Mold Scams. Is anything really Free???

July 18, 2012

ImageMore often than not, free comes with a hefty price that ends up costing far more than you thought it would and never has that been truer than in the mold business.

The safest thing consumers can do whenever the word “FREE” is used to sell a mold remediation job is to avoid that contractor all together. Think about it. No one is in business to do anything for free. Anyone offering something for free is doing so to sell you something else. While that may be fine when it comes to “buy one – get one free” deals offered on TV infomercials, in the mold business a free inspections and testing can end up costing you thousands of dollars for remediation work that may be grossly exaggerated or in some cases doesn’t need to be done at all.

The biggest mold scam is and always has been – mold remediation contractors who perform “FREE” mold inspections. When it comes to mold, you do NOT want a mold inspector who is motivated to find mold removal jobs for themselves.

Mold remediation is a very profitable business and engaging in both mold inspections and mold remediation is a serious conflict of interest. The potential for fraudulently creating thousands of dollars in bogus and unnecessary mold remediation work is tremendous and – unfortunately – an everyday occurrence in this industry.

This fraudulent practice of the mold remediation contractor securing work by providing “FREE” mold inspections then offering to remediate the mold is against the Law in the State of Florida.

Your Mold Remediator and Mold Inspector MUST be Licensed by the State of Florida. Under the Florida Licensing Law the Mold Remediator Cannot perform Mold Remediation on any job that he or she has performed the Mold Inspection.

This is the oldest mold scam in the mold remediation and restoration industry and it’s easy to pull off because most consumers don’t know enough about mold to realize when they’re being bamboozled into work that is often grossly exaggerated, and in some instances, not even necessary.

Beware of the mold remediation contractor that offers “Free” Mold Inspections and uses terms such as “Black Mold”, “Toxic Mold”, or “Toxic Black Mold”.

Those terms are a clear indication that the mold remediation contractor providing the “Free Mold Inspection” is using scare tactics to convince you that you need the mold remediation work for your immediate safety.  Not likely. 

To establish the presence of mycotoxins in any indoor environment the Licensed Mold Assessor would need to collect samples that would identify the species of mold.  This cannot be accomplished with the collection of spore trap samples.  The spore trap samples will only provide mold spore identification to the genus not the species.  Or feline if you will and not house cat vs. Bengal tiger, Genus vs. species.

To identify the species of mold the Licensed Mold Assessor would need to collect either culturable (viable or living) or PCR samples. 

Culturable must be collected using a pump, impactor, and agar plates. These samples are then sent to the laboratory and take time to grow and are more expensive than mold spore trap samples.

PCR, Polymerase Chain Reaction, is used to detect the DNA of the spore and is collected using a pump and a 3-piece PCR air-sampling cassette.  PCR is even more expensive than the mold cultures and spore traps combined, but they are much faster than waiting for the culturable samples to grow. 

It gets even more expensive when you realize that now that you’ve identified the mold in the indoor environment as a species that MAY produce mycotoxins you now have to determine if the potentially mycotoxin producing mold species actually produced any mycotoxins in the indoor environment being sampled. Whew!

Yes it takes much more than a “FREE Mold Inspection” to establish that you home or office has a mold that produced mycotoxins.  It’s more likely that the mold remediation contractor offering the “FREE Mold Inspection” and using terms like “Black Mold”, “Toxic Mold”, or “Toxic Black Mold” is just trying to scare you into more mold remediation than you actually need.

No indoor environmental professional would ever use those term, ever!  If they are being used you are being played.  Ask the individual to stop using unprofessional scare tactics and leave.

Remember, Convenience Can Cost You.
Most people prefer to deal with one contractor for everything because it’s convenient. But when it comes to mold that convenience can end up costing you thousands of dollars in unnecessary repair work. There are enough reputable and Florida State Licensed Mold Inspectors who do not engage in remediation work to risk getting ripped off.

Remember a mold inspection should be completely unbiased. Mold inspectors should have no personal interest in how an inspection turns out, nor should they ever profit from what they find, either directly by doing the removal themselves, or indirectly by referring work to their friends for a kick-back.

The only way to ensure you will get an unbiased inspection report and avoid this mold scam is to hire a Florida State Licensed Mold Inspector who does not perform mold remediation.  And always ask if they will be following the ANSI Approved S-520.

The S-520 Standard and Reference Guide for Professional Mold Remediation is procedural standard and reference guide for the remediation of mold damaged structures and contents. The S-520 is based on reliable remediation and restoration principles, research and practical experience.

The S520 provides a philosophical shift away from setting numerical mold contamination action levels. Instead, it establishes mold contamination definitions, descriptions and conditions (1, 2, 3), and general guidance, which, when properly applied, can assist remediators and others in determining criteria that trigger remediation activities or confirm remediation success.

Contaminated as the presence of indoor mold growth and/or spores, whose identity, location and amplification are not reflective of a normal fungal ecology for an indoor environment, and which may produce adverse health effects and cause damage to materials, and adversely affect the operation or function of building systems.

Condition 1 (normal ecology) – may have settled spores, fungal fragments or traces of actual growth whose identity, location and quantity is reflective of a normal fungal ecology for an indoor environment.

Condition 2 (settled spores) – an indoor environment which is primarily contaminated with settled spores that were dispersed directly or indirectly from a Condition 3 area, and which may have traces of actual growth.

Condition 3 (actual growth) – an indoor environment contaminated with the presence of actual growth and associated spores. Actual growth includes growth that is active or dormant, visible or hidden.


  • John P. Lapotaire, CIEC
  • Certified Indoor Environmental Consultant
  • Microshield Environmental Services, LLC

What Are Air Filter MERV Ratings and How Do They Work?

July 7, 2012

What is the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value?

The Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value, also known simply as MERV, measures the performance of air purifiers, specifically large purifiers intended to clean an entire house or building. Large, whole-house purifiers are not evaluated in the same manner used to measure the effectiveness of small, portable air cleaners, which are sometimes given Clean Air Delivery Ratings (CADR) instead.

Whole house and building air purifiers usually receive MERV ratings of between 1 and 16, though the upper limit is sometimes extended to 20. Common residential air purification systems tend to fall within a narrower range. Higher numbers translate to more effective air filtration. According to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, “The scale is designed to represent the worst case performance of a filter when dealing with particles in the range of 0.3 to 10 micrometers.”

MERV Rating Chart

Who Uses MERV Ratings?

The MERV rating system was initially created by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (or ASHRAE for short) in 1987. However, this evaluation system was based on older methods that date back to 1968, when ASHRAE issued “Standard 52,” the first formal testing standard for filters. According to an article by engineer Donald Newell, the purpose of the Standard has not changed since its early days, and is designed to determine the following attributes of air filters:
• Particle removal capability
• Resistance to airflow
• Expected operating life

MERV ratings measure only the first quality, however. The MERV rating of an air cleaner is determined according to updated standards set by the ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 52.2-1999.

How is an Air Cleaner’s MERV Rating Determined?

Air cleaners are given MERV ratings based on the results of a series of tests. Simply put, the process works as follows:
1. Test particles are introduced into the air of the testing area. These particles fall into one of twelve categories, based on size. The smallest category contains particles ranging from .3 to .4 micrometers (also known as “microns”). The largest includes particles from 7 to 10 micrometers.
2. The air is then passed through the filter being tested. The density of particles in the air is measured before and after the air passes through the filter to determine how effective the filter is at removing pollutants in each size category.

After this is done, the process is repeated five more times, so that there are ultimately six measurements for each of the twelve categories. The MERV number is assigned based on the worst result. Hence the “minimum” in “Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value.”

What Does an Air Cleaner’s MERV Rating Mean for You?

A helpful chart detailing what MERV ratings mean can be found at Of particular interest is the column detailing what types of pollutants are filtered out at each level.

Precise technical details will be less important to the average customer than an answer to the question, “What MERV ratings are acceptable for my home?” The United States Environmental Protection Agency provides some information on this matter. “Medium efficiency filters with a MERV of 5 to 13,” it states, “are reasonably efficient at removing small to large airborne particles. Filters with a MERV between 7 and 13 are likely to be nearly as effective as true HEPA filters at controlling most airborne indoor particles.” Furthermore, the EPA adds that “medium efficiency air filters are generally less expensive than HEPA filters, and allow quieter HVAC fan operation and higher airflow rates than HEPA filters since they have less airflow resistance.”

HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters are the top-of-the-line air filters. Most homes are not capable of having whole-house HEPA filtration systems installed without extensive modification. Therefore, the EPA’s recommendation of filters with a MERV rating from 7 to 13 is something that potential customers should keep in mind.

The National Air Filtration Association gives a roughly similar answer. The highest range it recommends for residential systems is 9-12; higher numbers are said to be suited for hospitals or commercial buildings rather than homes.

Limitations of the MERV Rating System

An air cleaner’s MERV rating is based on its ability to filter out undesirable particles from the air. Not all indoor air pollution is particle-based, however. Gasses contribute significantly to pollution as well. The ability of an air purifier to remove particles is not predicative of its ability to remove gasses, so the MERV rating is not helpful in this regard.

Newell’s article cautions that air filters given the ASHRAE test “are likely to perform worse than predicted because of various installation conditions.” This is known as the “installation effect.” Therefore, it is important to remember that MERV ratings are assigned based on a purifier’s performance in carefully controlled testing conditions, and not the “real world.”

And finally, as stated above, MERV ratings are only relevant to large air cleaners intended to affect whole buildings. Common small portable air cleaners do not have MERV ratings.


The MERV rating system is a helpful way to describe the capabilities of different large air cleaners. It is determined through rigorous testing and is gives the worst-case performance of the filter, so the MERV number is not inflated. No one should forget to consider MERV ratings when shopping for such cleaners. There are, however, other factors to consider as well, so it would be a mistake to think that buying the right air filtration system is a simple matter of picking the unit with the highest MERV.

John P. Lapotaire, CIEC
Certified Indoor Environmental Consultant
Microshield Environmental Services, LLC

EPA Guide to Air Cleaners in the Home

July 7, 2012

Indoor air pollutants are unwanted, sometimes harmful materials in the air. Indoor air pollution is among the top five environmental health risks. Usually the best way to address this risk is to control or eliminate the sources of pollutants, and to ventilate a home with clean outdoor air.   The ventilation method may, however, be limited by weather conditions or undesirable levels of contaminants contained in outdoor air. If these measures are insufficient, an air cleaning device may be useful. Air cleaning devices are intended to remove pollutants from indoor air. Some air cleaning devices are designed to be installed in the ductwork of a home’s central heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning (HVAC) system to clean the air in the whole house. Portable room air cleaners can be used to clean the air in a single room or specific areas, but they are not intended for whole-house filtration. The following pages will provide information on different types of air cleaning devices and how they work.

Indoor Air Pollutants
Pollutants that can affect air quality in a home fall into the following categories:

•Particulate matter includes dust, smoke, pollen, animal dander, tobacco smoke, particles generated from combustion appliances such as cooking stoves, and particles associated with tiny organisms such as dust mites, molds, bacteria, and viruses.

•Gaseous pollutants come from combustion processes. Sources include gas cooking stoves, vehicle exhaust, and tobacco smoke. They also come from building materials, furnishings, and the use of products such as adhesives, paints, varnishes, cleaning products, and pesticides.

What Types of Pollutants Can an Air Cleaner Remove?
There are several types of air cleaning devices available, each designed to remove certain types of pollutants.

Particle Removal

Two types of air cleaning devices can remove particles from the air — mechanical air filters and electronic air cleaners. Mechanical air filters remove particles by capturing them on filter materials.

High efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters are in this category. Electronic air cleaners such as electrostatic precipitators use a process called electrostatic attraction to trap charged particles. They draw air through an ionization section where particles obtain an electrical charge. The charged particles then accumulate on a series of flat plates called a collector that is oppositely charged. Ion generators, or ionizers, disperse charged ions into the air, similar to the electronic air cleaners but without a collector. These ions attach to airborne particles, giving them a charge so that they attach to nearby surfaces such as walls or furniture, or attach to one another and settle faster.

Gaseous Pollutant Removal

Gas-phase air filters remove gases and odors by using a material called a sorbent, such as activated carbon, which adsorbs the pollutants. These filters are typically intended to remove one or more gaseous pollutants from the airstream that passes through them. Because gas-phase filters are specific to one or a limited number of gaseous pollutants, they will not reduce concentrations of pollutants for which they were not designed. Some air cleaning devices with gas-phase filters may remove a portion of the gaseous pollutants and some of the related hazards, at least on a temporary basis. However, none are expected to remove all of the gaseous pollutants present in the air of a typical home. For example, carbon monoxide is a dangerous gaseous pollutant that is produced whenever any fuel such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood, or charcoal is burned, and it is not readily captured using currently available residential gas-phase filtration products.

Pollutant Destruction

Some air cleaners use ultraviolet (UV) light technology intended to destroy pollutants in indoor air. These air cleaners are called ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) cleaners and photocatalytic oxidation (PCO) cleaners. Ozone generators that are sold as air cleaners intentionally produce ozone gas, a lung irritant, to destroy pollutants.

Ozone is a lung irritant that can cause adverse health effects.

•UVGI cleaners use ultraviolet radiation from UV lamps that may destroy biological pollutants such as viruses, bacteria, allergens, and molds that are airborne or growing on HVAC surfaces (e.g., found on cooling coils, drain pans, or ductwork). If used, they should be applied with, but not as a replacement for, filtration systems.

•PCO cleaners use a UV lamp along with a substance, called a catalyst, that reacts with the light. They are intended to destroy gaseous pollutants by converting them into harmless products, but are not designed to remove particulate pollutants.

•Ozone generators use UV light or an electrical discharge to intentionally produce ozone. Ozone is a lung irritant that can cause adverse health effects. At concentrations that do not exceed public health standards, ozone has little effect in removing most indoor air contaminants. Thus, ozone generators are not always safe and effective in controlling indoor air pollutants. Consumers should instead use methods proven to be both safe and effective to reduce pollutant concentrations, which include eliminating or controlling pollutant sources and increasing outdoor air ventilation.
Visit for more information on ozone generators sold as air cleaners.

John P. Lapotaire, CIEC
Certified Indoor Environmental Consultant
Microshield Environmental Services, LLC

Indoor Air Quality and Asthma

July 7, 2012

Jason Earle. Founder and CEO of Mycelium Holdings LLC
Posted: 07/02/2012

With 50 Percent of Childhood Asthma Uncontrolled, Time to Look Homeward

“Despite available treatments, less than 50 percent of asthmatic children control their symptoms,” announced Prof. Nikos Papadopoulos, Chair of the International Consensus (ICON) on Pediatric Asthma, two weeks ago at The European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI) 31st Annual meeting, Geneva, Switzerland.

As a childhood asthmatic, and someone who has long worked with families to regain control of their indoor air, that number nearly knocked me off my chair.

Granted, many of the worst cases of asthma exist in developing nations where there is, sadly, little anyone can do about it. This is largely due to substandard living conditions and poor education, compounded by inadequate medical care. When people cook over unventilated open flames indoors, asthma is bound to rear its ugly head. Combine that with a whole host of other variables and you have yourself an epidemic.

But more disconcerting are the cases here in our own backyard, where we have the ability to do something about it, yet we’re still not doing all that can be done.

