Sunday, August 26, 2007

Radon Gas, What Are The Risks?

Most of the time if you have mold, there is an associated smell. Well, unlike mold, Radon is odorless, colorless and tasteless. Oh, did I mention it is also radioactive? There are two sides of the fence regarding Radon.

Side #1 - Oh my God, we detected or you will die!

Side #2 - You have Radon? Eh, no big deal.

I have a friend that works for the FDA, and has worked for them before "day-1" of the Radon craze. One day we had a great conversation about Radon and his personal thoughts on the subject. I want to make it clear that his personal thoughts are not exactly the same as his employer (FDA). So, when we were talking, it was friend to friend.

He told me about how the FDA became involved with Radon.

It all started way back at the time of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant incident in Pennsylvania (1979). One day, when an unknowing employee was scanned while entering the facility, he set off the radiation detectors. To make matters worse, they could not determine how this employee became exposed. Well, as part of their investigation, and team was sent to his house where they found the source of his exposure. They detected radon gas in his house.

Since that time Radon has been kicked around in the media and has scared home owners, home buyers, home inspectors, real estate agents and medical practitioners. Even within the Boston area, both sides still butt heads.

When people hear the word RADIOACTIVE, they become scared. I'm going to warn you about reading any further.

Bananas are radioactive! WHAT, you say? Bananas contain Potassium (K40) which is radioactive and will set of radiation detectors.

I'm certainly not saying since it is OK to eat "radioactive" bananas, that it's OK to be exposed to Radon.

Just like mold, Radon can be dangerous. But to who is not clearly defined and is debated by scientists and medical practitioners all over the world.

Allow me to Paraphrase the FDA's stance on Radon.

The FDA states that 20,000/year die from Radon. However the number is skewed. They do not have evidence to support their claim.

Risk Factors:
* Radiation levels of Radon.
* Duration of exposure to the Radon.
* General Health of the occupants.
* Age of the occupants.
* Smokers / Non-smokers
* Genetics!!!!!!

If you are retired, and a smoker that has a bedroom and living space in a basement, you are more likely to be affected by exposure to Radon. Unless you have good genes and you will be fine.

If you are a young and healthy, non-smoker that has a bedroom on the second floor, you are less likely to be affected by exposure to Radon. Unless you have bad genes and then you are in trouble.

I hope you now understand how ridiculous their stance is.

So, what am I saying, is Radon dangerous or not? I do not take any pathogen lightly. I will always lean toward the side of caution. Why take a chance?

However, I do not want you to be scared, I want you to be informed. So, if you have Radon issues, research the topic. So, no matter if it is mold or radon, be informed, not afraid.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Allergy / Asthma Related to Mold?

I often have clients that relay to me that they or their children have asthma. I also had a client that worked in a maintenance department that complained of "asthma like symptoms". His desk was in the basement of a building that was infected with mold. Often we hear of complaints of allergy symptoms from our clients. Often these same clients will report their allergy symptoms diminishing or completely going away. This should not be a surprise since molds are directly related to pulmonary illnesses.

Last year I received a call from a gentleman in Boston that had sewage backup into his basement. The sewage level was almost 1ft. high. He also stated that his young son had developed asthma over the past year. Is it related to the sewage problem? Let me break it down for you.

The sewage flood happened a few years prior to his call to me, and he complained his basement now smelled musty. He had a nice finished basement, complete with a bar and big screen tv. He had a raised wooden floor in the basement laid over wooden 2x4's. Which means he had a perfect breeding ground for mold under that floor. Upon visual inspection, we noticed mold on different materials in different areas of the basement including a bathroom. Our lab tests confirmed the presence of Stachybotrys (black mold) and another strain. It didn't surprise us that he had Stachy, since the flooding was sewage related and the fact it stayed wet for an extented amount of time.

What is the basic definition of asthma?

Asthma is a chronic disease that affects your airways, which are the tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs.

