What is Mold?
Molds are simple, microscopic organisms (fungi) whose purpose in the ecosystem is to break down organic materials and dead organisms in the environment. Molds are found both indoors and outdoors, and in any areas of the world. Some are visible, most molds are not. Mold spores generally enter a home on air currents, clothing, shoes and house pets from the outside. They thrive particularly well on materials such as wood, drywall, ceiling tiles and carpet. Outdoors, Mold can grow on plant matter, soil, and organic foods. Once set on something, each mold colony (mycelium) then produces millions upon millions of microscopic spores within a few days, and they continue to grow as long as sufficient moisture is present in that area. A small portion of mold may be visible on the surface of a material.
What are different types of Mold?
• Allergenic Molds
Allergenic molds do not usually produce life-threatening health effects, and are most likely to affect those who are already allergic or asthmatic. The human system responses to allergenic molds tend to be relatively mild, typically producing only scratchy throats and rashes.
• Pathogenic Molds
Pathogenic molds usually produce some type of infection. They can cause serious health effects in persons with suppressed immune systems, although a normal, healthy individual can probably resist infection by these organisms regardless of dose. In some cases, high exposure may cause hypersensitivity pneumonitis (an acute response to exposure to an organism).
• Toxigenic Molds
These agents have toxic effects ranging from short-term irritation to immunosuppressant and possibly cancer. Therefore, when toxigenic molds are found further evaluation is recommended.
Can Mold be a serious Health Hazard?
Yes, Potential health effects & symptoms associated with mold exposures include allergic reactions, asthma, and other respiratory complaints. The extent of symptoms depends on the sensitivity of the exposed person. Allergic reactions are the most common and typically include: respiratory problems such as wheezing; nasal and sinus congestion; watery, reddened eyes or blurry vision; sore throat; dry cough; nose and throat irritation; shortness of breath; and skin irritation. Less common effects are: nervous system problems (headaches, memory loss); aches and pains; and fever.
How do you prevent Mold?
• Reduce indoor humidity (to 30-60%) by: venting bathrooms, dryers, and other moisture-generating sources to the outside; using air conditioners and de-humidifiers; increasing ventilation; and using exhaust fans whenever cooking, dishwashing, and cleaning.
• Clean any dry any damp or wet building materials and furnishings within 24-48 hours to prevent mold growth.
• Clean mold off hard surfaces with water and detergent, and dry completely. Absorbent materials such as ceiling tiles, that are moldy, may need to be replaced.
• Prevent condensation: Reduce the potential for condensation on cold surfaces (ie., windows, piping, exterior walls, roofing, or floors) by adding insulation.
• In areas where there is a perpetual moisture problem, do not install carpeting (i.e.., by drinking fountains, by classroom sinks, or on concrete floors with leaks or frequent condensation).
Be aware that molds can be found almost anywhere; they can grow on virtually any substance, providing moisture is present. There are molds that can grow on wood, paper, carpet, and foods.
What is Radon?
Radon is a gas that is located in the Periodic Table of Elements. Radon is labeled Rn. Radon cannot be seen, smelled, or tasted, but it may be a problem in your home. Radon is estimated to cause up to twenty-thousand deaths per year and that's because when you breathe in air containing radon, you can get lung cancer. Radon has also been linked to bone cancer and has been able to damage the internal body structure as well. Radon was a popular additive in products like toothpaste, hair creams and even food items in the early twentieth century, due to its supposed "healing" powers. Radon was subsequently removed when its carcinogenic properties were discovered years later by scientists. The Surgeon General has even warned that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer today. In the early 1990's, The Environmental Protection Agency stated that Radon which can be located in the ground soil can seep into your water pipes and wells. A report to test for Radon in water was proposed and Eventually, an act was even set into an article in the Safe Water Drinking Act of 1996.
Where does Radon come from?
Radon comes from a breakdown of uranium and radium in soil, rock, and water. It can be found all over the United States and is able to get into any type of building and increase to enormous levels. Most people are likely to receive greater exposure to radon in their home. You can also note that Radon is one of the most heaviest gasses in our environment.
