Most studies estimate around 50% of homeowners have suffered from dampness and mold. In my experience most of the houses I test have a mold issue. That is probably because the homeowners calling me suspect mold is a problem and I’m there to figure out where it’s hiding. A number of the people who hire me have already had a mold inspection and the inspector said they didn’t find anything. The reason for this is that most mold inspectors are good at finding visual signs of mold, but don’t always use the right methods for locating hidden colonies.
Different people react to mold in different ways. What bothers one person may not bother someone else. Because of this there are no set guidelines for mold levels. To add to the problem, there is always some mold inside of walls and floating in the air around your home. When I do an in-depth mold investigation I’m checking for levels that I’ve learned seem to affect most people with even a mild mold sensitivity, and I make my recommendations based on the specific findings from the laboratory.
If you’re extremely mold sensitized I’ll make different recommendations, including limiting the types of products / chemicals that can be used during your remediation. VOCs from standard remediation practices can be a real problem for people who are made ill by mold. Sometimes even clean, plant-based cleaners and low or no-VOC products can irritate some clients. So I also recommend you be tested for sensitivity to any cleaning or sealing product before it’s used.
It’s important not to disturb mold anymore than absolutely necessary so I don’t take things apart. That could release thousands of mold spores into the rest of the house. I find hidden mold by testing in places like, HVAC air handlers and air conditioning coils, inside of walls under leaky windows, under cabinets, in enclosed places where there’s been a leak, and in dead air spaces with high humidity, etc. The main tools I use are limited air samples in highly specific locations, tape lifts of suspected mold, and sanitary swabs similar to the ones your doctor uses for hard to reach places.
I can’t. It’s important to have someone other than your inspector remove the mold. While there are reputable companies that do both, I find that the better quality remediators usually want someone else to say the job was done right. Not only does this put the homeowner at ease, it also shows the remediator has nothing to hide and wants to be sure the job was done right. I’m not always the first person called in, and it’s not uncommon for me to find that a bad remediation effort spread mold spores from one isolated location throughout a good part of the house. This means the next remediator has a lot more cleaning to do to put the house back in order and the cost of remediation goes up significantly.
While we can test for mycotoxins, there’s no reliable testing to find specific locations in the house. I’ve found looking for mold contamination in hidden locations such as inside walls with past leaks to be a much more reliable method for finding specific locations.
We can test for the DNA of Actinomycetes but doing this kind of test in all the locations where Actinomycetes can grow is extremely costly. If your doctor found these bacteria in your system, it’s better to check for locations with higher than normal moisture and humidity levels, as well as hidden mold, and to consider a whole house wipe down to remove them after any molds have been remediated or if no elevated levels are found.
Most people don’t even know this is a possibility. This happens more often than you think. And a bad remediation can make matters worse than if no remediation was done at all. I recommend you do a general test of the house first to get an overall picture. This test uses DNA to check for levels of specific water damage indicator molds and helps give me a sort of rudimentary map of where mold may be hiding. Along with an in-depth discussion about your specific situation, once this is done I can make better recommendations for further testing.
Yes, I can test for specific chemicals. There are a few different types of tests I can use, so we need to have an idea of what we’re looking for. Some chemicals are air borne, others bond with dust particles and other chemicals can be found in the soil around our homes. If your house is located on a crawl space, pesticides that were used years ago may be contributing to chemicals you’re being affected by. Fortunately there are products available that can deal with many of these chemicals.
As far as all natural products, see the question “What Chemicals Should I Be Worried About” in this section.
Yes they can. It’s not as common as finding mold in a house, but banned chemicals can have a half-life of up to 25 years. This means it can take as long as 125 years for some chemicals to be reduced to 3% of their original concentration. Fortunately there are products available that can deal with many of these chemicals.
Pesticides are often found in drinking water. I can test for this, along with heavy metals and other chemicals. I work with a PhD at a lab who provides full analysis and treatment that can eliminate or greatly reduce toxic chemicals. His specialty is working with chemically sensitive individuals, although we should all be concerned about chemicals in our drinking water.
As an Indoor Environmental Professional, the chemicals I’m most concerned about are persistent ones that stick around for years and can be picked up and absorbed through our skin, be inhaled, etc. These include pesticides and herbicides that were sprayed some time ago, but they can also be found in building materials and even household products.
