California Residents Learn About Indoor Air Quality and Furnace Maintenance During the Winter Months

With more than a month still to go this winter, many residents of California have relied on their furnace or heat pump to provide warmth at home, school or in the office. Like all mechanical systems in a home or building, a furnace requires preventive maintenance to ensure that it is working properly, efficiently and is providing good indoor air quality (IAQ).

A large percentage of structures in California rely on a central forced-air furnace that is powered by natural gas, fuel oil or electricity to heat air that is then transferred throughout the property through ducts. This type of furnace, if not working properly, could be wasting energy and even threatening the health of building occupants if combustion gases such as carbon monoxide are entering the indoor air. Forced-air furnaces can also cause indoor air quality issues by spreading particulates and even mold or other allergens throughout the property if the system’s air filtration is lacking or if the ductwork has become contaminated over time.

For all these reasons it is a good idea to have the system checked annually by a qualified professional. The following furnace maintenance tips can help provide for optimal operations:

  • Before the unit is serviced, it is important that any fuel supply and electricity to the unit is shut off.
  • Furnace filters should be regularly changed. Filters may be located at the furnace or in the air supply return in a wall or ceiling. Some furnaces also have a fresh air intake filter.
  • The air blower and motor housing should be inspected and cleaned.
  • Check units with a combustion chamber for any buildup of soot and carbon that should then be removed.
  • Inspect the flue pipe for any holes, blockages and signs of corrosion. This is an important step to ensure deadly carbon monoxide is not a threat to building occupants.
  • Furnaces powered by fuel oil should have their oil filter replaced.
  • A service technician will often use a combustion analyzer to determine the unit’s efficiency and make any needed adjustments.
  • Finally, the ductwork should be inspected for dust, debris, mold and other substances that could reduce the system’s efficiency and impact air quality.

“California residents who suspect their furnace may be causing IAQ issues can turn to the indoor environmental quality professionals at LA Testing,” said Michael Chapman, Laboratory Manager of LA Testing’s Huntington Beach facility. “With multiple laboratories throughout the state, LA Testing offers air analysis for mold and allergens. In addition, we carry a range of field instrumentation and air monitoring tools to identify potential air quality concerns related to particulate matter and combustion gases such as carbon monoxide. Borescopes and other inspection tools can also be instrumental for checking ductwork and other hard to view places for signs of damage or contamination.”

LA Testing has sponsored an educational video about furnace maintenance and IAQ issues that can be seen at: https://youtu.be/j3NKuIkgdMY.

To learn more about indoor air quality, environmental, occupational, health and safety testing services or monitoring instruments, please visit  www.LATesting.com , email  info@LATesting.com  or call (800) 755-1794. For access to indoor environmental test kits, visit  www.EMSLTestKits.com .

About LA Testing 
LA Testing is California’s leading laboratory for indoor air quality testing of asbestos, mold, lead, VOCs, formaldehyde, soot, char, ash and smoke damage, particulates and other chemicals. In addition, LA Testing offers a full range of air sampling and investigative equipment to professionals and the general public. LA Testing maintains an extensive list of accreditations including: AIHA LAP LLC., AIHA ELLAP, AIHA EMLAP and AIHA IHLAP, CDC ELITE, NVLAP, State of California, State of Hawaii Department of Health and other states. LA Testing, along with the EMSL Analytical, Inc. network, has multiple laboratories throughout California including South Pasadena, Huntington Beach, San Leandro and San Diego.

Article Source: https://www.webwire.com/ViewPressRel.asp?aId=236166

Lawmakers blast companies overseeing military homes racked by toxic dangers

Military families described living in decrepit, dangerous and inescapable homes at a Wednesday hearing, where lawmakers expressed shock over the allegations of slum-like conditions of privately managed housing.

The emotional testimonies came on the same day as the release of a survey that painted a grim picture of living conditions at U.S. bases for thousands of families, including black mold, lead, infestations of vermin, flooding, radon and faulty wiring.

Families said their concerns have been met with resistance, and in some cases threats from property management companies and commanders to silence them.

Crystal Cornwall, a Marine Corps spouse, told lawmakers about termites falling though light fixtures at an air base in Mississippi and mice chewing through infant pacifiers at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

“I wouldn’t recommend my own children join the service, and my husband has been a Marine for 12 years,” she said.

Some families said their children have been sickened by toxic living conditions but felt they had few options to hold companies or commanders accountable.Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), a former Air Force pilot, described the stories as “disgusting” and infuriating.

