In 2000, a new “toxic mold” panic swept the country, and after 16 years of untold lawsuits and billions of dollars spent, major myths still plague and unnecessarily panic association boards, managers and homeowners. The myths all too often cause exaggerated repairs, unduly frightened residents, and conflict. In this and the next column, I will address thirteen pervasive toxic mold myths.
1. Mold is new. Mold, one of the earliest and simplest life forms, has existed for thousands of years. Almost 100 years ago, mold was the basis of the discovery of penicillin. Mold is ever-present, as is dust or pollen.
2. The scientific and medical communities confirm mold’s many dangers. In 2004, the National Institute of Medicine published its comprehensive study on indoor mold exposure, called “Damp Indoor Spaces and Health.” A central finding was: “Scientific evidence links mold … in homes and buildings to asthma symptoms in some people with the chronic disorder, as well as to coughing, wheezing, and upper respiratory tract symptoms in otherwise healthy people… However, the available evidence does not support an association between … mold and the wide range of other health complaints that have been ascribed.”
That sounds like mold is as dangerous as dust or pollen to people with severe asthma. The announcement containing this finding is easily located by a web search, but it did not receive much press play – stories of frightened people living in tents are more interesting.
3. One must determine the kind of mold present. Mold consultants and plaintiff attorneys often describe some molds as worse than others. The most famous mold is stachybotrys chartarum, a mold producing infinitesimal quantities of a substance similar to botulism poison. However, the amount is so small they call it a “mycotoxin.” It sounds frightening, but the scientific community long ago debunked the myth that this or any mold was somehow poisonous to breathe. For example, read the National Institute of Health Fact Sheet on Mold, found at www.niehs.nih.gov.
4. California is protected by the Toxic Mold Protection Act of 2001. The act instructed the Department of Public Health to develop permissible exposure limits of the various mold strains. However, in 2005, and again in 2008, the DPH reported the task could not be completed with the scientific information available. Consequently, there is presently no official standard as to how many mold spores of any given variety are “unhealthy.”
5. Always start with a mold test. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends against mold testing. There is no standard as to how many mold spores are “unhealthy,” and indoor air sampling tests are extremely vulnerable to events in the home, which can change the results. A recent shower, window opening or carpet cleaning are some of the many factors that can completely change test outcomes.
Mold tests, to put it bluntly, primarily frighten the occupants and create a “need” for the expense of a mold consultant, and a second test after the area is cleaned. Since the health authorities have not confirmed any particular strain is more dangerous, and since there is no official standard as to how many airborne spores are unhealthy, there is rarely a good reason to spend the money on such a test.
Maintaining a healthy home goes beyond dusting and vacuuming. When is the last time you checked your smoke alarms? How about the last time you cleaned out your dryer vent? Follow the tips below to make sure your family and home are ready for a happy, clean spring season.
Grab a ladder, and check your gutters for debris. Remove as much as you can with your hands (Don’t forget to wear gloves!). Remove any leftover gunk with a garden hose. Take off any nozzle and have a helper turn on the water when you’re ready. Shove the hose into the downspout to power out of gooseneck bends. Make sure your downspouts channel water at least five feet from foundation walls.
Scrub Walls, Baseboards and Outlets
Scrub all the walls — in the bathroom, kitchen, bedrooms and living areas — with a sponge or brush and mild soap and water. This includes baseboards and outlets. Make sure to completely dry outlet covers before replacing.
Tom DiPace/AP Images
Replace all filters including water, range hood and air vent filters. You should replace these filters every 3-6 months depending on the type of filter you have.
Clean Faucets and Showerheads
Unscrew the faucet aerators, sink sprayers and showerheads, and soak them in equal parts vinegar and water solution. Let them soak for an hour, then rinse with warm water.
Clean Out the Dryer Vent
Sarah Wilson / Getty Images
A clogged dryer vent can be a fire hazard. To clean it, disconnect the vent from the back of the machine and use a dryer vent brush to remove lint. Outside your house, remove the dryer vent cover and use the brush to remove lint from the other end of the vent line. Make sure the vent cover flap moves freely.
Wash Exterior Windows
Hire a window-cleaning service to clean all exterior windows.