Here is an interesting article published by the CDC. (condensed)

Health Concerns Associated with Mold in Water-Damaged Homes After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita --- New Orleans Area, Louisiana, October 2005
After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita made landfall on August 29 and September 24, 2005, respectively, large sections of New Orleans (Orleans Parish) and the three surrounding parishes (Jefferson, Plaquemines, and St. Bernard) were flooded for weeks, leading to extensive mold growth in buildings. As residents reoccupied the city, local health-care providers and public health authorities were concerned about the potential for respiratory health effects from exposure to water-damaged homes. On October 6, CDC was invited by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (LDHH) to assist in documenting the extent of potential exposures. This report summarizes the results of that investigation, which determined that 46% of inspected homes had visible mold growth and that residents and remediation workers did not consistently use appropriate respiratory protection. Public health interventions should emphasize the importance of safe remediation practices and ensure the availability of recommended personal protective equipment.

Of 112 homes inspected (Table), flood levels had been high (>6 feet) in 21 (18.8%) homes, medium (3--6 feet) in 19 (17.0%), and low (<3>50% coverage on interior wall of most-affected room). The distribution of homes with heavy mold coverage was 10 (52.6%), seven (36.8%), and two (10.5%) in high, medium, and low flood areas, respectively.
Participants reported being indoors doing heavy cleaning an average of 13 hours since the hurricanes (range: 0--84 hours) and 15 hours doing light cleaning (range: 0--90 hours). Sixty-eight (60.7%) participants reported inhabiting their homes overnight for an average of 25 (standard deviation: +13.7) nights since the hurricanes.
Indoor air samples were collected nonrandomly at 20 (16%) homes; outdoor air samples were also collected for 11 of these homes. Predominant fungi indoors and outdoors were Aspergillus spp. and Penicillium spp. Geometric mean (1®3,1®6)-b-D-glucan air levels were 1.6 µg/m3 (geometric standard deviation [GSD]: 4.4) indoors and 0.9 µg/m3 (GSD: 2.0) outdoors; endotoxin levels were 23.3 EU/m3 (GSD: 5.6) indoors and 10.5 EU/m3 (GSD: 2.5) outdoors. Glucan and endotoxin levels were significantly correlated (correlation coefficient r = 0.56; p = 0.0095). The geometric mean glucan and endotoxin levels were higher indoors compared with outdoors but the differences were not statistically significant.

In 2004, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) reviewed the literature regarding health outcomes related to damp indoor spaces (4). In addition to the risk for opportunistic fungal infections in immunocompromised persons, IOM found sufficient evidence for an association between both damp indoor spaces and mold and upper respiratory symptoms (nasal congestion and throat irritation) and lower respiratory symptoms (cough, wheeze, and exacerbation of asthma). The findings of this report indicate that, in the New Orleans area post-hurricane, indoor environmental conditions and personal practices provided exposures that potentially put residents and remediation workers at risk for these negative health effects.
This study used markers that have been used in exposure assessments in water-damaged buildings, including cultured fungi and microbial structural components (bacterial endotoxins and fungal glucans). Interpreting the significance of these measures is not straightforward, and health-based indoor exposure limits for these compounds have not been established (4,5). Previous measurements of airborne endotoxin in homes have averaged <1.0 EU/m3, with indoor levels generally lower than outdoor ones (6). In post-hurricane New Orleans homes, mean indoor endotoxin levels were more than 20 times higher than the 1.0 EU/m3 average, with an inversion of the expected indoor-outdoor relationship. This mean level exceeds that associated with respiratory symptoms in one study (7). In five New Orleans homes, the measured indoor endotoxin levels were comparable to those of certain industrial settings in which declines in pulmonary function have been demonstrated (8). Exposure to (1®3)-b-D-glucan, a cell-wall component not specific to fungi, has also been linked to respiratory health effects in certain studies (5). In this assessment, a newer assay for (1®3,1®6)-b-D-glucan (2), a different glucan with higher specificity for fungi, yielded higher indoor than outdoor levels in New Orleans homes. Although differences in the two glucan assays preclude direct comparisons, the findings of this assessment indicated that mold growth inside homes was likely at or above a level sometimes reported to be associated with certain health effects (e.g., cough; airway hyper-reactivity; influenza-like symptoms; ear, nose, and throat irritation; decreased lung function; and skin rash) (5).
As you know I don't like this blog full of medical terms, however I felt it was important to have this article, based on the merits of the professionals involved. It's important you know the facts.

