Debunking some toxic mold myths

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.

 

When Fresh Air Went Out of Fashion at Hospitals!

How the hospital went from luxury resort to windowless box.

Vacant beds

(uchar / iStock)

SMITHSONIAN.COM

In the March 1942 issue of the journal Modern Hospital, Charles F. Neergaard, a prominent New York City hospital design consultant, published a layout for a hospital inpatient department that was so innovative he copyrighted it. The plan held two nursing units—groups of patient rooms overseen by a single nursing staff—in a single building wing. For each unit, a corridor provided access to a row of small patient rooms along a long exterior wall and to a shared service area between the two corridors.

The feature that made his plan so innovative—and therefore risky? It included rooms that had no windows.

A windowless room hardly seems daringly innovative nowadays, but in the 1940s it was a shocking proposal for a patient wing. It violated a long-lived understanding of what, exactly, the role of the hospital building should be in terms of promoting health.

For nearly two centuries, hospital designers had based their layouts on a fundamental assumption: In order to remain disease-free and health-giving, hospital spaces required direct access to sunlight and fresh air. This rule was the product of a centuries-old belief that disease could be spread by, or perhaps even directly caused by, dark, stagnant spaces where bad air—smelly, vitiated, stagnant, particulate-laden air—accumulated.

In the late 18th century, this correlation was statistically certain. Epidemics always hit the tenants of crowded, impoverished urban districts harder than the inhabitants of airier, wealthier neighborhoods. Patients in large urban hospitals suffered cross-infections and secondary infections far more frequently than patients in rural or small-town hospitals. It was common knowledge that if windowless rooms didn’t directly breed disease, they bred the conditions that led to disease.

Given this correlation, before the 20th century, every single room within a hospital typically had access to the outdoors. Corridors had windows. Linen closets had windows. In some hospitals even the ventilation ducts and enclosures for plumbing pipes and risers had windows. Windows in patient rooms and operating rooms were so large that the glare caused problems—keeping patients awake and causing momentary blindness in surgeons during operations.

Late 19th-century and early 20th-century advances in medical theories and practices altered, but did not erase, a faith in windows. With the development of germ theory, sunlight and fresh air had new purposes. Experiments proved that ultraviolet light was germicidal. So windows of clear glass, or even of special “vita-glass” that did not block the UV rays, were a means of surface decontamination.

Similarly, tuberculosis sanatoria records proved that simple exposure to fresh air could be curative. The hospital building itself was a form of therapy. In a 1940 issue of the architectural journal Pencil Points, Talbot F. Hamlin confidently noted that “the quality of the surroundings of the sick person may be as important in the cure as the specific therapeutic measures themselves.”

But surroundings were important, partly, because of who went to hospitals in the first place. Indeed, until the late 19th century, medical treatment was not the reason to go to a hospital—poverty was. The vast majority of 19th-century hospital patients were charity cases—sick people who could not afford a doctor’s house call, had no family to care for them, and had no place else to go. A patient would occupy the same bed in a hospital ward—which housed anywhere from half a dozen to 30 patients—for weeks, sometimes even months. The doctor made rounds once a day. Nurses provided food, changed bandages, cleaned, and changed linens—but provided very little in terms of hands-on treatment. The hospital’s scrupulously clean, bright, airy rooms were an environmental antidote to the tenement surroundings from which impoverished patients came.

But the population of hospitals changed in the first decades of the 20th century. Medical advances, urban growth, and philanthropic transformations turned hospitals into a new kind of institution—where persons of all classes went to get cutting-edge treatment. Anesthesia and asepsis made hospital surgeries not only safer but also more bearable. New equipment like x-ray machines, ophthalmoscopes, and cardiographs improved diagnostic and therapeutic options. Bacteriological lab technicians could identify pathogens with a certainty undreamed of during the preceding era of symptomatic diagnosis. By the early 20th century, what happened in hospitals was increasingly about medical procedures and efficient workflow, not the ostensible healthiness of the environment in itself.

These changes made the limitations of the earlier “therapeutic” hospital designs glaringly apparent. In order to provide a window in every room, buildings could not be wider than two rooms deep; this inevitably required multiple long narrow wings. Such rambling structures were expensive to build, prohibitively expensive to heat, light, and supply with water, and inefficient and labor-intensive to operate. Food reached the patients cold after being trucked from a distant central kitchen; patients requiring operations were wheeled through numerous buildings to the surgical suite.

