mold

A Premature Plunge into the Gowanus Canal

By Marcia Anderson

Schools can harbor mold that triggers asthma in students.

Schools can harbor mold that triggers asthma in students.

When I was in EPA Region 2 (New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands) I visited several schools that had questions about mold. This prompted a follow-up discussion with Mark Berry, EPA’s Region 6 (Serving Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and 66 Tribes) Indoor Air Quality Coordinator about common mold questions resulting from these visits. An earlier blog looked at general questions about mold and moisture. Here, we focus on these issues in schools.

What are the most impacted areas in school buildings?

Areas without adequate air flow by themselves are not, necessarily the issue – it is areas where it is damp or humid and the airflow isn’t adequate enough to help dry up the moisture. Problem areas may be in the walls behind restrooms, kitchens, gyms, facility manager closets, near air conditioners, compressors and in damp basements. Moisture problems in schools may also be associated with delayed or insufficient maintenance due to budget and other constraints. Temporary structures, such as trailers and portable classrooms, have frequently been associated with moisture and mold problems. Most respiratory issues are associated with poor ventilation or outdated HVAC units. Mold is often targeted as the cause for illness, but, in fact, the mold is an indicator of moisture.

One area that is often impacted by mold and moisture problems in schools are gym locker rooms. Do you have any advice for school facility managers?

It is common for mold to grow on and around areas that are continuously wet. The moisture has a tendency to increase the relative humidity levels in a building, providing the perfect environment for mold and mold spores to grow.

  • Vent showers and other moisture-generating sources to the outside;
  • Control humidity levels and dampness by using air conditioners and de-humidifiers to provide adequate ventilation.
  • Maintain indoor humidity levels between 30-60 percent.
  • Students should remove clothing from their gym lockers at least weekly, and damp laundry, such as towels, should be removed daily.

For existing mold, the first step is to eliminate the moisture source, then take appropriate steps to clean it up. The EPA does not encourage the use of harsh chemicals for mold clean-up. Soap and water will suffice. These measures, along with monitoring for adequate ventilation, locker checks and educating students about the importance of following these guidelines, will go a long way to decreasing mold in your school.

Mold and moisture problems in the basement of an older school.

Mold and moisture problems in the basement of an older school.

What do we do if we suspect hidden mold?

Investigating hidden mold problems may be difficult and will require caution when it involves disturbing potential sites of mold growth. If you believe that you may have a hidden mold problem, consider hiring an experienced professional.

What can building facility managers do to decrease the incidence of mold in their buildings?

EPA’s guidance is solutions based – to focus on the source of the moisture that feeds the mold. The three principles of mold remediation are:

  1. Fix and eliminate the moisture source.
  2. Clean and remove mold and mold spores. In many cases detergent and water will be sufficient – there is no need to use harsh chemicals that may endanger your health. Follow all manufacturer’s directions when using cleaning products.
  3. Dry out the area. If you continue to see mold growing, you have not eliminated the moisture source and should repeat step 1.

Does carpet cause mold or related allergy problems in schools?

Carpet use in schools provides a decrease in noise, falls and injuries. Mold problems can be encountered with carpet and many other materials if the school has any type of water intrusion or moisture problem, such as a leaky roof. If carpeting remains damp, it can become a primary source for microbial growth, which frequently results in adverse health effects. Carpet and other furnishings that become significantly water damaged should be removed and discarded. Use care to prevent excess moisture or cleaning residue accumulation and ensure that cleaned areas are dried quickly. In areas where there is a perpetual moisture, do not install carpeting (i.e., by drinking fountains, by classroom sinks, or on concrete floors with leaks or frequent condensation).

How does mold affect asthma?

Molds can trigger asthma episodes in sensitive individuals with asthma. People with asthma should limit contact with and exposure to areas contaminated with a mold presence. However, remember that molds are a natural part of the environment – and it is impossible to totally avoid mold for asthmatics. EPA provides very useful information on mold and asthma.

How does mold remediation compare to Integrated Pest Management (IPM)?

IPM and mold remediation are both based on the principle of limiting sources of the primary needs for life – but they are very different practices. Molds are microscopic fungi that grow best in damp places such as kitchens, bathrooms and basements. Mold has the same basic needs as any pest: 1. Mold needs a surface to grow on; 2. Food (paper, wood, carpet, food, insulation or other organic fibers); and 3. Water (moisture to germinate and grow). IPM is similar, in that it employs common sense strategies to reduce sources of food, water and shelter for pests in your school buildings. If just one of the essential components that a pest needs to survive can be removed, then the pest cannot survive. In the case of mold, remove the moisture. Mold problem solved.

