Emili Potts first noticed the mold outside of Craige dorm, trailing the wall below her leaky air conditioning unit.
When the UNC-Chapel Hill junior began having trouble breathing, she looked inside her AC unit and saw mold growing on the vents.
She went to the doctor because her throat hurt, and she couldn’t stop coughing. The doctor told her she had bacterial pneumonia, most likely linked to the AC unit. She was hospitalized for two days in February, missing classes and two exams.
She also incurred about $3,000 in medical bills after insurance.
“I’m a very outgoing person,” said Potts, who is a resident adviser in Craige, “and I like to talk to my residents and make sure I have time for them and all of that. But being sick all the time, it also makes me very tired, so I spend a lot of time just like being exhausted and don’t have the energy to do my job effectively.”
Meanwhile, more than 1,000 UNC students will be moved out of off-campus housing during mold removal at Granville Towers, a privately managed complex.
But hundreds of students who live on campus and face similar problems are getting little relief.
Potts has had pneumonia two more times since February, most recently last month. She reported her concerns to the university, but she’s not been satisfied by the temporary solutions such as AC cleanings and refills for her antibiotics. It’s taken a toll on her grades and her physical and mental health.
She keeps an inhaler with her, something she’s never needed before.
“The health and safety of our students, faculty, staff and visitors is the University’s highest priority, and we take all reports of potential mold seriously,” Allan Blattner, executive director of Carolina Housing, said in an email from UNC Media Relations. “If a student has filed a Fix-My-Room request but they feel their issues are not being resolved to their satisfaction, I encourage them to speak to their RA (resident adviser) so that the situation can be elevated.”
Potts said her residents have complained about mold. She tells them to fill out “Fix-My-Room” requests to Carolina Housing because there’s nothing else she can do.
HUNDREDS OF WORK ORDERS
There were 484 work orders mentioning mold sent to Carolina Housing between August 2018 and May 2019, Blattner said. Between the start of the school year in August and mid-October, there have been 106 work orders mentioning mold — 63 of which have been made since Granville residents were first alerted about the complex’s mold on Oct. 2.
Blattner said that historically, less than 20 percent of these work orders are actually found to be mold.
“Most of the misidentification occurs when students look inside the window AC unit and they perceive the coils to be moldy is actually the coils getting darker naturally over time as they age,” Blattner said.
Mold is a greater concern in the Southeast because of the weather, Blattner said.
“Given a source of moisture, microbial growth (commonly referred to as mold) can grow just about anywhere within 24-48 hours,” the Carolina Housing website says. “These conditions can be created by food, organic materials containing moisture, wet towels, water intrusion, or spills which are not cleaned up immediately.”
When Potts addressed her concerns with maintenance workers in August and asked what action will be taken to eliminate mold, she said they refused to call it mold and said it’s a “biological growth.”
“And then they said basically that all of the buildings on campus and any building you go will have mold, so there’s just nothing you can do about it,” Potts said.
The complaints mainly plague residence halls with window unit AC systems including Parker, Hinton James, Craige, Ehringhaus, Joyner and Spencer, Blattner said. Approximately 2,700 students live in these dorms, according to the housing website.
“If an observation of mold is reported,” Blattner said, “a same-day visual inspection occurs and then Housing/Facilities works with Environment, Health and Safety to clean the mold, resolve any underlying issues and provide recommendations to prevent any reoccurrence. Facilities Services also performs regularly scheduled preventive maintenance and building inspections, including preventive maintenance of building HVAC, which is crucial for mold prevention.”
Using research from the Department of Housing and Residential Education, the University’s Master Plan suggests UNC needs to renovate, redevelop and build new dorms in the near future. The plan was approved in June, and Carolina Housing is working on a timeline for the project, Blattner said.
The University inspected and cleaned all window AC units in residence halls this summer, Blattner said. They are also working to replace window AC units with central air systems. The most recent renovation was Stacy Hall this summer, totaling $3.6 million.
