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Residential Meth Lab Dangers

The use of methamphetamines as an abused drug has risen dramatically in the last 10 years. The reasons are understandable: it can be made from readily available materials found in drug stores, home improvement stores, and agricultural chemical supplies – by mail and the internet. It can be made in small quantities in a basement, garage, storage space, bathroom or bedroom in just a few hours. It doesn’t have to be smuggled in from Afghanistan or Columbia.

The dangers are also as dramatic: fire explosions, pollution, short and long term health effects, contamination of homes, vehicles, children and law enforcement personnel.

In 2004, there were 17, 170 meth lab “incidents” according to the Drug Enforcement Administration National Clandestine Laboratory Database. The greatest concentration of these meth labs is in the Midwest, apparently due to availability of the ingredient anhydrous ammonia, which is a commercial crop fertilizer. But these clandestine meth labs are appearing everywhere in the U.S.

Law enforcement personnel who perform seizures of these clandestine meth labs face significant dangers. This is also true of investigating officers who may be at a meth lab site for a significant period of time gathering evidence.

Exposure can result from inhalation or physical contact with a variety of known chemicals with known effects and a host of exposures to reactions that can occur from the chemicals used in meth cooks.

The probability that methamphetamine will contaminate a building where a cook has occurred is almost certain. It is also certain that contamination persists weeks, months, and possibly years after a meth cook or cooks have occurred. It is highly likely that methamphetamine contamination will occur in furniture, floors, walls, furnishings, clothing and personal items such as toys.

There has been no level of contamination considered safe since, there is no research available on the effects on humans at low levels of methamphetamine. The safe level is thus the detectable level.

Methamphetamine, whether in an area where a cook, or use, has occurred, can readily become airborne both as a particulate and a vapor. It can thereafter settle on any flat surface and be picked up by passersby or re-aerosolized and inhaled. This is most important where toddlers and young children are present.

Practically anyone associated with a meth cook area; family, friends, law enforcement, custodial personnel, will have positive urine tests for methamphetamines.

An area can also be contaminated by just “smoking” meth. Although methamphetamine can be ingested or injected, the most likely method of use is smoking. Tests by the National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Colorado have shown that as few as 5 “smokes” can result in equaling the 0.1ug/100cm2 clean up level; resulting in exposure to other occupants especially young children – who crawl on floors, touch everything, and often have their hands in their mouths.

The safe levels of building occupants where a cook or even repeated “smoking” has taken place have not been established.

Allowable levels of methamphetamine after cleanup are not based on health effects since there is little known on the subject of low level exposure. The levels are set based on limits of detection. The State of Washington recently reduced its allowable level from 5 ug/ft2 to 0.1 ug/100cm2 for a surface wipe test. Colorado has set a limit of 0.5 ug/ft2 for a surface test. The limit for air samples is 0.1 ug/M3.

Atlantic Environmental, Inc. has the ability to perform air sampling, wipe samples and suggest the levels of personnel protection required in a particular situation. We can also recommend clean up requirements, disposal of chemicals and occupancy decisions where methamphetamine was “smoked” or otherwise abused, or meth cooks have occurred.

Methamphetamine Resource Links


Article Written By:
Henry P. Shotwell, Ph.D., CIH
Vice President
Atlantic Environmental, Inc.

Do you suffer from frequent sinus headaches, congestion and runny nose? Have you taken enough cold and allergy medication to qualify for “frequent flier” awards? You may not have a persistent cold or allergies. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic have discovered what may be the real cause of most chronic sinus conditions: MOLD!

An estimated 37 million Americans suffer from chronic sinusitis, and the incidence has been steadily increasing. The condition is an inflammation of the nose and sinus cavity membranes and frequently leads to polyps, which are small growths in the nasal passages that make breathing difficult.

May researchers Drs. David Sherris, Eugene Kern and Jens Ponikau wrote in the September, 1999 issue of the journal, “Mayo Clinic Proceedings” that “Up to now, the cause of chronic sinusitis has not been known.” “Fungus allergy was thought to be involved in less than 10% of cases. But, their studies showed that nearly all cases, fungus is the likely cause.” And, it is not an allergic reaction, but an immune reaction.”

Using new methods of collecting and testing nasal mucus, they found a total of 40 different kinds of fungi in 96% of the 210 chronic sinusitis sufferers the researchers studied. In a group of 101 sufferers who had nasal polyps removed surgically, 96% of them had eosinophils, a type of white blood cell that is activated by the body’s immune system, in their nasal tissues and mucus.

According to the researchers, sensitive individuals’ immune systems will send eosinophils to attach mold spores which have landed in the nasal passages, but the eosinophils themselves are irritating to the nasal tissues. So, as long as mold spores land inside the nasal passages and eosinophils are present, so will the pressure headaches due to swollen tissues, the congestion and the runny nose. This finding is a potential breakthrough that offers great hope for the millions who suffer from chronic sinusitis. According to Dr. Kern, “We can now begin to treat the cause of this problem instead of the symptoms.”

A MOLDY SUMMER and the 3 H’S

Authored by:
Henry P. Shotwell, Ph.D, CIH
Vice President
Atlantic Environmental, Inc.

Once again, we’ve entered the hurricane season, when hot humid air envelops most of North America. Beginning in the Spring and lasting until the first frost of Autumn, the air is typically well above 60% Relative Humidity, which is ideal for promoting the growth of mold. The official Hurricane season runs from June to September, and even though they may not qualify as hurricanes, many storms at this time of year have enough rain and wind to cause structural damage and allow the growth of mold. Even if your home isn’t damaged, prolonged periods of high humidity will promote the growth of mold on many surfaces, and will hasten the spoilage of bread, fruit and other foods. If you spot a bowl of fruit or a loaf of bread that has gone moldy, or if you see some mold growing on a wall or furniture, should you evacuate the house and burn it down?

