Rondeau said in response to emailed questions.

Rondeau said the project remains within its estimated budget. He said the bulk of the work to date has focused on interior and exterior demotion, waterproofing and electrical and HVAC upgrades.

The next step, scheduled for later this month, will be installing precast concrete panels on the exterior of the building, he said. The concrete panels will cover the black damp-proofing and waterproofing materials that have surrounded the building since summer.

The $10 million courthouse was built in 1997 under a contract that made the GSA, not the developer, responsible for maintenance and repairs of the building.

U.S. Chief District Judge Casey Rodgers sent a letter to the GSA in March of 2015 saying the courthouse had been infested with mold for 20 years without any permanent remediation.

Rodgers said more than half of the building’s employees had reported health problems consistent with mold exposure. Employees complained of a variety of sinus and respiratory issues.

Stable Foundations workers remove the brick facade on the Federal Courthouse in downtown Pensacola on Thursday, March 22, 2018. The currently vacant building is undergoing repairs to remedy water intrusion and mold. (Photo: Gregg Pachkowski/

The construction work began in 2017 after the developer of the building at Garden and Palafox streets agreed to an early lease termination and transferred the problem-plagued courthouse and surrounding property to the city. The city then transferred the title to the GSA.

In the meantime, U.S. District Court operations have moved to the nearby Winston E. Arnow Federal Building.

Jay Stake, president of the national Indoor Air Quality Association and an expert in mold assessment and removal, said it is crucial the entire courthouse structure be sealed to eliminate water intrusion before mold-contaminated materials are removed.

“If they have a leaky roof and it is continuously raining, everything they are doing is just wasted time,” he said. “You have to take care of the building envelope first.”

Mold is dangerous but its impacts are difficult to gauge because they differ from person to person, he said.

“Lead or asbestos will affect everybody. With mold, 10 of you could walk into a room with mold and each one of you will react different. There is really no set level for mold exposure,” he said.

According to the GSA website, work to be done at the Pensacola site includes modernizing and repairing the courthouse, replacing the facade and seam metal roof system to prevent water intrusion and conducting mold abatement. The site says work will also include repairing structural damage, upgrading fire safety systems and installing new heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems.

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