Hospital designers thus began to arrange practitioners, spaces, and equipment into a more effective layout. Catchwords changed from “light” and “air” to “efficiency” and “flexibility.” An emphasis on efficiency rapidly took over the utilitarian areas of the hospital; time and motion studies determined layouts and locations of kitchens, laundry, and central sterile supplies. Diagnostic and treatment spaces were re-designed to establish efficient, but aseptically safe, paths for the movement of patients, nurses, technicians, and supplies.

But, initially, it left the design of inpatient departments unaltered.

Hospital designers and practitioners worried that patient areas designed for efficiency, not healthiness, would prolong treatment, impede recovery, or even cause deaths. In a 1942 issue of Modern Hospital, Lt. Wilber C. McLin considered it “unthinkable even to consider the possibilities of applying time and motion studies to the methods of direct patient care.” Inpatient departments remained sacrosanct temples of light and air.

By the 1940s, therefore, most hospital buildings were odd mixtures of efficiently arranged medical treatment spaces and inefficiently arranged nursing units. Nurses trudged up and down long, open wards that held 20 or more patients, or long, double-loaded corridors that connected smaller (six-, four- or two-bed) wards and private rooms. Service areas were at the far end of that walk; getting even basic supplies was a long hike. Pedometers proved that the daily distance was best counted in miles; some nurses averaged 8-10 per shift. In 1939, prominent Philadelphia doctor Joseph C. Doane drily observed that “some hospitals are apparently planned on the erroneous theory that nurses wing their way from distant service rooms to far off beds without incurring fatigue.”

This was the design dilemma that confronted Neergaard, an iconoclastic rising star in the brand-new profession of “hospital consultant” (doctors who advised building committees and architects on best practices). He proposed streamlining nursing unit design, keeping windows in the inviolable patient rooms, but prioritizing efficiency over direct access to sunlight and fresh air in the adjacent service rooms. His plan allowed two different nursing units (groups of patients overseen by one head nurse) to share the same windowless central service rooms, reducing spatial redundancy.

Neergaard calculated that this “double pavilion plan” required only two-thirds of the floor area of a traditional nursing unit layout. It also moved the service rooms closer to the patient rooms, drastically reducing a nurse’s daily travels. His design was a first foray into treating the hospital as if it were any other building. The structure was a tool, facilitating the delivery of medical care, not a therapy in itself.

Neergaard knew his ideas would be contentious. In 1937, his presentation at an American Hospital Association convention prompted the prominent hospital architects Carl A. Erickson and Edward F. Stevens to resign from a committee rather than be seen as supporting Neergaard’s proposals. One prominent hospital architect called the double pavilion plan “essentially a slum.”

Neergaard’s ideas, however, won out. Rising costs and decreasing revenue sources made reduction of hospital construction and operational budgets a fiscal imperative. Centralized design reduced the amount of expensive exterior wall construction, facilitated centralization of services, and minimized nurse staffing requirements by reducing travel distances. By the 1950s, with the advent of antibiotics and improved aseptic practices, the medical establishment also believed that patient healthiness could be maintained regardless of room design. Some doctors even preferred the total environmental control offered by air conditioning, central heating, and electric lighting.  Windows were no longer necessary to healthy hospitals, and by the 1960s and 1970s even windowless patient rooms appeared.

The efficient, inhuman, and monotonous buildings of the second half of the 20th century bear witness to the extent to which hospital design became a tool to facilitate medicine rather than a therapy in itself. Today, a stay in a hospital room is endured, not enjoyed.

The pendulum, however, is still swinging. In 1984, hospital architect Roger Ulrich published an article that had one clear and influential finding: Patients in hospital rooms with windows improved at a faster rate and in greater percentage than did patients in windowless rooms.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/when-fresh-air-went-out-fashion-hospitals-180963710/

University High-Rise Uses Geothermal System for All Heating and Cooling

GI Energy is pleased to announce that the innovative Ground Source Heat Pump (GSHP) system they have engineered and built for The Emma and Georgina Bloomberg Center at Cornell Tech, Cornell University’s new applied tech campus on NYC’s Roosevelt Island, is now fully operational.