First off, let’s dispel a common myth about the so-called “Toxic Black Mold, Stachybotrys.” “Stachy” is no better and no worse than any other mold. It was mistakenly thought to be involved in an unusual lung condition years ago, but the myth lives on. Secondly, there is no such thing as a “toxic mold.” It’s a meaningless term, although all molds, as well as all other living creatures, produce waste products that can produce adverse health effects under the right (or possibly wrong) conditions. (Did you know that the mold Penicillium produces a “toxin” called Penicillin!!!) Finally, whether a mold is black, green white, brown, pink or any other color, has absolutely no bearing on a given mold’s ability to create damage. In fact, most mold colonies change their colors as they grow and mature.

Unless there has been severe water damage, almost all mold growth situations can be handled by simply washing the surface with mild detergent and water and rinsing with household bleach. If there has been wind and rainstorm damage, the extent of the problem may require the services of an experienced, certified remediation firm. The building should be allowed to dry out thoroughly and the roof damage repaired before removing the mold. Otherwise it may re-grow. A ruptured pipe or other source of continuous water flow inside the structure has to be found and repaired, followed by thorough drying before removing any mold that has started to grow.

If mold growth in your home is not due to storm damage or a leaking pipe, humid air is probably the cause. Keeping doors and windows closed and using a dehumidifier will go a long way toward keeping the mold from coming back.


Authored by:
Henry P. Shotwell, Ph.D, CIH
Vice President
Atlantic Environmental, Inc.

Bird flu, Avian Influenza or Influenza A virus, subtype H5N1 is a virus that is adapted to infect birds, especially in Southeast Asia. There is no evidence of efficient human-to-human transmission or of airborne transmission to humans. In almost every recorded human case, the affected persons had extensive physical contact with infected birds. About half of those who contracted the virus died from the infection. Worldwide, there have been 228 recorded cases of Bird Flu in humans, of which, 130 cases resulted in death. Of these, 39 deaths occurred in Indonesia, 42 in Vietnam, 14 in Thailand and 12 in mainland China. All of the others also occurred in 3rd World countries.

What does that mean for us, living in a country with the world’s most advanced medical technology? Unless and until this virus mutates in such a way as to allow humans to infect one another by direct contact or to become infectious if inhaled, it doesn’t mean much. However, viruses are notorious for their ability to mutate, so there is a real possibility that this could become a problem.

How can we protect ourselves? Probably the best protection is to continue living in the or where there is a good health system. We can’t rely on vaccines because it takes 6 to 9 months to produce once the virus develops the ability to infect humans. Vaccines stimulate the production of antibodies to make you immune, but there is no antibiotic that will kill viruses that have already infected you. If you do contract Bird Flu, the level of medical care available to people in the U.S. makes survival much more likely. Frequently, washing your hands, refusing to shake hands, frequent disinfecting of surfaces like doorknobs and handles and other means of avoiding physical contacts that could directly transfer germs, are good ways to limit possible contamination. Keeping a good state of nutrition and getting enough sleep are also important steps that can keep a healthy immune system.

Nanotechnology – What is it? Are there hazards?

Authored by:
Robert E. Sheriff, CIH, CSP
CEO & President
Atlantic Environmental, Inc.

This is the first of a series articles on the emerging field of Nanotechnology.

What is it?

In short – small! Very small! Very, very small! Nanotechnology comes from the prefix Nano which, in English, means 1/billionth, just as micro means 1/millionth. So Nanotechnology involves 2 things: 1) extremely small man-made materials – some even as small as 1 atom thick, generally referred to as Nanoparticles. Examples are the memory chips for iPods® and even new sunscreens, and 2) extremely small particles that are emitted from some process or activity. These are called Ultra Fine Particles. Welding fumes are an example.

Without getting into too much detail in this article (we’re saving the details for later issues), both Nanoparticles and Ultra Fine Particles can cause health problems.

It was previously thought that if these ultra small particles were inhaled, they would simply be exhaled without being retained in the lungs. Recent information suggests that this is not true. Due to the phenomenon called Brownian Motion nanoparticles are buffeted by atoms and molecules of gases and vapors, which push them onto lung surfaces where they remain.

Further, it was thought they were so small and light that they would have little or no effect on the human body. Not so! Even though they are small and light, in total they have tremendous surface area that allows much greater likelihood of reacting with the cells in our body.

Finally, technology now allows us to detect and study the effect of extremely small amounts of chemicals and particles on cells, molecules, and individual genes. We are thus finding that small particles can have detrimental effects on our bodies.

Is this complex? Yes! Is it confusing? Yes! In future issues, we will clarify, talk about the hazards as they are known; ways to measure and how to prevent health hazards.

Post Hurricane/Flood – Occupancy Inspections

Re-occupancy of water damaged properties is of great concern to businesses and property owners. We have the ability to inspect buildings for water damage, mold, bacteria and chemicals. We also take water samples for e-coli with 24 hour results by using our portable water analysis lab.

We welcome inquiries from insurance companies, businesses property owners and tenants.Our Atlanta and Dallas offices are available to travel to Louisiana (LA), Alabama (AL) and Mississippi (MS) on short notice to be of assistance.

Contact Bob Sheriff at our headquarters at 1-800-344-4414 or

New Chemical Hazards in the Workplace

Article Written By:
Henry P. Shotwell, Ph.D., CIH
Atlantic Environmental, Inc.
Dover, NJ

In the days when Industrial Hygiene became a recognized scientific discipline, smoke stacks belched black smoke in River Rouge, MI and Pittsburgh, PA. Men worked in clouds of coal and asbestos dust and labor was hard, physical and usually dangerous. Personal protective equipment was rare; its use, even rarer and its protective effect marginal.

Today, the face of manufacturing has changed dramatically from the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. New technologies, newer materials and newer products have spelled the demise of smokestack industries, at least in the United States. Along with this visual improvement, a new attitude has arisen concerning employee exposure. Since many, if not most, manufacturing sites today are clean, well lighted and require much less direct physical labor, it becomes easy to believe that there are no longer any serious employee exposures. How can there be? It’s a clean room!

