Bioaerosols in the Environment

Bioaerosols are small living organisms or particles of living things suspended in the air. Included in this category are; dust mites, molds, fungi, spores, pollen, bacteria, viruses, human and pet dander (that has been shed) are just some examples. They are so tiny that they cannot be seen by the naked eye. Instead must be viewed under a microscope or with the aid of a magnifying glass.

A commonly asked question is, “Can Bioaerosols cause health problems?” We would like to respond by confirming these minute particles do play a large role in creating potential health risks especially to those individuals who are immunocompromised as well in cases where exposure may cause infection and/or allergies. In any event, both situations need to be treated with immediate concern. In some cases if left untreated allergic responses and/or infection as a result of exposure to specific Bioaerosols may be serious and even fatal.

What is an allergic reaction?

An allergic reaction occurs when a substance provokes the formation of antibodies in a susceptible individual. These substances are referred to as “antigens” or “allergens”. Reactions may appear on the skin or in the respiratory tract. Rashes, hay fever, asthma, runny noses are commonly listed allergic reactions.

There are of course a few people who may develop a severe reaction in the lung, which can destroy tissue. This reaction is known as hypersensitivity pneumonitis. Though not readily an infection, it can lead to an infection known as bacterial pneumonia as a result of repeated episodes. Hypersensitivity pneumonitis can be triggered easily after an individual becomes sensitized, that is to say even small amounts of the allergen will cause a reaction once a person is sensitive to it. Symptoms can range from tightness in the chest, cough, and difficulty in breathing, to low-grade fever, muscle aches, and headaches.

What are common sources of Bioaerosols found in the home?

Molds, mildews, bacteria, and dust mites like the same conditions that we do. A warm environment with moderate to high humidity. Which is one reason we suffer allergic reactions during the summer months. Bacteria, molds, and mildews are commonly identified within air conditioning units/equipment, humidifier reservoirs, dehumidifier drip pans, showerheads, toilets, and ice machines. Water damaged materials such as carpets, ceiling panels; walls and paneling are all key sites, which provide conducive growth environments for new growth if they are allowed to stay damp.
Note: When molds, mildew, dust mites, and bacteria are disrupted or release their spores into the air, this results in Bioaerosols formation.

What measures can be taken to control Bioaerosols in the home?

First of all, lower the level of humidity in your home, basement, crawl space, and attic. (Relative Humidity is the amount of moisture in the air at a given temperature.) Humidity fluctuates in your home, depending upon:

  • How warm or cool the air is indoors.
  • How many moisture-producing activities (drying clothes indoors, showers etc.) that are taking place.
  • Sources of moisture (leaks, dampness, foundations/attics).
  • Ventilation: How much is being vented to the outside.

To effectively manage the causes of Bioaerosols in the home consider the following as a guide:

  • Reduce relative humidity
  • Eliminate sources of moisture such as leaks.
  • Dry the air. The use of a chemical or mechanical dehumidifier. Empty collecting drip pan daily!
  • Open closet doors to allow air to circulate. Use a 40-watt light bulb to dry and heat the air in the closets.
  • Vent bathrooms and clothes dryers to the outside.
  • Trim back trees and shrubs around the house to reduce shade.
  • Remove debris from your yard, roof and gutters.
  • Clean mold and mildew growth from walls with water mixed with chlorine bleach, diluted three parts water to one part bleach. Commercial products can also remove mold and mildew. Follow product instructions carefully.
  • Check heating and cooling system filters monthly or as needed based on visible appearance.
  • Vacuum air return covers or screens regularly.
  • Check air conditioners for mold before each cooling season and have coils cleaned as needed.
  • Have heating/cooling system ductwork checked for loose insulation, leaks, or signs of condensation where the system enters the house.
    Note: Insulate ducts on the outside of the ductwork.
  • Air cleaners and filters are other options. Electronic and HEPA (high efficiency particulate absolute) cleaners and filters are the best at taking mold, mildew, and dust out of the air.
  • Make sure that crawl space vents work and are not blocked.
  • Mechanical dehumidifiers reduce humidity in basements.

In addition to the above recommendations it is required that relative humidity be maintained below 50 percent to effectively manage/limit the control of the dust mite population. In summary, Bioaerosols, such as molds, mildew, and dust mites, are commonly found in indoor air. Control measures include reducing the sources of moisture, reducing the relative humidity, and removing materials, which could contribute to the growth of these agents.

Abatement Professional’s Guide to Mold Remediation & Mold Removal in Maine

What is Mold?