Highly efficient and cost-effective to run, the GSHP system delivers all the heating, cooling, and domestic hot water for The Bloomberg Center without any direct combustion of fossil fuels. The combination of the facility’s low energy design, solar photovoltaic panels and GI Energy’s GSHP system is expected to save up to 500 tons of carbon dioxide per year.

Eighty boreholes have been drilled to a depth of 400 feet, intercepting water-filled fissures in the local bedrock. The system then takes advantage of this water to increase its efficiency. It is the first time in the USA a supplemental groundwater pumping system has been applied to a closed-loop geothermal system in this way. It is designed to support The Bloomberg Center’s aspiration for radically lower energy use and minimal environmental impact.

Steve Beyers, Energy Engineer at Cornell University, notes “The Bloomberg Center’s innovative Ground Source Heat Pump system is a perfect match for Cornell’s mission of education, research, and outreach. It demonstrates respect for the environment while saving energy dollars for investment into our education mission, but it’s also a great experiment in new technology. It’s a win-win for the University.”

GI Energy’s CEO, Tom Chadwick added “this project provides a blueprint for achieving NYC’s ambitious geothermal energy plans, as set out by Mayor di Blasio. Cornell Tech and NYC are both iconic and visionary – the geothermal system we have created is in keeping with this”.

GI Energy is a leading provider of on-site energy and microgrid solutions in North America. Using world-class engineering and outstanding execution, GI Energy specializes distributed energy resources (DER) development, financing, construction and advisory services. The company helps customers, including utility companies, real estate developers and commercial building owners, leverage state-of-the-art technologies to hedge against high/volatile energy prices, improve energy reliability and reduce environmental impacts and greenhouse gas emissions thereby increasing the value of the underlying real estate assets and company value. GI Energy is headquartered in Chicago and has offices in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

For additional information please contact: Amir Yanni, SVP Construction & Engineering – ayanni@gienergyus.com or visit us at http://www.gienergyus.com @gienergyus

About Cornell Tech

Cornell Tech brings together faculty, business leaders, tech entrepreneurs and students in a catalytic environment to produce visionary results grounded in significant needs that will reinvent the way we live in the digital age. The Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute embodies the academic partnership between the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and Cornell University on the Cornell Tech campus.

From 2012-2017, the campus was temporarily located in Google’s New York City building. In fall 2017, 30 world-class faculty and about 300 graduate students moved to the first phase of Cornell Tech’s permanent campus on Roosevelt Island, continuing to conduct groundbreaking research, collaborate extensively with tech-oriented companies and organizations and pursue their own startups. When fully completed, the campus will include two million square feet of state-of-the-art buildings, over two acres of open space, and will be home to more than 2,000 graduate students and hundreds of faculty and staff.

Article Source: https://nbherard.com/business/gi-energy-completes-geothermal-energy-system-for-cornell-tech-campus/13420

Builders respond to mold complaints in Parkland homes

Residents living in newly built homes in Parkland are complaining of mold, and at least two big builders have taken steps to fix the problem.

Sowande Johnson, director of development services for Parkland, said WCI Communities Inc. and Standard Pacific of Florida have been approved for permits to complete work that they hope will eliminate the fungus.

A third builder, Toll Brothers, has said it also plans to apply for a permit, Johnson said.

Those companies, along with Lennar Homes, are building hundreds of high-end homes in Parkland, the last available area for large-scale residential construction in Broward County. Johnson said he hasn’t heard of any problems with the Lennar properties.

Johnson said the city has received a few complaints, and he doesn’t have “even the slightest idea” how many homes may be affected.

WCI’s permit application outlines plans to install a dehumidifier, while Standard Pacific is using spray foam insulation. Johnson said it may take a few months to determine whether the proposed fixes will work.

“We’ll have to wait until things heat up [in the summer] to find out if it’s a true solution,” Johnson said. “If not, they’ll have to come back with another solution to remedy the problem.”

Jon Rapaport, division president for WCI, said the Bonita Springs-based builder received a “couple of dozen complaints” but not all of those homeowners had mold.