Actually, all we have done is to change the exposures. Fifty or sixty years ago, no one had ever heard of Gallium-Germanium Arsenide, without which there would be no computer chips and no Intel. We still used leaded gasoline and hadn’t begun to think about MBTE the gasoline additive that has caused so much recent controversy. We have controlled or eliminated many of the old exposures and air contaminants, but in their place we have introduced new ones to take their place. Today’s worker may no longer be covered with soot or dust, but he or she may be exposed to contaminants that were unheard of just a few short years ago, but may be just as hazardous as the old ones.

Today’s industrial hygienists must continuously update their knowledge of manufacturing processes and equipment, along with their knowledge of the potentially adverse human health effects resulting from exposure to newer feedstocks, intermediates and finished products. Today’s industrial hygienist cannot assume there are no potential exposures, just because people are working in a clean room.

Reducing Noise Levels Through Engineering Controls

Article Written By:
By Henry P. Shotwell, Ph.D., CIH
Vice President, Atlantic Environmental, Inc.
Atlantic Environmental, Inc.
Dover, NJ

It’s fairly easy to control personal exposure to noise by limiting exposure time or using hearing protectors like ear plugs or ear muffs.  Engineering controls are usually applied to the machinery that produces noise.

Imagine a 200 foot x 175 foot manufacturing facility with a 30 foot high ceiling.  In this building are a variety of cut-off saws, grinders, millers and other metal-working machines.  There is also a small foundry shake-out station.  When normally operating, the overall noise level is 89 decibels (A-scale).  Individual machines can produce up to 106 decibels at the point of operation.  The HVAC system has long runs of rectangular duct which vibrates visibly.  Management would like the overall noise level to be below 85 decibels.

One of the options management has under consideration is to hang sound-absorbing panels from the ceiling.  This approach, while effective, would be prohibitively expensive.  We feel a more effective approach is to identify each machine that produces noise over 85dB, and then control the noise at the source.  This allows for much greater flexibility in designing controls and selecting noise absorbing materials.

Almost every sound-producing device generates a mix of frequencies and intensities (decibels).  What we perceive with our ears or measure with a sound level meter is a composite of all these frequencies and intensities.  Usually, an Octave Band Analysis (OBA) is needed to fully analyze the sound produced by a machine.  The OBA will allow you to measure the intensity (in decibels) at 31, 62, 125, 250, 500, 1,000, 2,000, 4,000 (and sometimes 8,000 depending on the OBA model used) Hertz (Hz).  This is important.  Low frequency noise (up to about 125 Hz) is more difficult to control but has less potential for impairing hearing.  The higher the frequency, the easier it is to control.  This is fortunate, because noise intensity at higher frequency is more damaging to hearing than the same intensity at lower frequency.

The most effective noise control method is to leave the noise producing machine off; but, that defeats the purpose of having the machine.  Other, similar approaches would be to put the offending machine outside the work area.  In some cases, that will work.  An HVAC blower fan could be mounted outside the building it serves, for example.  But, in most cases, the noisy device has to be inside the workplace, usually near work stations.  For the remaining situations, noise can be controlled (i.e. absorbed or deflected) at the source, usually in the form of barriers or small enclosures.  The choice of material to construct these controls depends on their sound absorbing capacity.  Engineering tables, showing this capability for a variety of materials, are available.  Controlling noise at the source is generally more effective and more economical to install and maintain than other approaches.

Mold! Hazard or Hoax?
The answer is yes, yes.

Article Written By:
Robert E. Sheriff, CIH, CSP
Atlantic Environmental, Inc.
Dover, NJ

Let me address the two issues in reverse order.

The Hoax
The biggest hoax is the hysteria over the notorious black mold that grows on sheetrock. This black mold is formally known as Stachybotrys chartarum or Stachybotrys atra. The horror stories related to items such as infant deaths in Cleveland in 1993 and 1994 are not true. The statements of CDC related to possible cause have been retracted by that Organization. With extremely rare exceptions (possibly only one documented case) there is no association between inhalation of Stachybotrys chartarum and any identifiable disease.

It is true that Stachybotrys chartarum, as part of its metabolic processes, produces a chemical by-product called a mycotoxin. But there are hundreds, thousands, perhaps even tens of thousands of other molds that produce mycotoxins. Mycotoxins are large molecules that do not easily become airborne, thus the only real possible exposure is ingestion such as eating grains or other foodstuff with a large growth of Stachybotrys or direct infection through an open wound.

The possibility that a person who is not severely ill, or whose immune system is not compromised from disease or suppressant medicines, exhibiting any reaction to a mycotoxin is practically nonexistent as shown by the total lack of scientific evidence showing a direct link between a specific mycotoxin and any disease or symptom.

The large and numerous claims paid to homeowners, tenants, and building occupants have little, if any scientific basis.

Why hasn’t the scientific community created a storm of protest? Why hasn’t the scientific community published scientific evidence to the contrary?

Unfortunately, science does not respond well to hysteria and news coverage. Just as in medical testing, the process takes years – 5 or 10 or more years, to develop clear scientific evidence. Further the process is expensive and there are no marketable “wonder drugs” to offer to the marketplace to offset the cost. Thus the government is usually the primary source of funds. But Stachybotrys must compete with AIDS, cancer, heart disease, TB and a thousand other priorities for the research funds.

Of late, the insurance companies have had to pay the mold claims and may be a source of funds except that the fact that their current response is to exclude mold from their insurance coverages.

Why have so many claims been successful? Because the courts recognize “proving a negative”, that is, “it isn’t anything else so it must be Stachybotrys”! There is no such thing in science. You have to prove there is no direct link between Stachybotrys, the mycotoxin, and a specific effect on a human being. This may take years and studies costing millions of dollars. Further, one study showing a link is not sufficient, it must be proven by additional studies confirming the first test used proper and scientific methodology and reached appropriate conclusions.

The Hazard
Are molds a hazard? Yes, they are! Mold can adversely affect humans. Its clear from information, as summarized by the Institutes of Medicine in a 2003 report that 1 in 5 humans has some allergic response to their environment and 1 in 10 are allergic to some form of mold/fungus and likely some smaller number do react to chemical by-products of mold growth but probably less than one in a hundred (and in most cases due to some special situation such as infection, ingestion, or a compromised immune system). Creating the proper environment of food, temperature and moisture is all that is needed to start the rapid propagation of these microbes. Molds can create or aggravate allergies, asthma or other respiratory ailments to lessen quality of our lives.

