Blog

Feb 06
A NEW OSHA STANDARD REGULATING EXPOSURE TO RESPIRABLE CRYSTALLINE SILICA IN THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY

The new OSHA standard for crystalline silica in construction takes effect in June of 2017.  This article provides important information for employers and employees in the construction industry about the provisions of the new standard, and the required control measures necessary to minimize workers' exposures.   We can assist your company or organization with the employer obligation to comply with the standard and protect employees from silica exposures.

DOES YOUR WORK INVOLVE ANY OF THE FOLLOWING CONSTRUCTION ACTIVITIES?

► Abrasive Blasting Using Silica Sand►Handling/Mixing Crushed Concrete/Asphalt
► Abrasive Blasting On Silica Substrate
► Tunnel Construction
► Sawing of Concrete/Stone► Terracotta Roofing 
► Drilling of Concrete/Stone► Ceramic Tile Installation/Removal
► Grinding of Concrete/Stone► Tuck Pointing
► Crushing of Concrete/Stone► Fiberboard Installation
► Jackhammer/Chipper Work on Concrete/Stone► Terrazzo Installation
► Milling of Concrete/Asphalt► Countertop Installation
► Hoe Ramming of Concrete/Stone► Stucco Installation/Removal
► Structure Demolition ► Paver Installation
► Refractory Installation/Repair► Block and Mortar Work
►Excavation/Grading► Silica Debris Clean-Up
►Handling/Mixing Sand► HEPA Vacuum Maintenance

 IF SO, WORKERS MIGHT BE EXPOSED TO AIRBORNE CRYSTALLINE SILICA DUST AND ARE AT RISK OF LUNG DAMAGE

 

A NEW OSHA STANDARD HAS BEEN ISSUED TO

REGULATE SILICA EXPOSURE IN CONSTRUCTION

On March 25, 2016, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued its final rule on exposure to crystalline silica in the workplace.  The new rule includes a standard, Respirable Crystalline Silica (29 CFR 1926.1153), that will require employers in the construction industry to ensure that their employees are not overexposed to airborne dust that contains crystalline silica.  Construction employers must comply with all requirements of the standard by June 23, 2017.  So, employers should review the standard's requirements and develop a plan of action for meeting this deadline.

 

SILICOSIS

The inhalation of extremely fine (respirable) particles of crystalline silica dust can cause a serious, sometimes fatal, lung disease called silicosis.  Inhaled dust can cause fibrosis (scar tissue formation) in the lungs that reduces the lungs' ability to extract oxygen from the air.  Crystalline silica exposure has also been linked to other diseases such as tuberculosis, kidney disease, and lung cancer.

 

The three types of silicosis:

  • Acute Silicosis: Can occur after only weeks or months of exposure to very high levels of crystalline silica.  Death can occur within months.
  • Accelerated Silicosis: Results from exposure to high levels of crystalline silica and occurs 5 to 10 years after exposure.
  • Chronic Silicosis: Usually occurs after 10 or more years of exposure to crystalline silica at low levels. This is the most common type of silicosis.

 

Chronic silicosis begins with few, if any, symptoms. Once present, these symptoms can include shortness of breath, severe cough, wheezing, and chest tightness, and sometimes include fever, weight loss, and night sweats. Symptoms can become worse over time, leading to death.  Once silicosis develops, it continues to progress whether further silica exposure occurs or not.

 

No cure for silicosis exists, but the disease is preventable. 

 

                                          CHEST X-RAYS

chestxray.jpg

                      Normal Lungs                                 Silicosis                      

 

CONTROL OF SILICA DUST EXPOSURE

To control worker exposures to silica, measures must be taken to:

  1. prevent the generation of airborne silica-containing dust using work practices and engineering controls.
  2. prevent the inhalation of dust using respiratory protection equipment.
  3. adhere to the provisions of the new OSHA Respirable Crystalline Silica standard.

 

PROVISIONS OF THE NEW OSHA STANDARD

The key provisions of the new OSHA Respirable Crystalline Silica Standard are as follows:

1) Reduce the PEL for respirable crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter (50 μg/m3) of air, averaged over an 8-hour shift.

2) Require employers to use engineering controls (such as water or ventilation) to limit worker exposure or provide respirators when engineering controls cannot limit exposure.

3) Limit worker access to high-exposure areas.

4) Develop a written exposure control plan.

5) Train workers on silica risks and measures to control exposures.

6) Provide medical exams to monitor the respiratory health of highly exposed workers.

