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Indoor Air Quality

Mold and Moisture Control

Molds are simple, microscopic organisms that are found everywhere. They reproduce by forming spores, which are very small and lightweight, making it easy for them to travel through the air. Mold spores are almost always present in outdoor and indoor air. The only things that mold needs to grow and produce spores are a food source (leaves, wood, paper, dirt), a surface to grow on, and moisture. Of these, moisture is the most important. Without moisture, mold can’t grow. Standing water isn’t necessary for mold to grow; the humidity in the air can provide enough moisture for growth.  Mold is basically like a plant; and like all plants, mold has roots. What we see on the surface of an object are the stalk and spores. The roots extend into the object and can’t be seen. Unless the roots are killed, the mold will grow back. It is important to not just clean the surface, but to kill the roots as well.

Molds can cause structural damage to your home, leading to costly repairs which could reduce your home’s value.


When molds are present in a home, they can cause allergic reactions. The most common symptoms are runny nose, eye and skin irritation, cough, and congestion. They can even trigger asthma attacks.

If you can see mold or can smell an earthy or musty odor, you can assume you have a mold problem. Anytime you have water stains, standing water or a moist surface, expect mold growth. The first thing to do is to find and clean up the mold. Equally important is to find and remove the source of moisture.

Mold is found in places where there is a lot of water or condensation, such as under a leaking sink, damp basements or the tracks of poorly insulated windows. Once the source of moisture is found, fix the leak and dry the area as quickly as possible.


Some places to look for mold include:

  • Anywhere there has been a recent water leak. 
  • Surfaces in a room where water condenses, usually the outside walls. 
  • Air humidifiers. 
  • Sides of walls near the floor, behind the baseboards and under the carpeting. 
  • Drip pans of refrigerators. 
  • Along window tracks. 
  • In the dirt of indoor plants. 
  • Along the bottoms of drapes or curtains.
If mold is found on something that is porous or easily absorbs water, such as ceiling tiles, mattresses, overstuffed furniture or carpet, consider discarding and replacing the item. Many times it is much more cost effective to discard the item than to spend the time and effort cleaning it to a safe level. If something is badly water stained and smells of mold, discard it. Moldy items may be discarded by placing them into a plastic bag and discarding the bag in the trash.

If mold is found on a non-porous or semi-porous surface, it can usually be cleaned. Below are some guidelines on cleaning mold:

  • Use non-ammonia soap, detergent or a commercial cleaner in hot water. 
  • Thoroughly scrub all contaminated surfaces. Use a stiff brush to clean concrete blocks, wood, walls and other semi-porous surfaces with the soap/detergent to remove the mold at the surface. 
  • Rinse with clean water and remove the excess water. 
  • After cleaning, wet the surface of the object with a solution of 1 cup of bleach per gallon of water. The surface should be wet, but without runoff. 
  • Allow the bleach solution to dry naturally so it sinks down to the roots of the mold. Extended contact time is important to kill the mold. Be sure to ventilate the room well while the surfaces are drying. 
  • If the mold returns, repeat the above steps using a solution of 1½ cups of bleach to a gallon of water. 

Do not assume that just because you cleaned mold from the front of a surface that the back is clean as well. Mold is often found inside walls, under and in carpet padding, and under vinyl wall coverings.


  • Bleach can irritate your eyes, nose and throat. Ventilate the working area well by opening doors and windows. Use fans that blow the air to the outside.
  • Wear clothing that can be easily cleaned or discarded.
  • Wear rubber gloves and eye protection.
  • Consider using a respirator or mask.
  • Ask mold-sensitive family members to leave the areas being cleaned.
It is not necessary to have molds tested to determine what kind it is. If you have mold, you have a problem; and it doesn’t matter what kind it is. Testing can be very expensive, and the results are vague because there are no set standards for mold levels. You are much better off putting that money into the clean-up and removal of the mold and to repair the damage it caused.
  • Inspect your home, inside and out, for evidence of water damage and visible mold. 
  • Fix leaky plumbing and other sources of water. 
  • Use exhaust fans vented to the outside or open windows in kitchens and bathrooms when showering, cooking or using the dishwasher. 
  • Keep the relative humidity of your home at 60% or less. Increase the temperature to dry out the air and open the windows to provide ventilation whenever possible. 
  • Make sure the dryer is vented to the outside. 
  • Change heating and air conditioning filters often. 
  • Leave lids open, especially on washing machines, insulated coolers, etc. 
  • Thoroughly dry wet items as quickly as possible—within 24 to 48 hours. 
  • Do not place rubber backed mats or carpets on concrete floors, especially in basements. 
  • Do not carpet bathrooms or kitchens. 
  • Make sure that your lawn sprinklers are not spraying the sides of your home. 
  • Make sure your yard drains or slopes away from your home to avoid water collecting in the crawl spaces and around the foundation. 
  • Keep rain gutters clear of debris so water won’t run down the sides of your home. 
  • Paints with mold inhibitors are available. Ask your paint supplier about this option.