Molds do not magically incarnate themselves when the right conditions are present, but are everywhere – in small numbers- waiting for the right conditions so they can rapidly multiply. Our primary goal must be to prevent these optimum conditions.

The easiest and most successful control is to eliminate moisture. Most molds, especially those that adversely affect us, require high moisture i.e. 70, 80, 90 or 100% humidity. Controlling moisture in our homes, offices, and other dwellings is the most successful prevention strategy.

Further, even after a mold infestation, is it rarely, if ever, necessary to knock the building down and start over. Mold can be washed off most solid surfaces and generally cleaned off semi-porous surfaces. Use of biocides and fungicidal paints can suppress mold growth even where moisture control is not feasible (such as in damp humid climates). Laundering of porous materials such as clothes and curtains will wash off most molds – just remember that we can’t truly eliminate them since they are ubiquitous. In fact, in most cases the determination to demolish or discard a material or object is generally based on the water damage or whether the cleaning will destroy it sufficiently that it cannot maintain its normal use, integrity or appearance.
In conclusion, in our modern controlled environments in home, office and public buildings, and the proper combination of heat, moisture and a food source will spark rapid growth of mold creating a possible allergic reaction in some individuals but rarely creating any toxic hazard.

Article Written By:
Robert E. Sheriff, CIH, CSP
Atlantic Environmental, Inc.
Dover, NJ

Ubiquitous is my big word for the week. Webster’s definition is “existing or being everywhere at the same time: constantly encountered.”
This describes the situation with molds. They don’t magically appear or re-incarnate when conditions are right. They don’t seep through solid walls as is often assumed. They are always there, floating in the air or carried in moving water, in a dormant state, just looking for the right combination of moisture, heat, and food sources to begin rapid growth.

Different molds like different conditions for propagation. Some like high moisture, some like active water infusion. They also have a variety of diets and temperature requirements. Some like the cellulose in sheetrock paper, others like wood in various degrees of decay and water saturation. Some like very warm temperatures, others like lower temperatures, but few will grow in cool or cold temperatures.

In fact, it is fairly easy to define the conditions that resulted in certain types of mold species being present. Very damp/wet conditions in the presence of sheetrock, is an ideal environment for the much maligned Stachybotrys. Damp, warm conditions over a lengthy period of time with a good amount of dust/dirt, is ideal for Penicillium.

The important point with molds that may produce some type of adverse effect on humans is the quantity. The quantity on surfaces that can be dislodged by physical contact and air movement, and the quantity of mold, floating free in the air, that can be inhaled.

The best way to evaluate the significance of the amount of indoor mold is to compare it to the amount of mold found in the outdoor air. The best measure of mold quantity is a comparison with outside levels, and total amount airborne. Unless conditions are right for indoor incubation, the mold levels should be equal to or less than, AND in the same general proportions as, outdoors.

If the mold levels are considerably above what is outdoors, or if there is a predominant mold not found in the same proportions as outdoors, something is going on inside that results in mold growth and propagation.

Measuring mold quantities is a controversial subject as well. Simply setting out a culture plate even for a measured amount of time is not an effective measurement tool. (A little science is worse than no science at all!). Mold and mold spores are so small that they don’t readily settle unless they attached themselves to dust or moisture that permits them to reach a surface such as a sofa, floor or wall. An air sampling device that draws in a known quantity of air onto a growth medium is a much better test of what is in the air and what can be inhaled or become attached to skin or clothing.

Further, a surface sample or wipe test, carefully performed over a measured surface, is a better test of what is on a surface than on an open culture plate.
There are four different aspects of a mold that can come in contact with human beings. The first is the living mold itself—the live, growing plant. The second is the spore—a “seed” that can be in a dormant state for a long time waiting for the right conditions for growth. The third is the dead material—“the carcass”—of protein and other molecules that are present even when the mold is no longer alive and not capable of growing. The fourth are mycotoxins which are waste products generated by molds.

Each one of these materials: living mold, spore, carcass or mycotoxin, can adversely affect a human.

Mycotoxins seem to be in the public eye right now, there is little scientific evidence that mycotoxins are the predominant cause of Indoor Air Quality related illnesses.

It is just one of the factors in the mold life cycle that can adversely affect human beings.

There is much more than can, and needs, to be explained on this subject, but the first point to understand is that molds, specific to certain climates and environments, are always present. Usually in small quantities that do not affect most people. They do not magically appear but simply grow from a few spores when conditions are favorable.

Noise, Regardless of Source, Can Lead To Hearing Loss

Article Written By:
Henry P. Shotwell, Ph.D., CIH
Robert E. Sheriff, CIH, CSP
Atlantic Environmental, Inc.
Dover, NJ

What is noise? Noise was once described as “unwanted sound”. To the average person, “noise” is not only unwanted, but annoying or loud. Sound, or noise, is produced by the rapid compression and decompression of air. When you clap your hands, you are producing a sound (applause) by compressing and decompressing the air between the palms of your hands. The faster you clap, the higher frequency or pitch of the sound you are producing.

When sound waves enter your ear canal, they hit against the eardrum, a flexible piece of tissue that moves back and forth as the sound pressure builds up and falls off. Attached to the eardrum are three small, connected bones (the middle ear) which transmit movements of the ear drum to the inner ear. Inside the inner ear is a fluid that sloshes back and forth in the rhythm with the ear drum and middle ear. Special nerve cells leading to the brain have hair-like structures floating in the inner ear fluid. Movement of the eardrum, middle ear and inner ear fluid cause these “hairs” to sway back and forth. When they move, nerve impulses are sent to the brain where they are interpreted as sound soft or loud, pleasant or unpleasant, high pitched or low pitched.

When the sound is loud, the sound energy hitting the eardrum is high. This causes the hair cells to bend a lot, sending a more powerful impulse to the brain. If the sound is high pitched, the hair cells have very little time between sound waves to recover their normal, upright position.