For more information on controlling mold and moisture, visit www.epa.gov/mold

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

When it Rains, it Molds: Part 2 of 2

By Marcia Anderson

Schools can harbor mold that triggers asthma in students.

Schools can harbor mold that triggers asthma in students.

When I was in EPA Region 2 (New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands) I visited several schools that had questions about mold. This prompted a follow-up discussion with Mark Berry, EPA’s Region 6 (Serving Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and 66 Tribes) Indoor Air Quality Coordinator about common mold questions resulting from these visits. An earlier blog looked at general questions about mold and moisture. Here, we focus on these issues in schools.

What are the most impacted areas in school buildings?

Areas without adequate air flow by themselves are not, necessarily the issue – it is areas where it is damp or humid and the airflow isn’t adequate enough to help dry up the moisture. Problem areas may be in the walls behind restrooms, kitchens, gyms, facility manager closets, near air conditioners, compressors and in damp basements. Moisture problems in schools may also be associated with delayed or insufficient maintenance due to budget and other constraints. Temporary structures, such as trailers and portable classrooms, have frequently been associated with moisture and mold problems. Most respiratory issues are associated with poor ventilation or outdated HVAC units. Mold is often targeted as the cause for illness, but, in fact, the mold is an indicator of moisture.

One area that is often impacted by mold and moisture problems in schools are gym locker rooms. Do you have any advice for school facility managers?

It is common for mold to grow on and around areas that are continuously wet. The moisture has a tendency to increase the relative humidity levels in a building, providing the perfect environment for mold and mold spores to grow.

  • Vent showers and other moisture-generating sources to the outside;
  • Control humidity levels and dampness by using air conditioners and de-humidifiers to provide adequate ventilation.
  • Maintain indoor humidity levels between 30-60 percent.
  • Students should remove clothing from their gym lockers at least weekly, and damp laundry, such as towels, should be removed daily.

For existing mold, the first step is to eliminate the moisture source, then take appropriate steps to clean it up. The EPA does not encourage the use of harsh chemicals for mold clean-up. Soap and water will suffice. These measures, along with monitoring for adequate ventilation, locker checks and educating students about the importance of following these guidelines, will go a long way to decreasing mold in your school.

Mold and moisture problems in the basement of an older school.

Mold and moisture problems in the basement of an older school.

What do we do if we suspect hidden mold?

Investigating hidden mold problems may be difficult and will require caution when it involves disturbing potential sites of mold growth. If you believe that you may have a hidden mold problem, consider hiring an experienced professional.

What can building facility managers do to decrease the incidence of mold in their buildings?

EPA’s guidance is solutions based – to focus on the source of the moisture that feeds the mold. The three principles of mold remediation are:

  1. Fix and eliminate the moisture source.
  2. Clean and remove mold and mold spores. In many cases detergent and water will be sufficient – there is no need to use harsh chemicals that may endanger your health. Follow all manufacturer’s directions when using cleaning products.
  3. Dry out the area. If you continue to see mold growing, you have not eliminated the moisture source and should repeat step 1.

Does carpet cause mold or related allergy problems in schools?

Carpet use in schools provides a decrease in noise, falls and injuries. Mold problems can be encountered with carpet and many other materials if the school has any type of water intrusion or moisture problem, such as a leaky roof. If carpeting remains damp, it can become a primary source for microbial growth, which frequently results in adverse health effects. Carpet and other furnishings that become significantly water damaged should be removed and discarded. Use care to prevent excess moisture or cleaning residue accumulation and ensure that cleaned areas are dried quickly. In areas where there is a perpetual moisture, do not install carpeting (i.e., by drinking fountains, by classroom sinks, or on concrete floors with leaks or frequent condensation).

How does mold affect asthma?

Molds can trigger asthma episodes in sensitive individuals with asthma. People with asthma should limit contact with and exposure to areas contaminated with a mold presence. However, remember that molds are a natural part of the environment – and it is impossible to totally avoid mold for asthmatics. EPA provides very useful information on mold and asthma.

How does mold remediation compare to Integrated Pest Management (IPM)?