Six other buildings’ AC systems have been replaced since summer 2015, totaling $13.5 million. The University plans to replace Joyner Hall’s system next spring.
Students pay almost $7,000 annually to live in a double-occupancy dorm room. About 19 percent of Carolina Housing’s 2019-20 budget will go to maintenance, housekeeping and grounds, and 22 percent will go to capital improvements.
As an employee of the University, Potts’ room and board price is cheaper than other students, and she keeps the job because she relies on it for financial reasons. But she said it’s getting to the point where her dad wants her to quit and focus on her health.
“As a resident adviser, obviously I’m not paying as much to live here as other residents, but it frustrates me for them who are paying a pretty hefty room and board price in my opinion to live in a place where it’s making them sick and they can’t do anything about it,” Potts said.
Just a 7-minute walk from campus, Granville Towers is dealing with the same issues.
It opened in 1964 and was bought by The UNC Foundation, the university fundraising unit, in 2009. It houses approximately 1,300 students.
While Granville is not managed by Carolina Housing or UNC Facilities Services, it partners with the University to maintain residence life programs.
In an Oct. 11 email to Granville residents, Granville staff provided a timeline for mold clean-up.
The tentative schedule suggests cleaning will be completed in the West, East and South Towers in waves by Nov. 3. High Efficiency Particulate Air filters were placed in every room awaiting cleaning to remove any particles in the air, including mold spores.
When a student’s room is cleaned, he or she will be placed in nearby hotels for two nights.
Meanwhile on campus, Granville’s clean-up plan leaves on-campus residents frustrated by the difference in response.
Blattner said Granville is managed by a private company. “Because of this, the work being done has no impact on the speed of the Carolina Housing facilities responses.”
“I got moved into a room with more mold, and they get The Carolina Inn and hotels?” UNC senior Larissa Burke said. “And most of the on-campus residents affected by mold weren’t even as ‘lucky’ as me to be moved into a different room. It’s extremely unfair.”
Burke was also a resident adviser in Craige last year. She noticed the mold lining her cabinets and desk as soon as she moved in.
Things escalated when she returned from fall break. The mold lined every piece of fabric she owned, covering her futon and clothes. She washed everything she could and refused to live in the same room.
Carolina Housing moved her to a different room in the same building, but it wasn’t any better. She constantly felt like she had a cold, sniffling and coughing.
She continued to fill out Fix-My-Room requests, and the University responded with temporary cleanings. Even when they told her it was clean, she would find more mold.
Burke bought cleaning supplies and deep cleaned the room herself. Her dad bought her a $200 industrial humidifier.
She also lost more than $500 in damaged property including her futon, suitcase, backpack, boots and other clothing. She sent the detailed list to Carolina Housing and was told she would be reimbursed for her financial loss. She never was.
“It’s frustrating to know that your employers don’t really care enough to do something. It’s where we’re living,” Burke said. “I am paying, RAs do have to pay some money. But like it’s still, it’s where you live. It’s supposed to be a safe place.”
Mold spores shot out of her unit, and Burke hit a breaking point. She asked housing to replace her unit entirely. They did, and her problems were resolved immediately.
Burke got out of Craige this year. She’s currently an adviser in Ram Village Apartments and said she has had no issues with air quality.
Potts wasn’t as lucky. She faced her problems later in the year and had already selected Craige as her preferred work location.
“It’s very frustrating because they preach this whole how they care about us, and clearly if so many people are having to deal with this,” Burke said, “then how much do they really care?”
If you discover a mold problem, there are certainly some things you shouldn’t do. To ensure a safe and efficient mold removal, contact professionals!
If you suspect there’s mold in your home, you might be tempted to try and tackle it on your own, thinking that’s the most cost-efficient and time-effective approach. However, even though there are many things safe to fix on your own, cleaning mold is certainly not one of them. In fact, attempting to remove mold by yourself can actually cause more harm than good.