“They left you hanging. They put you in harm’s way,” McSally told a panel of three military spouses, describing the companies. “Somehow we need the chain of command . . . to be able to poke their finger to poke in the chest of these companies to say ‘fix it now, or you’re done.’ ”

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said he was left baffled during opening remarks in the Senate Armed Services subcommittee hering. “It gets harder and harder to shock me,” he said. “This is shocking.”

During the hearing, the executives struck a conciliatory tone.

“The situation is clearly unacceptable,” said Denis Hickey, the chief executive of Americas Lendlease Corporation said. Christopher Williams, the president of Balfour Beatty Communities, said: “When we fall short, we try to make it right.”

The panel of military spouses told lawmakers they would like options to hold companies to account, like withholding housing stipend payments until work orders were complete and satisfactory. In a surprising move, the panel of executives told lawmakers they would have few problems with that idea.

In a joint statement, Army Secretary Mark T. Esper and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley said they were “deeply troubled” by reports of unsafe housing.

“We will hold our chain of command and private contractors accountable to ensure they are meeting their obligations to provide safe, high-quality family housing,” they said.

Article Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/amphtml/national-security/2019/02/13/survey-military-families-paints-slum-like-picture-housing-bases-across-country/?noredirect=on

Breathe right: Indoor air pollutants affecting health, the well-being of people working, living in enclosed areas

The average American spends nearly 90 percent of their time indoors, where air pollutants can be two to five times more concentrated than outdoors, putting people at risk for severe health complications, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The World Health Organization reports that every year, more than 2.5 million people die from indoor air pollution caused health complications, such as chronic pulmonary obstruction diseases, stroke, and lung cancer. Volatile organic compounds are hazardous air pollutants often emitted from common household objects, such as disinfectants and paint, and even in offices from copiers and ceiling paneling.

Having better indoor air quality requires better monitoring technology. That’s why Purdue University researchers are developing novel resonant sensors that can detect volatile organic compounds polluting indoor environments at dangerous levels and could potentially prevent the related health complications.

Jeffrey Rhoads, a professor in the School of Mechanical Engineering, began researching resonant sensors for public safety applications nearly 15 years ago. His current work, which is funded by the Center for High Performance Buildings, transitions these sensors from laboratory environments to field-viable products with high reliability and cost-efficiency.

“We started looking at how you can transition this sensing technology from the lab into a practical tool for personal or building-based protection,” Rhoads said. “First, we looked at public safety applications, where we ran into many bottlenecks associated with the lab-to-field transition. Based on the lessons learned, we were eventually able to develop a technology that had a broad purpose.”

Rhoads and his team, which includes postdoctoral research associate Nikhil Bajaj and graduate students Allison Murray and Zachary Siefker, are developing new sensors to specifically identify these hazardous air pollutants.

“The sensor on the market are not small enough, low power enough or sensitive enough to meet the emerging applications,” Rhoads said. “These limits affect public health, because the human body can experience health complications from volatile organic compounds at much lower levels than what many of the existing cost-effective monitors can easily detect.”

Resonant sensors work by vibrating in a set rhythm, but they vibrate at different speeds when a foreign compound enters their environment. To recognize volatile organic compounds, the researchers are equipping these sensors with unique surface chemistries and specialized detection mechanisms specifically designed to detect hazardous exposures.

Rhoads said that he anticipates this technology developing into a smoke alarm-like product that detects volatile organic compounds in homes and commercial buildings. However, the researchers face challenges in making this product reliable and cost-efficient enough to motivate market demand.

“It’s one thing to make a new technology, but to create public interest in a product they’ve never bought before is a non-trivial task,” Rhoads said. “There are constraints in what the market will accept, which leads to interesting research questions about reliability and low-power consumption.”

Other partners on the project include George Chiu, the assistant dean for Global Engineering Programs and Partnerships and a professor in the School of Mechanical Engineering; Jim Braun, the director of the Center for High Performance Buildings and the Herrick Professor of Engineering; and Bryan Boudouris, the Robert and Sally Weist Associate Professor in the Charles D. Davidson School of Chemical Engineering and Department of Chemistry.

“Our work’s goal is developing low-cost volatile organic compound sensors capable of identifying indoor air quality problems and capable of controlling ventilation in response to high indoor emissions,” Braun said. “Sensing indoor volatile organic compound concentrations and then adjusting ventilation accordingly can maintain acceptable levels, but current sensor technologies are much too expensive for this purpose.”

