Monthly Archives: June 2013

When the Bugs Bite

Submitted by contributing blogger Annie Pryor.

All you want to do is sit out in the sun after a long day of work, stretch your legs and read a book; but the mosquitoes are itching to irritate you. Your first reaction is to reach for the bug spray full of what you already know are toxic chemicals and pesticides, like DEET.  But, before you do, give Burt’s Bees All Natural Herbal Insect Repellant a try. You can even make your own mosquito repellants. Essential oils thought to ward off the little buggers include: citronella, lemon grass, lemon eucalyptus, cedar, cinnamon, peppermint, castor, clove, geranium, and rosemary.

In your home you might find it useful to try out this old wives’ tale on for size: fill a plastic bag with water and hang it outside your doorway. It is thought that light reflects in the water, and so intensifies the vividness of the colors a mosquito can see and momentarily blinds them. The air disturbance caused by running ceiling, window, and rotating fans will also help keep mosquitoes from landing on your skin, period.

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The Danger of Carbon Monoxide

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North Carolinians have recently been reminded of the inherent danger of carbon monoxide poisoning. In April of this year at a hotel in Boone, NC, a couple visiting from Washington state died from asphyxiation due to carbon monoxide. The hotel was told to fix the leaking gas heater at the pool immediately, but apparently something went wrong. This past weekend, a child died from carbon monoxide poisoning while staying in the same room as the couple that died less than 60 days ago.

While the most common causes of death from carbon monoxide include running a gas or charcoal grill indoors, operating a generator without proper ventilation, or running a car in an enclosed garage, combustion appliances such as gas stoves, fireplaces and hot water heaters can also leak deadly carbon monoxide (CO) into a room. It doesn’t take much CO to kill a person and it can happen fast, usually while that person is resting or falling off to sleep. What’s more, the victim of CO poisoning doesn’t even realize what is happening.

CO is an odorless and colorless gas, therefore, people have no warning other than a short list of symptoms – that is, if they are awake and paying attention! The symptom list includes severe headaches, dizziness, mental confusion, nausea & fainting. The more CO that is present, the more severe the symptoms and the more important it is to immediately get fresh air. Go outside and take deep breaths as opening windows & doors will usually not reduce the level of CO in a room.

Everyone reading this should take carbon monoxide poisoning seriously, and use CO detectors in their home and workplace. These inexpensive devices could save your life. If you use gas appliances at home, check with your local utility provider or fire station about annual check-ups of your appliances. Private firms with expertise in combustion measurement can also provide this service (full disclosure – ESG measures CO levels at every one of the hundreds of air quality assessments it performs each year & we are happy to assist you).

The deaths at the Best Western in Boone were preventable. Please follow the rules of gas combustion safety and don’t be a senseless victim.

Commercial Foreclosures and Environmental Liability

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Craig Whittaker founded Environmental Solutions Group in 2002 to provide impartial evaluation of properties relative to environmental health. He has assessed more than 1500 properties, has written thousands of environmental reports and is frequently asked to speak about building science issues.

As the housing recovery continues to deplete the existing housing stock, the number of residential foreclosures for sale continues to drop steadily. This is indeed good news for realtors and homebuilders alike, however, there still remains a dark cloud over commercial properties foreclosed upon by the bank. Many of these bank-owned properties reportedly come with an environmental liability, namely mold.

As it’s been nearly three years since I have blogged about the challenge of buying a foreclosed property (see ‘Buyer Beware of Foreclosures’ posted in July 2010), I have some new thoughts that focus on commercial properties. I must first give credit to Russ Banham for his recent article in Business Insurance titled “Foreclosed properties may come with environmental liabilities”. Anyone looking at buying foreclosed commercial property should read Mr. Banham’s article as it delves into the many liabilities faced by banks and buyers – especially mid-market firms without the resources of the big banks to overcome a serious issue.

One of the main concerns with bank-owned properties is the bank having some level of control of the use or operation of the property. This creates bank liability not only for that property, but also for third-party liabilities associated with damage or injury to tenants or an adjacent property owner for contamination that may have migrated to their property. As Mr. Banham states, the issue requires superior due diligence.

Neil Glazer, an attorney and toxic torts expert in New York, has seen the ugly side of commercial foreclosures. Mr. Glazer speaks of banks purchasing commercial properties in bulk with plans to renovate and resell them. The problem is that the properties are often contaminated by mold, which means the bank is going to be paying for what can be a costly cleanup prior to sale.

There are a number of risk management maneuvers the bank can try, such as purchasing environmental impairment liability, pollution liability, secured impaired property insurance and lender’s collateral environmental insurance. Insurance can help create some comfort over taking title to a foreclosed commercial property, but it can be expensive and therefore prohibitive to mid-market institutions. The bank can also attempt to protect itself from liability by asking the borrower to name it as an insured on the borrower’s policy, assuming the borrower carries an environmental insurance and is willing to name the bank on the policy.

 According to Debra Hausser, who markets environmental site and specialties products at Zurich North America, there may be times when a bank wants to assume the environmental liabilities of a foreclosed property. It is often in the best interest of the bank to clean up the property to avoid having to sell it at a discount due to environmental contamination.

 Perhaps the most affordable means for a bank to protect itself is to have an environmental assessment of a property prior to listing it for sale. A good report could be shared with prospective buyers, and the bank would also have an opportunity to correct any glaring issues before a buyer discovers them.