Finding Mold in the Home
The following are five things you should NOT do if you find mold in your home:
Do NOT attempt to clean mold using a normal vacuum. A mold spore is extremely small and will go right through a typical vacuum filter. When working with mold, use a HEPA vacuum. These vacuums are able to collect 99.9 percent of particles larger than 0.3 microns in size and trap them in their filters. Using a HEPA vacuum will also help prevent cross-contamination with other areas of your home.
Do NOT remove mold without setting up proper containment. When removing contaminated materials, it is necessary to contain the affected area in order to protect the rest of your home from possible spreading of the mold spores. The area must be properly sealed and the HVAC system should be turned off. The logic behind this is that handling moldy materials disturbs resting mold spores, which then become airborne and are more easily inhaled.
Do NOT handle mold without personal protective equipment. When mold is agitated during a remediation project or demolition, it becomes airborne. To minimize your chances of inhaling potentially harmful mold spores, always wear a face mask or a respirator. This is particularly important as, during a demolition or mold removal, you are typically breathing heavily, which can increase the amount of mold you inhale. It is also a good idea to wear coveralls and gloves to avoid touching coming into contact with mold. The safest route is contacting the professionals with the best, most reliable equipment in the industry.
Do NOT use bleach to clean mold. The majority of people believe that bleach is a great cleaning agent. While this may be true for bacteria and viruses, bleach is not as effective for cleaning mold. This is because bleach can only kill surface mold, not the mold growing deep within the material. Moreover, because of its harshness, bleach may actually damage whatever surface you’re trying to clean. If you’re looking for an effective but eco-friendly way to clean mold, there are plenty of anti-fungal cleaning products available on the market today. Or, for an all-natural approach, you can even try a solution of vinegar and water.
Do NOT ignore a mold problem. Ignoring mold growth, big or small, is one of the worst things you can do. The longer you let mold grow, the greater the damage done to your property and the higher the cost to repair it. The best thing you can do is to call a mold remediation professional, who will be able to handle your mold problem with expertise, care, and the right equipment.
Prevent Mold and Protect Your Health
Regardless of how healthy you are or feel that you are, it’s not possible to completely escape or bypass the negative effects that long-time exposure to mold has on your health.
Many professionals in the field of environmental medicine, peer-reviewed literature on the topic, and victims of mold exposure themselves encourage prevention or, in other words, demand action.
Do your part to ensure mold doesn’t have the opportunity to grow and continue to produce deadly volatile organic compounds or toxins in your home. Do your part to prevent permanent injury from chronic exposure.
The debate over mold in your home and your health
Considering there’s an ongoing debate over a causal relationship between mold and symptoms associated with exposure to mold, families chronically affected by mold are left with unanswered questions and they’re shelling out their dollars for what may or may not help them on their journey back to health. Insurance plans neither recognize environmental illness, like mold, nor advocate for your child if the state of his or her health suffers as a result of the environment.
The debate over mold in your home and remediation
If there is, in fact, a mold problem developing in your home, proper remediation also invites debate, as there are no government guidelines dictating how professionals must clean, to ensure your home is left safe when the job is declared finished. Unfortunately, for many, this controversy lends way to disbelief and lack of action, when in fact, action is exactly what everyone must do to prevent mold growing out of control in your home or workplace.
The nature and characteristics of indoor mold is variable. Sometimes one sees indoor mold growth with the naked eye. However, it is hard to assess health and hygiene effects just by looking at it.
Mold is ubiquitous in nature. Filamentous fungi often produce indoor mold in various environments. Excessive moisture, a carbon source, a moderate temperature (25ºC), and dampness, besides other factors, are supportive elements for the growth of indoor mold. The nature and characteristics of indoor mold is more variable. Sometimes one can see mold growth in indoor environments with the naked eye. However, it is hard to assess health and hygiene effects just by looking at it. Therefore, it is essential to study the indoor mold in order to understand its impacts.