 

HOW TO COMPLY WITH THE STANDARD

Employers must take the following actions to determine their obligations to meet the various requirements of the OSHA standard:

  1. Identify any work or tasks their employees may perform which may create airborne dust containing crystalline silica (tasks that may produce this dust are listed at the top of this post).
  2. Determine if the employees' day-long average exposures to the dust from these tasks will be less than 25 micrograms of crystalline silica per cubic meter of air (µg/m3) under any foreseeable circumstances.  This determination can be made using any combination of air monitoring sample results or other objective data sufficient to accurately characterize employee exposures to respirable crystalline silica.   If the employee exposures are less than 25 µg/m3, no further action is required and the employer has met the obligations of the standard.
  3. If the employees' day-long average exposures may be greater than 25 µg/m3, under any foreseeable circumstances, then various exposure control methods must be implemented, including Engineering and Work Practice Control Methods, Respiratory Protection, Exposure Assessments, and Periodic Monitoring.
  4. Tasks that are typically pose an exposure potential of less than 25 μg/m3 include: mixing concrete for post holes; pouring concrete footers, slab foundations, and foundation walls; removing concrete formwork.  Most other dust producing tasks have been sufficiently evaluated to provide objective data indicating these tasks will result in crystalline silica exposures greater than the Action Level and Permissible Exposure Limit.

If the work is covered by the standard, an employer has two options for controlling employee exposure to respirable crystalline silica:

Option 1: Specified exposure control methods

Option 2: Alternative exposure control methods​

Employers who choose Option 1 (specified exposure control methods) must:

  1. Fully and properly implement the protective measures (i.e., specific engineering controls, work practices, and respirator use) for the tasks or equipment listed in Table 1 of the standard.
  2. Employers who fully and properly implement the controls in Table 1 are not required to conduct air monitoring to assess potential exposures or implement any other engineering or work practices controls for the listed tasks.

 

Employers who follow Option 2 (alternative exposure control methods) must:

  1. Limit employee exposures to a PEL of 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air (50 μg/m3) as an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA).
  2. Conduct personal exposure monitoring on employees, who may reasonably be expected to be exposed to silica levels ≥ 25 μg/m3, to determine the levels of respirable crystalline silica to which they are exposed.
  3. Use engineering and work practice controls, to the extent feasible, to limit employee exposures to the PEL, and supplement the controls with respiratory protection when necessary.
  4. Maintain records of the measurements of employees' exposures to respirable crystalline silica.

 

All Employers covered by the standard must:

  1. Establish and implement a written exposure control plan that addresses the following:
    1. tasks that can result in silica exposure
    2. engineering controls for dust reduction
    3. work practices to be followed to minimize dust exposure
    4. description of respiratory protection, if required
    5. procedures for controlling access to work areas where high exposures might occur
  2. Designate a competent person to implement the written exposure control plan by making frequent and regular inspections of jobsites, materials, and equipment.
  3. Provide hazard communication training on the health effects of crystalline silica and the measures necessary to control exposures to silica (e.g., engineering controls, work practices, respiratory protection), recognition of hazardous tasks, and the identity of the competent person.
  4. Offer medical exams at no charge to the worker - including chest X-rays and lung function tests -initially (if not received within the last three years by another employer) and every three years, for workers who are required by the standard to wear a respirator for 30 or more days per year.
  5. Restrict certain housekeeping practices (e.g., dry sweeping, use of compressed air) that expose employees to respirable crystalline silica dust, where feasible alternatives are available.
  6. Provide respiratory protection when required.  Respirators should not be the primary method of protection.  If engineering controls cannot control dust levels below the PEL (50 μg/m3), then respirators should be used.  When respirators are used, the employer must establish a comprehensive respiratory protection program as required by the OSHA Respiratory Protection Standard [LINK TO WEB SITE].  NIOSH-approved respirators must be used. 
  7. Maintain records of medical exams, training sessions, exposure control plans, and exposure assessments.

       

ENGINEERING CONTROLS

Controlling exposures to airborne crystalline silica dust is the primary method of protecting workers from developing adverse health effects associated with silica.  If exposures cannot be controlled by eliminating or replacing the hazard, such as is typically the case with silica in construction, engineering controls should be used as the preferred control solution.  Other solutions include administrative controls and personal protective equipment (e.g., respirators), but are less preferred than engineering controls.

 

Engineering controls are favored over administrative and personal protective equipment for controlling worker exposures because they are designed to isolate the worker from the source of dust generation or remove the hazard at the source, before it can pose a hazard to the worker.  Well-designed engineering controls can be highly effective in protecting workers and will typically be independent of worker interactions to provide this high level of protection. The initial cost of engineering controls can be higher than the cost of administrative controls or PPE but, over the longer term, operating costs are frequently lower and, in some instances, can provide a cost savings in other areas of the process.