The research team’s technology aligns with Purdue’s Giant Leaps celebration of the university’s global advancements made in health, space, artificial intelligence and sustainability as part of Purdue’s 150th anniversary. Those are the four themes of the yearlong celebration’s Ideas Festival, designed to showcase Purdue as an intellectual center solving real-world issues.

The team is also working on a similar technology that detects carbon dioxide emissions in order to limit unnecessary ventilation when buildings have low occupancy leading to reduced energy consumption and energy bills in homes and offices.

Madison Taylor Indoor Environmental, the Leading Mold Company in DC, Announces Recertification

Madison Taylor Indoor Environmental the largest indoor environmental company on the East Coast announces the completion of continued educational requirements for the DC Licensed Mold Remediator and the DC Licensed Mold Assessor Programs.

The District of Columbia’s Air Quality Amendment Act of 2014 protects tenants by mandating proper testing and remediation procedures when mold becomes a concern. The law requires that tenants must first notify the landlord in writing about mold issues in the home. The landlord must respond within seven days and has 30 days to repair the problem. Mold contamination greater than 10 square feet requires a DOEE licensed mold professional to assess (evaluate) and/or remediate (fix) the problem. Contamination from mold less than 10 square feet can be addressed by a non-licensed individual.

John Taylor, the owner of Madison Taylor Indoor Environmental, licensed mold inspector and certified indoor environmentalist says, “DC got their mold law right. DC’s Air Quality Amendment Act is a simple law that protects tenants from mold problems and gives effective guidance to landlords. As a company we have seen the direct impact to improving home and health since the passing of this law.” This law is streamlined and does not hinder clients from getting competitive and economical pricing for services, which some laws across the country do. Qualified mold assessors and mold remediation companies can efficiently become certified by DC and follow normal industry standards without needless additional convoluted processes which is beneficial for consumers.

John Taylor added, “Before the law was put into effect mold in DC rental homes and apartment buildings was quickly becoming a considerable problem for tenants and homeowners. Countless DC landlords improperly treated, cleaned, and remediated serious mold conditions, exposing tenants to contaminated indoor air quality, sometimes causing the occupants significant illness.”

Madison Taylor Indoor Environmental is the leading indoor air quality firm in Virginia, Maryland, and DC, providing mold testing and remediation services to residential and commercial clients all throughout the DMV. John Taylor expressed how rewarding it is owning a mold testing and mold remediation company. “It’s is what I call a happy business. Every day we at Madison Taylor Indoor Environmental are able to aid people in finding and fixing indoor air quality conditions. We have helped thousands of clients, with the testing and remediation of mold in hospitals, schools, government facilities, and homes, aiding building owners, homeowners and tenants in solving mold problems for over 18 years.”

If you have questions about mold or other indoor air quality concerns, contact:

John K. Taylor

Madison Taylor Inc.

Office: 877-932-4652

Cell: 703-932-6134

Email: john@madisontaylorservices.com

www.madisontaylorenvironmental.com

Article Source : https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/madison-taylor-indoor-environmental-the-leading-mold-company-in-dc-announces-recertification-300788725.html

Rain and Water Damage – Will I get Mold?

 

With heavy rainfall comes a tremendous amount of moisture.  Leaks and condensation increase, temperatures and warm drying daylight decrease.

These are optimal conditions for mold growth, both interior and exterior. As exterior mold spores explode in number some of them are bound to settle in our indoor environments. Here’s an overview from the EPA on Mold growth in the home.

So what can you do to reduce to likelihood mold will take hold?

I have some tips to minimize the conditions conducive to mold growth and maximize you and your family’s health.

Mold needs 3 conditions for optimal growth:

  • The Right temperature. Some mold species can grow at low (below 50 degrees F) and other species at high (above 90 degrees F), but most common mold species that grow indoors grow ideally at 55-85 degrees F. Unfortunately this is the optimal temperature for human comfort. So it is unlikely you can keep your home at a temperature that is inhospitable for mold growth. So we will not concentrate on that.
  • An organic food source. Different species of mold like to eat different things, but they all need something organic to munch on. Many mold species love cellulose, i.e. wood and paper. These are the natural composters and when it rains these species start to eat up all the fallen branches and leaves in the forest, as well as our yards emitting millions of spores that make their way into our homes. Inside our homes molds like to eat wood. This is what “dry rot” is, fungi usually consisting of 2 species, Ascospores and Basidiospores. Other species like to eat paper, such as cardboard boxes, books, and paper backed wallboard, such as sheetrock.  Pennicillium/Aspergillus and Stachybotrys (colloquially known as toxic black mold) are often found on wet or moist paper. Cladosporium, the species most often found growing on windowsills and in bathrooms, can eat a variety of Biofilms (household dust consisting of epithelial cells (dead skin cells) insect parts, pet dander, natural fibers such as cotton and linen, etc.).   Some mold food sources we cannot easily remove from our home such as framing lumber and wallboard, but others we can, such as cardboard boxes.
  • This is the big one and the one I will be giving tips on below. Mold needs moisture. There is a common saying in our business: “Mold is the symptom, moisture is the problem”. Mold growth either needs liquid water or high humidity. Liquid water can come from condensation on windowsills and in bathrooms, or from leaks, either internal or external. Without liquid water mold will not become active unless the humidity is high, usually 60-80% RH depending on the species. When the humidity is high enough, mold can become active and grow by absorbing moisture directly from the air.

Here are some tips to reduce both food sources and moisture in your home and thus reduce the likelihood and amount of mold that may grow inside your home:

Let’s start outside. When it rains water can easily enter what we call the “Building Envelope”. It is very important to make sure your site drainage system is clear from debris and working properly to move rain water away from your home, foundation, and crawlspace.

  • Clean the roof of any leave or other debris.
  • Clear gutters
  • Make sure downspouts are in good repair, not clogged, and properly attached any extensions or the site drainage system.
  • Make sure all property drains are clear of debris and flowing freely.

Check the “Building Envelope” for possible sites of water intrusion, i.e. leaks.

  • Window and doorframes are spots where water can intrude. Check all door and window frame caulking for cracks and gaps and repair where necessary.
  • Inspect the sealant around roof penetrations. Repair where necessary.
  • Check building siding for cracks, peeling paint, holes, etc. Anywhere water may be able to get in.

After a heavy rain walk around the entire house and look for standing water, and clogged drains. Look inside the crawlspace and make sure there is no hidden flooding. Carefully check the inside of the house, take a close look at the ceilings, around windows and doors, and walls for small leaks. Because all big leaks start out as small leaks! Check under sinks and around tubs and toilets to make sure there are no plumbing leaks adding moisture to the interior of your home.

Assuming there are no leaks and your drainage system is working well, what other sources of moisture can address?

Inside a home the occupants can produce a tremendous amount of moisture. On average each human occupant expires (breathes) and perspires (sweats) about 2 POUNDS of water into the air a day. Pets can also add to this moisture source. During the winter we often close out windows, as it is cold out, and most residential heating systems have no way of bringing in fresh air or ventilating out moist, stale interior air. Thus interior humidity can often increase to levels above 60%, which is ideal for mold growth.

So what can we do about Mold Growth?

  • Monitor interior humidity. Small, portable humidity monitors are available for around $10-15 and can be placed around the home. If RH (relative humidity) is consistently above 65%, action should be taken. Ideally, interior RH should be between 45-55% RH. Below 40% RH mucous membranes start to dry out and can cause occupant discomfort.
  • Open windows when practicable to help flush out moisture and other interior contaminants. Even 1 hour a day can make a big difference, although 3-4 hours is recommended.
  • Run ventilation fans in bathrooms and kitchens to help exhaust excess humidity from cooking and bathing. Run fans in bathrooms for at least 20 minutes after bathing. Timer switches can be installed on most bathroom exhaust fans and are highly recommended.
  • Wipe excess condensation from windowsills. Inspect windowsills often. Do not keep curtains closed as this can trap moist, cool air and promote excessive condensation.

The above tips can help reduce moisture sources, what can do we do about reducing mold food sources?

  • Do not keep books, papers, or cardboard boxes in moist areas such as attics, garages, basements or crawlspaces. Attic and crawlspaces should not be used as storage areas, but if you must store items in a garage or basement, we recommend sealed plastic bins.
  • Keep areas mold likes to grow clean and dry. This means cleaning dust (biofilms) from windowsills, baseboards, and doorframes. Vacuum carpet regularly with a HEPA vacuum. The recommendation is to vacuum and sweep one day per week PER OCCUPANT, including pets!
  • Check behind drapes and furniture for hidden condensation and biofilms. Allow airflow to reach these areas by opening drapes often and moving furniture a few inches from walls, especially exterior walls that can become colder and promote condensation.