There are a number of techniques available nowadays to isolate and identify the mold from indoor environments. No one technique fits in every scenario, but rather, it should be case specific. Although mold can be examined and evaluated in various ways, an integrated approach to detect mold in indoor environments is described below:
Indoor Mold Sampling
To study the airborne fungi from indoor environments
I Air samples, air samples are collected. Some popular mechanisms are described below for collecting mold/fungal samples from the ambient air.
a. Drum Trap (DT)
Airborne fungal elements are collected on an adhesive tape mounted on a rotating disc powered by an electric motor in an air sealed drum with an orifice. The rotation of the disc is fixed with that of the exposure time. Hirst spore trap, Tilak air samplers, etc. are some common commercially available samplers in this category.
b. Electrostatic Trap (ET)
Fungal/mold samples are collected by drawing air with a constant flow rate and exposure time over media under the influence of an electrostatically charged environment. Charged particles are collected on their positively charged electrode. An Electrostatic Sampling Device (ESD), SASS® 3100, Portable Biohazard Sampler, etc. are good commercially available samplers under this technique.
c. Filterer Trap (FT)
Air samples are drawn on a filter mounted within a closed, airtight chamber by pulling the air through it with a constant airflow rate and exposure time. Micro-orifice uniform deposit impactor (MOUDI), filter made out of cellulose ester, polyvinyl chloride, and polycarbonate are widely used for mold/fungi sampling.
d. Impinger Trap (IP)
In this method, the sample is collected by dissipating the air into an air tight flask containing the media with a constant airflow rate and exposure time. Some common IP samplers include, but are not limited to, Greenberg-Smith impinger, AGI-30, etc.
e. Pore Trap (PT)
Air samples for mold/fungal evaluation are collected on media in an air-tight cylinder by collecting air through a perforated metal plate with a constant airflow rate and exposure time. Anderson’s, Burked, Bio-culture, and Button Aerosol Samplers are routinely used based on this technique.
f. Rotorod Trap (RT)
The airborne fungal particulates are collected on a strip of sticky tape or surface mounted on a mechanical arm/surface attached to a spindle powered by an electric motor that can rotate with a specific number of rotations per minute for a determined exposure time. Rotorod sampler by Sampling Technology, Inc. is one of the most widely used samplers of this category.
g. Spore Trap (ST)
Commonly in this method, a gel-coated glass slip is employed inside an air sampling device and air is pulled out with a constant air flow for a predetermined exposure time depending on the project goals. Flow rate is verified in the field utilizing an in-line flow meter. Air is passed over the coated slide causing airborne fungal particles to adhere to the gel. Some commercially available devices of this category are Air-O-Cell, Micro 5, Allergenco-D, M2, Burkard volumetric samplers, etc.
h. Thermal Trap (TP)
The air samples are collected on a glass slip by placing it around a hot body into ambient air.
II Surface samples
Environmental surfaces are collected to evaluate the mold/fungal infestation in and around indoor environments. Some practical methods for collecting a surface sample are given below.
a. Bulk Sample (BSAM)
Bulk samples are made by collecting, scraping, or cutting a representative of the material/dust suspected for mold/fungi by using aseptic techniques. These samples are transferred to the laboratory in a sterile container for further analysis.
b. Surface Imprint Sample (SISM)
Environmental samples are collected with the help of sticky tape. The sticky side of the tape is placed over the test area and an imprint is taken in order to collect a surface sample for a mold/fungal evaluation. Bio-Scan400is the most accurate (cts/m2) and one of the more commonly used products for collecting surface samples for mold/fungi.
c. Swab Sample (SSAM)
Swab samples are made by swabbing a selected area by using sterile techniques. The collected specimens are transported to the laboratory for further enumeration. A number of companies make cotton or polyester swabs which are available in the market for environmental surface sampling for collecting mold/fungi samples.