How does Radon get into your home?
Radon typically moves through the ground up to the air you breathe and into your home through cracks and other holes in the foundation. Your home traps radon inside, where it builds up in large amounts. One out of every fifteen homes in the U.S. is estimated to have high radon levels. Radon can also be a huge problem in schools and workplaces as well. What Radon test results Mean? The average indoor radon level is estimated to be about 1.3 pCi/L, and about 0.4 pCi/L of radon is found outside in the air. The United States Congress has set a long-term goal that indoor radon levels be no more than outdoor radon levels. Most homes can be reduced to 2 pCi/L or lower. Even if your test result is below 4 pCi/L, you may want to test again in the future to be assured.
Radon gets to you through:
- Cracks in solid floors
- Construction joints
- Cracks in walls
- Gaps in suspended floors
- Gaps around service pipes
- Cavities inside walls
- The water supply
Reducing Radon in your home?
Many methods can be used to reduce the amount of Radon that you have in your home. A method, such as sealing cracks in floors, walls, and under ceramic items may help to reduce radon. Sometimes, extra usage of piping and fans could help also. Sub-slab depressurization removes radon gas below the concrete floor and foundation before it enters your home, it can also be used in crawl spaces. The methods that are used depends on the mitigation contrator you choose. What's the Risk? Radon decays into particles that get trapped inside your lungs when you breath air. They break down further and eventually release small bursts of energy. These bursts can damage lung tissue and lead to lung cancer over the course of your lifetime, not everyone will obtain lung cancer. Smoking combined with radon is a serious health risk also, if you stop smoking and lower your radon level it can reduce your lung cancer risk greatly.
Once highly valued as an insulator, contractors used asbestos insulation and building products during constuction up until about the 1970’s. Asbestos was added to a variety of products to strengthen them and to provide heat insulation and fire resistance. While an expert lab test using polarized light microscopy may be needed, many asbestos-containing building products not only are obvious and easy to recognize, but since there were not other look-alike products that were not asbestos, a visual identification of this material can be virtually a certainty in many cases.
Today asbestos remaining in these buildings poses an even greater risk, as its age and condition allows the fibers to fragment into particles that can suspend in the air. Exposure to airborne friable asbestos may result in a potential health risk because persons breathing the air may breathe in asbestos fibers. Continued exposure can increase the amount of fibers that remain in the lung. Fibers embedded in lung tissue over time may cause serious lung diseases including asbestosis, lung cancer, or mesothelioma.
The most common products found in older homes that contain asbestos materials include:
- Pipe Wrap Insulation
- Attic and Wall Insulation known as Vermiculite (usually found in houses built between 1930 and 1950)
- Asbestos Flooring Tiles most commonly used in the 1960's.
- Asbestos Materials on or in the Air Conditioning or Heating System Duct Work
- Asbestos Cement Roofing, Shingles, and Siding
- Walls and floors around woodburning stoves may be protected with Asbestos Paper, Millboard, or Cement Sheets
- Artificial Ashes and Embers sold for use in gas-fired fireplaces may contain asbestos
- Door Gaskets in furnaces, wood stoves, and coal stoves
- Asbestos Insulation “Blankets” around hot water heaters.
- Transite Pipes- Chimney’s & Flue’s
A number of asbestos treatment options are available where asbestos materials are found.
Choice of treatment can make a big difference in possible costs of handling the material. If the asbestos-suspect material seen in a building is confirmed as actual asbestos or an asbestos-containing product, depending on its condition and location, treatment ranges from doing nothing to complete removal. If asbestos materials are in good condition and undisturbed, the material may not necessarily need to be removed, but rather be repaired by an asbestos professional via encapsulation or enclosure. Professional asbestos removal would involve significant costs and is the recommended course of action where asbestos materials are damaged, friable, in a location subject to damage, in an occupied space, and/or in an unoccupied location where asbestos debris is likely to be carried into occupied space by human traffic or by the operation of heating and cooling equipment.