Two types of engineering controls are available to reduce dust exposures associated with working on silica-containing materials.  The first type of control uses water to suppress the dust, and the second type uses local exhaust ventilation and dust collector to remove and capture dust at its source.


The following table presents a list of silica dust-generating and the associated engineering controls, as specified in Table 1 of the new OSHA standard, 29 CFR 1926.1153, Respirable Crystalline Silica.  Although not shown on the table below, Table 1 of the OSHA standard also specifies requirements for respiratory protection based on task type and duration.

 

DUST-GENERATING TASK​ENGINEERING CONTROL​
dustgeneratingtask1.jpg
wetsaw1.jpg
Stationary masonry saws​​
Saw equipped with integrated wa​ter delivery system

 handheldpowersaws.jpg



 wetsaw2.jpg
Handheld power saws (any size blade)
Saw equipped with integrated water delivery system that continuously feeds water to the blade
 portercable.jpg
 vacuumsaw.png

Handheld power saws for cutting fiber-cement board (with blade diameter of 8 inches or less) - outdoorsSaw equipped with commercially available dust collection system
 walkbehindsaw.jpg
 wetsaw3.jpg
Walk-behind saws
Saw equipped with integrated water delivery system that continuously feeds water to the blade
 dust.jpg
 engineercontrol.jpg

Drivable saws
Saw equipped with integrated water delivery system that continuously feeds water to th​e blade
 dust2.jpg
           engcontrol.jpg
Rig-mounted core saws or drills
Tool equipped with integrated water delivery system that supplies water to cutting surface​

 dust3.jpg
 




engcontrol5.jpg
Handheld and stand-mounted drills (including impact and rotary hammer drills)
Drill equipped with commercially available shroud or cowling with dust collection sys​tem
 doweldrillingrig.jpg
 


doweldrilldustcollector.jpg
Dowel drilling rigs for concrete

S​hroud around drill bit with a dust collection system
 




vehiclemounted.jpg
 engcontrol6.jpg


jackhammer.jpg

engcontrol7.jpg
Vehicle-mounted drilling rigs for rock and concrete

Dust collection system with close capture hood or shroud around drill bit with a low-flow water spray to wet the dust at the discharge point from the dust collector

OR

Operate from within an enclosed cab and use water for dust suppression on drill bit



dust5.jpg

engcontrol8.jpg
 dust6.jpg
 

engcontrol9.jpg
J​ackhammers and handheld powered chipping tools

Tool with water delivery system that supplies a continuous stream or spray of water at the point of impact

OR

Tool equipped with commercially available shroud and dust collection system

 
grinder.jpg
grinder3.png
 grinder2.png

 grinder4.png
Handheld grinders for uses other than mortar removal
​Grinder equipped with integrated water delivery system that continuously feeds water to the grinding surface

OR

Grinder equipped with commercially available shroud and dust collection system



walkbehind2.jpg



engcontrol10.jpg


walkbehind3.jpg

engcontrol11.jpg
Walk-behind milling machines and floor grinders

Machine equipped with integrated water delivery system that continuously feeds water to the cutting surface

OR

Machine equipped with dust collection system recommended by the manufacturer


 smalldrivable.png
 machinewater.jpg
Small drivable milling machines (less than half-lane)
Machine equipped with supplemental water sprays designed to suppress dust  Water must be combined with a surfactant
 
 Crushingmachine.jpg
 crushingengcontrol.jpg
Crushing machines
Equipment designed to deliver water spray or mist for dust suppression at crusher and other points where dust is generated (e.g., hoppers, conveyers, sieves/sizing or vibrating components, and discharge points)
​​
 heavyequipment.jpg
 heavyequipment1.jpg

Heavy equipment and utility vehicles used to abrade or fracture silica-containing materials (e.g., hoe-ramming, rock ripping) or used during demolition activities involving silica-containing materials
​Operate equipment from within an enclosed cab
 dust12.jpg
              
               engcontrol12.jpg
                   ​dust13.jpg
               ​engcontrol13.jpg
Heavy equipment and utility vehicles for tasks such as grading and excavating but not including: demolishing, abrading, or fracturing silica-containing material

Apply water and/or dust suppressants as necessary to minimize dust emissions

OR

operate equipment from within an enclosed cab


                        cleanup.jpg

                          hepafilteredvacuum.jpg
Clean-Up
HEPA-filtered vacuum

 

FULL AND PROPER IMPLEMENTATION OF ENGINEERING CONTROL MEASURES

Table 1 of the OSHA standard includes additional factors and specifications that must be satisfied in order for full and proper implementation of the respective engineering control.  "Full and proper implementation" means that controls are in place, are properly operated and maintained, and employees understand how to use them. The presence of visible dust generally indicates that controls are not fully and properly implemented.

 

RESPIRATORY PROTECTION

An effective respirator program as adapted from A Guide to Respiratory Protection for the Asbestos Abatement Industry, (U.S.EPA/NIOSH publication, EPA-560- OPTS86-001 September 1986) should include:

  1. A written statement of company policy, including assignment of individual responsibility, accountability, and authority for required activities of the respiratory protection program.
  2. Written standard operating procedures governing the selection and use of respirators.
  3. Respirator selection (from NIOSH/MSHA approved and certified models) on the basis of hazards to which the worker is exposed.
  4. Medical examinations of workers to determine whether or not they may be assigned an activity where negative pressure respiratory protection is required.
  5. Employee training in the proper use and limitations of respirators (as well as a way to evaluate the skill and knowledge obtained by the worker through training).
  6. Respirator fit testing.
  7. Regular cleaning and disinfecting of respirators.
  8. Routine inspection of respirators during cleaning, and at least once a month and after each use for those respirators designated for emergency use.
  9. Storage of respirators in convenient, clean, and sanitary locations.
  10. Surveillance of work area conditions and degree of employee exposure (e.g., through air monitoring).
  11. Regular inspection and evaluation of the continued effectiveness of the program.

Next Blog - Make Your Own Water Control

Aug 15
Is Your Water Safe to Drink?

     Recently, there has been a lot of talk about how Perflorinated Compounds (PFCs) have been discovered in ground water around the country stemming from both commercial and industrial uses. Concerns have been especially prominent in area surrounding military bases. For over five decades, a fire suppressant known as Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (AFFF) was used for various training and real world applications. The use of this PFC laden agent had adverse implications for drinking water in the neighboring areas. A local example is the use of AFFF at the former Naval Air Warefare Center in Warminster, PA. This site was used for the research and development of naval aircraft systems from the mid-1940s to mid-1990s. In 1989, the EPA added the site to the Superfund National Priorities List due to groundwater contamination with volatile chemicals. Starting in 2013, EPA began testing for PFCs under the EPA's Third Unregulated Contaminants Contaminant Monitoring Rule.  Three public water wells under control of the Warminster Municipal Authority tested above the Provisional Health Advisory Level (PHAL) for Perflorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS) and were taken out of use a short time thereafter.  Private wells were also sampled by the EPA. Bottles of water were given to affected residents for drinking and cooking purposes prior to these locations being connected to the public water system. 

     Although it was used widely as a fire suppressant, PFCs had more of a presence in products with water/stain repelling properties such as Dupont's Teflon, which contained perflorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and 3M's Scotchgard which contained PFOS. These PFCs were also found in carpets, clothing, upholstery, paper food packaging, and cookware.  It is believed that as many as 5.2 million individuals may be at risk of consuming elevated levels of PFOA and PFOS compounds as well as other PFCs. Many utilities have issued reports regarding the status of the testing and bottled water has been provided where the drinking water from the public system is deemed unsafe. From 2000 to 2002, PFOS were voluntarily phased out of manufacturing in the US and as a result, blood levels have been steadily decreasing.

     The EPA has recently lowered the threshold for levels of PFC consumption, emphasizing the impact on unborn and growing infants, that may be susceptible to developmental issues with overexposure.  It is believed that unborn infant exposure may result in reduced birth weight and well as immunological and hormonal deficiency through development with even a single exposure. The largest issue is due to infants consuming more water as a percentage of their body weight as compared to adults, which puts them at a higher health risk. Although breastfeeding may expose infants to PFCs, studies have found that the benefits of the nutrition provided through lactation far exceed the risk. It is also recommended that bottled water be used for baby formulas where the drinking water is under scrutiny. The main issue with PFCs is that when absorbed into the bloodstream, the contaminants do not readily breakdown and thusly have the ability to cause extensive damage. Studies have shown that there may be adverse effects to the liver, kidneys as well as neurological, reproductive and immunological systems.  The updated limit as of May 2016 is 0.07 parts per billion (ppb), down from 0.4 ppb. Although this number has been released, it is important to recognize that this limit is neither regulatory or enforceable as the relevant legislation has not yet been passed. It is an EPA assessment of peer-reviewed science based off of animal studies and epidemiological data while applying varying factors of uncertainty.  Information regarding potential contaminants in drinking water are available on EPA.gov as well as your water authorities' website.

References

http://journal-news.net/page/content.detail/id/657959/Big-Springs-water-plant-to-stay-closed--mayor-says-water-is-safe.html?nav=5281

http://www.nj.gov/health/eohs/documents/factsheet/generic_pfc_factsheet.pdf

 http://www.ewg.org/enviroblog/2016/05/drinking-water-52-million-people-tainted-unsafe-levels-pfcs

 https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/pfc/docs/warminster_factsheet_public_health_review_of_pfcs_in_drinking_water_april2016.pdf

 https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-06/documents/drinkingwaterhealthadvisories_pfoa_pfos_updated_5.31.16.pdf

https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-05/documents/2016-12361.pdf



Jan 25
Should I Have a Moisture & Mold Evaluation Before Buying a Home?

The answer to this question is "Yes," as I'll explain in detail below.  Mold can adversely affect your health, especially sensitive individuals and asthmatics.  It can be hidden within your home, costly to remove, and difficult to correct the moisture source.  Home inspectors, realtors, and general contractors are not mold experts, and do not possess the expertise and training required to identify potential mold issues.

 01 Home For Sale.jpg

I advise all home buyers to invest in both a home inspection and a moisture and mold evaluation before purchasing a home.  This is particularly important if suspected moisture issues exist or the home exterior consists of stucco siding.  This advice also holds true for existing homeowners and renters.

 02 Mold Inspection.jpg

Mold growth occurs normally in the outdoor environment, helping to break down dead organic matter from plants and animals.  We inhale mold spores every day with little to no adverse effects whatsoever.  When mold grows indoors, these conditions often change for the worse.  Indoors, the mold growth and its airborne mold spores are inhaled in much greater concentrations due to the confines of the environment.  This can lead to adverse health effects.

WHAT IS MOLD?

Molds and mold spores are fungi that can be found both indoors and outdoors.  No one knows how many species of fungi exist, but estimates range from tens of thousands to perhaps three hundred thousand or more.  Molds grow best in warm, damp, and humid conditions, and spread by producing spores.  Mold spores can survive harsh environmental conditions.  They can be reduced indoors by routine cleaning and filtering the air.  They are temporarily reduced outdoors during precipitation (i.e. rain, snow).  Without mold, dead plant and animal matter would never decay and continuously accumulate.  In order for mold to thrive, it requires food, the right temperature range, and most importantly moisture.  Mildew found in a shower/tub enclosure is also a form of mold/fungi that is typically caused by condensation on surfaces, which can be cleaned with standard household cleaners.

 03 Penicillium Mold Closeup.jpg

Molds and their spores commonly found indoors as a result of moisture issues include Chaetomium, Cladosporium, Penicillium & Aspergillus-types, and Stachybotrys-types.  Stachybotrys is commonly referred to as toxic black mold, in big wavy letters, by the media and news outlets.  Stachybotrys molds are typically indicative of a chronic moisture problem (i.e. basement water infiltration, plumbing leak).

WHO IS AFFECTED BY MOLD?

Some people are more sensitive to molds than others.  For these people, exposure to molds can cause symptoms such as nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, wheezing, headaches, or skin irritation.  Some people, such as those with serious allergies to molds, may have more severe reactions.  Severe reactions may include fever and shortness of breath.  Some people with chronic lung illnesses, such as obstructive lung disease, may develop mold infections in their lungs.

YOUR HOME IS A FANTASTIC FOOD SOURCE FOR MOLD!

Mold's purpose is to break down dead organic matter.  To ensure its survival, mold growth releases mold spores that settle onto possible food sources.  This is continuously happening outdoors, so mold spores are everywhere.  They get into our homes through windows, doors, and gaps and cracks in the building envelope, infiltrating attics, basements, and occupied areas.  For this reason, many homes provide the perfect conditions for mold to thrive, because they are constructed of organic dead matter, including many cellulose-based products.  These products include wood, particleboard, oriented strand board (OSB), engineered lumber, and paper-faced gypsum wallboard, as well as others.  Homes are also constructed of different, sometimes cheaper building material alternatives (i.e. OSB instead of plywood sheathing, plastic house wrap instead of tar paper).  In addition, homes are frequently poorly or incorrectly constructed (i.e. lacking proper roof/window flashings, penetration caulks/sealants).

 04 Mold Growth on Walls.jpg

05 Mold Growth in Kitchen.jpg 

Without moisture (i.e. water infiltration, plumbing leaks, elevated relative humidity, condensation accumulation), however, mold cannot grow.  Moisture is the key to combating mold issues in the home.  If you control the moisture, you can avoid mold issues and resulting building material and structural damage.

 06 Mold Growth Triangle.jpg

REALTORS & SELLERS HATE MOLD!

Realtors and sellers know that the presence of mold can quickly end a real estate transaction.  Since legal requirements for disclosing mold problems are not mandatory, buyers must rely on the seller's disclosure for such information.  It is not common for the seller to share this information.  In fact, they sometimes complete aesthetic repairs immediately prior to listing the home for sale.  That way the home looks as if no problems exist to the unsuspecting homebuyer, who's focused on how the home looks, instead of how it functions.  That leaves the buyer "rolling the dice" on their home purchase, especially if they decide not to hire a reputable industrial hygiene firm to conduct a thorough moisture and mold evaluation.  That's a bad idea, which will cost you, sooner or later.

MOLD REMEDIATION & MOLD CLEANUP CAN BE COSTLY.

Mold remediation is not only the removal of mold growth, water-damaged building materials, and elevated airborne spore concentrations from within a home to make it safe for occupancy.  It is also the correction of the moisture source.  Correcting the moisture source can be very costly and is often overlooked by less experienced inspectors/firms.

 07 Moldy House.jpg

Mold cleanup, on the other hand, only involves the cleanup of mold growth, water-damaged building materials, and elevated airborne spore concentrations within a home.  It does not include correction of the moisture source, which, if left uncorrected will result in the return of mold growth.  Some examples of these issues include: bathroom & clothes dryer exhaust vents discharging into the attic, roof leaks, plumbing leaks within ceiling & wall cavities, condensation accumulation and resultant leaks associated with poorly insulated pipes & windows, and moisture infiltration within a basement or crawlspace.

HOW IS MOLD CLEANUP ACCOMPLISHED?

You cannot simply spray visible mold growth with an anti-microbial solution to kill it, or spray an anti-microbial encapsulant to cover it, like some contractors do, without physically removing the mold growth first.  Dead mold spores elicit the same allergic response as live mold spores do in sensitive individuals, so it is important that they are properly removed.

Mold cleanup is typically accomplished by first, constructing a containment around the affected area to prevent mold spores from contaminating unaffected areas during cleanup.  Next, engineering controls are installed, such as HEPA air filtration units that will clean the air and place the affected area under negative pressure if exhausted outside, with respect to unaffected areas.  This helps prevent spores from escaping the work area.  Before treating the surfaces, the affected building materials must be dried with low grain refrigerant (LGR) or other industrial-grade dehumidification units.

 08 Mold Remediation Worker.jpg

Now, the cleanup can commence, beginning by HEPA-vacuuming the visible mold growth and debris.  Next, damp-wiping, scrubbing, and in some circumstances, spray-applying the affected surfaces with an anti-microbial solution is conducted.  Following cleaning and sanitizing, surfaces must be allowed sufficient drying time.  Porous materials such as ceiling tiles, gypsum wallboard, fibrous glass insulation, carpeting, and carpet padding cannot be effectively dried and/or cleaned of visible mold growth.  It is typically recommended that these materials be removed under controlled conditions and discarded.  Depending on the severity, the entire cleanup process may need to be repeated.  Next, a visual inspection and moisture/mold evaluation is conducted, which includes sampling.  This is to ensure that the building materials have been thoroughly dried and that all visible mold growth has been removed.  Finally, the anti-microbial encapsulant is applied to lock down residual spores and fragments invisible to the naked eye on remaining building materials (i.e. wood framing).  Keep in mind, if a moisture issue remains or returns, so too will the mold growth.  There is no such thing as a mold-free guarantee and most insurance company policies exclude mold claims.

HOME INSPECTORS ARE NOT MOLD, ASBESTOS, OR LEAD-BASED PAINT EXPERTS.

Mold can sometimes be difficult to locate.  It can be hidden within wall cavities, behind built-ins and cabinetry, under subfloors, and within infrequently used or inaccessible areas of the home.  Home inspectors are trained to visually inspect building systems and the general well-being of the home, but may not necessarily be able to identify a mold issue.  They do not typically utilize testing equipment that would allow them to identify moisture issues, such as infrared cameras, relative moisture meters, and relative humidity instruments, which are necessary for this type of evaluation.

A home inspector is typically not qualified to verify the existence of mold issues through visual inspection and sampling.  They may not indicate their lack of mold evaluation qualifications (i.e. industrial hygienist) in their report.  They will not likely be able to interpret the laboratory sample results, nor make recommendations for corrective actions.  Also, they are typically not licensed asbestos inspectors and lead inspectors/risk assessors, so you must hire an industrial hygiene consulting firm that employs these individuals.  Home inspectors referred by realtors may present a conflict of interest with regard to the home sale.  They may be pressured to give the home a clear report in order to continue receiving referrals.

Do-It-Yourself (DIY) mold test kits sold by big box stores are of limited use and typically receive mediocre ratings online.  They usually consist of a passive settle plate (i.e. Petri dish with a mold food source) and/or a surface swab.  The idea is for mold spores to settle out of the air or be collected with the swab and deposited onto the Petri dish.  If mold spores are present, and they almost always will be, they'll be collected on the sample and will grow into visible mold colonies within 24-96 hours.  They are usually checked for visible mold growth at 48, 72, and 96 hours, respectively, something you will not be able to do during the home purchase process.  Also, this will only test for live mold spores, not dead spores.  Both live and dead airborne and surface mold spore concentrations are used to evaluate whether a mold issue exists, especially the effectiveness of contractor mold remediation or cleanup efforts.  Testing for mold after the home purchase is too late, since now you've already inherited any existing problems.

 09 Mold Growth on Petri Dishes.jpg

Now you've confirmed that you have mold spores in your home, just like everyone else.  If you'd like to know what type of mold is present in your DIY sample, you'll need to send it to an accredited laboratory for analysis and wait 3-5 weeks for sample results.  The DIY sample kits that require an incubation period for mold to grow only test for living mold spores.  If a local industrial hygiene firm with it's own in-house laboratory conducts the evaluation, you'll have verbal laboratory results in 1-3 days.  You'll also have a written report detailing the evaluation, sample results, and recommendations for corrective actions in about a week.

Another problem with DIY sampling is that insufficient sampling locations are typically selected; only one affected area (i.e. basement), zero unaffected areas, and zero background samples (i.e. outdoors) are collected for comparison to the indoor samples.  This prevents the sample from being effectively evaluated, because it cannot be compared to any other samples or areas, especially if it's not analyzed at an accredited laboratory to determine the types and quantities of mold.  This is not good industrial hygiene practice.  Ideally, a minimum of three or more air samples and one or more surface samples must be collected to be cost effective for a residential client.  Many more samples must be collected to be statistically and scientifically defensible.

Hiring a reputable industrial hygiene consulting firm to conduct your moisture and mold evaluation, stucco evaluation, asbestos inspection, and/or lead inspection/risk assessment can potentially save you thousands of dollars.  It can also safeguard you and your family's health, provide peace of mind, and eliminate the headaches and heartache you would experience later, should you decide not to have your home inspected or evaluated prior to the sale.

The cost of a professional moisture and mold evaluation is negligible.  Especially when compared to the future out-of-pocket costs and negative impact that unidentified moisture issues, structural damage, resultant mold growth, and airborne mold exposure hazards can have on your family.

If you have questions, or would like to schedule an evaluation of your home or future home, please contact Eagle Industrial Hygiene Associates, Inc., at 215-672-6088.

Sep 30
Headphones and Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

​          In this blog we would like to discuss a topic that is particularly relevant today with the rising popularity of extremely powerful headphones. It is important to realize that while headphones can bring your favorite music to you in a place where it would not traditionally be possible, they can be permanently damaging to your hearing at the same time.  We will begin with a brief introduction of what acoustic decibels are, as well as the thresholds where hearing loss can occur. 

            A decibel is used in acoustics as a unit of sound pressure level.  On the decibel scale, near total silence is considered to be 0 dB. A sound 10 times more powerful is 10 dB. A sound 100 times more powerful than near total silence is 20 dB. A sound 1,000 times more powerful than near total silence is 30 dB, and so on.  According to the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), prolonged exposure to any Noise-INduced-Hearing-Loss.gifnoise at or above 85 dB can cause gradual hearing loss.  Also, regular exposure of 110 dB for more than one minute can cause permanent hearing loss.  These numbers are important because headphones such as Beats by Dre can be cranked up to 115 dB which would put you into a situation where permanent hearing loss could occur in one minute.

            Hearing loss is a very serious thing and can negatively affect your life in many ways.  Imagine a coworker or peer trying to have a conversation with you but every other sentence you have to ask them to repeat them self.  Or trying to have an important conversation with a client on the phone and you simply cannot hear them.  These real life examples offer just a glimpse into what life could be like with noise induced hearing loss.  Studies have linked hearing loss to a number of things such as irritability, anger, stress, and depression.  Hearing loss can also lead to reduced job performance and earning power. There can be a snowball effect with hearing loss where individuals experiencing it isolate themselves due to fear of constantly either not knowing what is going on or having to continuously ask people to repeat themselves.  As you can see, hearing loss is no joking matter and can negatively affect your life in many ways.