When sound is both loud and high pitched, these inner ear nerve cells never get the chance to recover, and they die. If enough of them die, we notice that we don’t hear as well as we did in the past. We may not hear faint sounds, or we may hear people speaking normally, but can’t make out or understand what is being said. Once these cells die, they never regenerate. This type of deafness is permanent and irreversible—it’s called “noise-induced hearing loss.”

Noise that results in damage to this hearing mechanism can come from any source—work, home, entertainment. Loud music from a live performance or a set of earphones, if loud and repeated, can have the same detrimental effect as a noisy machine at work. The noisy machine doesn’t have to be at work either—it can be from leaf blowers, or a hobby such as race cars, power boats or a basement woodworking shop.
In the workplace, noise exposures are regulated by OSHA. Over a standard work-shift, the maximum allowable average noise exposure is 90 decibels (dB). Because this standard is not particularly protective, the idea of an Action Level was used. If full shift noise exposures are between 85 and 90 dB, a Hearing Conservation Program has to be started. This includes training and education, providing and using ear plugs or ear muffs to act as a barrier between the noise and the inner parts of the ear. Along with this, baseline and annual hearing tests are required and engineering means must be used to try to reduce the overall noise level to a point below 85 dB.

Communities often have noise ordinances. Unlike OSHA’s standards, they are not intended to protect hearing. They are designed to prevent discomfort, such as limiting the use of noisy equipment to certain hours of the day or night.

Exposure to noise above 90 dB on a regular basis carries a real risk of hearing loss. The louder the noise and/or the longer the time of exposure, the greater the risk. Limiting the amount of time you spend in a noisy environment, and limiting the amount of noise will go a long way toward keeping your hearing healthy.

In a future article, we’ll look at some techniques for reducing noise levels and protecting your hearing from damage.

OSHA has set a maximum 8-hour exposure to noise in the workplace at 90 decibels at 1,000 cycles per second (Hertz, Hz). Because this is not a particularly protective level, they instituted an Action Level (AL) of 85 decibels (dBA). If you have a workplace in which 8-hour time weighted average exposures are at or above 85 dBA, but less than 90 dBA, the regulations require a hearing conservation program, which includes training, hearing protective devices, baseline and annual hearing tests and feasible engineering controls to reduce the noise levels to a point below 85 dBA.
Communities often have noise standards as well, but these are usually set for comfort, or disturbance.

In a future article, we will take up engineering controls and how noise levels can be reduced.

Controlling Mold Growth in Buildings
Prevention and Control Strategies

Article Written By:
Henry P. Shotwell, Ph.D., CIH
Robert E. Sheriff, CIH, CSP
Atlantic Environmental, Inc.
Dover, NJ

In background quantities, molds can be found everywhere-in air, water, our homes, our clothing and even on our pets. They are present in such small numbers that they don’t trigger reactions in humans, except in ultra-sensitive individuals.

But, when molds find the right combination of moisture, food and temperature, (and each species of mold needs a unique combination of food, moisture and temperature for optimum growth) they can propagate explosively. Removing any one of the three essentials will prevent their growth, and make adverse reactions in building occupants unlikely.

When evaluating the growth potential for mold inside a building, it is absolutely essential to measure the type and amount of mold in the air outside the building as well as inside. Normally, the amount and type of mold inside is about the same (or less) as found outdoors. If the indoor level is considerably higher than outdoors, it’s likely there’s a problem inside: a leaky roof, condensation on water pipes, or some other source of moisture inside the building. Of course, since molds can use wood and wallboard for food, and many of them like the same temperatures that you and I do, the one factor that controls mold growth indoors is the moisture supply.

So, if a building has a mold problem, or seems likely to, how can it be fixed? In some buildings, the source of moisture can be identified, isolated and controlled. But in others, the whole building promotes mold growth. Sometimes seasonal conditions (heavy rains, prolonged hot or cold periods, floods and the like) allow heat and moisture to get trapped, especially in “energy efficient” structures, and the whole building becomes an incubator. Controlling water inflows is the single most effective means of preventing mold growth. In coastal areas and areas of prolonged high humidity, controlling the inflow of warm, moist air can be a problem.

Regular inspection of building areas known to be damp or wet, and immediate removal of the wetness through absorbent materials and de-humidifiers must be part of a good preventive maintenance program. Annual cleaning of air intakes, diffusers and filter boxes as well as the use of fungicidal paints, regular carpet cleaning and the immediate removal of moldy spots on walls, floorboards or other surfaces are equally important factors. I’ll discuss this in more detail, in a later article.

Finally, the building management has to have authority to respond immediately to conditions that promote mold growth. The response must be fast and effective if Building-Related Disease or Sick Building Syndrome is to be avoided.

Mold Control Information Series

Article #1

Control Water – Control Mold

There is no single universal way to eliminate all mold growth.  But the single most effective method of controlling mold is to eliminate their source of moisture.  Moisture doesn’t just mean actual water; it can also be high humidity.  Few molds grow when the humidity is under 70%.  If they do, it is very slowly.

It is safe to say that you cannot stop mold growth until you stop the moisture.  Cleaning, paints, replacement of sheetrock, and new wood and new ceiling tiles won’ t do much good except as a very temporary solution, until the moisture problem is corrected.  Leaky roofs, damp basements, leaking windows, plumbing leaks, condensation, poor draining, water ponding on the roof, are typical problems that must be resolved in any type of building whether residential, office, warehouse, or manufacturing.

Each of the aforementioned groups of buildings have their own special problems.

Residences can have poorly ventilated kitchens and baths.  Damp carpets (There seems to be more carpeted kitchens than ever before), especially with pads and over wood subfloors are a great source of molds.  Bathtubs and showers that have old caulking, water ponding, or accumulated dirt and soap residues will hold moisture and nutrients.  Poorly draining room air conditioners can drain into the house, behind the walls, down the outside of the building, or into the ground, and then back into the house through walls or the basement.  Condensate in poor ventilated attics is not uncommon.  (The recent increase in the use of ridge vents is solving many of these attic problems).