The US EPA in their "Asbestos NESHAP Adequately Wet Guidance" defines "friable asbestos material" as "any material containing more than 1 percent asbestos as determined using Polarized Light Microscopy (PLM), that, when dry, can be crumbled, pulverized, or reduced to powder by hand pressure."
The definition of friable asbestos is important, because non-friable asbestos-containing material is less likely to be an asbestos hazard in buildings, unless it is mechanically ground or pulverized.
For more information about asbestos and their hazards please visit these Web links:
Environmental Protection Agency
Are you planning to buy a home built before 1978?
Many houses and apartments built before 1978 have paint that contains lead (called lead-based paint). Lead from paint, chips, and dust can pose serious health hazards if not taken care of properly.
Did you know that Chicago has the Highest number of lead poisioned children in the nation. In many Chicago communities more than 25 % of children are lead poisioned despite the 1978 ban on lead in residential. Children 0-6 years are the greatest risk because of the high levels they retain. Most children are lead poisoned by touching lead contaminated dust or paint chips generated by deterioration paint or remodeling work, and then putting their hands in their mouths. Lead poisoning in children can cause irreversible brain damage and can impair mental functioning. It can retard mental and physical development and reduce attention span. It can also retard fetal development even at extremely low levels of lead. In adults, it can cause irritability, poor muscle coordination, and nerve damage to the sense organs and nerves controlling the body. Lead poisoning may also cause problems with reproduction (such as a decreased sperm count). It may also increase blood pressure. Thus, young children, fetuses, infants, and adults with high blood pressure are the most vulnerable to the effects of lead. The good news is, lead posioning can be entirely preventable.
Where lead- base paint/dust can be found
Lead dust can form when lead-based paint is dry scraped, dry sanded, heated ,or when painted surfaces bump or rub together. Lead chips and dust can get on surfaces and objects that children may crawl on or touch especilally on surfaces that take a lot of wear and tear such as floors, porches, stairs, doors, door frames/trim, windows, and window sills. Peeling, chipping, chalking, or cracking lead-based paint is a hazard and needs immediate attention!
Exterior soils around a home may contain lead from deteriorating or peeling paint. Children could possibly ingest or inhale lead dust from the soil when playing in bare soils or track in soils from their shoes.
Household dust. Dust can pick up lead from deteriorating lead-based paint or from soil tracked into a home.
Children should be screened for lead poisoning.
In communities where the houses are old and deteriorating, take advantage of available screening programs offered by local health departments and have children checked regularly to see if they are suffering from lead poisoning. Because the early symptoms of lead poisoning are easy to confuse with other illnesses, it is difficult to diagnose lead poisoning without medical testing. Early symptoms may include persistent tiredness, irritability, and loss of appetite, stomach discomfort, reduced attention span, insomnia, and constipation. Failure to treat children in the early stages can cause long-term or permanent health damage.
The current blood lead level which defines lead poisoning is 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood. However, since poisoning may occur at lower levels than previously thought. Various federal agencies are considering whether this level should be lowered further so that lead poisoning prevention programs will have the latest information on testing children for lead poisoning.
How to check your home for lead
You can get your home checked in one of two ways, or both:
- A paint inspection tells you the lead content of every different type of painted surface in your home. It won't tell you whether the paint is a hazard or how you should deal with it.
- A risk assessment tells you if there are any sources of serious lead exposure (such as peeling paint and lead dust). It also tells you what actions to take to address these hazards.
Hire a lead certified qualified contractor There are standards in place for certifying lead-based paint professionals to ensure the work is done safely, reliably, and effectively. Trained professionals use a range of methods when checking your home, including:
- Visual inspection of paint condition and location.
- A portable x-ray fluorescence (XRF) machine.
- Lab tests of paint samples.
- Surface dust tests.
Home test kits for lead are available, but studies suggest that they are not always accurate. Consumers should not rely on these tests before doing renovations or to assure safety.
For more information on lead contamination and testing in your area, see the following links listed below: