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What is Mold?
Molds are microscopic organisms that can be found everywhere in the environment. They can be found both inside and out, but are most prevalent in moist conditions. Mold grows on plants, foods, leaves, and other organic material. Mold produces spores that travel through the air and can get into your house.
Where Does Mold Grow Inside the Home?
Molds thrive where they can find sources of water, food, and physical space. This includes areas that are moist from flooding, plumbing leaks, roof leaks, showers and bathtubs, refrigerator water pans, clothes dryers that are not vented to the outside, or water found in houseplants. Basements, attics and crawl spaces are common locations for mold to thrive.
What Problems Does Mold Cause?
Mold spores are released into the air, travel inside the home where they may begin to grow and reproduce and are inhaled by occupants. Most molds are not dangerous and only cause allergenic symptoms in humans. Symptoms include: congestion (nasal and sinus), respiratory problems (wheezing, breathing difficulty), burning eyes, blurred vision, sore throat and irritation, possible fever. Cognitive thinking problems have also been linked to mold in homes. Those with asthma or allergies and people with weakened immune systems (children, elderly, pregnant women, cancer or AIDS patients) will have more difficulty coping with mold. Stachybotrys, a toxic mold, has a possible link to infant hemorrhage.
Not all molds are dangerous; however, it is essential to determine if the mold in your home is toxic. USA Today, Dateline, and many other media sources have revealed the increasing alarm about this health problem.
I Can Smell Mold, But I Can't See It
You do not always need to be able to see mold to know that you have a mold problem. Mold can grow inside walls, under carpet or in other areas that are not easy to see. Moldy or earthy smells and any allergic reactions you are experiencing are your clue that you have a mold problem
What are the Different Types of Molds?
There are three basic types of mold
Allergenic molds are the most common types and cause allergenic symptoms.
Mycotoxic molds are toxic to humans and can inhibit or prevent growth of other organisms. Mycotoxins are found in residential homes and commercial buildings and will cause anything from basic irritation to immunosuppressant, cancer or death.
Pathogenic molds cause serious health effects in persons with suppressed immune systems (those taking chemotherapy, infected with HIV/AIDS or other auto-immunity disorders).
As far as species are concerned, there are thousands. Some of the most commonly found molds in homes are: Cladosporium (allergenic mold), Penicillium (mostly allergenic, some species mycotoxic), Aspergillums (mostly allergenic, some species mycotoxic), and Alternaria (mostly allergenic, some species mycotoxic).
How Do I determine if the Mold is Toxic?
It is impossible for people to distinguish between toxic and benign molds just by looking. A professional sample must be taken and sent to a mold laboratory for analysis. If you find mold in your home, it is best to have it tested. Be especially wary of blackish molds. However, it is not necessary to have common "bathroom" mildew tested. Bathroom mildew can usually be cleaned with bleach, does not require a food source (but does require water), and is not toxic.
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What is Asbestos?
Where Can I Find Asbestos?
Because of its fiber strength and heat resistance asbestos has been used in a variety of building construction materials for insulation and as a fire retardant. Asbestos has also been used in a wide range of manufactured goods, mostly in building materials (roofing shingles, ceiling and floor tiles, paper products, and asbestos cement products), friction products (automobile clutch, brake, and transmission parts), heat-resistant fabrics, packaging, gaskets, and coatings.
Most uses of asbestos are not banned. A few are banned under existing regulations.
Where asbestos may be found:
Attic and wall insulation produced containing vermiculite
Vinyl floor tiles and the backing on vinyl sheet flooring and adhesives
Roofing and siding shingles
Textured paint and patching compounds used on wall and ceilings
Walls and floors around wood-burning stoves protected with asbestos paper, millboard, or cement sheets
Hot water and steam pipes coated with asbestos material or covered with an asbestos blanket or tape
Oil and coal furnaces and door gaskets with asbestos insulation
Automobile clutches and brakes
How Can People Be Exposed to Asbestos?
Asbestos fibers may be released into the air by the disturbance of asbestos-containing material during product use, demolition work, building or home maintenance, repair, and remodeling. In general, exposure may occur only when the asbestos-containing material is disturbed or damaged in some way to release particles and fibers into the air.
Health Effects From Exposure to Asbestos
Exposure to asbestos increases your risk of developing lung disease. That risk is made worse by smoking. In general, the greater the exposure to asbestos, the greater the chance of developing harmful health effects.
Disease symptoms may take many years to develop following exposure.
Asbestos-related conditions can be difficult to identify. Healthcare providers usually identify the possibility of asbestos exposure and related health conditions like lung disease by taking a thorough medical history. This includes looking at the person’s medical, work, cultural and environmental history.
After a doctor suspects an asbestos-related health condition, he or she can use a number of tools to help make the actual diagnosis. Some of these tools are physical examination, chest x-ray and pulmonary function tests. Your doctor may also refer you to a specialist who treats diseases caused by asbestos.