d. Vacuum Sample (VSAM)
Dust samples are collected from environmental surfaces suspected for indoor mold with a dust collecting cassette and/or a vacuum sample device under aseptic conditions. The collected samples are transported to the laboratory in a sterile container for further evaluation. Dust sock®, Dust collector, etc. are available in the market for collecting environmental surface samples for mold/fungi.
e. Wipe Sample (WSAM)
Environmental surface samples are collected by means of wiping the selected area suspected for mold/fungi with a sterile gauze pad by following sterile techniques. A leak proof container should be used for transporting these aseptically collected specimens to the laboratory for mold/fungi evaluation. Sterile gauze can be procured in test kits, drug stores, and various other sources to collect environmental samples for testing mold/fungi.
No one sampling method can be used as an absolute standard for collecting environmental samples for the detection and identification of indoor mold. The best way to select a sampling method is to explore the performance of the sampling mechanism and its suitability for the intended project.
Mold Examination and Identification
Isolation of indoor mold collected from environmental samples is challengeable. Depending on the project needs, the trapped particles are isolated by using a suitable buffer such as phosphate buffer saline (PBS), distilled water, etc. Sometimes the collected specimens are directly examined. Some common methodologies are described below for the isolation and identification of mold/fungi from samples collected from the environment.
a. Non-culture method
Microscopic techniques are used to examine and identify the mold/fungal elements from the collected sample. This is a rather inexpensive method with a quick turnaround time. However, many times identification of the indoor mold is limited to a particular taxon.
b. Culture method
In this method, the isolated indoor mold or fungal inoculums on microbiological media are incubated at a required temperature and time for growing the culture. After obtaining the developed culture, microscopic or biochemical techniques are employed for the identification of mold/fungi. While this may be a time taking process, the identification of fungi is often possible both on the genus as well as the species level. Some fungal organisms are media specific; therefore, the selection of microbiological culture media may influence the outcome.
c. Molecular method
Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) or other molecular diagnostics methods are used for the identification of mold/fungi from environmental samples. The advantage to this method is a higher accuracy in the identification with a faster turn around time. However, experimental set up is expensive and requires specific training.
d. Biochemical method
In this method, the isolated mold/fungal elements are subject to react with certain biochemicals and after a reaction is observed, a pattern is obtained. In other words, a “Metabolic Fingerprint” is obtained in order to identify the targeted indoor mold.
Faced with an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that has sickened 124 people and caused one death, North Carolina health officials say they’ve traced the source to a fair that was held last month. In particular, they say, people were more likely to develop the pneumonia-type disease if they walked past a hot tub display at the North Carolina Mountain State Fair.
“This is the largest outbreak that we have documented” of Legionnaires’ disease, a spokesperson from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services told NPR on Friday.
But because Legionnaires’ is not contagious and the disease’s incubation period of 2-10 days has now lapsed since the end of the fair, officials don’t expect the number of cases to grow very much beyond what has already been reported.
According to the latest figures, the 124 cases include 116 incidents of Legionnaires’ and eight cases of Pontiac fever — a milder form of the lung infection that occurs without pneumonia.
The outbreak was tracked to the large agricultural fair that was held through the middle of September in Fletcher, N.C., some 20 miles south of Asheville. About a week after the fair ended, the state Division of Public Health was alerted to a sudden spike in Legionnaire’s disease cases in Buncombe and Henderson counties.
According to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, patients in the outbreak had reported going to the fair — and they were “much more likely to report having walked by the hot tub displays compared to people who did not get sick.”
While warning that its investigation is still ongoing, the agency said its early findings have led it to suspect the hot tub display. The evidence collected so far, it said, suggests that “low levels of Legionella present were able to grow in hot tubs or possibly some other source in the Davis Event Center, leading to exposure.”
The bacteria that cause Legionnaires’ disease can’t be spread directly from one person to another. Instead, they are commonly spread to the lungs through aerosolized water, in the form of a mist or vapor. And that’s another reason why investigators suspect a hot tub display at the Davis Event Center — an indoor space that hosted vendor exhibits during the fair.
