The Mold Remediation Job That Made A Home Toxic
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None of us would like to believe that it could be our own home that catches fire, is flooded or torn into splinters by a tornado. It’s always the other person’s home that we see on the news. The same is true with homes that become toxic.
The truth is that homes do become toxic and real people do become deathly ill. It is arbitrary and could happen to any of us. Technology has brought us new environmental challenges and risks. It also carries new solutions if we know how to use them.
The toxic indoor air problem in a recent real-life case was created by the chemicals that were used in the mold remediation process. You could have this story happen to you.
Imagine that you arrive home from a wonderful winter vacation. The bad news is that the pipes on the top floor burst while you were away. The water ran for days. You have water damage sprawling from the second floor down to the finished basement. Your insurance company is a major insurance company. They send in a “preferred and approved” contractor. You breathe a little sigh of relief.
You are out of your home for weeks while the restoration work is being done. You have hope that the nightmare is over when you get the “all clear” to move home.
You move back into the home and your family becomes deathly ill. You believe that the problem is hidden mold problem is hidden mold. It wasn’t.
In this very true story, the toxic chemicals were Methylene Chloride and Formaldehyde. The Methylene Chloride was used as a stripping agent so that damaged finishes could be refinished instead of replaced. That approach saved the insurance company money, but it also poisoned your family. The equally toxic Formaldehyde is common in lower cost building and flooring materials brought into the home.
New Testing Methods and Remediation Processes Were Used to Save this Home
The first problem was identifying the toxins. The remediation company refused to identify the chemicals they used and where they used them. Specialized testing can identify organic chemicals. First hurdle passed.
Testing showed that the use of a stain and finish intended for furniture on wood floors of a home left the home a toxic mess. If they had read the label, they would have read that large areas of that product will off gas toxic VOCs above health standards.
The bad news is that there are very few professionals trained and experienced at the environmental assessment process.
The next hurdle was that the chemical manufacturer and CDC instructions for remediation was remove the materials that were contaminated. The remediator would not disclose where the chemicals were used making the only sure way was to gut the entire house if we followed that advice. After some research, the solution that would save the house from needing gutted was heat treatment to accelerate off gassing and ozone treatment to break down the chemicals. These were great ideas that worked.
A Vast Number of Exposures Can Make People Ill
We are finding a wide range of toxic exposures in homes, schools and other buildings.
· Pesticide Overuse or Misapplication by Pest Professionals
· Leaking Pesticide Storage Containers
· Defective and Imported Building Materials
· Illegal Drug Manufacture
· Overuse of Industrial Strength Cleaners
· Gases from Construction over Farms and Factory Sites
· Manufacturing Waste and Gases
· Toxins from Neighboring Businesses
· Improper Plumbing Systems
· Tight Construction
· Defective paints and Coatings
· Polluted Well Water
· Farm Runoff
Our Miracle Human Bodies
The human body really tries to protect us. If it smells bad, tastes bad or feels bad, it is almost always bad for us. If there is an odor, there is almost always a problem. The bad stuff is like our built-in hazard alarm. Simply put, the nose knows.
Another miracle of the body protecting us is that we can usually handle an environmental exposure. We have immunity defenses. We can absorb small amounts of toxins. How much we can absorb is dependent on our genetics, past exposures and health histories. That explains why we go along in life and all of a sudden, BAM! your family is deathly ill from environmental reactions. It also explains why different people in the same building can have different levels of reaction to the same exposures.
What to Do Especially if Someone is Already Chemically Sensitive
· Read and follow all safety notices, warnings and labels for “safe use.”
· Obtain and Read the MSDS or SDS for all products used in your environment including those used by contractors you hire
· Test any chemical before use in your home. This includes chemicals ranging from cleaners to mold treatment chemicals. Testing can be a simple as having them on a washcloth and keeping it close to the sensitive person for several days before they are used in the home
· Avoid new products and construction materials when possible with chemically sensitive individuals. As an example, have carpeting kept in a well vented warehouse for several months before installation in a home.
· Many states such as PA have registries for sensitive individuals. These require pest control operators to provide notice ahead of any treatment of a neighboring home or property.
· Do not use products such as plug in air fresheners, sprays and scented candles designed to disguise the odors of other bad toxins.
Figuring It Out
Odors are our early warning system that something can make us ill. We need to identify and avoid contaminations when possible, especially once someone is ill. Figuring out the source of odors and chemicals is like CSI for homes. Many options in products, treatments and practices can be explored to avoid environmental risks. We routinely test for toxins in the range of parts per billion. If you suspect that you are ill from a building, call a professional that understands the wide range that today’s exposures can bring and the best solutions to the problems.
Equipment By Un-Flood-It Was Used to Decontaminate the Home
Understanding Sources of Chemical Contamination
Pesticides: Having a professional treat for pests is not a guaranty of safe use of pesticide. Some professionals use too much chemical to avoid return of the pests. In other instances, the problem is consumers not following directions or storing the leftover chemicals in the home. These products are often poisons for people as well as pests. Another common problem is a neighbor of a chemically sensitive individual’s use of chemicals in yards and homes.
New homes: There are hundreds of products off gassing chemicals in new construction. We have found some very unusual sources of toxic gasses in new homes. In one case, the problem in a $750,000 home was defective flexible ductwork. The homeowners could not live in the home until the ductwork was removed and replaced.
Home improvement and building supplies: You have probably heard about the Lumber Liquidators formaldehyde in flooring problem. Carpet, counters, sheathing, and almost every product in the home can have plastic which is made by chemistry that depends on heat, catalysts, timing, mixing and a host of factors that result in the imperfect creation of very complex chemicals. Some of those chemicals can be toxic to people and will evaporate from the materials.
Cleaning products: The use of very concentrated cleaning supplies can create toxic residue and fumes. We have found numerous instances of offices becoming unhealthy as a result of these industrial strength products.
Drugs: We have found homes and multi-family units that were toxic with the residue of drug manufacture. As an example, the manufacture of Meth uses Drano, lye and sulfuric acid, and other toxic chemicals
Soil Gases: Many homes and other buildings are built on reclaimed industrial sites and farms. The chemicals and pesticides that may have entered the soil can be very safe in an open field. Buildings constructed over this soil can suck those chemicals into the air occupants breathe.
Stored Products: Just about every container will leak fumes over time. One nasty smelling home we found was venting gases from the stored chemicals that were used to build model rockets. Another home had the chemicals from a photo lab. Another family thought it was a great idea to store chemicals used to dry clean clothing.
Neighboring Environmental Problems: in one case, a neighbor had a side business that used toxic chemicals. He would pour those chemicals down their drains. The chemicals would evaporate into the neighboring home from the sewer making those people deathly ill. A nearby fracking operation was a problem for one homeowner who was using a HRV system to pull outside air into their home.
Misuse of Everyday Products: The safety of products is judged on “normal” use. As an example, many of the plug-in products to make your home smell good anticipate a minimal use in a home. Put one of those in every room and you can have a toxic level of exposure.