IPM and mold remediation are both based on the principle of limiting sources of the primary needs for life – but they are very different practices. Molds are microscopic fungi that grow best in damp places such as kitchens, bathrooms and basements. Mold has the same basic needs as any pest: 1. Mold needs a surface to grow on; 2. Food (paper, wood, carpet, food, insulation or other organic fibers); and 3. Water (moisture to germinate and grow). IPM is similar, in that it employs common sense strategies to reduce sources of food, water and shelter for pests in your school buildings. If just one of the essential components that a pest needs to survive can be removed, then the pest cannot survive. In the case of mold, remove the moisture. Mold problem solved.

For more information on controlling mold and moisture, visit www.epa.gov/mold

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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When it Rains, it Molds

Part 1 of 2

By Marcia Anderson

Mold spores up close

Mold spores up close

When I went back home recently to visit my family, I noticed a number of mold spots on the ceiling in multiple rooms. A result of roof water damage from the winter ice and snow the northeast experienced this year. This prompted me to have an interview with Mark Berry, EPA’s Indoor Air Quality Coordinator for Region 6 (serving Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and 66 Tribes). Here are his responses to some common questions about mold and moisture.

  1. What is it that many people misunderstand about mold? It is important to view mold, not as a mold issue, but as a moisture issue. People think that mold is a hazardous material. Most people do not realize that mold and mold spores are all around us. Molds live in the soil, on plants, and on dead or decaying matter. Outdoors, molds play a key role in the breakdown of leaves, wood, and other plant debris. Molds produce tiny spores to reproduce, just as some plants produce seeds. These mold spores can be found in both indoor and outdoor air, and settled on indoor and outdoor surfaces. When mold spores land on a damp spot, they may begin growing. It is important not to provide the moist environment mold needs to grow.The solution to the problem is to find and eliminate the moisture source first, and not focus only on the mold. Removing the mold alone does not solve the problem. If the water remains, new mold will grow in the same area.
  1. Mold spreads in the damp area behind a sink

    Mold spreads in the damp area behind a sink

    Should I use bleach to clean up my mold? In most cases using bleach isn’t necessary. Soap and water will often do the trick. Using bleach or some other harsh chemical cleaners can create a breathing hazard for you. If you choose to use disinfectants or biocides, always follow manufacturer’s directions, ventilate the area and exhaust the air to the outdoors. Never mix chlorine bleach solution with other cleaning solutions or detergents that contain ammonia because toxic fumes could be produced.

  1. Can I just paint over the mold? Many people see mold, spray some chemical then paint over it, thinking that will solve the problem. Mold can grow between the paint and the wall in all directions. The paint merely acts as a temporary cover-up. The issue with the paint is that it traps moisture between the paint and the wall, further aiding and abetting the growth of mold. Fix the source of the moisture first, and then take the appropriate steps to clean the affected area or remove it altogether.
  1. What are your most compelling mold calls? Landlord /tenant disputes over mold are our most frequent calls. We attempt to educate and make suggestions for remediation that may be used or not used by the caller’s choice. Callers need to consider the problem as both a building water issue as opposed to a mold issue. This strategy addresses the cause of the mold infestation and not the symptom. We try to get to the root cause of the problem and ease the caller’s concerns. Mold is essentially the result of water damage.
  1. Is there more mold in different parts of the country? Yes, and No. We have more mold inquiries in humid areas because the mold continually gets fed more moisture which allows it to flourish. However, mold can grow everywhere and can exist in a broad range of temperatures and humidity levels. Although moisture is necessary for growth there are molds which prefer drier environments and would need much less than other types to survive.
  1. Mold can be a variety of colors

    Mold can be a variety of colors

    What are your most frequent calls? “I’ve got mold problems can you do something to help me?” EPA Region 6’s Indoor Air Quality program (IAQ) is a voluntary program primarily responsible for conducting outreach and educating the public about indoor environmental issues, including health risks and the means by which human exposures can be reduced. IAQ educates the public about indoor environmental pollutants and sources of pollution, including mold. However, EPA does not have any regulatory authority to control mold in private residences nor do we have the resources to inspect individual homes.

    The EPA does not conduct mold cleanups, but we do provide the education necessary to give people the strategy and empowerment needed to solve the problem. We recognize the health danger to schools, homes and places of work. The EPA is the technical lead in mold research from which many states and local agencies borrow.

  1. Is testing for mold necessary?
    In most cases, if visible mold is present, sampling is not necessary. Since no EPA or other federal limits have been set for mold or mold spores, sampling cannot be used to check a building’s compliance with federal mold standards. Remember that mold and mold spores are natural in the environment so any sampling will result in finding mold.