Also, trust your nose, that musty smell is a sure indication of active mold growth. That musty smell is caused by microbial VOC’s, airborne chemicals that are a metabolic by-product of mold digestion.

If you think you have a hidden source of mold, call a professional Certified Microbial Investigator for a full mold inspection.  Excessive interior mold can cause structural damage to your home and its contents, as well as allergic and respiratory reactions in some occupants. Take heed and be diligent, and you can survive this hopefully wet winter relatively mold-free.

Be Alert: Signs of Toxic Molds Residing in your Home

At the end of the day, after work or school, we always look forward to coming home again. Our minds and hearts are attached to our homes because of the sense of belonging, comfort, and safety that it provides. Feeling safe is the state of not being exposed to danger or risk, and that is how our homes should feel, right?  So, let me ask you, are you sure you are safe within your home?

You may feel that there’s nothing lurking within the corners of the rooms of your home.  However, if you are setting aside the fact that there could be molds in your house, then you are getting further away from the sense of safety that your home should provide. Molds are not something you should overlook.

Molds usually appear on damp building materials and may look like stains.  They can come in various colors and sizes. You may have seen some sort of spot growing in the interior of your house, and that is not something that should be ignored.

Molds can create a lot of nuisance and danger for you and your loved ones. It can give your family nasal and sinus congestion, coughs, headaches, asthma, skin irritations, and much more.

If your home is attacked by molds, you have to do something about it. Here are some signs that your house may have been infected by molds:

  1. Allergic reactions. If you notice that your allergies tend to react and even get worse while you’re at home, chances are there are molds growing in your house. Some allergic reactions to mold could be sore eyes, sneezing, and nasal congestion.
  2. Mold odors. A musty or moldy smell can be a great indicator that there are molds in your home. If you can smell mold, then you probably have mold. You should thoroughly inspect your home before it gets worse.
  3. Visible signs of molds. When you see greenish black spots of molds, then it’s obvious. Take action immediately.
  4. Water issues. If you have experienced water leakages, condensation, or past floods in your house, mold growth is likely to have occurred. If there are water stains or discoloration of the walls due to a moisture problem, there is most likely mold growing behind the material.

Your home is where your family should feel safe. If you’ve noticed the above-mentioned signs of mold growth in your house, please do not ignore it.  Ignoring it might cause you bigger problems in the future.

If you want to be sure of your homes safety, contact Fun Guy Inspection and Consulting Inc.  They will provide a thorough inspection of your home and you can have peace of mind.

Visit http://funguyinspections.com/ or call (866) 674-7541 now.

National Radon Action Month in Puerto Rico and Identifying Sources in Air and Water

National Radon Action Month takes place during the month of January and is recognized in Puerto Rico and throughout the rest of the United States. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that this is the time to test, fix and save a life.

Both the EPA and the U.S. Surgeon General urge all Americans to protect their health by testing their homes, schools and other buildings for radon. Taking action to test a property is important as the EPA reports that although there are no immediate symptoms from exposure to radon, exposure in the indoor air over time is estimated to cause about 21,000 lung cancer deaths annually.

Lung cancer can occur due to prolonged exposure because radon is a radioactive gas. It comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water, and can get into the air people breathe indoors. Radon can even enter a building through well water. This is due to the fact that radon can dissolve into the water supply according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The agency states, “While most radon-related deaths are due to radon gas accumulated in houses from seepage through cracks in the foundation, 30 to 1,800 deaths per year are attributed to radon from household water. High levels of dissolved radon are found in the groundwater in some areas flowing through granite or granitic sand and gravel formations. If you live in an area with high radon in groundwater it can get into your private well. Showering, washing dishes and laundering can disturb the water and release radon gas into the air you breathe.”

“Awareness of potential hazards associated with elevated radon levels is not where it needs to be in Puerto Rico and other places in the Caribbean that are susceptible to exposure risks,” said Harry Pena, President of Zimmetry Environmental. “The U.S. Geological Survey has reported that several areas in Puerto Rico have the geologic potential to generate locally high indoor radon levels if housing conditions are favorable for its entry and accumulation. This is why at Zimmetry Environmental we have a licensed radon inspector that can test the indoor air or water from private wells for the presence of radon. If issues are found, there are mitigation techniques to prevent elevated radon levels from accumulating in a property or to remove radon from well water before it enters a building.”