For General information on Mold click here
 

For  Health information click here
 

To find an Indoor Air Consultant click here

Radon is a naturally occurring colorless and odorless gas derived from the radioactive decay of the element radium. As radium disintegrates in bedrock and soils, it emits radioactive gas (radon) which permeates through the ground to the surface where it diffuses into the atmosphere. Outdoors it is diluted to levels that offer relatively  no health risk. However, if there is a strong enough radium source nearby and it is allowed to enter the interior of a home through common entry points in the basement, crawl space, or slab foundation; then it can accumulate to higher levels, posing an increased health risk to those exposed.

Long term exposure to elevated radon levels increases a persons' risk of developing radon-induced lung cancer; in addition, if you're a past or present smoker, your risk of developing radon induced lung cancer is even greater. Radon is our nation's second leading cause of lung cancer, and is the leading cause among non-smokers. Radon exposure is estimated to be responsible for thousand of deaths each year. Common entry points include: raw earth floors and crawl spaces, cracked or porous walls and floors, hollow cavities inside walls, floor and wall joints, floor drains, sump pits, annular spaces around piping, duct work, and wiring in walls and floors.


See video clip: “Eddies Story”

The American Lung Association of Michigan projects that 12 percent of Michigan residents have potential radon problems. According to the Michigan Indoor Radon Residential Survey which was completed in May of 1988, it is estimated that as much as 10-35% of the homes in the Barry-Eaton District Health District have elevated radon levels above the EPA's recommended action level of 4 picoCuries/Liter (.02 working levels).
Since you cannot see, smell, or taste radon gas, the only way you can detect it is by testing. Two common types of in-home radon testing devices readily available through the Barry-Eaton District Health Department are Charcoal Canisters, for short-term screening measurements (4-7 days) and Alpha Track Detectors, for long-term follow-up measurements (90-365 days). Both of these easy to use, passive devices are exposed to the air in a home for a specified period of time, then resealed and mailed to a testing laboratory for analysis. During Radon Action Month (RAM), which is the month of January, short-term test kits are free.

If you’ve tested your home for radon and found elevated radon levels (levels greater than 4 picocuries per liter—4 pCi/l), and if you’ve confirmed those levels with a follow-up test, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality recommends that you take action to reduce your exposure.

 

The most common technique for reducing exposure is to prevent or reduce radon entry. This can sometimes be achieved by caulking and sealing entry points such as the floor/wall joint; sump openings; cracks in the floor or walls; space around plumbing, wiring or ductwork; or openings at the top of a hollow block wall. Unfortunately, caulking and sealing is rarely adequate as a stand-alone reduction technique, though it does sometimes work when the radon levels are only marginally elevated.

 

To achieve guaranteed results; a trained contractor should be hired to install a radon mitigation (reduction) system. Almost any radon level, regardless of how high it is, can be brought down to below 4 pCi/l. The most common technique used in Michigan is active soil depressurization (ASD). This reduction method involves reducing the pressure under the house so radon isn’t being pushed in through openings in the foundation floor or walls.

Mercury is a naturally occurring metallic element that exists in a variety of forms. It is found in soil, water, rocks, and living organisms and it can exist as a gas, a liquid, or a solid. Because it remains liquid at room temperature, mercury is used in many consumer products. Mercury is used in barometers, blood pressure instruments, thermometers, and other pressure-sensing instruments. Batteries containing mercury are used in some small electronic devices. Mercury also has valuable uses in outdoor lighting, motion picture projection, and the making of some medications.

Exposure to even small amounts of mercury over a long period may cause negative health effects including damage to the brain, kidneys, lungs, and the developing fetus. Brief contact with high levels of mercury can cause immediate health effects including loss of appetite, fatigue, insomnia, and changes in behavior or personality. Depending on the length or degree of exposure, additional symptoms such as nausea, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, eye irritation, weight loss, skin rashes, and muscle tremors may occur.