In addition to the hot tub, health investigators found that a sink in the women’s room had also tested positive for Legionella bacteria, as Blue Ridge Public Radio reports. But as the state health agency notes, “very little aerosolized water is created” when people wash their hands in sinks, flush toilets or use other water sources at the agricultural center.
To trace the outbreak’s cause, health officials reviewed what the Legionnaires’ patients said about their movements at the fair. Those reports were then compared against a larger data sample that includes people who didn’t get sick, after state investigators sent an online survey to everyone who bought their tickets to the fair online.
The survey asked the fairgoers for details such as when they attended and what they did at the fair. Health officials say their analysis shows people who got sickwere much more likely to have visited in the latter half of the 10-day fair than in the early portion.
In response to the outbreak, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services says the Davis Event Center is shut down and won’t be rented out for events.
“While we all feel confident that the facility is safe, we want to take these proactive mitigation measures to reassure the public and our employees,” the agency said.
Legionnaires’ disease occurs naturally in fresh water, but it can also thrive and spread through warm-water sources such as shower heads, cooling towers and hot tubs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While many healthy people might encounter Legionella without growing ill, it can especially affect smokers, people over the age of 50, those with chronic lung conditions and people with weakened immune systems.
As fires continue to burn across large swaths of California, preserving indoor air quality in commercial and institutional facilities with vulnerable populations, such as schools, requires special attention. Indoor air scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Indoor Environmental Group offer some strategies to follow to improve indoor air quality.
In commercial and institutional facilities, smoke particles can still infiltrate the facility even with windows and doors closed. This infiltration is caused by direct outside air intake into the HVAC system, which is unavoidable in order to maintain proper ventilation, and through breaches in the building’s envelope. An older commercial facility without high performance filtration can have indoor particle levels that are 70 to 80 percent of outdoor levels, even with windows and door closed, says Brett Singer, mechanical staff scientist and engineer at the lab.
Because the infiltration is unavoidable, scrubbing the indoor air with air filtration is necessary. The scientists recommend using filters with MERV ratings of 12 or higher. Another metric to look for is a microparticle performance rating (MPR) of 1900 or higher, or a filter performance rating (FPR) of 9 or higher. Reducing outside air intake to the lowest allowable level is also recommended while outside conditions remain unfavorable.
Health officials are now investigating three possible cases of Legionnaires’ disease of patients who were treated at Mount Carmel East.
Two of the patients are from Licking County and one is from Franklin County, according to a Columbus Public Health spokesman.
According to a hospital spokesperson, two patients who were recently treated at the hospital have been diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease.
Cricket Miller, of Grove City, said her grandmother was one of the patients to be diagnosed with Legionnaires disease due to the June outbreak.
She learned about the possible cases at Mount Carmel East Monday morning.
“The whole thing is frustrating,” Miller said. “It’s maddening and it’s disgusting that the possibility that another one of the Mount Carmel facilities could’ve had a legionella outbreak after what we saw over the summer with Mount Carmel Grove City.”
Over the weekend, the hospital issued the following statement:
Working with local health officials, we’ve determined at least two possible healthcare-associated cases of Legionnaires’ disease in individuals who recently received treatment at Mount Carmel East. We are partnering with Columbus Public Health (CPH) and the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), in conjunction with the CDC, to identify the source of bacteria.
We’ve taken several steps to protect our patients, staff and visitors, including implementing extensive water restrictions throughout the hospital. We are running additional tests on water sources throughout the hospital and our entire water supply is undergoing hyperchlorination. We’re confident that we can safely maintain full services of the hospital while we study this situation.
For most people, the risk of developing Legionnaires’ disease is low; however, individuals with chronic, underlying medical conditions are at increased risk. If you have been hospitalized and develop cough, muscle aches, headaches, fever or shortness of breath, please contact your primary care physician.