For more information on controlling mold and moisture, visit www.epa.gov/mold

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Radon Risk? You Don’t Know Until You Test

By Henry Slack

My neighbors Pete and Beth (not their real names) met while in their twenties, and got married. A great couple. Had two beautiful girls, who grew up in no time at all – field trips and soccer, high school sports, college, adventures abroad. A strong couple, who helped lead the PTA, the band parents, you name it. Never smoked, good folks, the kind you like to have as neighbors.

Then Pete got lung cancer. They had some optimism over treatment, but the optimism faded as the disease strengthened, and he passed pretty quickly. Lung cancer, unfortunately, has a survival rate lower than many other types of cancer.

I don’t know for sure that Pete’s lung cancer was caused by radon. But, radon is the #1 cause of lung cancer for non-smokers. Elevated radon is found in one out of 15 homes nationally, and the only way to know if a home has high levels is to test it.

As EPA’s indoor air guy for the southeast, I get calls every day. Most people are worried about mold. A few are worried about odors, or chemicals they may have been exposed to, or some health issue that they think might be related to indoor air quality. Very few people call with concerns about radon – and yet, radioactive radon gas kills more people than any of those other things that people call about. Radon kills over 21,000 people a year in the U.S.

Twenty-one thousand. That’s around 400 a week, every week, every year. Some of them are parents, spouses, partners, best friends, and neighbors who leave behind a world of grief for family, like Beth.

Test your home. It’s easy and inexpensive. You can get low-cost test kits online through the National Radon Program Services or other vendors. And if you have a high level – 4 picocuries and above – get your home fixed.

About the Author: Henry Slack has been the Indoor Air coordinator in Region 4 since 1991 and still enjoys it. A mechanical engineer by training, he’s on the Radon Team, but has had assignments to CDC and Barbados. In 2014, he became a Distinguished Lecturer for American Society of Heating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), speaking about mold, indoor air, and ventilation.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Moisture Control: A Key Factor for a Healthy Indoor Environment

EPA’s mission is to protect public health and the environment. While a large part of this mission involves protecting the air and water outdoors, we also need to make sure that people have the tools and information they need to keep the air clean in the areas where they spend up to 90 percent of their time – indoors.  And the agency is doing that through voluntary actions and information sharing, not regulations.

Some of the biggest threats to indoor air quality stem from moisture issues. Leaking roofs, plumbing problems, condensation issues, poor indoor humidity control, and lack of drainage around the base of buildings are commonly reported causes of moisture problems in the United States. Not only does excess moisture damage the structural integrity of buildings, it can increase people’s exposure to mold and other biological contaminants. Such exposure is associated with increases in the occurrence and severity of allergies, asthma and other respiratory illnesses. And, climate change will only worsen these issues as we see an increase in the frequency and intensity of severe storms and flooding that damages homes and buildings.

The good news is moisture problems in buildings can be controlled with steps that can be taken to make buildings more moisture resilient. For example, design landscaping to slope away from building foundations. Doing simple steps like this can prevent economic losses on multiple fronts by avoiding building damage as well as negative health impacts as it makes our indoor spaces healthier and more comfortable.

That’s why EPA pulled together experts from across the country to develop new, practical, state-of-the-art guidance for controlling moisture in buildings.  EPA recently published the result of that work, entitled, “Moisture Control Guidance for Building Design, Construction and Maintenance.” Encouraging voluntary actions to control moisture and other indoor contaminants will be a critical part of our climate adaptation strategy for ensuring healthy buildings as we continue to address our changing climate.

The key to controlling mold and many other indoor contaminants is moisture control.  It’s a simple concept, but it takes attention to detail to get it right. That’s why this practical guidance will be helpful to people who design, build or keep buildings working. Building professionals who incorporate the principles provided in this guide can enhance the health and productivity of Americans and the sustainability and resiliency of our communities. While this guidance is primarily for building professionals, EPA also offers mold and moisture control guidance for homeowners and residents at epa.gov/mold.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Greening Your Home for the Holidays

By Lina Younes

 As the holidays are fast approaching, now may be a good time to make some green repairs before the festivities. Personally, I’ve always been intrigued by the fact that here on the mainland many people consider spring to be the ideal season for giving the house a good cleaning or overhaul. I remember growing up in Puerto Rico, where the favored time for home makeovers was the fall. One of the main reasons for the different home improvement habits might be the changing seasons. Since in Puerto Rico we had summer virtually all year round, the motivation to fix the house usually was linked to the anticipated arrival of guests over the holidays.