Keep Allergens Away
Photos: Christopher Shane/Styling: Elizabeth Demos
A house with a crawl space has vents along the foundation walls. The vents provide air circulation that helps prevent excess moisture and mold growth, and they prevent critters from taking up residence underneath your home. The screens collect leaves and other debris from fall and winter. Spring is a great time to clean them out and check for damage. Clean the vents by hand or use a shop vacuum. Repair any damaged screens — critters can get through even the smallest holes.
Clean the Grill
Your grill has most likely collected dust during fall and winter. Help your grill live a long life with these maintenance tips, whether you have a charcoal or gas grill.
Prep Your Garden
You can’t have a successful garden without good soil. Follow these tips on how to prepare your soil to help you grow a lush garden.
Test Smoke Alarms
Test smoke alarms and CO detectors, and change out batteries as needed. It’s cheap, only takes a few minutes and can save your family’s lives.
TAMPA (FOX 13) – A day at the office could be making some people sick. And when businesses have a problem, many call Francisco Aguirre’s company PureAir Control Services in Clearwater to fix it.
Think of them as sick building sleuths.
“‘Sick building syndrome’ is a term used to describe a combination of non-specific ailments that are temporarily associated with the workplace,” Francisco said. “I have seen buildings that are brand new, and they have not even been finished for occupancy and they are already experiencing indoor air quality problems.”
Discomfort can be caused by bacteria, fungi, dust, and believe it or not, lights.
“Lights can also give you headaches, watery eyes and things like that,” Aguirre explained.
But there could be something more to some people’s symptoms.
Dr. Richard Lockey, an indoor air quality expert and director of allergy and immunology at the University of South Florida, believes there are other contributing factors.
“We have found that buildings are much cleaner in which people work than their own homes,” Lockey told us. “Some homes are so filthy that we can’t believe it when we go in and test what’s in the home. Yet people don’t complain about their homes, they complain about the building. So there’s a disconnect there.”
According to the World Health Organization, a third of all buildings have air quality concerns. But Dr. Lockey has a word of caution.
“It’s important for physicians and other healthcare professionals to properly evaluate these patients so you don’t inappropriately accuse a builder or owner of a building of something that doesn’t exist,” he said.
In the end, whatever you think is making you sick at work could be real or imagined, but both experts agree that poor air filtration in the workplace and at home can lead to some allergy-like symptoms.
Be sure to replace filters regularly, and make sure all ventilation systems are working properly.
Clearwater, FL Asthma is one of the most common chronic diseases that afflicts children. Attacks can be debilitating enough to affect student performance and attendance. While there is no cure for asthma, there are ways to medically treat the symptoms and there are recommendations to identify and reduce agents that act as asthma triggers.
A 2015 study on the association of cognitive function scores and the indoor environment published by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that occupants exposed to less volatile organic compounds (VOCs) had increased cognitive function performance.
“We have been ignoring the 90%. We spend 90% of our time indoors and 90% of the cost of a building are the occupants, yet indoor environmental quality and its impact on health and productivity are often an afterthought,” said Joseph Allen, assistant professor of exposure assessment science, director of the Healthy Buildings Program at the Harvard Center for Health and the Global Environment, and lead author of the study. “These results suggest that even modest improvements to indoor environmental quality may have a profound impact on the decision-making performance of workers.”
And the performance of students too!
According the Florida Department of Education student absenteeism costs the state $228,557,676 per year. Florida schools can lose at least $1020 per chronically absent student. Asthma related absence certainly contributes to these numbers.
Developing a strategic IAQ plan to identify and reduce asthma triggers
Both the CDC’s National Asthma Control Program (NACP) and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) recommend a having a plan for improves IAQ and asthma/allergen trigger reduction. The first step in developing an IAQ plan is to identify and quantify the asthma triggers that are present in a facility. Recognizing that people with asthma might react to just one asthma trigger or sometimes multiple triggers.
Common Asthma Triggers Found in Schools
• Dust Mites
Establish an Indoor Environmental Testing protocol to find and quantify the specific asthma triggers lurking in the facility. There are a variety of sample collection methods and tests that can be performed to establish a baseline and determine the condition of the indoor environment. Culture (Bioaerosol), Non-Culture (spore trap analysis), and Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) are often used for enumerating the allergens/triggers found. Enzyme Immunoassay (ELISA) of air or dust samples can also be utilized thought it can be costly, time consuming and allergen specific.