We Love Boston!

Do it Yourself Mold Remediation?

Well, there is a lot of talk out there, in DIY forums and even websites that (for a fee) will give you the steps on how to remediate your household mold. Let's look at the positive and negative aspects of DIY mold removal and the vultures that prey on the DIY'ers that want to save money and bypass professional services. These vultures do not care about you, your health or the health of your family. Nor do they care about protecting your investment.

If someone tells you to use bleach to kill the mold, ask them if they also still believe in the Easter Bunny.

I know most people that are reading this will think that since I am in the "mold" business, my blog will be biased.....well, I guess it is. My experience in the industry has actually prompted me to start this blog. Over the years I have experienced many scenarios involving DIY'ers and would like to share them with you.

I do NOT believe in using scare tactics as a way to inform the public about mold/mould. Let me state this now and let it be known that MOLD CAN BE DANGEROUS TO YOUR HEALTH! I know of many homeowners, contractors, real estate agents, home inspectors and maintenance personal that have exposed themselves to mold and suffer health related problems. So, before you read any further I do not condone DIY mold remediation in 90% of the cases, and I'll tell you why.
Let's get to the meat of the matter.
I will try to state everything in the most simplest of terms and not bog you down with terminology or blather.
Why I do not condone DIY mold remediation.
Mold is not a stain, it's not a plant. Mold is a fungus, which falls under it's own catatgory. Unless you know it is dead, it is alive, even if it is dormant, it's alive! So, I could spew out 10 pages in order to educate you on fungi, but again...let's keep it simple. Like other living organisms, mold wants to survive and thrive. It does this by producing spores and it produces as many spores as it can before it dies. These microscopic spores float around in the air you breath and hope they land on a spot that will allow them to mature. An ideal spot would be on something organic and something wet.
Why am I telling you this? Well, most people do not consider the spores when they have mold.
Example: So, a DIY'er finds mold on the sheetrock in their basement. They decide to cut that section off and throw it away thinking that is the end of the mold. Ooops, they notice the mold was also growing on the inside surface of the sheetrock and on the concrete. Dang, now they just exposed that mold and released millions of more spores into the air. And since air in the basement is typically stagnant, the DIY'er just got a nice lung full of spores....the spores that love organic, wet places.
Cross Contamination
Well, just like seeds of a plant, those spores are out there looking for a new home. These millions of spores will stick to items like cardboard, leather and wood. Do you have any wood in your basement? the framing of your house and the floor joists and sub floor...hmmmm.
Now cross contamination can occure when you pull something out of your basement and put it in an upstairs closet, or track it upstairs on your shoes. Your dog or cat can bring it upstairs.
Here is another example I would like to share. A real estate agent that often refers me to clients called me one day and stated the trunk of her car smelled musty. Well, sure enough mold was detected. Here is the kicker, she often kept her dress shoes and boots in the trunk of her car. These are the same shoes that she uses when she shows property. Unfortunately, the average real estate agent exposes themselves to mold more often than they would like to think. They are always in basements of houses the buildings that are often times infected. Not to say she could not have picked up leaf or dirt particles from the outside and put them away wet in her trunk...either way, it is an example of cross contamination.
DIY Vultures
There are websites out there that will charge you money to "teach" you how to remediate your mold. I will tell you with complete honesty, they will steal your money and you will be left no better off. Are you going to buy $20,000 worth of equipment to do it your self? Do you know how to properly protect yourself? Do you have a license to use biocides? How are you going to address the spores in the air? Let me tell you, Lysol is not the answer.
Unless you are cleaning mold in your shower, leave mold remediation to a biosafety professional.