Dictionary.com defines Mold as:

NOUN –

  1. A growth of minute fungi forming on vegetable or animal matter, commonly as a downy or furry coating, and associated with decay or dampness.
  2. Any of the fungi that produce such a growth.

Mold Spores – Mold is part of the fungi kingdom, which features many thousands of species found both in indoor and outdoor environments. As such, it is adaptable. Mold is a growing issue within the health awareness community. Indoor exposure to mold has increased among the public and has become a growing health concern due to a variety of adverse health effects.

Mold produces tiny spores called mycotoxins which are toxic agents that can digest most things that they come in contact with. Mold needs water in order to grow, when it come in contact with damp, wet areas the spores are able to grow and produce causing indoor mold damage. The best way to control mold is to control the moisture; since moisture fuels mold growth. If it gets out of hand you will need to call a mold removal specialist like Abatement Professionals to come in and completely remediate to safely remove the mold and not cause contamination to the rest of your home or commercial property.

Mold damage can occur wherever there is minimal uncontrolled condensation and humidity control. These areas include roof & plumbing leaks, damp basements, rain damaged areas, plumbing failures and malfunctioning humidification systems. These mold spores can have a negative effect on a human’s immune system especially when exposed indoors and in enclosed areas.

The varieties of health problems caused by mold include symptoms such as headaches, breathing difficulties, skin irritation, allergic reactions, and aggravation of asthma and other respiratory complaints.

Mold Remediation and Removal

A basic tip for mold remediation is to identify and stop the source of the moisture that the mold is growing off of. Next is to remove the mold growth. For smaller affected areas, basic remedies such as sunlight, ventilation, household cleansers, and dehumidifiers can be great for mold removal.

Just like spores are invisible to the naked eye, large mold infected areas may also be invisible or hidden. Many times mold grows in places that you would never except to see such as the wood surface behind insulation or a water damaged area such as a wall that may have be covered up by wall paper or drywall. A good indication of hidden mold is if you or someone else walks into a room and it smells off, or if occupants are reporting health problems such respiratory and cough-like symptoms. If you suspect hidden mold in your house or building consult a mold removal specialist here at Abatement Professionals right away to prevent the further spreading of the mold infected area. Abatement Professionals in Maine has the proper equipment to investigate if you have hidden mold. If they find hidden mold, they have the proper equipment to investigate and remove the mold in large infected areas. Many times, the large mold growth can produce spores in warm damp areas (such as behind wallpaper and drywall)if measures are not taken, and this is when your health will become a factor. The outcome from trying to remove the wallpaper or drywall yourself may end with releasing thousands of toxic spores all over your home. If inhaled, these airborne spores may cause major respiratory health problems.

Clean up Methods

Depending on the material and severity of the affected mold area, some of the covered methods may not be required during the mold remediation process. From the start of the mold remediation project, Abatement Pro specialists always take preventative care whenever they are on the job site.

Method 1: Wet Vacuum

Wet Vacuums are Vacuums made specifically for water damage clean up. A few tips to remember when using the vacuum are not to be used on porous surfaces; for floor, carpet, and hard surfaces; and only on surfaces that are wet or where water has collected. Please note that if the area you are working on does not have the sufficient amount of liquid, then using the wet vacuum may disrupt and spread mold spores.

Method 2: Damp Wipe

Mold Removal Cleaning Wipes – Most times in mold removal of non-porous or hard surfaces you can simply scrub or wipe up with water or a mixture of water and detergent. Again- make sure that the surface that was remediated is completely dry to discourage the growth of mold again. On porous surfaces mold can fill in holes and crevices. If this has happened, it will be virtually impossible to clean the affected surface. If mold has spread to wet or damp porous surfaces you may have to completely remove and discard the affected areas. Remember to always follow safety instructions, even with basic clean up materials which can be found on the back label of the clean up products. To be sure that clean up is done efficiently and effectively consults the mold removal specialists at Abatement Pros.

Method 3: HEPA Vacuum

HEPA, or High-Efficiency Particulate Air vacuums, are generally used for clean-up process of the mold remediation project once the area is dried and contaminated materials have been removed and replaced. Another recommended use of the vacuum is to clean up outside of the mold remediation work area. This will clean up dust and material that has landed on other surfaces. Take care that the filter for the vacuum is properly installed to prohibit mold spores from spreading. Allowing all the air to move through the filter and catch any dust or mold spores. For changing the vacuum filter and cleaning out the contents of the vacuum, use a well-sealed plastic bag to disposal of the materials. Be sure to wear PPE or Personal Protective Equipment while cleaning the HEPA Vacuum. PPE should include:

-Eye wear

-Gloves

-Protective disposable clothing

-Respiratory Protection

(All of the above PPE are to protect against dirt, dust, and harmful toxic spores kicked up from the mold removal process.)