Office buildings have their own special problems as well.  Keeping them icy cool feels great in the summer but leads to condensation on the interior of windows and even in walls between warm and icy offices.  Humidifiers seem to cause as many problems as they alleviate.  Not keeping them clean allows the humidifier’s water reservoir to become a culture plate.  Allowing the relative humidity to get too, high especially during the seasonal transition (fall to winter, spring to summer), due to daily temperature changes of 30, 40 even 50 degrees results in office fog, (I’m referring to the physical, not mental type).  These humidifiers must be meticulously maintained so they don’t create more problems than they correct.

Manufacturing and production facilities have their own unique problems caused by water used in their processes or for temperature control (whether heating or refrigeration).  Also, many manufacturing operations have offices under the same roof but the air handling system is not adequate for this completely different environment.  The consequences are often too little air movement to deal with the office activity, resulting in dampness, condensation, or inadequate drainage and mold, mold, mold!

Warehouse buildings have problems with leaking roofs or poor drainage, which dampens stored goods where molds can grow undisturbed for long periods of time.  Leaking or damaged raw materials or product can soak packaging.  Cellulose (cardboard or paper packaging) is an excellent food source for mold.

Offices in warehouses have the same problems as those in manufacturing facilities.  The buildings are not designed with a dual purpose in mind.  Thus they are not environmentally controlled to meet office air quality guidelines.

The objective of this article is not to identify every possible source of moisture that can create an environment where mold can grow.  Perhaps another time.  The important facts are two: First, prevent accumulation of water or high humidity and second, if prevention fails, correct the water/moisture problem before anything else.  No matter what other remedies you apply, they will only give you temporary relief without stopping the moisture.

In further articles, we’ll talk about remedies for those who live or work next to a swamp, at the waterfront, or next door to a power plant cooling tower, where moisture control is not a real option.

Article #2

Controlling Condensation
You know those water stains on the ceiling tiles in your office that you are certain are caused by a leaky roof. Of course, the maintenance man thinks your crazy, since your office is not on the top floor. He dutifully changes the ceiling tile and a month later the water stain is back but this time it has those little black circles that look like mold colonies.

Sound familiar?

There seems to be as many problems with condensation from piping; ductwork, windows, skylights, and even walls, as there are with leaky roofs. What’s worse is that a leaking roof usually can be located and repaired. Condensation points tend to be overlooked, ignored, or unresolved. Piping is the most common source of condensation. These cold water, chilled water, or refrigerated lines may be un-insulated or only partially insulated. They should be completely insulated, at elbows, valves, and connection points to stop that drip, drip, drip onto the ceiling. Lurking especially behind walls, condensate collects on floors, soaking wallboard until mold becomes visible.

Air conditioning ductwork can also be a problem. It is not unusual to have fiberglass lines ducts with an aluminum foil covering. If the foil covering is broken or deteriorates due to age, dirt and moisture gets into the fiberglass and soon the duct turns into a mold incubator.

These are often culprits when the office smells moldy or people get sinus troubles and there is no visible evidence of mold growth

Condensate on the interior of windows can also result in mold growth. Water drips to the floor, window ledges, or knee walls, and creates a growth environment. Well-constructed buildings often contain a weep holes or weeps to drain interior water to the outside. These can get plugged during construction or renovation or just get plugged over the years with dust and dirt. They are not easy to open because they are often imbedded in the skin of the building. The same situation often happens with skylights.
Interior walls by themselves may even be sources of condensation. When the space of one side of a wall is warm and the opposite side much cooler, moisture can form on the wall. This is more common in commercial buildings that use metal studs or in residential basements where metal studs are set against damp walls. The metal conveys the cooler temperature better than wood. Insulation seems to be effective in these situations.

Recognizing that condensate may be the problem and not a leaky roof or pipe can be the greater part of the solution. Dealing with condensation through proper and complete insulation or proper drainage is the final piece of the puzzle to a mold-free building environment.

Article # 3

After the Flood
Beyond the direct water damage from a flood, there can be short term and long term problems with mold growth, whether the building is commercial or residential.

The source of the water is the first important issue. Consider the following:

1). If the flood is from surface water flooding such as heavy rains, hurricanes, and overflowing rivers this means dirt and debris. This material is a rich growth environment for mold and bacteria as well. It is full of lawn fertilizer, top soil, plant debris and even sewage that promotes many microorganisms to grow – and rapidly.

This debris will fully penetrate carpets, cloth covered surfaces, and wall boards with little chance they can be thoroughly cleaned or disinfected. With few exceptions, the remedy is removal and replacement. It is important to note that bacteria can contaminate all surfaces where possible septic waste is involved. Testing for e. coli is important.

There are other issues of a more general nature that will be covered later in this article.

2). If the flood is from a backed up sewer – then it is obvious that both mold and bacteria are important issues that must be addressed. Replacement of ducts, and contacted surfaces is highly advised. Very thorough cleaning of clothing and other fabrics is essential (dry cleaning won’t work since it doesn’t disinfect). Cleaning of all dirt and debris is as important as removing mold or bacteria since the microorganisms can exist in a dormant state and only need a little something to eat – such as dirt.

3). Flooding from a broken or leaking water line is not to be dismissed as a non-microbial event. Since small quantities of molds and mold spores are essentially everywhere (in the air and on most horizontal and vertical surfaces), they only need a source of moisture and food which can be: a). the cellulose in sheetrock, b). wood, c). cotton, wool or other natural fibers, d). dust/dirt that accumulates over time.
Regardless of source and the specifics mentioned above, there are some things that can be done to prevent or control mold growth after a flood.

The first is to clean up and remove all damaged or destroyed furnishings or building materials as soon as possible. This will reduce mold growth and the quantity of mold and spores that can multiply and be dislodged to settle elsewhere. If allowed time to infest an area, just the demolition process itself can release millions – even billions – of spores.

Dehumidify the area even while clean up is going on – don’t wait until demolition is complete. Those little microbes aren’t shy; they’ll grow whether they see you or not.

