Monthly Archives: May 2013

Take Care of Your Air When Remodeling

Craig Whittaker headshot smallCraig Whittaker founded Environmental Solutions Group in 2002 to provide impartial evaluation of properties relative to environmental health and safety. He has assessed thousands of properties for a variety of health hazards.  Many of these properties were contaminate-free until a remodeling project took place.

Are you planning on redecorating or remodeling this summer? If you’re like most people, you have concentrated on choosing colors and materials and trying to find a contractor who can create your out-of-this-world space at a down-to-earth price. Have you also thought about the dust, odors, mold and bacteria spores, and emissions from new finishes that will undoubtedly accompany your project?

Consider the case of Mary, who had our company collect air quality readings after having her kitchen cabinets refinished in white. The painting contractor did beautiful work on the cabinets, Mary said, but she complained of a layer of white dust all over her house. Even though the contractor hung up plastic around the kitchen, he did not seal the plastic or turn off the air conditioning. Mary could even see white specks inside their ductwork and was concerned about her family breathing all this dust until they could have it cleaned up.

Although the painting contractor scored an ‘A’ for the cabinet finish, they failed miserably on controlling the overspray. To make matters worse, they did not carry insurance to pay for the thousands of dollars in necessary cleanup costs. Mary was left with no option but to hire a crew herself and then sue the contractor, who happened to be a friend, for the cost incurred. Kind of spoiled the new cabinets for Mary’s family.

The EPA makes the following recommendations when remodeling, and I heartily agree with all of them:

1)   communicate your concerns about preventing indoor air quality problems to everyone involved with your remodeling project;

2)   specify products and processes that will minimize emissions and odor. Ask for the MSDS sheets for all glues & varnishes;

3)   ask the contractor to schedule sanding, varnishing or other dusty activities for when the family will not be home;

4)   seal return grills so that contaminants are not re-circulated from the construction area into adjoining areas, and install temporary plastic barriers to confine dust and noise. Barriers should be tightly sealed so that very little can escape from the construction area;

5)   temporarily install exhaust fans in areas where VOC-producing finishes or glues are used;

6)   ask suppliers to store new furnishings such as cabinets in a clean, dry & ventilated area for several days prior to installation in your home. Minimize the use of glues and specify low-emission products (see #2 above). Once furnishings are installed, increase ventilation to flush with outdoor air and dilute the VOCs. Odors that linger can attach to soft goods in the home and remain an unwanted guest for weeks.

I hope these suggestions will spare some homeowners the inconvenience and expense of having to clean up a mess left by a well-meaning contractor.


Can Mold Cause Cancer?

Craig Whittaker headshot smallCraig Whittaker founded Environmental Solutions Group in 2002 to provide impartial evaluation of properties relative to environmental health. A doctoral member of the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, he is frequently asked to speak about toxins in the home and has conducted hundreds of assessments in a wide variety of building types.

Our environmental investigators are in hundreds of residences and commercial buildings every year. Years ago, the most common question we were asked was, “Do I have black mold?” Over time, the issue of black mold has calmed down some, however, a new question has entered the minds of our clients: “Can mold cause cancer?”

The short answer is yes. Researchers have known for decades that the aflatoxin present in some species of mold can cause liver cancer when ingested on food. As a result, many crops are sprayed with fungicides to help reduce fungal growth. In this country, the FDA regulates the level of mold in grains such as corn.

This is not necessarily the answer our client is looking for. They want to know if having mold in their home or office could make someone they care about develop cancer. As most people are not going to eat a helping of moldy food, what they are really concerned about is being exposed through the air.

While research is ongoing about the role of mycotoxins from mold and their relation to human illness, the medical community has established that exposure to damp buildings and/or mold causes systemic  inflammation in some people due to repeated activation of immune cells. Dr. Claudia Miller, M.D., and          professor at the University of Texas School of Medicine, has even introduced a term to describe what occurs: TILT, for “toxicant induced loss of tolerance”. The phrase ‘loss of tolerance’ is intended to avoid  confusion with ‘sensitivity’ or ‘sensitization’, terms used by allergists to describe well-defined immune          responses. Loss of tolerance is described as a loss of natural tolerance to low levels of environmental  chemicals from contaminants including mold.

To make the inflammation and cancer connection, one only needs to consult the medical literature. One example is found in Dr. Harold Dvorak’s article, “Tumors: Wounds That Do Not Heal”, published in 1986 in the New England Journal of Medicine. Dvorak, a professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School, was one of the first modern physicians to present compelling evidence linking chronic inflammation to the manufacture of cancerous growths. Twenty years after Dvorak’s article was published, the National Cancer Institute reported that cancer cells need to produce inflammation in order to create the blood          supply vital to their growth. If inflammation already exists, the cancer cells will use the chemicals produced by the inflammation to spread and reproduce.

The feeling of helplessness that often grips the occupants of a moldy property can provide  additional assistance to cancer cells. In his bestselling book, Anticancer, a New Way of Life, Dr. David Servan-Schreiber addresses helplessness and its effect on cancerous tumor when he states, “It is now          known that feelings of helplessness can cause the release of hormones that activate the body’s emergency systems – such as the inflammatory response – which can facilitate the growth and spread of tumors.”

It makes sense to follow the EPA’s suggestion and eliminate mold growth from inside a building, especially if you have a concern about cancer.

Don’t get “floxed”! or how mold sneezes at antibiotics

Walt SchnabelWalt Schnabel is an Environmental Investigator with ESG who assesses an average of ten residential homes every week. Always on a quest to help his clients, this post from Walt takes a look at antibiotics and how they may not always be the best answer to sinus issues.

Every day our office gets a call from someone who is “having sinus issues” or “allergy symptoms”. As an Environmental Investigator, I interact with these clients on a daily basis. One of my questions to clients who have allergies is, “Are you currently taking any medications?” Many of them answer yes, explaining that they are taking antibiotics for their sinus infection or related symptoms.

A recent article in the New York Times titled “Popular Antibiotics May Carry Serious Side Effects” by Jane E. Brody, both amazed and alarmed me. The author discusses a class of antibiotics known as fluoroquinolones. The author states:

“The best known are Cipro (ciprofloxacin), Levaquin (levofloxacin) and Avelox (moxifloxacin). In 2010, Levaquin was the best-selling antibiotic in the United States. But by last year it was also the subject of more than 2,000 lawsuits from patients who had suffered severe reactions after taking it.

Part of the problem is that fluoroquinolones are often inappropriately prescribed. Instead of being reserved for use against serious, perhaps life-threatening bacterial infections like hospital-acquired pneumonia, these antibiotics are frequently prescribed for sinusitis, bronchitis, earaches and other ailments that may resolve on their own or can be treated with less potent drugs or non-drug remedies — or are caused by viruses, which are not susceptible to antibiotics.”

For the full article, visit

The CDC also has a section on their website, “Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work”, where it states that “Most sinus infections are caused by a virus” and “Sinus infections are rarely caused by bacteria”. The CDC lists the other causes of sinus infections as:


Pollutants (airborne chemicals or irritants such as dust)

Fungal infections

Structural problems within the nasal cavity

A weak immune system

A review of the indoor environment in your home for dust, molds or other contaminants may be the first step to better health!