As always, the safety of our patients is our top priority. We will continue testing the water over the next few weeks in coordination with CPH, ODH and CDC.
As we learn more, we will provide updates to our patients and community.
In August, the bacteria was found in the Mount Carmel College of Nursing. There are no reported cases of anyone contracting the disease from there.
In June, however, health officials stated 16 patients contracted Legionnaires’ disease while seeking treatment at Mount Carmel Grove City. Franklin County Public Health is investigating whether one of those patients died from the disease.
Months after KENS 5 spotlighted the moldy infrastructure inside certain military housing at Randolph Air Force Base, a local law firm is taking action and filing suit against the company overseeing the housing in question.
The lawsuit. filed Tuesday against Hunt Military Communities, alleges conditions that we observed for the first time earlier this year, including mold, cracked ceilings and water damage.
“We couldn’t have our beds, our bedding, our clothes—we couldn’t take our towels, anything porous or semi-porous. Our wood items had to be trashed, we had to leave them,” says Kassandra Wolf, one of several plaintiffs mentioned in the federal lawsuit, which alleges the housing conditions of Wolf and other are “slum-like.”
Images of mold-infested vents, mold-covered toothpaste, walls and ducts illustrate the conditions court documents allege Wolf and other military families were forced to endure while at Laughlin and Randolph military bases.
“There are an unlimited source of horror stories,” one of the attorney behind the suit said. “Horror story after horror story after horror story.”
Former residents allege Hunt Military Communities didn’t respond with due diligence, instead settling for haphazard fixes.
“Our mold count was off the charts,” Wolf says. “We had over 65,000 mold sports, five toxic mold and fungus, and 45,000 of those 65,000 are the mold that my son is allergic to—my son with asthma.”
But despite the photos and residents speaking out, Hunt Military Communities called the allegations baseless. KENS 5 sent over photos and questions regarding whether Hunt was aware of the conditions, as well as whether the company was doing anything to remedy them.
Despite our desire to spend more time outside enjoying the fresh air, it isn’t always possible. The demands of the workplace, and inclement weather in certain parts of the country, keep us indoors for much of the time. But what if the time we spend inside office and apartment buildings is making us sick? Let’s take a closer look at how occupant well-being is linked to building health.
Sick Building Syndrome (SBS)
Sick Building Syndrome is a disorder recognized by the World Health Organization. It describes the experience of occupants becoming physically ill as a direct result of spending time in a particular building. The symptoms include headaches, irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, and lethargy. Once away from the building the symptoms vanish. While the specific sources that trigger SBS symptoms are difficult to identify, there’s a definite link to improper ventilation.
The effects to occupant well-being and costs of SBS are real. Identifying and addressing the causes requires a professional assessment and remediation.
Occupant Well-Being and SBS
People may attribute the symptoms of SBS to other causes, such as allergies, common colds, or the flu. While building occupants may suffer from these issues, SBS can also be a contributing factor.
Some symptoms of SBS include:
Shortness of breath
More serious illnesses can occur as a result of improperly ventilated buildings. Legionnaires’ disease results when cooling towers become contaminated with legionella bacteria — also a cause of Pontiac Fever. Humidifier fever results from breathing in droplets of water contaminated with harmful microorganisms.
In larger buildings, certain zones may exist where symptoms are more acute than others due to airflow from ventilation systems. A thorough assessment by a third-party professional is needed to make a proper diagnosis. This includes an HVAC Hygiene Assessment that examines the environmental and performance data of mechanical inventory and related ductwork. This assessment is then used to devise a plan for remediation to improve occupant well-being.
What Causes Sick Building Syndrome?
There are several contributing factors to sick building syndrome. Contaminants from both outside and inside the building can lead to SBS. Chemical contaminants from outside sources, such as car exhaust, enter the building through intake vents. Biological contaminants come from carpeting and copy machines, cleaning agents and upholstery. Poor ventilation causes these contaminants to circulate throughout the building where they impact occupant well-being.