So what can you do to make your home a more welcoming, healthier and greener environment for your family and friends? Here are some suggestions.

  • Clean your air filters regularly to improve the indoor air quality in your home.
  • Look for mold in your home: it’ll grow in areas where there’s water or moisture. Clean the mold on hard surfaces. Discard those items that cannot be cleaned and make necessary repairs to solve the moisture problem to prevent it from reoccurring.
  • Paint your home to brighten it up. However, if it was built before 1978, it might have some old lead-based paint which can hurt you and your family. Make sure painting and repairs are done safely to prevent lead poisoning
  • If you’re renovating your bathrooms or kitchen, consider installing toilets and water fixtures with the WaterSense label. They’re more efficient, so they’ll save water and money while protecting the environment.
  • Heat and cool your home more efficiently with Energy Star. You’ll reduce your energy bills and make your home more comfortable while reducing your carbon footprint.
  • Think of ways you can reduce waste during the holidays, like using reusable plates and silverware and storing food and leftovers in reusable containers.

Are you planning any green repairs for the holidays? Let us know.

 About the author:  Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

 

 

 

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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For A Safe And Healthy Home

By Lina Younes

Are you handy around the house? Are you skilled at using tools and fixing things? Would you consider yourself a do-it-yourselfer? Well, certain home repairs and remodeling activities can harm your health and that of your family if not done properly.

Here are some tips to make those needed repairs while protecting your home environment:

Lead– Do you live in a home built before 1978? It may have lead-based paint. Lead is a toxic metal that adversely affects people’s nervous system and causes behavioral, learning and hearing problems. If you are going to paint your home, you should work safely. Use protective clothing and the right equipment to prevent old lead-based paint chips or lead dust from contaminating the air during the renovation process.

Mold – Do you have leaky faucets or water damage inside your home? Moisture or water accumulation may lead to a problem with mold. In turn, mold spores indoors can cause allergic reactions and other health problems. It’s important to fix any plumbing or water problems as soon as possible. Dry all items completely.

Indoor air quality – Poor ventilation is one of the main culprits of poor indoor air quality. Clean your air filters regularly to ensure good air quality and improve the energy efficiency of your air conditioning and heating system. Not only does that improve your health and the efficiency of your system, but in the long run it saves you money, too.

Pesticides – When it comes to pest control, prevention is key. However, if in spite of your best efforts towards integrated pest management, those unwanted creatures infest your home, what should you do? Use pesticides properly and start by reading the label first.

As you can see, with some simple steps, you can make sure that your home is a healthy place for you and your family. Here is some additional information to help you save energy, save money and make your home greener and healthier.

Do you have any do-it-yourself tips that you would like to share with us? We would love to hear from you.

About the author:  Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Making a Healthy Home for a Healthier Life

By Lina Younes

There are many expressions regarding the concept of the home. My favorites are “home is where the heart is” and in Spanish, the welcoming expression, “mi casa es su casa” (my home is your home).  But have you stopped to think if your home is truly a warm, inviting and HEALTHY environment?

Did you know that our homes may have hidden environmental risks that may affect our health? What are some of these environmental risks?

  • Indoor air quality – Poor ventilation systems may lead to indoor air pollution that in turn can adversely affect people with asthma or heart and respiratory problems.
  • Mold – Do you have a leaky faucet or roof? Excess moisture may lead to the growth of mold which is a known trigger of asthma attacks.
  • Lead – Was your house built before 1978? It may have lead-based paint. Lead is a toxic metal that adversely affects people’s nervous system and causes behavioral, learning and hearing problems.
  • Radon – Did you know that radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers? Radon is an invisible and odorless gas produced during the natural process of the decomposition of uranium. The gas may accumulate inside your home leading to radon exposure. Have your home tested!
  • Pests – Household pests can carry diseases and trigger asthma attacks. Use integrated pest management techniques. Don’t give pests any food, water or shelter in your home.
  • Pesticides:  Read the label before using pesticides to get rid of pests. Used improperly, pesticides may harm a developing child by blocking the absorption of food nutrients necessary for normal growth.  Also, during “critical periods” of human development (including infancy and childhood), exposure to toxins can permanently alter the way a person’s biological systems operate.