Method 4: Discard — Remove Damaged Materials and Seal in Plastic Bags

Any materials that were not salvageable need to be double-bagged using 6-mil polyethylene sheeting. The larger materials with heavy mold damage need to be covered with polyethylene sheeting and completely sealed with duct tape. The bags and sealed materials oftentimes can be discarded as ordinary construction waste. Remember, make sure you are in the contaminated remediation zone when sealing the contaminated materials to prevent the dispersal of mold spores.

Remember to consult the mold removal specialists at Abatement Professionals any time, Call 207-773-1276 or send us a message through our contact form.

APC on Lead

Nature of the Material

Lead is a naturally occurring metal (element) that has been used by man since early times in such applications as water pipes because of its malleability and durability.  It is poisonous in nearly all of its compounds, but despite its usefulness in many applications today which give little cause for concern, the presence of lead in paints (because it is resistant to corrosion) in addition to its being as antiknock additive to gasoline that have given rise to health and safety concerns.

Health Risks

Lead poisoning can result in brain damage or death, and while for adults it generally requires substantial cumulative exposures for harmful effects, in children brain damage occurs from much more limited exposure.

It is this fact that has caused regulations to focus on those lead applications, principally lead paint, which represent the greatest risk to be encountered by children, namely residential uses where lead contaminated paint can be ingested.  A blood test is the general method for determining lead poisoning and the current definition, according to the Center for Disease Control, is 10ug/do of blood.  In sharp contrast to asbestos where the latency for asbestos-caused diseases is 15 to 30 years, lead has no latency.  Blood tests will indicate elevated blood levels of lead shortly after exposure by either ingestion or inhalation.  This fact has significant implication in both the handling of contaminated material and the liability risks to abatement contractors.

Regulations

Despite the fact that lead health risks as far back as Roman times, it was the Consumer Product Safety Commission in the late 1970’s that focused regulations on lead use and handling.  Currently, laws and regulation governing the use, treatment and handling of lead have been promulgated on a federal level by EPA, OSHA, Consumer Product Safety commission, CDC, DOT and HUD.  In Maine, regulations have come from the Bureau of Health and will soon come from the DEP.  Some municipalities have also issued regulations, and Portland has done so through its Health Department and its Code Enforcement Department.

Methods of Abatement

The methods for lead abatement are the same as for asbestos encapsulation, enclosure, and removal; however, more than for asbestos economics tends to drive the method of abatement and removal is not always a priority.  The same clean room technology utilized in asbestos work is also employed in lead abatement; although, when the removal process involves a wetting agent, as in chemical removal or water blasting, such elaborate containment is not required as the liquid prevents the contaminants from becoming airborne.

The removed material is bagged and tested for lead content.  Depending on lead levels, the material may be classified as hazardous waste or solid waste (non hazardous).  Concentrated paint scrapings might likely be classified as the former while wood trim pained with lead paint might be classified as the latter.

In the case of hazardous waste, licensed haulers are utilized to take the waste to licensed disposal sites, both of which are in ample supply.

Risks of Handling Lead vs. Asbestos

The largest and most significant difference between asbestos and lead abatement work is in the nature and immediacy of the risk.  Asbestos abatement often involves commercial or industrial settings where it poses an occupational risk, but not a general health risk.  To the extent that abatement involves a residential setting, the work, because of the nature of the building products involved, is usually confined to the utility areas of the dwelling, most often the cellar, or to the exterior and not to living space.  This sharply reduces opportunity for exposure to residents.  Moreover, the latency of diseases relating to exposure to asbestos is 15 to 30 years, making it difficult to pinpoint the time and place of exposure.  As a result, liability accruing to the asbestos contractor for exposure to or illness by one of his clients is very low.

Lead on the other hand, while historically used extensively in paints for all applications, possesses the greatest risk in those areas where the paint can be ingested by children.  Almost by definition, this is in the living areas of residential dwellings and in public buildings like schools frequented by children.  Even within these areas, concern is generally limited to surfaces where the paint is deteriorated and peeling so that flakes could be ingested or on places where a child might actually chew the paint (mountable surfaces).  As a result, abatement most often occurs in those areas where exposure for those most susceptible to lead poisoning is greatest.  Of even greater concern and risk, latency is near zero.  That is to say that elevated lead levels in blood occur shortly after ingestion (or inhalation in the case of airborne dust).  These factors pose much higher levels of potential liability for the lead abatement contractor and will result in increasingly stricter regulations of the abatement process and more rigorous training and licensing for contractors.