Three of the major health effects associated with asbestos exposure are:
mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer that is found in the thin lining of the lung, chest and the abdomen and heart
asbestosis, a serious progressive, long-term, non-cancer disease of the lungs
For more information on these and other health effects of asbestos exposure see the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the National Cancer Institute.or go to EPA.
What is Radon Gas?
Radon Is a Cancer-Causing, Radioactive Gas
You cannot see, smell, or taste radon. But it still may be a problem in your home. When you breathe air containing radon, you increase your risk of getting lung cancer. In fact, the Surgeon General of the United States has warned that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States today. If you smoke and your home has high radon levels, your risk of lung cancer is especially high.
You Should Test for Radon
Testing is the only way to find out your home's radon levels. EPA and the Surgeon General recommend testing all homes below the third floor for radon.
You Can Fix a Radon Problem
If you find that you have high radon levels, there are ways to fix a radon problem. Even very high levels can be reduced to acceptable levels.
If You Are Selling a Home...
EPA recommends that you test your home before putting it on the market and, if necessary, lower your radon levels. Save the test results and all information you have about steps that were taken to fix any problems. This could be a positive selling point.
If You Are Buying a Home...
EPA recommends that you know what the indoor radon level is in any home you consider buying. Ask the seller for their radon test results. If the home has a radon-reduction system, ask the seller for information they have about the system.
If the home has not yet been tested, you should have the housed tested.
If you are having a new home built, there are features that can be incorporated into your home during construction to reduce radon levels.
Why Do You Need to Test for Radon?
A. Radon Has Been Found In Homes All Over the U.S. Radon is a radioactive gas that has been found in homes all over the United States. It comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water and gets into the air you breathe. Radon typically moves up through the ground to the air above and into your home through cracks and other holes in the foundation. Radon can also enter your home through well water. Your home can trap radon inside.
Any home can have a radon problem. This means new and old homes, well-sealed and drafty homes, and homes with or without basements. In fact, you and your family are most likely to get your greatest radiation exposure at home. That is where you spend most of your time.
Nearly 1 out of every 15 homes in the United States is estimated to have an elevated radon level (4 pCi/L or more). Elevated levels of radon gas have been found in homes in your state.
Testing is the only way to know if you and your family are at risk from radon. EPA and the Surgeon General recommend testing all homes below the third floor for radon.
You cannot predict radon levels based on state, local, and neighborhood radon measurements. Do not rely on radon test results taken in other homes in the neighborhood to estimate the radon level in your home. Homes which are next to each other can have different radon levels. Testing is the only way to find out what your home's radon level is.
In some areas, companies may offer different types of radon service agreements. Some agreements let you pay a one-time fee that covers both testing and radon mitigation, if needed.
What is Carbon Monoxide?
CO is a colorless, odorless, toxic gas. It is produced by the incomplete combustion of solid, liquid and gaseous fuels. Appliances fueled with gas, oil, kerosene, or wood may produce CO. If such appliances are not installed, maintained, and used properly, CO may accumulate to dangerous levels.
What are the symptoms of CO poisoning and why are these symptoms particularly dangerous?
Breathing CO causes symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, and weakness in healthy people. CO also causes sleepiness, nausea, vomiting, confusion and disorientation. At very high levels, it causes loss of consciousness and death.
This is particularly dangerous because CO effects often are not recognized. CO is odorless and some of the symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to the flu or other common illnesses.
Are some people more affected by exposure to CO than others?
CO exposures especially affect unborn babies, infants, and people with anemia or a history of heart disease. Breathing low levels of the chemical can cause fatigue and increase chest pain in people with chronic heart disease.
Detectors should measure both high CO concentrations over short periods of time and low CO concentrations over long periods of time - the effects of CO can be cumulative over time. The detectors also sound an alarm before the level of CO in a person's blood would become crippling. CO detectors that meet the UL 2034 standard currently cost between $35 and $80.
Where the detector should be installed?
CO gases distribute evenly and fairly quickly throughout the house; therefore, a CO detector should be installed on the wall or ceiling in sleeping area/s but outside individual bedrooms to alert occupants who are sleeping.
Aren't there safety devices already on some appliances? And if so, why is a CO detector needed?
Vent safety shutoff systems have been required on furnaces and vented heaters since the late 1980s. They protect against blocked or disconnected vents or chimneys. Oxygen depletion sensors (ODS) have also been installed on unvented gas space heaters since the 1980s. ODS protect against the production of CO caused by insufficient oxygen for proper combustion. These devices (ODSs and vent safety shutoff systems) are not a substitute for regular professional servicing, and many older, potentially CO-producing appliances may not have such devices. Therefore, a CO detector is still important in any home as another line of defense.
Are there other CO detectors that are less expensive?
There are inexpensive cardboard or plastic detectors that change color and do not sound an alarm and have a limited useful life. They require the occupant to look at the device to determine if CO is present. CO concentrations can build up rapidly while occupants are asleep, and these devices would not sound an alarm to wake them.
For additional information, write to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Washington, D.C., 20207, call the toll-free hotline at 1-800-638-2772, or visit the website http://www.cpsc.gov