It’s well known there are higher concentrations of asthmatics in urban environments, especially in close proximity to highways, but asthma is an equal opportunity ailment. It affects people across the whole human spectrum, with kids being the hardest hit.

While medications are an important part of controlling symptoms — they save lives every single day — one of the most overlooked aspects of asthma prevention is the home environment, where many children spend most of their time. In essence, asthma = inflammation + irritation. Most of the irritants that trigger asthma symptoms are avoidable, and really have no place in a healthy home.

-Dampness of any sort, which invariably leads to:

•Mold growth
•Dust mites

– Noxious chemical cleaners

– Air fresheners

– Candles

– VOCs

– Cigarette smoke (does this even need to be said?)

– Carpet in the basement (yes, I know, it’s common, but so are most mistakes)

– And much, much more.

I’ve written about this in the past. Here’s a a piece I did about spring cleaning that elaborates on these items in greater detail, if you’re so inclined to dig deeper.

There was a time when doctors made house calls. These have been supplanted by eight-minute clinic visits. Symptoms are discussed, but underlying causes are rarely explored. Physicians simply have no practical way to know what’s going on in the home, nor do they have the time to pursue it. While numerous studies have been done proving the positive impact of custom, home-based environmental interventions directed at educating the affected and reducing asthma triggers indoors, it has not been done consistently on a large scale.

Interestingly, the CDC Community Preventive Services Task Force put out a report late last year in which they recommend these home-based initiatives. The report cited extensive data showing that a relatively small investment in these programs can yield significant health care savings, reduce the number of missed school days, increase the productivity of the parents who would otherwise miss work to care for their children and, of course, improve quality of life for the whole family.

The average person spends more than 90 percent of every day indoors, yet we hear relatively little in the media about what we’re doing to our indoor environment. Buildings are built tighter to save energy, while a dizzying array of pollutants accumulate indoors, all helping to steadily increase the reach and cost of a disease that should already be on the decline. It’s part of our modern condition.

There is much that can be done at relatively low cost. Most synthetic cleaning products, for example, can be swapped for natural versions (many of which work better!); air fresheners can be jettisoned in favor of HEPA air purifiers and HEPA vacuum cleaners, and pillows, mattresses and bedding can be fitted with allergen encasements. Some homes require professional help, especially those with serious moisture, mold or pest problems, but a great percentage will benefit from minor to moderate interventions.

The home environment is what I call the last mile in asthma treatment and prevention. It is where education and awareness can help turn the asthma juggernaut around, and where more attention needs to be directed. The solutions to much of this suffering are hiding in plain sight.

John P. Lapotaire, CIEC
Certified Indoor Environmental Consultant
Microshield Environmental Services, LLC

Florida IAQ and the 7 Principals of Healthy Homes

July 7, 2012

Face it. Anywhere in Florida makes for a great place to live. Yet every home endures a certain amount of unwanted, indoor air pollutants. In fact, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), ranks indoor air pollution as one of the top five environmental health risks faced by U.S. citizens.

Indoor air pollution builds up via in-home activities such as cooking, cleaning and even indoor remodeling projects. To eliminate the associated risk factors, a Florida homeowner could attempt to replace the indoor air with cleaner outdoor air. However, residential ventilation systems usually don’t include outdoor air supply.  If you consider opening a window that could occasionally be rendered inefficient due to unfavorable weather conditions, elevated humidity, or extreme accumulations of contaminants in the outdoor air.

At times, homeowners must embrace alternative indoor air cleaning methods. Some residents of Florida are known for making use of indoor air cleaning devices and products that attach to your homes air handler such as UV lights or hydroxyl and ozone generators in an attempt to disinfect purify or destroy air contaminants before they are recycled back into their home air supply.  But those are just bells and whistles that don’t actually correct the issue.

We recommend that you begin the improvement of your indoor environment using the 7 Principals of Healthy Homes.