APC on Asbestos

From the APC History:

Nature of the Material

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral whose unique qualities have been recognized since ancient times.  It is resistant to fire and heat; strong, inorganic and nearly indestructible and has superb acoustical qualities.  Because it is a fibrous material easily worked and capable of being produced in a number of forms, its qualities have led to its use for a variety of building applications.  In modern times it has been used in over 3,000 building products for both commercial and residential applications, including insulating materials, floor tiles, siding and roofing materials in addition its fibers have been used as a reinforcing material in many other products.

Health Risks

By 1900 it was known that asbestos could also cause health problems including asbestosis, a lung disease, and mesothelioma, lung cancer.  Both are ultimately fatal and there is no known cure.  The concern is with airborne fibers as the route of entry to the body is through respiration.  The nature of the material is that, once disturbed, the fibers remain airborne for extended periods of time, increasing the risk of inhalation.  Although the risk comes from cumulative doses, even minute quantities have been proven to cause cancer.  The National Cancer Institute has listed asbestos as an occupational carcinogen and it is listed as a special waste by the EPA, OSHA and DOT.  During the late 1970’s and 1980’s, laws were promulgated at federal, state and even municipal levels to govern its use, handling and disposal.

Methods of Abatement

At present, there is not a requirement that asbestos be removed where it has been used as a building or insulating material unless it has been disturbed or will be disturbed as in renovation or demolition.  In schools and public buildings in Maine asbestos is required to be removed or contained if it is damaged and capable of releasing fibers to the air.

The three approved methods of asbestos abatement are encapsulation, where the asbestos is covered with a material, that will prevent its release to the air; enclosure, where the area containing asbestos is closed off to prevent contaminated air from mixing with uncontaminated air; and removal.  All methods are extensively governed by laws and regulations dealing with protective procedures for handling, storage and disposal and, in most states, licensing is required for those who handle it.  Licenses generally require extensive training and periodic refresher training.

The public health risk is generally perceived to be minimal and existing laws and regulations are aimed at occupational exposure where the risk is greatest.

Recognizing that legislation is now beginning to require similar handling of lead paint, Abatement Professionals embarked on an education and training program that has resulted in its licensing as a lead abatement contractor in Maine (none is presently required in New Hampshire) and is now doing lead encapsulation, enclosure and removal work throughout Maine and in Central and Northern New Hampshire.

Expert Energy Efficiency & Asbestos Remediation in Maine

The United States represents about 5% of the world’s population. Yet controls about 8% of the world’s energy resources and consumes 25% of the world’s energy supplies. Energy is a principal commodity of our society, amounting to about 9% of the U.S. Gross National Product (GNP). Today at least 70% of existing homes and 80% of new homes have air conditioners, televisions, stereos, computers, swimming pools, spas and all types of electrical gadgets that make American homes the most energy consumptive in the world! 

Residential Energy Audit Program – “Wise Energy Use”

There are two major approaches to wise use of energy, energy efficiency and energy conservation. Although very similar, they aren’t exactly the same. Energy efficiency is the most popular approach and focuses on maximizing the economic benefits of wise energy use (i.e. results in energy savings, buying a new ENERGY STAR qualified refrigerator to replace your inefficient old one).

The energy-conservation approach focuses more narrowly on reducing non-renewable energy use and its resulting environmental damage.

Energy efficiency and energy-conservation share the following benefits: 

  • Efficiency of Use: more efficient homes and appliances give more comfort, service, and value.
  • Energy Security: Wasting less energy allows individuals, communities to become less dependent on energy and less vulnerable to price/supply changes.
  • Environmental Restoration: wasting less energy creates less environmental damage (footprint).
  • Sustainable Prosperity: wasting less energy preserves fossil fuels for future generations.

Why Bother??

There are four (4) major reasons to conduct a home energy audit which are: 

  1. Save Energy $$ by reducing heat loss and fuel consumption. 20% of U.S. consumed energy goes to residential/commercial space heat, 1/4 of that is wasted.
  2. Improve Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) by preventing mold/mildew/moisture, eliminate odors, and reduce respiratory ailments
  3. Promote Building Durability: the same conditions that lower IAQ can reduce building durability, longevity.
  4. Increase Comfort: eliminate drafts. No cold floors, no hot and/or cold rooms, no fogged windows.

What can you expect to be included in the audit, you ask? 