Air conditioning or keeping the area cool can be very effective. Air conditioning de-humidifies as well as cools, which removes heat and moisture – both of which are essential for mold growth.

Remember that wood, spaces behind walls, underneath furniture, equipment, appliances, and even sub-flooring can harbor water or high levels of moisture that are very conducive to mold propagation. If moisture is a long term problem, replacing material with non-porous or less porous material is advisable, ie greenboard (water resistant sheetrock), hardboard, metal studs, ceramic tile, etc.

Fungicidal paint can be used to retard (not eliminate) mold growth in areas that have been wet or damp over an extended period of time. I’m not referring to normal latex or other water based paints that contain mold/bacteria retardants in them while in the container. Most major manufacturers of household and commercial paint carry a line of fungicidal paints developed to retard mold growth after application.

Controlling microbial growth after flooding is a subject that can (and does) cover volumes. This article just summarizes some of the most important aspects of this very complex subject. Consulting an expert should be considered in severe cases or for large buildings.

Article #4

The Case of the Flooded Carpet
One of the worst sensations a homeowner can experience is the squishysound and feel of walking on a flooded carpet.  In most cases, a water-soaked carpet is a goner.  This is especially so if the water came from a flooded stream or a massive storm.  These waters carry silt, and possibly sewage from flooded septic systems or overflowing sewage treatment plants.  Water that has flowed across pastureland will be similarly contaminated.

If the soaking came from a broken drinking water pipe, an overflowing sink or clothes washer (but not from a backed-up toilet), there MAY be hope.  The key element is time: how long was the carpet wet?  The longer a carpet is wet; the more time molds have to grow.  Less time; less growth.  So, if the water source is clean (or nearly so), and you want to try saving that wall-to-wall shag, here are some suggestions:

First, stop the flow of water.  Second, remove as of the much water as you possibly can.  Use squeegees, mops, towels; anything at all that can get water out of the carpet.  Third, use a heavy-duty dryer/de-humidifier to quickly and thoroughly dry out the rug.  A hand-held hair dryer isn’t going to cut it!

If you can get the carpet completely dry in a matter of a few hours, you have a good chance of saving it.  There will certainly be more mold in the carpeting after the flood than there was before it.  Prompt, aggressive action may keep the increase within bounds, so that you won’t detect any musty odors or see visible mold.  It may, but don’t count on it!

Article #5

Cleaning Mold-Containing Surfaces
Once a determination is made that a moldy surface can be cleaned instead of removed or demolished, what cleaning agents are effective in removing or killing the mold?

Many factors influence the selection of a cleaning agent.  1). The type of surface to be cleaned:  Is it porous?  Hard such as cement or sheetrock?  Soft, such as cloth, fabric or wallpaper?  Absorbent and thick such as rugs, carpet, drapes or furniture coverings?   2).  The extent of the contamination:  Light, barely visible or heavy?  3).  The ability of the individual doing the cleaning to use strong or hazardous chemicals.  4).  The type of micro-organism involved – particularly if bacteria may be involved.

The safest approach is to use soap and water.  This may be effective in removing visible mold from the surface without damaging it.  The City of New York Department of Health has established a guideline for cleaning surfaces of molds and recommends soap and water.

Soap and water will not kill any residual mold or spores left on the clean surface, but it is safe to use and will remove the mold as well as anything known.  This is the prudent approach for anyone who is not skilled, trained and properly equipped to use more hazardous materials that can be as dangerous to the applicator as to those little microbes!  Thus, if you’re not properly trained and equipped to handle biocidal agents (chemicals that kill microorganisms), stick to soap and water.  If a more thorough cleaning effort is desired, you should use a qualified professional.

For hard non-porous surfaces, a bleach solution (Sodium hypochlorite or calcium hypochlorite) can reduce the amount of mold on the surface.  However, even using full strength, undiluted bleach is not totally effective at killing mold spores.  Only a bleach solution of 10% or greater can effectively kill mold spores.  10% bleach solution is not available to the consumer but must be purchased through an industrial supplier and only used by properly trained, equipped and properly protected individuals.  Of course, these bleach solutions can damage the surface to which they are applied.  Ideally, a residual should be left on the surface for some time to be most effective.  Thereafter, it often needs to be washed off to prevent surface damage.

Chlorine Dioxide used as a gas or a liquid is very effective as a biocide.  The gas is deadly and must be used in a vacant, sealed location by skilled applicators.  Chlorine Dioxide as a liquid is effective but must also be used by a skilled applicator.  It is effective in killing bacteria as well as mold so it is preferred for floods or sewer backups where both mold and bacteria exist.

Quaternary ammonium salts, generally called quats, are also effective against molds.  They have been used as disinfectants in food processing for years and are effective against both molds and bacteria.  The combination of several different of these ammonium salts is important since each different ammonium salt tends to be effective for a narrow range of microorganisms.  Check with the manufacturers and only use skilled equipped individuals.

Some biocidal agents contain alcohols which are effective and often cause less damage to cleaned surfaces.  However, they may be combustible, and workers must have suitable respiratory protection.

Effective cleaning of clothing and fabrics containing mold is difficult.  Hot water and soap will remove most molds but may not kill the spores.  Dry cleaning is not effective in removing mold or mold spores or killing them either.  The most practical approach is repeated washings with water as hot as possible.  Add bleach if it won’t ruin the fabric!

In summary, soap and water will clean most surfaces and can be used safely by the consumer and is least damaging to the cleaned surface.  Use of bleach, chlorine dioxide, quarterly ammonium salts and certain alcohols can be effective but one must follow the manufacturers guidelines and understand the limitations of each agent and its hazards.

Of course, none of these agents are intended to decontaminate sites suspected of bioterrorism.  These situations must be handled by enforcement agencies and decontamination experts.

There are a number of websites that provide information on cleaning, decontamination, and biocides.  The more popular search engines can get you there.  Remember that using anything other than soap and water is best left up to properly trained and equipped professionals.

Author: Robert E. Sheriff, CIH, CSP
CEO of Atlantic Environmental, Inc., Dover, NJ.

What You Don’t See – Can Hurt You!!!