 

When exposure to mercury stops, most symptoms usually go away; however, effects on the brain and nervous system may be permanent. Once mercury has entered the body, it can take months before it is eliminated, mainly through the urine and feces. Levels of mercury can be measured in blood, urine, and scalp hair. These tests may help to predict possible health effects.


See video clip: “Don’t Mess With Mercury”

The amount of liquid mercury from a typical broken thermometer would be considered a small spill. If more mercury than this is spilled, it would be considered a large spill. Some people save mercury from various sources and store the product in containers. This is dangerous because mercury may escape from broken or improperly sealed containers. Individuals may often be exposed without their knowledge.

 

Persons involved in a large mercury spill should leave the area immediately and contact the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality at 1-800-292-4706. Consult with your physician or the Poison Control Center for possible treatment and testing options.

 

The following precautions should be taken if a small mercury spill occurs:

 

  • People not involved in the cleanup should leave the area. 
  • Minimize tracking by removing shoes and clothing. Assume that the clothes of a child who played with mercury are contaminated. Place clothes in a sealed plastic bag and put them outside in a safe place until household trash can be picked up. Do NOT wash in the washing machine. Plastic can be placed on the floors to minimize tracking. 
  • Do NOT use a vacuum cleaner to clean up the spill. A vacuum cleaner will spread the mercury vapors and tiny droplets will settle throughout the area, increasing the spread of contamination and the chance of exposure. 
  • Windows and doors in the area of the spill should be opened to ventilate the area. 
  • Small amounts of mercury can be collected with adhesive tape or an eye dropper and stored in a sealed plastic container until disposal. Turn off the lights and use a flashlight to look for additional mercury beads.
  • If the mercury was spilled over a drain or sink, inspect the traps. If mercury is in the traps, carefully disassemble the plumbing over a container large enough to catch the mercury beads. Clean the traps of all visible mercury using trisodium phosphate detergent solution and rinse with water or replace the traps altogether. 
  • After all visible mercury has been collected, wash the area with trisodium phosphate detergent solution and rinse with water. Allow the area to ventilate for at least 24 hours before reoccupying. 
  • Contaminated carpeting should be removed and discarded, starting with the spill room. 
  • Contaminated materials and mercury collected from small spills may be discarded along with household trash, but should be placed outside in a safe place until the household trash is picked up.
Mercury-containing products should be replaced with safer alternatives. Mercury thermometers and blood pressure devices are available in electronic form. Mercury-containing items such as fluorescent bulbs and old electronic switches should be recycled instead of thrown into the household trash.
You can bring your glass tube mercury thermometers to either the Hastings or Charlotte offices and we’ll give you a brand new digital thermometer while supplies last.

Methamphetamine, or what is commonly referred to as “Meth” is one the most commonly used and manufactured “illegal” drugs in Michigan.   Its harmful effects far outweigh any short-term euphoria it produces.
 

As far as an environmental health concern, many of the chemicals used in making meth are considered to be toxic to the environment and are more than not improperly disposed of into the soil, surface water, or are released into the atmosphere with open burning.

In the manufacturing and smoking of Methamphetamine, both toxic chemicals and gases are produced.  When the chemicals or gases are released into the air, they quickly settle out leaving a toxic residue on surfaces (floors, walls, furniture, clothing, personal belongings, etc.).   With exposure to these toxic chemicals or residues through inhalation and/or ingestion, the health of both people and pets can be adversely affected.  For small children, who are in the cognitive-developmental stages of life, this public health threat can be especially dangerous.

If you have reason to believe that your dwelling or premises may have been used for the production or use of meth, then there are several steps you may want to take.  First would be to have your home evaluated by a trained and reputable consultant familiar with meth.  In addition to a home evaluation, would be to have some analytical testing done to show whether or not any meth residue is still present and to what degree of toxicity.  To find out more about methamphetamine and the risks associated with using methamphetamine, please visit http://www.michigan.gov/documents/mdch/Methamphetamine_2006MSP_rv2011_355108_7.pdf.  You may also want to contact our Department’s Environmental Health Division to see if we have any information regarding a meth lab or meth activities at your home.

 

For guidance on cleaning up a clandestine drug laboratory click here