  • Identification of the type, size, condition, and rate of energy consumption for each major energy using device
  • Recommended appropriate energy conservation, operation, and maintenance procedures
  • Estimate labor and materials costs for energy retrofits
  • Project savings expected from energy retrofits
  • Note any current or potential health and safety problems and how they may be effected by proposed changes
  • Explain behavioral changes that will reduce energy waste
  • Provide a written record of decision which will answer these questions;
    • Simple Payback: how long before I break even on money spent?
    • Life Time Savings: what is my savings? The annual savings multiplied by the number of years the measure is expected to last
    • Life Cycle Costing: what will it cost me to do nothing? Compares the cost of acting with that of not acting
    • Annual Rate of Return: should I borrow money to make modifications, ARR calculates return on investment expressed as a percentage (%)
    • Savings to Investment Ratio: Do I buy stock or insulate the Attic? SIR typically required by Federal Funded Programs as taxpayer justification. Strengths; Lenders accept it and some require it, will prioritize measures to be taken

Know facility points of weaknesses 

Single-family homes points of weakness: A home’s energy weaknesses are usually concentrated around irregularities in its building shell. A building’s protrusions and indentations, with their increased seams and surface area, are particular problems at these known locations:

  • Porches
  • Roof Overhangs
  • Shafts containing chimneys and pipes
  • Protruding or indented windows and/or doors

Crawl spaces and basements connecting the home to outdoors: Outdoor & indoor air can mingle in cavities of a building shell, this can seriously reduce the effectiveness of insulation. Areas to watch for are:

  • Wall cavities partially or completely devoid of insulation
  • Suspended ceilings between floors
  • Attic and roof cavities
  • Concentrations of plumbing near kitchen and bathrooms
  • Concentrations of wiring near service panel box
  • Building Cavities used as ducts
  • Interconnecting spaces between floors, walls, and ceiling cavities

Mobile homes points of weakness: The below list details where air leaks and insulation flaws are most commonly found in mobile homes:

  • Joints and holes in forced-air distribution systems
  • Torn or missing belly paper/cloth
  • Joints between halves of double-section homes; around perimeter of each section, floor, walls, and ceilings
  • Plumbing penetrations in interior walls, exterior water heater closets, under bathtubs, behind washing machines, and under sinks
  • Joints between the main structure and building additions

Multifamily homes points of weakness: Irregularities on exteriors of multifamily buildings are potential sources for infiltrating and exfiltrating air.

  • Thermal bridging from steel and aluminum components
  • Protruding or recessed balconies, eaves, windows, and canopies
  • Roof protrusions and penetrations, such as rooftop elevator stacks and air handlers
  • Air intake and exhaust vents

Multifamily building’s horizontal cavities and vertical shafts are conduits for air leakage and mixing of indoor air and unconditioned outdoor air. These include:

  • Suspended ceilings
  • Supply ducts in floor and ceiling cavities
  • Building cavities utilized as heating/cooling return ducts
  • Elevator shafts
  • Plumbing shafts
  • Chimneys
  • Stairwells

The Energy Auditor

Inspects, tests and measures to decide what energy-efficient retrofits are practical and cost-effective.

Mold Article 2002

INFORMATIONAL ARTICLE PUBLISHED IN 2002

Today, mold is the hottest issue around, not only for the field servicing industry but for society in general. Not only is mold a hot issue, it is an extremely litigious issue with multi-million dollar lawsuits flashing the news headlines with more frequency than defendants care for it to be. We see mold seminars frequently being announced not only for mere educational purposes but also for preservation mechanics to learn how to abate or remediate the mold from vacant properties. HUD, one of the largest loan guarantors, generally will not accept properties with mold in them.

How serious is the mold problem for vacant properties? Several servicers have stated that their inventory records show an increase from as low as 3% to as high as 70% this year over last year of properties with mold in them. This means that last year, as few as 3 out of 100 properties were reported as having mold. This year as many as 70 properties out of 100 are reported as having mold. Could it be that awareness of the issue has revealed more properties having a problem or is it a monetary issue?

Mold is natural in our environment. It exists in the air around us and is a living organism. Mold is not a problem in most homes that have proper ventilation and adequate protection from water/moisture. Mold does not just grow out of control all by itself. There is usually some event that triggers abnormal growth. That event could be a leak in the structure (such as a roof leak) or a water entry point (such as a broken plumbing line) or lack of care (such as a sump pump not working because the electric service has been disconnected). Given the moist and unventilated environment mold needs to grow, in a vacant property mold can rapidly grown out of control. Once mold is discovered, it must be appropriately addressed.