1. Dry:
Damp houses provide a nurturing environment for mites, roaches, rodents, and molds, all of which are associated with asthma.

2. Clean:
Clean homes help reduce pest infestations and exposure to contaminants.

3. Pest-Free:
Recent studies show a causal relationship between exposure to mice and cockroaches and asthma episodes in children; yet inappropriate treatment for pest infestations can exacerbate health problems, since pesticide residues in homes pose risks for neurological damage and cancer.

4. Safe:
The majority of injuries among children occur in the home. Falls are the most frequent cause of residential injuries to children, followed by injuries from objects in the home, burns, and poisonings.

5. Contaminant-Free:
Chemical exposures include lead, radon, pesticides, volatile organic compounds, and environmental tobacco smoke. Exposures to asbestos particles, radon gas, carbon monoxide, and second-hand tobacco smoke are far higher indoors than outside.

6. Ventilated:
Studies show that increasing the fresh air supply in a home improves respiratory health.

7. Maintained:
Poorly-maintained homes are at risk for moisture and pest problems. Deteriorated lead-based paint in older housing is the primary cause of lead poisoning, which affects some 240,000 U.S. children.

John P. Lapotaire, CIEC
Certified Indoor Environmental Consultant
Microshield Environmental Services, LLC

Workplace Air Quality: Sometimes Dust Is The Problem

July 7, 2012

July 03, 2012|By BARBARA NAGY, Conn. Health I-Team Writer, The Hartford Courant

The office workers, police officers, social workers and court employees Brian Sauvageau talks with have reached a breaking point.

They might come to work feeling OK, but soon develop chronic coughs and sneezing, scratchy throats, itchy eyes and even headaches. No one can find the mold they think is causing their symptoms. Unsympathetic colleagues say they feel just fine, so there can’t be anything wrong.

The problem is surprisingly simple, said Sauvageau, an occupational hygienist with CONN OSHA — the state Department of Labor’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health.

The culprit isn’t mold. It’s dust — the tiny particles of fiber, skin scales, insect parts, pollen, cobwebs and dirt that settle on surfaces everywhere.

Indoor air quality is a growing issue. Belt-tightening has reduced custodial staff and budgets. Time-pressed workers aren’t enthusiastic about cleaning their workspaces. And the growing number of extreme weather events makes for more leaks and flooding. Poor air circulation and blocked heating systems aggravate the problem.

The impact is staggering. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that poor indoor air quality costs tens of billions of dollars annually in lost productivity and added health care. One study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in 2010 concluded that improving workplace environments could save businesses $300 per worker each year.

In the past 14 months, Sauvageau has investigated 20 complaints filed by people who thought that mold was compromising the air quality in their workplaces. Of hundreds of samples that he collected, only one had mold levels that were considered significant.

“It seems invariably I find dust,” Sauvageau said. “In some cases it’s extremely bad — years of accumulation.”

Solutions require everyone in an office to work together in ways they haven’t had to do before, said Paula Schenck, assistant director of the Center for Indoor Environments and Health at the University of Connecticut Health Center. “It takes a team,” she said.

Workers, their union representatives, building owners, managers and cleaning staff all have to buy into the solution, said Ken Tucker, director of CONN OSHA.

“We do know air quality is a growing problem,” said Larry Dorman, a spokesman for Council 4 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in New Britain. “It’s one of the hidden dangers of the workplace.”

The union has worked with the state and with several municipalities on air quality in buildings ranging from schools in Bridgeport to police headquarters in Hartford. Workers are often unaware of the hazards. “And employers don’t tend to be proactive on issues like that. Sometimes it’s not their fault,” he said, noting that the state leases much of its office space.

Often, employees don’t realize that there’s more to air quality than mold levels.

Mold can be highly hazardous, Schenck emphasized. But people should look first for more obvious culprits if they don’t smell mold, can’t see water stains on walls or ceilings, and aren’t aware of any dampness or water from leaks, seepage or humidity.