While most of the common asthma triggers are well known, VOCs deserve a closer look for better understanding. VOCs are basically organic chemicals. They are numerous and varied. VOCs can be both man-made and naturally occurring chemical compounds. These pollutants can include (but are not limited to) tobacco smoke, emissions from products used in the building such as: office equipment, furniture, wall coverings, floor coverings and cleaning products, as well as gases like carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide.
Once the building and HVAC system has been tested, the data can then be used to recommend various methods to strategically remove/reduce any asthma triggers that were found. These methods can include Hygienic HVAC System/Ducts Cleaning, Mold Remediation, and hard products like Professional Air Purifiers, to name a few solutions.
Finally, repetition of these two steps, testing and remediation, on a regular basis is what really creates a proactive Indoor Air Quality management plan. The result is healthier and higher performing students, staff and buildings.
Visit Pure Air Control Services at the upcoming FAPPO Conference in Orlando FL or BOMA Conference (click links for details) Nashville, TN
About Pure Air Control Services:
Pure Air Control Services, Inc. was established in 1984 as a small mechanical contracting firm. Today, the firm sets the industry standard for indoor environmental quality diagnosis, laboratory and remediation.
Pure Air Control Services expanding roster of valued clients: Harvard University, Toyota, Northrop Grumman, University of South Florida – Student Housing, VA Medical Center – James Haley, Polk County School District, Hillsborough County School District, Pasco County Government, General Services Administration (GSA) – Sam Gibbons Federal Courthouse, Tampa Bay Trane, Johnson Controls Inc (JCI) , Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Allstate Insurance; Carrier Air Conditioning; Naval Air Warfare Center, Orlando; and Naval Air Station – King’s Bay, Georgia, and many other Fortune 500 companies, school boards, and city, state, and county governments, making Pure Air Control Services the reliable industry leader in IAQ
Pure Air’s nationally performed services include: Building Sciences Evaluation; Building Health Check; a CDC ELITE Environmental Microbiology Laboratory; Environmental Project Management; HVAC New Life Restoration and PURE-Steam Coil Cleaning/Mold Remediation Services, among other indoor environmental services
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Lisa Dennis is looking at photos of her daughter Olivia – a blonde girl with a radiant smile.
These are special moments, frozen in time. Olivia died four years ago, aged 10, after having an asthma attack.
Her parents did not even know their gymnastics-loving daughter had the condition.
But Olivia is not the only child to lose their life to asthma.
According to the latest data for England and Wales, 37 children and teenagers died from the disease in 2014.
The figure has risen over the past five years. But many of these deaths are thought to be preventable.
Lisa vividly remembers the night Olivia died. It was a bitterly cold night, and they were at home in Kent.
Struggling to breathe
Lisa, who is married and has a younger son, told BBC News: “We’d tried so long to have children, and when she came along, it was just a miracle for us.
“Olivia was a really special, beautiful girl.
“That night, she was on all fours on the bed – and struggling to breathe.
“She collapsed onto the floor. I tried CPR [cardiopulmonary resuscitation], but unfortunately it didn’t work.
“I’ll never forget being at the hospital and the consultant asking us if Olivia was asthmatic.
“I said, ‘No, but she has an inhaler.’ He said to us there and then, ‘Your daughter is asthmatic.'”
Lisa’s ongoing grief is compounded by her frustration about what she says is a lack of awareness of asthma.
She had been given an inhaler for an allergy, but Lisa says the word “asthma” was never mentioned to the family, and the medicine was issued by repeat prescription.
Asthma: What you need to know
Asthma is a common but unpredictable illness
It affects the airways and can lead to shortness of breath, coughing and a tight feeling in the chest
One in 11 children is affected
Inhalers need to be used regularly and effectively
The blue inhalers provide relief during an attack, while the brown ones are for more regular use to prevent flare-ups
Steroids via an inhaler reduce the inflammation from asthma
The UK has some of the highest asthma death rates in Europe
The feeling is shared by Dr Satish Rao, from Birmingham Children’s Hospital, who runs an NHS service in the West Midlands for difficult asthma cases.