Zimmetry also recently sponsored an educational video about radon and private wells in support of National Radon Action Month. It can be seen at: https://youtu.be/z-ZomIX4wTk

To learn more about Zimmetry Environmental and their radon, indoor air quality, environmental, occupational, and compliance consulting and testing services, please visit www.zimmetry.com, call (787) 995.0005 or email info@zimmetry.com.

About Zimmetry Environmental

Since 2002, Zimmetry Environmental has been providing environmental consulting services to building owners and managers, architects, engineers, EHS professionals and Fortune 500 companies.  The company is based in Puerto Rico and provides services across the Caribbean and Central America.  The professionals at Zimmetry offer environmental compliance, indoor air quality, asbestos, lead-based paint, Phase I ESAs and general environmental consulting services.

Article Source: https://www.environmental-expert.com/news/national-radon-action-month-in-puerto-rico-and-identifying-sources-in-air-and-water-786307

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.

Article Source: http://www.kokomotribune.com/indiana/news/caution-over-air-quality-problems-causes-terre-haute-high-school/article_15ecbbf6-46fe-5672-a31e-c4b9155fa3f3.html

Heavy Rains and Hurricanes Clear a Path for Supercharged Mold

Anyone east of the Rockies will tell you this has been a wet year. It wasn’t just that Hurricanes Florence and Michael soaked parts of the South. It wasn’t just that this year’s drenching storms were numerous and tracked unusually far north (one, Alberto, made a historic appearance all the way up in Michigan).

It was also that the rest of the Eastern Seaboard just simply got wetter. In Wilmington, N.C., 60 inches of rain broke an annual record set in 1966. Around Scranton, Pa., rainfall broke a 1945 record. Wisconsin, Colorado and Maryland all saw 1-in-1,000-year rainfall events. And dozens of locations, like Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Charleston, W.Va., had their second- or third-wettest summers on record.

And with the rain comes mold.

In some houses, mold spores are nothing more than a nuisance—staining furniture or making the basement smell funny. But in other homes they can put people in the hospital or even kill them. Many molds are associated with allergy or asthma attacks; some have been linked to serious complications in immune-compromised populations, and cancer. It is hard to say just yet how much the latest wet year has affected people’s respiratory systems, but it is certainly already hitting their pocketbooks.

“This year there’s just a lot of mold tests being done,” says Michael Berg, the laboratory director for EMLab P&K, one of the biggest U.S. mold-testing companies. He says staffing has become a challenge after two hurricanes and relentless storms along the Eastern Seaboard: “We are struggling, as far as having enough hands on deck in a year like this.”

As climate change and CO2 emissions continue to shape life on Earth, we may be seeing a lot more flooding—with higher sea levels and more powerful storms. In some ways this year might be a glimpse into a wet and moldy future. But what will that mean in practical terms?

Modelling the effects of climate change and rising CO2 levels is notoriously difficult, and even more so when it comes to the diverse world of fungi. It is a little like asking, “How will climate change affect animals?”—some may benefit while others suffer. In some cases the heat will make for fertile breeding grounds for fungi. In others the additional CO2 might irritate them, thereby prompting them to release more spores. “It’s a stress response. The fungus wants to survive, and the way it tries to survive is to produce more offspring—and that means more spores,” says Naresh Magan, a mycologist at England’s Cranfield University. Aspergillus fumigatus, a member of what is perhaps the most common genus of mold to irritate humans, seems to release far more spores when scientists raise it in warmer, CO2-rich enclosures. Other researchers have suggested that increased CO2 might create more leaf litter—where a lot of mold grows when it is not in your house—adding much-needed nitrogen for fungi.

And the spores they produce might be more harmful. In addition to the number of spores a mold puts out, evidence suggests higher CO2 might change the spores themselves. Some mold spores are more than eight times more allergenic today than in pre-industrial times (though it is not clear this trend will be maintained as CO2 levels continue to rise).

Scientists are not completely certain as to how this works. Unlike plants—which breathe in CO2 and can benefit from its increase—fungi take in oxygen, so changes in the chemistry of their spores may be due to some kind of secondary effect. Experts have suggested that more CO2 can lead to more acidic soil or indirectly change fungi respiration. Or there might be some unknown mechanism that causes different responses in different molds. Whatever that mechanism might be, higher CO2 somehow triggers the more allergenic proteins in many molds—which may be why so many more people are allergic to mold today than in generations past.