“People go nuts about mold because it’s been so publicized, and I appreciate the concern,” Schenck said. “I always talk about three things: ventilation, moisture and dirt/dust.” Mold, she said, is always related to a water problem. “What mold tells you is there’s water where it shouldn’t be, and a biological material is growing.”

Dust is such a prevalent problem, Sauvageau made it the topic of an article in CONN OSHA’s May newsletter ( There is no doubt about its irritating effects.

People have different tolerances for the mites, pollen and spores in dust that builds up. Those who are sensitive have allergic reactions. Those who aren’t might think that nothing is wrong. The location of people’s workspaces can also aggravate their symptoms.

None of this is a surprise to Ray Cassarino, owner of Cassarino Commercial Cleaning in Wethersfield.

“I go into an office and the women are sneezing, especially at the reception desk. It’s a haven for dust,” he said. Cassarino lifts the phones, looks at the wires behind the computers and checks under small equipment like fax machines. He can tell how long the dust has been there by how it clumps up. “It’s sick what I find,” he said.

Symptoms like itchy eyes, a runny nose and headaches can be caused inadequate ventilation and by dust and dirt because the respiratory system is being irritated. People feel better once they leave the environment, Schenck said. Asthma-like symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, are harder to diagnose as building-related. Breathing can be affected by a wide range of irritants — including mold. Prolonged exposure to some of the contaminants in dust can also cause asthma-like symptoms.

Sensitivity and exposure make all the difference. Schenck recalls one woman who complained that the vent above her desk was blowing air onto her. The custodian, trying to be helpful, diverted the flow with a piece of plastic. The woman became ill and couldn’t understand why — after all, the air wasn’t blowing on her anymore. A UConn hygienist took a “wipe” sample from the plastic and discovered that it was loaded with bacteria and mold.

When Sauvageau goes into workplaces, he finds congested offices and desks loaded with clutter. Storage spaces are too small, so supplies and equipment are piled in work areas. Heating and air conditioning equipment isn’t maintained and cleaned. The walls and floors behind heating units and desks are filthy. Furniture obstructs ventilation or makes it hard for the cleaning staff to do its work. People don’t want anything on their desks or shelves moved, which also makes cleaning difficult.

Some buildings — hospitals, factories and schools, for example — are now courthouses, town halls and offices. They weren’t designed for that use. Balancing the ventilation and keeping the space clean can be a tremendous challenge.

Cassarino said that many companies have cut back on spending for custodial services. They have unrealistic expectations of how much can be done in a limited time with a limited budget.

“It’s a bidding war,” Cassarino said. He suggests that businesses and building owners carefully evaluate not only cost, but the level of service they’ll receive.

Sauvageau wants employers to realize that poor air quality can affect employee attendance, productivity and morale. Some of the people who called CONN OSHA were facing disciplinary actions for missing work too often because of their illnesses. They had been diagnosed with sinus infections, bronchitis, allergies and asthma.

Building managers have a hard time because people like different temperatures and have different tolerances for air flow. Generally, Schenck said, it’s not good to cut down on ventilation. That lets contaminants accumulate. She also discourages the use of scented air fresheners because they irritate some people.

That, she said, is the kind of “joint responsibility” that’s required to create a healthy environment. For their part, workers need to be vigilant about their own spaces, and they need to make sure that what they do doesn’t diminish air quality for their co-workers.

If you are having problems, Schenck and Sauvageau suggest you:

• Act promptly, because prolonged exposure can lead to chronic symptoms.

• Start by defining and tracking your symptoms. What time of day do you have them, and where are you?

• Try to correct the problem through your supervisor and union representativess first. Consider breaking down the office and doing a thorough cleaning. When dust is the problem, symptoms often improve immediately.

This story was reported under a partnership with the Connecticut Health I-Team (



• John P. Lapotaire, CIEC
• Certified Indoor Environmental Consultant
• Microshield Environmental Services, LLC


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