He said: “One of the biggest frustrations for us is the complacency among healthcare professionals about asthma in children and young people.
“We have struggled to convince professionals that asthma is a serious illness, and that patients can die from a severe attack.
“It’s probably because it’s a common illness, and quite often we hear staff saying, ‘Oh, it’s just asthma.'”
Dr Rao believes many deaths could be prevented by better information about when to seek medical help.
And he is aware of 16 cases in his region where schools have to work very closely with families and give them extra support to make sure the children keep their condition under control.
‘Asthma is a killer’
The number of child asthma deaths has risen steadily from 17 in 2010 to 37 in 2014.
Portsmouth GP Dr Andy Whittamore, who is also Asthma UK’s clinical lead, says it can be difficult to get young patients to adhere to taking their medicine.
He said: “With children particularly, there’s lots of fear about the medicine itself – and from their parents too.
“Steroids have got a bad press because of abuse by bodybuilders and doping in the Olympics.
“But the doses we give are in very low levels – and if taken correctly, they only go directly into the lungs.”
These misconceptions can be fuelled by stigma, with asthmatic children in particular not wanting to be seen as weak or inferior.
Asthma UK has even found that teenagers sometimes shied away from using inhalers because they thought their shape resembled that of sex toys.
Bereaved mother Lisa believes much more can be done.
She said: “Everyone needs to look at their children – especially anyone with an inhaler – because asthma is a killer.
“And I think doctors need to recognise that and make families aware because this is serious, desperately serious.”
Lisa wants to see awareness posters in GP surgeries, more regular reviews and plans for young asthma patients, and an improved inhaler design so the actual device contains advice for bystanders helping with an attack.
These are simple measures, which could help save lives.
We all love our comfortable safe homes. That place we gather with our families and loved ones after long hectic days. The place that keeps us sheltered from the elements. In the hustle and bustle of our daily lives sometimes we are so busy we can overlook little hidden dangers. Small spots of water, little leaks and even our sponges and countertops. These are the obvious places where mold can grow, however there are other more hidden places where mold growth cannot as easily be seen and most homeowners won’t notice until there is an odor or moldy patches start to appear.
Molds can spread fast and usually grow in the span of 24-72 hours. They feed on dry wall, wood and any other organic material inside the house. For this reason it can be a huge threat to us and our families if we do not take it seriously. No one wants to live in a house full of molds and the hazards they can create.
Mold can put our health at risk. After lots of researches, it has been found that too much exposure to molds can create health problems, especially in the upper respiratory system. Infants, children and the elderly are at a greater risk due to their immune systems and can be easily infected when exposed to molds. Those people currently suffering from a respiratory ailment can suffer even more severe health problems. The results from mold exposure vary widely but can include:
• Flu like symptoms
• Pulmonary injury
• Hematologic and immunologic disorders
• Hepatic, endocrine and/or renal toxicities
• Pregnancy, gastrointestinal and/or cardiac conditions
There is also a certain type of mold namely, “Stachybotrys” which can start with the simple itchiness of your eyes, sneezing, cough which if not checked and diagnosed, could possibly damage your lungs permanently, which could eventually end in death. This is only likely to occur in the most extreme cases but why would you want to put your family at any unnecessary risk.
It can destroy everything inside the house. Little by little, if not dealt with mold can destroy every part of the home. It does not discriminate between your important documents, frames, ceilings, wood beams, floors or furniture. These microscopic organisms will destroy it all. We may not be able to notice it at first glance, but later on when the mold patches are visible, the harm it has caused to your home is already evident. Mold generally starts from a small spore that then grows into clusters. These clusters can spread easily if not discovered early.
We cannot say whether our home is mold-free or not if our home does not undergo a home inspection. Home maintenance is an essential procedure in making sure that there is no mold growth in our home. There are professional mold inspectors available who will gladly come out and test your home. Having this done can help guarantee your home is safe, and that your family is living in a heathy environment. It is always better to let the professionals handle our concerns before it becomes a serious problem putting ourselves at risk.
If you want to know more about mold prevention, check out http://funguyinspections.com/.