            There are ways that you can protect yourself or your children from hearing loss relating to headphone use.  Expert Sharon A. Sandridge, PhD, Director of Clinical Services in Audiology at Cleveland Clinic suggests that you should listen to your headphones at eighty percent volume for a maximum of ninety minutes as a general rule of thumb.  Another suggestion is the sixty-sixty rule where sixty minutes of listening at sixty percent volume is recommended.  To demonstrate how important it is to be safe while using your headphones, the EU introduced a mandatory safety limit on all personal music players of 85 dB in 2012.  Users receive a warning if they want to make the volume louder, but are not prohibited from overriding the control and increasing the volume to 100 dB.

Beats-by-Dr-Dre.jpg

            Noise induced hearing loss from headphones is very serious and can begin within a minute of using your headphones.  If you are planning on getting yourself or your children headphones for their birthday or as a holiday gift, it is important to educate them about the proper way to use headphones.  Listening to headphones at eighty percent volume for no longer than ninety minutes is a good way to start, or by observing the sixty-sixty rule.  At the end of the day it is important to remember that noise-induced hearing loss is very serious and the only way to prevent it is to control time and volume.  You only get one set of ears, and damage done by headphones at extreme volumes can be permanent.​

Mar 31
FORMALDEHYDE AND INDOOR AIR
Formaldehyde is one of many volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that might have an adverse impact on indoor air quality.   It is a colorless gas at room temperature and has a pungent odor that is detectable at concentrations of approximately 800 parts per billion (ppb) or more. 

Acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term) inhalation exposure to formaldehyde can result in respiratory symptoms, and eye, nose, and throat irritation.    The EPA has designated formaldehyde as a probable cause of cancer in humans.   

Exposure to formaldehyde may occur by breathing contaminated indoor air, tobacco smoke, engine exhaust, or ambient urban air.    Everyone is exposed to small amounts of formaldehyde in the air that has off-gassed from products, including composite wood products.   Carpets, upholstery, and gypsum board do not contain significant amounts of formaldehyde when new.    However, they may trap formaldehyde that is emitted into the air from other products and later release it into the indoor air.  Formaldehyde levels in indoor air can vary depending on temperature, humidity, and air ventilation within the indoor space.

Formaldehyde is used mainly as an intermediate in the synthesis of other chemicals and to produce resins used in composite wood products such as plywood, particle board, and fiberboard.    Formaldehyde is also found in some household cleaners, paints, textiles, landscaping products, pesticides, and is used as a preservative in some medicinal and personal care products.   Ozone can react with other VOCs to create formaldehyde.   

Typically, formaldehyde levels originating from newly installed building materials or furnishings will drop off over time.   The process can be accelerated by increasing temperature, humidity, and ventilation.

High levels of airborne formaldehyde have been detected in indoor air, where it is released from various consumer products such as building materials and home furnishings.   One survey reported formaldehyde levels ranging from 0.10 to 3.68 parts per million (ppm) in homes.   Higher levels have been found in newly manufactured or mobile homes than in older, conventional homes. 

Formaldehyde has also been detected in ambient air; the average concentrations reported in U.S. urban areas were in the range of 11 to 20 parts per billion (ppb).   The major sources appear to be power plants, manufacturing facilities, incinerators, and engine exhaust emissions. 

The currently accepted limit of formaldehyde in indoor air that should prevent adverse health effects (e.g., respiratory irritation and cancer) is 100 ppb.

The choice of methods used to reduce indoor air formaldehyde levels is unique to each situation.   The most common methods used include:

Removing formaldehyde-emitting products from the home, directly reducing formaldehyde levels and preventing other materials in the area, such as carpet and gypsum board, from absorbing and then re-emitting formaldehyde. 

Introducing large amounts of fresh air into the home.    Increasing ventilation by opening doors and windows, and by using exhaust fans to air out indoor spaces.

Sealing the surfaces of formaldehyde-emitting products that are not already laminated or coated.

Sealing completely with a material that does not contain formaldehyde.

Installing composite wood products made with resins meeting the Ultra Low Emission Formaldehyde (ULEF) or No Added Formaldehyde (NAF) specifications of the California Air Resource Board.

Testing for Formaldehyde

Eagle Industrial Hygiene Associates can assist you with air testing to determine levels of formaldehyde in your home or office.  We send you a monitoring device with instructions.  You simply hang the device in the space of interest for 24 hours, return it to us in the pre-paid shipping package, and we will provide you with results in less than a week.  The test method and laboratory analysis method conform to standards established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.