Given these potential environmental hazards in our home that may lead to serious public health problems, federal agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), are working to improve the safety of your home.  Just this week, EPA and its sister agencies launched a new initiative Advancing Healthy Housing – A Strategy for Action” to establish a comprehensive agenda for addressing environmental health and safety hazards in our nation’s housing.

Advancing Healthy Housing – A Strategy for Action shows how federal agencies and our partners, at all levels, can collaborate to prevent health threats associated with the home environment. You can do your part to make sure your home is safe for you and your family.  Simple steps for identifying and addressing hazards in the home can be found in EPA’s Healthy Homes  brochure, “Make Your House a Healthy Home.”

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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After the Storm

By Lina Younes

As millions of residents along the mid-Atlantic and northeastern regions of the United States are getting their lives back in order after Sandy’s vicious rampage, many are still dealing with the storm’s aftermath: severe flooding.

One of the many problems with flood water is that it may contain high levels of raw sewage and other contaminants that are hazardous to both your health and the environment. Above all, limit your contact with flood water!

If you were fortunate in not having flood water in your area, but still have water problems inside your home, remove and clean any water damaged items in order to avoid mold buildup. Controlling moisture is key to controlling mold in indoor environments. Exposure to mold has potential health effects that include allergic reactions, asthma attacks and other respiratory complaints. So address any water damage in your home quickly to protect your health and your family.

Are you concerned about the water quality in your area? Have you been informed by local authorities on the need to boil your water? Here you will find some valuable information on emergency disinfection of drinking water.

While utilities and local authorities are working around the clock to make sure that power is restored as quickly as possible, there are still residents without electricity due to Sandy’s wrath. Above all, do not use generators in enclosed areas inside the home or even in the garage. Why may you ask? Because generator exhaust is extremely toxic and may be lethal. Generator exhaust contains deadly carbon monoxide.  Avoid using a generator or other combustion appliances inside the home.

Please be mindful that children and the elderly need special attention during these natural disasters. I know from my own personal experience listening to my parents mention that they simply “don’t feel thirsty.” Losing the sense of thirst with age puts the elderly at a greater risk of dehydration. Make sure they drink enough water even when they say they don’t feel like it.

Simple tips to help us recover from the storm. Hope they are helpful. Do you have any tips you would like to share with us?

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Spring Cleaning? What About Air Ducts?

By Kelly Hunt

It’s spring. How can I tell? Mailings about air duct cleaning. It makes sense that they come now, while us home dwellers prep for the warmer months by cleaning and doing home repairs. But do I need to get the air ducts in my home cleaned? Can this affect the air I breathe indoors? Does that impact my health?

Lucky for me, I work with experts who happily helped me navigate this question. Don’t you fret, though — all of their words of wisdom are on EPA’s Web page on air ducts for you to view anytime, so you’ll be able to make the best decision for you.

Things I learned:

  • First, be familiar with general indoor air quality tips to reduce risk: control pollution sources in the home, change filters regularly and adjust humidity.
  • Air duct cleaning has never been shown to actually prevent health problems. Scientific studies are inconclusive on whether dust levels in homes increase because of dirty air ducts.
  • Indoor pollutants that enter from outdoors or come from indoor activities — like cooking, cleaning or smoking — may cause greater exposure to contaminants than dirty air ducts.
  • You need to inspect your air ducts to determine whether or not they need to be cleaned.

You should consider air duct cleaning if:

  • There’s substantial, visible mold growth inside the ducts or on parts of your HVAC system. (If there’s mold, there’s likely a moisture problem. A professional should find the cause of the water problem and fix it.) If you consult a professional, make sure they SHOW you the mold before moving forward.
  • The ducts are infested with rodents or insects. Not okay.
  • The ducts are clogged with excessive amounts of dust and debris that are actually released into the home from vents.

If you find any of those problems, identify the underlying cause before cleaning, retrofitting or replacing your ducts. If you don’t, the problem will likely happen again.

There’s little evidence that cleaning your air ducts will improve health or, alone, will increase efficiency. To learn about HVAC maintenance and efficiency, see our Heating and Cooling Efficiently page.

Decision, decisions. If I decide to get my air ducts cleaned, I’ll make sure to follow the advice of EPA experts. I’ll also carefully check the service provider’s track record before doing anything. And I’ll remember to SEE, with my own eyes, mold growth or other problems before making a final decision.

About the author: Kelly Hunt, is a communications specialist with EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. Her career in public affairs began in 2001 and she now focuses on emergency response, outreach and engagement for radiation and indoor air issues.

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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