But not all fungi react the same way to environmental changes. Experiments suggest Alternaria—a genus of mold that causes respiratory problems and is often found in spoiled crops and houses—may actually decrease the allergens in its spores in a warmer, higher-CO2 world. In many cases, it is not clear what chemicals cause adverse health effects from mold spores, let alone how they will respond to a changing climate and atmosphere.

Magan has exposed many types of mold to different levels of CO2, heat and moisture. He says molds such as Stachybotrys—a dangerous group often referred to as “black mold”—might become less allergenic as CO2 increases. But when Aspergillus species are put in a higher CO2 environment, they increase production of aflatoxin B1, a potent cancer-causing chemical that the mold can deposit on some types of produce and livestock feed.

Some of these effects will change, Magan says, as molds adapt and mutate. This might mean the molds will adjust to the stress of climate change—but it could also mean they will adjust to how we treat them. The human body is an excellent place for molds to grow, but most people’s bodies are able to fight them off (though we might start coughing or get runny noses in the process). But in people with compromised immune systems—after stem cell therapy or an organ transplant, for example—Aspergillus can be lethal. Studies have documented an increasing ability among such molds to resist medical treatments including triazole, the most potent anti-fungal in such cases, even in patients who have never taken the drug.

Another problem with mold today is that many energy-efficient homes are designed to capture and conserve heat—which means they can also trap moisture and prevent ventilation, Magan adds. Heat and moisture create a perfect environment for mold. In a bitter irony, architects battling the very things that encourage molds globally may be making them more comfortable in your basement.

But people living in modern, energy-efficient homes are not the ones likely to suffer most from the long-term effects of mold. As is often the case with climate change and rising CO2 levels, the repercussions will likely be worst among the poor, especially in underdeveloped economies where many people cannot purge moisture and mold from their houses.

“With asthma and chronic pulmonary disease, it’s a vicious cycle. [Patients] go and get medication and they feel a little bit better, but they come back into the same home environment,” says Maureen Lichtveld, a global health professor at Tulane University who works with marginalized communities in the Caribbean region as well as the U.S. Southeast.

Lichtveld studies many forms of disease that follow disaster and climate change, but she finds mold especially frustrating because it is highly preventable and relatively easy to control in the home. And if it is not removed, mold can exacerbate chronic asthma and other diseases and stunt a child’s learning and growth. In Puerto Rico asthma was already 23 percent higher than on the mainland—with twice as many asthma-related deaths—before Hurricanes Irma and Maria battered the island in 2017. Many reports suggest it has spiked since then, though objective numbers are not yet available.

In places such as South Florida, where seasonal flooding is common, the mold remediation business has become especially competitive, according to Berg. In other places hit by hurricanes or heavy rains, residents might be facing mold problems for the first time. But whether from flooding, increased spore output or changes in how it functions, mold is likely to become a bigger part of our lives.

Tips* for avoiding the effects of airborne mold spores:

  • Just because you can’t smell the musty odor of mold in the air doesn’t mean it is not there. But if you can, it’s a good sign you might have a problem.
  • As with other allergens, not everyone responds to mold spores in the same way. One person might sneeze or cough while another might become exhausted, and another will feel nothing at all.
  • Mold thrives in wet places with little ventilation. Be especially careful with showers, basements or wherever you hang your clothes to dry.
  • There are thousands of species of mold, and each species releases different concentrations of potentially harmful chemicals. Off-the-shelf mold detectors are generally not sophisticated enough to accurately measure dangerous molds. It is far better to hire a service to take samples and analyze them in a lab.
  • For people with asthma, mold spores become especially dangerous when combined with other allergens such as cockroaches or animal dander.
  • Whereas molds can become resistant to medicines, they cannot do so to household bleach—which is still the best way to get them off surfaces. White vinegar is another, less caustic, option.
  • One of the best ways to beat mold in the home is to keep humidity low (ideally below 50 percent, but at least below 80 percent). If you have a period of high humidity, keep an eye out for mold.
  • Mold is far more likely to grow on organic materials. Wicker, wood or straw on furniture are the most common.
  • Make sure rooms are well-ventilated. If the weather is dry, open a window and create a cross breeze. If not, switch on a fan or air conditioning.
  • Do not try to paint over mold. It will continue to grow and release spores underneath the paint. Always wear protective goggles and a mask when dealing with household mold.
  • Once you have removed the mold—washing with bleach, throwing out that old wicker chair, using an air filter—the mold should not come back. If it does, it is probably because moisture is continuing to seep in through the air or some kind of leak. Find the source of the moisture rather than endlessly fighting the mold.