Still, out of an abundance of caution, WCI made modifications in more than 100 Heron Bay homes at no charge to the owners, he said.

Rapaport attributed the mold to a design issue. WCI sealed openings and made changes to ventilation that lets moisture leave attics. In addition, WCI is offering the dehumidifiers to homeowners, he said.

“We wanted to do the right thing,” Rapaport said. “Now we seem to not have a problem at all.”

WCI, expected to soon merge with Lennar as part of a $643 million deal, has built the vast majority of the nearly 3,000 homes in Heron Bay over the past two decades. The master-planned development, off the Sawgrass Expressway at Coral Ridge Drive, is one of the largest in the region.

Standard Pacific, which builds in the Watercrest at Parkland community, did not respond to requests for comment. In 2015, the company combined with Ryland Homes to form CalAtlantic Group of Irvine, Calif.

Horsham, Pa.-based Toll Brothers builds in the Parkland Golf & Country Club. A publicist for Toll said officials were not available to comment, but she released a statement from the company.

“Toll Brothers stands behind its homes with a comprehensive warranty and we work with our homeowners and provide them with information on operating their home systems efficiently and within their design criteria,” the statement said.

In 2015, Angela Mesa-Taylor moved into a rented home in Heron Bay’s Osprey Lake subdivison. Soon after, she noticed that she and her children were constantly sick, but she just thought it was her young twins bringing home coughs and colds from their play dates.

Then her housekeeper pointed to mold on the ceiling in the master bathroom. Another bathroom had the same problem, she said.

Mesa-Taylor said the builder, WCI, tried to address her concerns, but the mold persisted. Meanwhile, she said she heard similar complaints from neighbors.

Within days of discovering the mold, Mesa-Taylor said she moved her children out of the home and continued to press WCI for answers. Not satisfied with the results, she filed suit last summer in Broward County Circuit Court. The complaint was amended in November.

“Every fix was not a fix,” said Mesa-Taylor, 38. “It seemed to be very, very temporary and superficial.”

The suit, which seeks damages in excess of $15,000, alleges that the mold was caused by design and construction defects and led to chronic health problems.

An attorney for the builder declined to discuss the case. Rapaport, the WCI division president, said he can’t comment on pending litigation.

Scott Gelfand, Mesa-Taylor’s Coral Springs lawyer, said he has spoken to more than 100 owners complaining of mold in Heron Bay homes built within the last several years. Some may be reluctant to discuss the problem publicly because they’re worried about property values, but homes that are properly remediated tend to sell for full market value, he said.

Johnson, the development services director for Parkland, said he suspects mold is occurring in other homes across Florida. But Truly Burton, executive vice president of the Builders Association of South Florida, said she isn’t aware of an ongoing problem statewide.

David Cobb, a former homebuilder and now a regional director for the Metrostudy research firm, agrees that mold is common in a humid climate and often is the result of workmanship issues.

But Cobb also cited another cause: improper home maintenance. He said homeowners should inspect homes annually, caulking around windows and doors and painting every few years to keep mold at bay.

“People who buy new homes say, ‘It’s new, so I don’t have to do anything to it,’ and that is totally incorrect,” Cobb said.

Article Source: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/real-estate/fl-parkland-homes-mold-20170113-story.html

California Lead Safety Enhancement Act of 2016

SB 1073, the California Lead Safety Enhancement Act of 2016

California Lead Safety Enhancement Act of 2016 was recently introduced by Senate Majority Leader Bill Monning (17th Dist). The bill eliminates regulatory confusion regarding certification for lead paint removal by aligning California law with the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Renovation Repair and Painting rule.

Los Angeles Lead Base PaintAs you know, California’s lead laws and the federal RRP complement each other in many ways, but there are differences that make implementing two sets of regulations difficult and confusing.  In addition, there is little enforcement, so that firms who don’t play by the rules have an unfair advantage over those who do.

SB 1073 will help fix these problems.

 

The bill (one of the sponsors is the California Association of Code Enforcement Officers) does not create any new regulations or fees. Instead, it conforms federal and state regulations to minimize regulatory confusion and encourages state, county and city enforcement while using existing fees to cover costs associated with increased state responsibilities.

 

Call to Action!
Last week, SB 1073 passed out of the Senate Committee on Environmental Quality.  As it moves forward, it will face many challenges, so expanding the list of supporters is vitally important.

RRP Certified Individuals:  For those of you who complain about the lack of enforcement and the difficulty following both California and RRP regulations, now is your chance to set things right.  A few minutes of your time to add your name to the list of supporters will make a huge difference.

CDPH Certified Individuals  Enforcement of lead safe work practices will benefit both abatement and testing companies, so please add your company to the list of supporters.

Don’t wait, take a few minutes today to express your support for SB 1073, the California Lead Safety Enhancement Act of 2016.

 

Is Formaldehyde in your wood flooring?

Is Formaldehyde in your wood flooring?

Lumber Liquidators violated California’s air-quality controls by importing wood with formaldehyde

Beleaguered flooring retailer Lumber Liquidators is paying $2.5 million to settle allegations that some of its products violated California’s air-safety standards.

The penalty announced Tuesday was the latest that Lumber Liquidators has absorbed for formerly selling laminate flooring made in China.

In this case, Lumber Liquidators faced allegations that the imported flooring contained high levels of the carcinogen formaldehyde that violated California’s air-quality controls. The flooring was sold at Lumber Liquidators’ California stores from September 2013 until May 2015 when the retailer suspended sales of the products made in China.

Lumber Liquidators currently operates 40 of its 375 stores in California.

The Toano, Virginia, company didn’t acknowledge any wrongdoing in the settlement with the California Air Resources Board. Lumber Liquidators Pays $2.5M Over formaldehyde in Flooring

Last year, Lumber Liquidators paid $13.2 million in fines and pleaded guilty to environmental crimes for importing China-made flooring that contained timber illegally logged in eastern Russia.

Lumber Liquidators still faces a variety of class-action lawsuits revolving around the formaldehyde levels of the China-made flooring.

Read More: CDC Revises Lumber Liquidators Flooring Cancer Risk

The legal fallout so far has been less costly to Lumber Liquidators than the damage done to its stock since investigation shown slightly more than a year ago “60 Minutes” raised questions about whether the retailer was selling potentially hazardous flooring.

Shares of Lumber Liquidators Holdings Inc. have plunged more than 70 percent since the TV program aired, a downturn that has wiped out more than $1 billion in stockholder wealth. The shares rallied Tuesday, gaining $1.74 to $13.76 in afternoon trading.

Formaldehydeinmywoodflooring

What is formaldehyde?

Formaldehyde is a colorless, flammable, strong-smelling chemical that is used in building materials and to produce many household products. It is used in pressed-wood products, such as particleboard, plywood, and fiberboard; glues and adhesives; permanent-press fabrics; paper product coatings; and certain insulation materials. In addition, formaldehyde is commonly used as an industrial fungicide, germicide, and disinfectant, and as a preservative in mortuaries and medical laboratories. Formaldehyde also occurs naturally in the environment. It is produced in small amounts by most living organisms as part of normal metabolic processes.

How is the general population exposed to formaldehyde?

According to a 1997 report by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, formaldehyde is normally present in both indoor and outdoor air at low levels, usually less than 0.03 parts of formaldehyde per million parts of air (ppm). Materials containing formaldehyde can release formaldehyde gas or vapor into the air. One source of formaldehyde exposure in the air is automobile tailpipe emissions.

During the 1970s, urea-formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI) was used in many homes. However, few homes are now insulated with UFFI. Homes in which UFFI was installed many years ago are not likely to have high formaldehyde levels now. Pressed-wood products containing formaldehyde resins are often a significant source of formaldehyde in homes. Other potential indoor sources of formaldehyde include cigarette smoke and the use of unvented fuel-burning appliances, such as gas stoves, wood-burning stoves, and kerosene heaters.

Industrial workers who produce formaldehyde or formaldehyde-containing products, laboratory technicians, certain health care professionals, and mortuary employees may be exposed to higher levels of formaldehyde than the general public. Exposure occurs primarily by inhaling formaldehyde gas or vapor from the air or by absorbing liquids containing formaldehyde through the skin.

http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/substances/formaldehyde/formaldehyde-fact-sheet

http://www.nbcnews.com/business/business-news/lumber-liquidators-pays-2-5m-over-carcinogen-flooring-n544041