This is an even bigger question than most people realize. According to EcoWatch.com, in 2015 there were 84,000 chemicals on the market with around 1% having been studied for safety. And estimates are that about 2,000 new chemicals come on the market every year. Marketers are very good at selling us on how good their products are and that makes sense. It’s how they make a living. The problem for us is that just labeling something as natural or even organic isn’t a guarantee it’s safe. The practice is referred to as greenwashing and it’s a very common practice.
You’ll find these chemicals in building materials, furniture, children’s toys, household cleaners, fragrances, personal care products, clothing, etc. In other words, harmful chemicals are everywhere in our homes and they’re off-gassing chemicals into the air we breathe.
The gasses that are escaping fall into 2 basic categories, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and Semi-Volatile Organic Compounds (SVOCs). VOC’s have odors, so you usually know when they’re round, but SVOCs rarely have any odor at all and they stick to the dust floating around our homes until they either settle on to surfaces, or they’re inhaled deeply into our lungs.
Some of these chemicals can cause problems with the way our bodies communicate internally, some are carcinogens, etc. Our bodies are often amazingly resilient but this breakdown in communication can have serious consequences. When chemicals are tested for safety, they’re tested individually and the combined effects of multiple chemicals interacting with one another is not considered. Aside from the sheer number of chemicals in the environment, a big reason for this is that when chemical gasses combine they can react with each other and create new chemicals, some may be less harmful and others may be more harmful. Sometimes these chemical reactions are temporary and other times they’re irreversible.
In other words, this is a big subject. In our home we’re careful to use less toxic products and making your home perfectly clean is not a simple task. When dealing with chemicals, my goal is to help you remove or reduce the worst offenders, get rid of the chemicals that are easy to deal with, and then see how you feel. Most people seem to feel much better and mysterious little complaints may even start disappearing.
Most health professionals and organizations state that children and pets are more affected by chemicals than healthy adults. Children’s immune systems and bodies are still developing and some chemicals can interfere as they mature. Children and pets are closer to the floor and to the ground, so they tend to breathe in the dust their activity kicks up. They also put things from the ground into their mouths, so they’re ingesting whatever is on them
A word of caution though, using antibacterial cleaners to kill and remove germs and spraying for pests in and around your house only adds to the chemical load. Although Europe has banned well over one thousand, very few chemicals have been banned in the United States, among them are a number of antibacterial ingredients and pesticides linked to fertility problems and cancer as well as being endocrine disruptors. Endocrine disruptors interfere with our bodies ability to communicate internally.
A number of university researchers and doctors with a more holistic view seem to be of the opinion that the old adage, “You have to eat a peck of dirt in your lifetime” is closer to the truth than we know. Our bodies need some naturally occurring bacteria in order to thrive, so we should be careful with the environments around our homes.
I remember hearing an interview of a cancer researcher who takes their dog out for walks in the woods at least once a week, and takes the kids to an organic petting zoo about once per month. He does admit that he doesn’t know for sure how well this works, but he wants to be sure they’re exposed to plenty of healthy bacteria and that they are building healthy immune systems.
A number of manufactured building products like plywood for cabinets, engineered flooring and particle board have been produced. We’re getting better at using glues that don’t contain formaldehyde, but imported products may or may not still be made this way. When I’m doing an Indoor Air Quality Investigation I routinely check for elevated formaldehyde levels with a meter. This gives me a general indication of the level, but meters are also affected by other chemicals and the reading needs to be verified with an air test using a thermal desorption tube that’s analyzed by an accredited laboratory. If I find high readings in your home, I’ll recommend that test be done.
EMFs are electromagnetic fields, or frequencies, from very low frequencies like those used in your house wiring and radio frequencies, to microwaves, visible and infrared light, up through ultraviolet radiation and X-Rays. We’re concerned about those frequencies that we find usable, but that also interact with our bodies similarly to how stray electrical frequencies can interfere with high tech equipment. Even your cell phone has to have shielding to protect it from interference, but until recently, very little consideration has been given to how these frequencies interact with the natural electrical currents in our bodies.
We’re mostly dealing with magnetic and electrical fields, as well as radio and microwave frequencies. Visible light does have an impact on us and I do deal with that when clients want or need it, but it’s generally not a main focus. For example seizures caused by rapidly flickering light can cause epileptic seizures, and being exposed to blue light after dark can affect your sleep, but this is generally dealt with more when creating an overall healthy home than during a typical EMF Assessment.
Dirty Electricity is electromagnetic interference (DE / EMI). It’s a mixture of frequencies that combine with one another in a way that many people can feel and that makes the electrical interference we’re already exposed to even more problematic. My teacher called it EMFs on steroids.
DE can be caused by other electrical components such as computers, TV sets, exercise equipment, dimmer switches, CFL & LED light bulbs to name a few, as well as being carried into your home from outside sources. You can buy filters to plug into your outlets, but these can sometimes cause problems of their own and they’re only cleaning up a portion of the affected frequencies. It’s also a moving target that changes regularly.
When I’m working on reducing fields, I find it more effective to deal with the sources of DE and to try and keep the electric fields away from your body so any remaining DE is not affecting you. If needed I’ll use these filters and some people find that they help while others don’t. Also some people prefer one brand of filter over another because of the relief they feel with one and not the other.
You certainly can. Be careful though because shielding must be done correctly or you could make matters worse. There are different types of shielding materials for different types of fields. Magnetic fields are by far the most difficult and expensive to shield against. Magnetic fields are also one of the most researched areas of EMFs and have been shown to be carcinogenic. The next most difficult to shield are radio frequency fields, which can actually be intensified if not properly addressed. The particular radio frequency being shielded will determine the type of material used and some RF shields will conduct and re-emit electric fields if not properly grounded. Lastly electric fields are the easiest to deal with, and are often overlooked. Dirty electricity “rides along” on other frequencies so shielding is not used to reduce DE.
You could move, but in most cases where would you go? Even if you’re lucky enough to find a location with very low RF, new towers and antennas are going up constantly and you might find yourself in an even worse situation not too long after you move.
There’s also the possibility that the tower that just went up is a microwave communication tower. These types of towers generally send out more tightly focused signals that are directed at other microwave towers and may not have much of an impact on your home at all. If it does prove to be a problem, shielding may be the best option, and we’ll need to consider your overall lifestyle as well as how you use technology.
According to Dr. Olle Johansson, formerly of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, “EMFs disturb immune function through stimulation of various allergic and inflammatory responses, as well as effects on tissue repair processes. Such disturbances increase the risks for various diseases, including cancer.”
A large body of scientific evidence suggests that EMFs may be linked to a variety of health problems including skin and breast cancer, leukemia, lymphoma, brain and nervous system cancer, miscarriage and birth defects, reduced sperm mobility and damage, Alzheimer’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, depression and even suicide. Based on field observations by various health professions, EMFs have also been associated with symptoms such as headache, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, mental confusion and brain fog, memory loss, anxiety, sleep disturbance, seizures, tinnitus, changes to blood pressure and heart rate, and even itchy or burning skin sensations, and skin rashes. The numbers of people who report hypersensitivity to electromagnetic fields, similar to the way that some individuals have become hypersensitive to chemicals, appears to be on the rise along with the increase in wireless and technological advancements. Some professionals suggest it can even be the combined result of past over-exposure.
The good news is that according to Dr. Johansson, these illnesses associated with EMfs may be interfering with your body’s ability to heal rather than actually causing the disease. Reducing EMFs may prove to be a critical component in the healing process.
As far as cell phones, current exposure standards were developed when wireless technology was not as widespread as it is today and are based on heating the body rather than interference with our body’s functioning. In other words, if you’re not being cooked, it’s not a problem. To add to this in 1996, the Telecommunications Act (the Telecom Act) was signed into law with the help of the wireless industry. Section 704 of the TCA states that the citing of towers cannot be regulated “on the basis of the environmental effects of radio frequency emission…” so long as FCC limits are met. Remember FCC limits are based on heating. Case law in some (but not all) US Circuit Courts has interpreted this section to mean “health concerns” cannot be used to limit the placement of a cell tower.
Public awareness and concern have grown since this law was passed and a growing number of local municipalities are fighting and limiting the placement of cell towers. However, this doesn’t address other EMFs, such as the excessive signal strength of wifi routers, which will nearly always operate properly at much lower power levels. Fortunately this is something within your control.