Sick building syndrome isn’t a result of negligence alone. It’s also an unfortunate byproduct of modern construction. Over 11,000 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted by much of the building materials used in construction. These compounds are also found in flooring, carpeting, and paint. Electronic equipment, even lighting, also release these compounds. Proper ventilation is needed to mitigate the negative effects of VOCs.
The Costs of Not Addressing SBS
Sick building syndrome results in worker absenteeism and reduced productivity. The morale of employees suffers, and the general well-being of the workplace is negatively impacted. A significant increase in healthcare costs can also result. SBS also affects schools, hospitals, and apartment buildings. A failure to address problems could have legal consequences. Building managers and business owners need to be proactive in identifying issues before they develop or worsen.
Solutions for Better Indoor Air Quality
Is your building making your employees or tenants sick? Make occupant well-being a priority.
Schedule a Building Health Check or an HVAC hygiene assessment with Pure Air Control Services. We are an IAQ and HVAC system-focused company in operation since 1984.
PURE-Duct from our Building Remediation Sciences division is an IAQ-driven service that takes duct cleaning to the next level. Occupant well-being and building performance are the top priorities. Our highly-trained NADCA and VSMR certified personnel follow strict guidelines for containment, equipment, and cleaning.
Water Damage Los Angeles – 11/11/2019 As a homeowner, it’s important to understand some basics about the materials that make up your home, and how they react to environmental changes and hazards. The way in which different building materials absorb water, and what that means for preventing and remediating water damage, is one of those areas that many people don’t think about – until they have a flood, broken pipe, or other water damage scenario. Rather than wait until those extreme circumstances, a little advance knowledge can help you better choose building materials for your home construction or renovation, and to be better prepared and know what to do if you suffer water damage.
building and materials science is an entire field unto itself. We’re not going to get too deep into the
technical aspects of myriad calculations and coefficients involved in defining
modern building materials. Instead,
we’ll keep things general and basic, so that everyone can have a better
understanding of how water absorbs into different building materials. We’ll talk about the basics of water damage,
and how that intersects with the physical properties of the building materials
that make up your home. We’ll also offer
advice on things you can do to make your home more water-resistant, and how to
best recover from water damage.
discussing water and how it absorbs into different building materials, there
are a number of material characteristics that can come into play. Environmental factors also come into play, as
material characteristics often are subject to change under different humidity,
temperature, pressure, and related conditions.
On a basic level, some of the aspects of materials that determine how
(and how much) water can absorb into building materials include:
Density of the
material (how closely the molecules are spaced)
Porosity of the
material (how many pores or holes are present in the material – think of a
sponge compared to a solid block of plastic)
Permeability of the
material (how easily water can enter or exit the material)
Whether or not
capillary flow is possible, and to what extent within the material
internal pressures on the material, and how they interact with water droplets
contraction, leaching, and other properties of the materials that dictate how
they respond to absorbing or losing water
and treatments of materials, that help prevent water from entering (but can
also make it harder for water to evaporate out and leave the material, meaning
drying can become more difficult, too)
properties including how rigid or flexible materials become when they absorb
water, their propensity to deform or become brittle, lose structural or tensile
strength, and so on.
important to note that many of these properties are defined in laboratory
tests, with a great deal more detail than presented here. These certifications are then included with
the specifications for various building materials before they go on the
market. For many products in the US,
there are certain minimum specifications that need to be met in order to be
sold as a certain grade or quality of building material product.
Also worth noting is the fact that none of these basic material characteristics directly talk about the propensity for a material to grow mold, mildew, other fungi, bacteria, or any other harmful microorganisms due to water exposure or damage. It is not difficult, however, to draw conclusions about how materials will perform based on these characteristics – obviously, materials that are highly permeable, porous, and absorb large amounts of water are more likely to cause problems in a water damage scenario than those that are largely impermeable, non-porous, and don’t absorb moisture.