The company that manages a multi story, multi tenant office building began receiving complaints from tenants that their employees had a variety of symptoms that only a occurred when they were in the building.  Their complaints showed no distinct pattern but included the following:  Headaches, burning eyes, sore throats, skin rashes, drowsiness, nausea, blocked sinuses, bloody noses, lethargy, and biting insects.  Most of these individuals stated that within a few hours after leaving work, they felt fine.

An initial investigation of the building revealed nothing new or different or even suspicious related to: activities within the office, tenants, renovations, new furniture or furnishings, or changes in tenant activities.  The first thought, albeit somewhat defensive, is that there is nothing wrong with the building itself.  The property management staff continued to note that the complaints were coming from high tech businesses that are very stressful places to work, with high turnover, fast pace, and high productivity standards.  Even the tenant managers began considering the possibility that this was psychosomatic.  An example of mass hysteria, further enforced by the fact that when one individual complained, many other individuals started developing the same symptoms.  Over many months, the complaints did not go away, in fact they appeared to be increasing, to the extent that some of the businesses threatened to terminate their leases and vacate the premises or hire their own air quality experts, contact OSHA, the Health Department or file a claim against the building owner.  Finally this outcry inspired the property management to notify the building owner and suggest that a detailed investigation of the complaints and possible problems of air quality in the building be investigated.

This example leads to a not uncommon situation where the visible aspects of building operations have not changed but there may be subtle changes occurring in the unseen portions of the building.

By far the most common location for problems is the heating and air-conditioning systems commonly referred to as the HVAC system or the Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning system.  In fact, HVAC systems may be the source of a wide variety of problems.

Here are some examples of problems that have been found in HVAC systems:

  1. Mold growing in the heating and cooling coils.
  2. Carbon monoxide drawn into the air intakes, which are located next to the loading docks   (truck engine emissions).
  3. Dirt and water accumulating in the HVAC system creating a mold incubator, distributing mold and mold spores throughout the building.
  4. Air intakes on the roof are down wind of Exhaust ducts resulting in contaminants being drawn onto the occupied spaces.
  5. Deteriorating liners inside the air supply ducts releasing fiberglass into the occupied areas of the building.
  6. Asbestos fire retardant on steel beams above false ceilings releasing asbestos fiber into the space, which is the return air plenum for the HVAC system.
  7. Photo labs and copier rooms under positive pressure to prevent dust problems on the equipment were forcing fumes throughout the building.
  8.  Condensate from air conditioning coils and drip pans was breeding bacteria and mold that was being circulated throughout the building.
  9. Roof leaks allowing soaking of insulation and ceiling tiles causing mold growth.
  10. Porous, non-pleated, and leaky intake filters allowing dirt, insects and even birds into the HVAC

The above are just the top ten.  There are many more things that can occur in a building that are not visible in the occupied areas that can have significant, sometimes drastic, effect on the building occupants.  In fact, these hidden dangers are more likely than visible ones to cause air quality problems in a commercial building.  The visible and obvious problems like water leaks, spilled chemicals, new carpet or furniture, over-occupancy, mixing industrial and office activities are obvious situations and can usually be corrected quite easily.
Managing an office building must include care and maintenance of the HVAC system and unoccupied spaces, such as above false ceilings, crawl spaces, pipe chases, equipment and storage rooms, and utility closets.  Accumulation of water, dirt, chemicals, asbestos and inappropriate or poor operating systems can create an air quality crisis in a commercial building.  This is a certainly a contributing factor in the increase in asthma and allergies.

The solution to these problems could cover volumes, as could the possible causes, but there are some basic steps that could prevent 80% or more of the problems.  These include:

  1. Inspect the HVAC system – not just filters, but the entire system (maintenance personnel may need some training or check list to do this properly)
  2. Regularly clean the HVAC system, including the coils, ductwork, fans, intakes, supply and returns.  Regularly can mean changing filters quarterly or semi-annually or a thorough cleaning of the entire system, including ductwork, every 5 to 8 years unless the location or activity suggest more frequent preventive measures.
  3. Inspect ceiling spaces, crawl spaces, vertical shafts and utility rooms at least 2 times per year (summer/winter), for evidence of spills, water, mold, leaks, vermin, or improper use (ex: chemical storage in crawl spaces).
  4. Use pleated HVAC filters if possible.  If you can see through an air filter, when holding it up to light, it is reasonable to expect that practically anything except the big chunks can get into the system and begin to accumulate.
  5. Clean out condensate pan, drains, and sources of water accumulation immediately.  Incubators for mold and bacteria can develop in a few days with the proper combination of water, dirt and heat.
  6. Correct water leaks in roofs, around windows, and around foundations immediately.
  7. Note the location of vehicle traffic and loading docks in relation to air intakes.  If you can’t move the intakes, or loading docks, enforce a rule to turn off vehicles except when entering and leaving.
  8. On the roof, it is best to locate air intakes as far away from exhaust as possible.  If this cannot be done, the approach is exhaust high, supply low.  That is, discharge vertically and makes stacks tall (10 feet or more) and bring in supply air at the roof level.
  9. If you have to clean up mold from ductwork or elsewhere, have it done by a professional.  Molds can be released in vast quantities if not carefully removed and packaged.
  10. If the building occupants have any symptoms described at the beginning of this article, consider having the building evaluated for by an IAQ Specialist.  Qualified professionals can be located through Health Departments, OSHA Offices, the American Industrial Hygiene Association (Fairfax, VA) and web searches; (try indoor air quality, IAQ, air quality testing, etc.)

Written by Robert E. Sheriff, CIH, CSP, CEO
Atlantic Environmental, Inc., Dover, NJ



Author: Robert E. Sheriff, CIH, CSP
CEO of Atlantic Environmental, Inc., Dover, NJ.

We have offices in Los Angeles, CA, San Francisco, CA and service capabilities in Nevada (NV), Washington State (WA), Oregon (OR) and Nevada (NV). We have affiliates in New York (NY), Dallas (TX), Chicago (IL), Boston (MA), Atlanta (GA) to provide a national network of consulting and testing services.