Connie Morbach To Be Featured In October “Women’s Health” Magazine!

Women's Health | July/August CoverI’m elated to announce I will be featured in the October issue of the nationally published “Women’s Health” magazine. I had the opportunity to speak with Women’s Health writer Kate Bowers giving my views on the importance of indoor air quality: what are the risks of household pollutants and what can people do to improve indoor air quality and more.

I’m excited to declare the CleanliNEST™ Crusade is picking up national steam. Here’s to everyone breathing easier!

Take a moment to check out the free iPhone and iPod Workout App from Women’s Health at the link below. Nice workout tool at an even nicer price!

Click here for the Women’s Health Workout Lite App

From Our Video Archives: Sanit-Air Featured On PBS “The Business Page” Television Program

The nationally recognized Public Broadcasting System affiliate in Detroit, WTVS Channel 56, produced and aired a wonderful local business program titled “The Business Page.” Sanit-Air and our team of environmental IAQ experts and technicians had the distinct pleasure of an extensive feature on “The Business Page.”

Producer Mike Echols narrates this business feature that serves as a nice introduction to the basic understanding of the workings of Sanit-Air and the foundation for our CleaniNEST™ brand and consumer crusade. We hope you find “The Business Page” feature on Sanit-Air informative.

Can This, Not That: How To Preserve Contents After Mold Infestation

There are no simple answers to questions that arise regarding saving personal belongings and furniture after an indoor environment is contaminated with mold.  Generally, from an insurance perspective, only items that are directly impacted by water from a covered water loss are covered for cleaning or replacement.  However, contents that are impacted by spores, mold fragments, mold toxins, and volatile organic compounds that are liberated from areas of actual mold growth must be addressed to prevent cross-contamination when moved to a new environment or returned after a structure is remediated.   Decisions on restorable must be made on a case by case basis, and are dependent on numerous factors, including:

  • The severity of the airborne contamination
  • The effectiveness of capture and containment methods if contents are present during structural remediation
  • The length of time in which the contents were exposed
  • The origin of the water loss, clean water versus sewage or other contaminated water source
  • Humidity control
  • The sensitivity or susceptibility of occupants

The primary objective of remediation, whether for structure or contents, should be protection of health. Financial practicality might be considered for low level contamination, but should not be a major criterion for immune-compromised or other sensitized individuals.  Compared to the devastating emotional and health consequences that many people experience with repeated exposure to contaminated contents, financial concerns are inconsequential.

Some people are unable to salvage any items from a contaminated home, while some individuals experience no adverse health symptoms if all items are saved.  For the majority of the population, a combination of cleaning and discarding proves to be effective.

The following guidelines are designed to address content restoration for healthy individuals in homes with low to moderate contamination.

CONTENT DECISION MAKING

 A.  Separate contents according to porosity.

    1. Hard surfaced items, such as metal, plastic, sealed wood, and glass.
    2. Semi-porous items, such as unsealed wood, stone, leather.
    3. Porous items, such as cardboard, paper, fabric, and canvas.
    4. Items to Discard
      1. Items that display visible growth
      2. Porous padded items, such as pillows, upholstered furniture that are exposed to a highly contaminated environment or exposed for extended time
      3. Mattresses that are exposed to a highly contaminated environment or exposed for extended time
      4. Books, paper, and stuffed animals that are exposed to a highly contaminated environment or exposed for extended time

B.  Porous, padded items with short exposure to low concentrations of mold

  1. Agitate books, papers, photos, etc. over the inlet of a HEPA-filtered air scrubber.  HEPA-vacuum.
  2. Porous padded items, HEPA-vacuum, agitate/compress, HEPA-vacuum again.

C.   Hard Surfaced Items

  1.   Clean by HEPA-vacuuming and damp-wiping
  2. Use compressed air to clean cracks and crevices
  3. Submerse glass, dishes, pots, pans, or clean in dishwasher

D.  Clothing

  1. Launder washable item with detergent, dry in dryer
  2. Select several representative items (fluffy sweater, wool coat, silk blouse) for dry-cleaning.  Select a dry cleaner that uses special procedures for mold-contaminated items.  The procedures should include filtering of the fluid to remove mold spores.  Once cleaned, items are to be tested using both direct exam and culturable dust sample method.  Test results should demonstrate that target fungi, such as Penicillium, Chaetomium, Aspergillus, and Stachybotrys, are not present. 

E.  Appliances

  1. Items with insulation are not likely salvageable if exposed to high concentrations of mold or if exposed for a long period.   If exposure was short and concentrations were low, the items should be professional cleaned by disassembly, using a combination of compressed air, HEPA-vacuuming and damp-wiping.
  2. Items without insulation should be disassembled and cleaned using compressed air, HEPA-vacuuming and damp-wiping.

F.  Art Work

  1. Remove craft paper backing and discard
  2. Clean by positioning the painting of the inlet of a HEPA-filtered air scrubber.  Starting at the top of the painting, use an art brush to systematically brush toward the bottom.  Repeat with a clean brush.  HEPA-vacuum and damp-wipe the frame.

Making decisions to discard items with high intrinsic or monetary value, such as antiques, memorabilia, and photographs, can be especially troubling when someone is already dealing with the health, emotional, or financial consequences from a mold infestation.  When possible, questionable items should be stored in sealable containers so that decisions can be made at a time when health and stress levels have improved.   

Crawlspaces & Ventilation: 10 Fun Facts & Random Observations

1. Inside the living space of a property, proper ventilation is absolutely crucial to the health, safety, and overall comfort of the occupants inside the home.

2.  Standards and guidelines have been established to specify minimum ventilation rates and other measures intended to provide indoor air quality that is acceptable to human occupants and that minimizes adverse health effects. More info here:  http://eetd.lbl.gov/ie/viaq/v_rates_1.html

3.  Improving the overall air quality inside a property can be achieved by two methods:

•    Exhausting air contaminants from the building
•    Removing contaminants from the air stream using filtration and/or absorption technologies (i.e. HEPA filtration and activated carbon)

Since most residential properties do not have access to proper filtration or absorption technologies, exhaust ventilation is most practical and commonly used.

4. In addition to improper ventilation, excessive or chronic water intrusion into the property, especially the crawlspace, will contribute to the growth of certain microorganisms.  This can lead to mold infestation impacting Indoor Air Quality, and even more destructive structural damage such as wood decay or dry rot.

5. Water intrusion into the crawlspace will often cause damage to flooring systems (i.e. cupping of hardwood floors, grout separation in tile floors, etc.), wood decay, and oxidation or rusting of metal strapping/hardware.

6. Water enters a crawlspace in either liquid or vapor phase by four moisture transfer mechanisms:

•    Liquid water (i.e. plumbing/sewer leaks, high groundwater table, drainage or exterior flooding)
•    Capillary suction or wicking (i.e. moisture being drawn through concrete footing from saturated exterior soils)
•    High moisture laden air (i.e. elevated humidity from atmospheric conditions entering the crawlspace through vents)
•    Vapor diffusion (i.e. moisture in the vapor phase moving through building materials)

7. Most properties are constructed with vents that are intended to remove moisture from the air in a crawlspace by cross-ventilation.   However, the introduction of moist air from outdoors can actually increase the relative humidity in a crawlspace.

8. Due to stack effect and vapor diffusion, which is a very powerful force, moisture in a crawlspace will seek dry areas.  When moist air comes in contact with  a surface that is colder than the  air, condensation will occur.  Condensation can develop on uninsulated plumbing pipes in the crawlspace, on the underside of a sub-floor, or even the attic roof deck.  Interestingly, many houses with exposed wet soil in a crawlspace also have mold and water damage due to condensation on the underside of the roof deck. 

9. If vapor diffusion from the soil, water intrusion from poor drainage, unmitigated plumbing leaks, or infiltration of moist air exist in a crawlspace, one or more of the following is usually observed:

  •   Surface mold growth, structural damage, and health issues
  •   Termite or other pest infiltration
  •   Accumulation of odors  
  •   Termite or other pest infestation

10.  The best way to mitigate crawlspace moisture is to treat the crawlspace as a conditioned space by (1) insulating walls with foam panels, (2) seal the crawlspace floor and walls with heavy gauge polyethylene or vinyl encapsulation system, with the seams sealed tightly at all edges and overlaps, (3) seal the rim joists with two-part closed cell foam.

The Surgeon General’s Call to Action Report Promotes Healthy Homes

The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to promote Healthy Homes Report looks at the many ways housing can affect health. The purpose of the report is to initiate a national dialogue about the importance of healthy homes. “The home is the centerpiece of American life,” said Steven K. Galson, then acting Surgeon General at the time of the report. “We can prevent many diseases and injuries that result from health hazards in the home by following the simple steps outlined in this Call to Action.” The report urges Americans to “improve air quality in their homes by installing radon and carbon monoxide detectors, eliminating smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke, and controlling allergens that contribute to asthma and mold growth.”

Follow the link here http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/bookshelf/br.fcgi?book=hssurggen&part=cta-home to view the entire Healthy Home Report from teh surgeon General’s office.

Interview: The Craig Fahle Show On WDET Public Radio | Topic: Avoiding An Unhealthy Money Pit

The Dirty Secret On Foreclosures: Avoiding An Unhealthy Money Pit. WDET Public Radio host, Craig Fahle, interviews me on the topic of hidden hazards when purchasing a foreclosed home. Learn what to look out for and and tips on protecting your potential investment.

Insurance Claims, Contractors, Homeowners: Why Can’t We all Play Nice? Here Are Seven Steps That Can Help…

After a fire or water loss, which can result in mold contamination, the only goal of most homeowners is to have competent and timely restoration that will protect both the indoor air quality as well as the asset value of the property. Similarly, the goals of good contractors are to restore the home, be paid for the services, and have a happy customer. The goals of reputable insurance companies are to restore the home to pre-loss conditions and pay a fair market price for the services. Since these goals are not mutually exclusive, they all can be realized with little or no conflict, right?

Most people who have experienced such losses are probably raising their eyebrows as they whisper, “Yeah right,” to the question. Unfortunately, many factors, including policy exclusions for mold, poor documentation from homeowners, greedy contractors, and overburdened insurance adjustors, can cause conflicts, delays, disappointments, and antagonism during the restoration of a covered water or fire loss.

At times, little can be done by the homeowner to mitigate antagonism if an adjuster takes on a confrontational demeanor from the get go. However, in many cases, proactive measures that begin at the time an insurance policy is purchased empower homeowners to steer an unfortunate loss in a harmonious manner. The following “to do” list for the insured party will go a long way toward making sure that the insurance company, contractors, and homeowners play together in the same sandbox without throwing sand in each other’s eyes.

  1. Understand the insurance policy before purchase. Ask questions about mold riders, sump pump and drain coverage, covered water losses, water damage after fires, smoke and soot damage, odor mitigation, and deductibles.
  2. Research and retain a list of reputable water damage, fire, and mold inspection companies and restoration contractors so that you can be in control of who is hired to do the work.
  3. Have your home inspected by a qualified inspection company that can document conditions relative to water damage and mold before you ever have a loss. This step can prevent claim denials due to poor maintenance or historical damage.
  4. Retain records of prior losses and repairs.
  5. Retain photographs and receipts of furnishings and belongings.
  6. Have realistic expectations regarding repairs.
  7. All documents, including the insurance policy, should be stored in a fireproof safe at home or at another location.

Just like a group of kids in a sandbox, bullies exist on both sides of the fence with insurance losses.  Courtesy, common sense and commitments to doing the right thing are sometimes overshadowed by fear, greed, and hidden agendas. I still believe that it is wise to be prepared and try to play nice before calling in the troops.

Dirty Secret: Foreclosure Bargains Can Result In Serious Health Hazards

THE NUMBERS ARE STAGGERING: RealtyTrac reports foreclosures continue to grow unabated at 2.8 million nationwide. In Michigan, one in every 225 households is in foreclosure. The dirty little secret adding to foreclosure miseries is the enormity of serious health hazards that often exist for new and unsuspecting occupants. Even more alarming, if left unchecked, these mold-infested foreclosures will become significant burdens on our already stressed health care system and bog down our courts for years to come.

It’s a buyer’s market and many buyers are eager to capitalize on these so-called great deals. Unfortunately, they’re jumping in to grab up a tempting bargain home, condo or income property with their eyes shut, oblivious to the potential heath risks or simply interested in flipping the property to make a quick buck with total disregard for the legal liabilities.

Knowing as much as you can about a home before purchasing is important, but for a foreclosed home it is vital. Water-damaged and moldy homes are increasingly the subjects of lawsuits that involve non-disclosure, negligence and personal injury. Often foreclosures are sold ‘as is’ which means the bank has no prior history of the home and has nothing to disclose. Hence, buyers have no idea what is waiting for them once they take possession. This makes it all the more imperative for buyers to do their due diligence in hiring unbiased, ‘independent’ professionals to alert them to any health risks or potential legal liabilities that may be lurking.

A pre-emptive inspection by a certified indoor air quality specialist can be made on the foreclosed property prior to the sale, and an accurate assessment of the indoor air quality can be made yielding peace of mind for the owners and any occupants as well as preventing serious problems and significant expenses later on. Inspections average $600 and consist of a detailed physical inspection, assessment, prescription and scope for remediation if mold, lead or other hazards are indicated. Further testing, sampling and thermal imaging can be performed on site if hidden water damage or microbiological contamination is suspected.

Hiring an experienced trained and certified professional to conduct a mold and moisture inspection can help to determine if the property is habitable or worthy of restoration. The reason: many homes in foreclosure have been sitting vacant for many months and sometimes years without any climate control, proper

weatherization or upkeep. In some cases, disgruntled homeowners who had to walk away have vandalized the homes. Without the proper climate controls and maintenance, water damage from high relative humidity and water leaks that are neglected can create the ideal conditions for mold growth and proliferation in new homes as well as old. Not only does this pose a potential structural problem with the home, compromising the integrity of the home’s walls and foundation, but it could also pose significant health risks, potentially toxic, for occupants. Many times the mold contamination can go unnoticed until someone moves in and that’s when the real trouble begins, trouble that can take the form of serious health and/or legal issues. It’s important to understand that while a qualified independent home inspector will likely recommend further investigation if they suspect mold, most home inspectors are not trained to analyze mold hazards, correct serious problems and prevent future mold build-up. Unscrupulous or uninformed service providers performing mold tests may not carry insurance for any such testing or assessments, leaving a homebuyer exposed and vulnerable to legal action. To be sure that you’re working with a qualified and experienced indoor air quality professional it is wise to find out how the person was trained, what degrees or certifications he or she has and how many years the person has been working in the field, because the quality and usefulness of the information you receive can impact your health and investment.

Does it Matter if it is “Black Mold” or Mold that is Black?

While some mold investigators avoid taking a position on this question, I strongly believe that the existence of the slimy black mold, Stachybotrys, is of greater concern than most other black colored molds.

My office is flooded with frantic phone calls whenever headlines such as “Killer Black Mold Closes School,” or “Deadly Black Mold Forces Evacuation of Court House,”  hit the press.  For the most part, the dangerous “black mold” in the media was Stachybotrys. Some of the calls our office receives raise strong concerns regarding exposure hazards from large areas of black colored mold on drywall and other water damaged building materials.  I am much less concerned when callers report black mildew on bathtub grout.

The hazards of the toxigenic black mold, Stachybotrys, have been debated in the legal and medical communities for more than a decade.  The controversy over “black mold” gained momentum around 1994 when a physician attributed a cluster of infant deaths near Cleveland Ohio to hemosiderosis (bleeding from the brain) as a consequence of exposure to toxins produced by the black mold Stachybotrys chartarum.  Initially, the Centers for Disease control and other entities, including the New York City Department of Health, issued strong warnings about this slimy black mold.  Ultimately, the CDC stated that although Stachybotrys and some other molds were known to produce toxins, they did not believe sufficient evidence existed to link the mold with the infant deaths.

Many reputable physicians and toxicologists strongly support the contention that toxins produced from Stachybotrys can cause various multi-system disorders, including cognitive impairment, chronic fatigue, immune suppression, and gastrointestinal disorders.   There are an equal number of doctors who discount the toxigenic effects of mold.

As an investigator, my focus is on diagnosing buildings, not people.  However, to effectively and ethically practice my professional, an understanding of the potential health effects of mold exposure is essential.  Questions regarding health symptoms are part of Sanit-Air’s mold investigations.  Allergic reactions are the most common symptoms reported from individuals with exposure to common black colored molds such as Alternaria and Cladosporium.  However, when the health complaints include chronic fatigue, muscle aches, fibromyalgia, gastrointestinal disorders, tremors, memory fog, and immune suppression, Stachybotrys chartarum is almost always found within the indoor environment.

Healthy Homes: Testing and Remediation of Mold and Water Damage are Essential to Good Indoor Air Quality

Whenever I leave a mold inspection project feeling like I have just been struck in the forehead with a baseball bat, I wonder if the time has come to retire to the healthy clean nest that my husband, Tom, and I have created in our own home. After nearly two decades and more than 6000 mold investigations, we not only gained empathy for our clients, but were forced to design an optimum indoor environment that could provide relief for the classic mold-related illnesses such as allergies, chronic sinusitis and asthma that were consequential to our profession.

Since the inception of our company Sanit-Air in 1994, our team of scientists, mold inspectors, remediators, and healthcare professionals have been recognized as the leaders in the field of indoor air quality by providing consultation and solutions to healthcare facilities, commercial buildings and industrial settings. Although controlling workplace exposures remains a significant focus for Sanit-Air, our experiences have demonstrated that mold related exposures are frequently more intense in residential dwellings. Keeping in mind that most people have little or no control over the biological and chemical toxins present in workplaces, shopping centers, schools, and other public venues, Sanit-Air has developed CleanliNEST™, a division that is dedicated to optimizing indoor air quality in residential buildings.

My deeply held values include:

  • Protection of human health takes precedent over financial and business relationships.
  • Finding answers is not always easy or popular, but we must do what is right.
  • “Green buildings” are not necessarily healthy buildings.
  • Preservation of natural resources without regard to the impact on air quality could be a very unhealthy trend.
  • Water damage and mold can make people very sick.
  • Tunnel vision can botch an investigation and lead to erroneous conclusions.
  • Egos have no place in scientific investigations.
  • Seeking answers becomes most effective with a team of experts from varying disciplines.
  • Similar to human bodies, buildings are a complex interaction of multiple systems that must operate in a synergistic, balanced matter to achieve optimum health.
  • Any job worth doing is worth doing right.

I hope you find my CleanliNEST™ blog of great interest and value. I’m eager to hear your stories and welcome your questions, thoughts and comments.

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