Original Article Source:https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/heavy-rains-and-hurricanes-clear-a-path-for-supercharged-mold/

Winter Driving Tips

Severe weather can be both frightening and dangerous for automobile travel. Motorists should know the safety rules for dealing with winter road emergencies. AAA reminds motorists to be cautious while driving in adverse weather. For more information on winter driving, the association offers the How to Go on Ice and Snow brochure, available through most AAA offices. Contact your local AAA club for more information.

AAA recommends the following winter driving tips:

  • Avoid driving while you’re fatigued. Getting the proper amount of rest before taking on winter weather tasks reduces driving risks.
  • Never warm up a vehicle in an enclosed area, such as a garage.
  • Make certain your tires are properly inflated.
  • Never mix radial tires with other tire types.
  • Keep your gas tank at least half full to avoid gas line freeze-up.
  • If possible, avoid using your parking brake in cold, rainy and snowy weather.
  • Do not use cruise control when driving on any slippery surface (wet, ice, sand).
  • Always look and steer where you want to go.
  • Use your seat belt every time you get into your vehicle.

Tips for long-distance winter trips:

  • Watch weather reports prior to a long-distance drive or before driving in isolated areas. Delay trips when especially bad weather is expected. If you must leave, let others know your route, destination and estimated time of arrival.
  • Always make sure your vehicle is in peak operating condition by having it inspected by a AAA Approved Auto Repair facility.
  • Keep at least half a tank of gasoline in your vehicle at all times.
  • Pack a cellular telephone with your local AAA’s telephone number, plus blankets, gloves, hats, food, water and any needed medication in your vehicle.
  • If you become snow-bound, stay with your vehicle. It provides temporary shelter and makes it easier for rescuers to locate you. Don’t try to walk in a severe storm. It’s easy to lose sight of your vehicle in blowing snow and become lost.
  • Don’t over exert yourself if you try to push or dig your vehicle out of the snow.
  • Tie a brightly colored cloth to the antenna or place a cloth at the top of a rolled up window to signal distress. At night, keep the dome light on if possible. It only uses a small amount of electricity and will make it easier for rescuers to find you.
  • Make sure the exhaust pipe isn’t clogged with snow, ice or mud. A blocked exhaust could cause deadly carbon monoxide gas to leak into the passenger compartment with the engine running.
  • Use whatever is available to insulate your body from the cold. This could include floor mats, newspapers or paper maps.
  • If possible run the engine and heater just long enough to remove the chill and to conserve gasoline.

Tips for driving in the snow:

  • Accelerate and decelerate slowly. Applying the gas slowly to accelerate is the best method for regaining traction and avoiding skids. Don’t try to get moving in a hurry. And take time to slow down for a stoplight. Remember: It takes longer to slow down on icy roads.
  • Drive slowly. Everything takes longer on snow-covered roads. Accelerating, stopping, turning – nothing happens as quickly as on dry pavement. Give yourself time to maneuver by driving slowly.
  • The normal dry pavement following distance of three to four seconds should be increased to eight to ten seconds. This increased margin of safety will provide the longer distance needed if you have to stop.
  • Know your brakes. Whether you have antilock brakes or not, the best way to stop is threshold breaking. Keep the heel of your foot on the floor and use the ball of your foot to apply firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal.
  • Don’t stop if you can avoid it. There’s a big difference in the amount of inertia it takes to start moving from a full stop versus how much it takes to get moving while still rolling. If you can slow down enough to keep rolling until a traffic light changes, do it.
  • Don’t power up hills. Applying extra gas on snow-covered roads just starts your wheels spinning. Try to get a little inertia going before you reach the hill and let that inertia carry you to the top. As you reach the crest of the hill, reduce your speed and proceed down hill as slowly as possible.
  • Don’t stop going up a hill. There’s nothing worse than trying to get moving up a hill on an icy road. Get some inertia going on a flat roadway before you take on the hill.
  • Stay home. If you really don’t have to go out, don’t. Even if you can drive well in the snow, not everyone else can. Don’t tempt fate: If you don’t have somewhere you have to be, watch the snow from indoors.

Original Article Source:https://exchange.aaa.com/safety/driving-advice/winter-driving-tips/#.XD5LvFxKhhE