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Brian E. Nemetz

Buying a property is always a little scary. Even when you do your full due diligence, it’s what you can’t see that can be truly frightening. Under the ground, in the walls, or colorless, odorless contaminants in the air could cause you the most worry when you are buying or leasing a building. With human health being paramount when occupying a building, all of these ‘scary things’ can be identified through industrial hygiene testing and can be remediated completely or mitigated to prevent risks to your inhabitants and protect you from liability now and into the future.

Ghostly Gases and Inhalants

  • Radon – Radon is a radioactive gas that is present in soil, water, and/or rock. Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that is produced as the uranium, which is present in soil, rock and water breaks down. Recently, many countertops have been determined to be releasing radon into homes. As a recognized carcinogenic, the EPA estimates that exposure to radon gas is responsible for more than 20,000 lung cancer deaths a year. It can seep through cracks in walls, foundations, around service pipes, or construction joints. Since 2008, dozens of new state radon regulations have been filed in state legislatures to address radon concerns and protect occupants’ health. Increased radon awareness coupled with the support of legislation has had a big impact: radon testing and mitigation efforts have increased significantly in recent years.
  • Mercury – Mercury hazards come from a binder in rubber-like polyurethane floors. If the floors contain mercury, they may emit mercury vapor especially in hot rooms, rooms with poor ventilation, or rooms with no air conditioning. Mercury vapor inhalation and skin absorption can damage the central nervous system, kidneys, lungs, eyes, and skin. Mercury containing floors should not be encapsulated, i.e. covered by another layer of flooring, as this may create greater contamination and ultimately a larger remediation cost. If Mercury containing floors are removed from the building, then proper control measures must be implemented to protect both the workers and the building occupants.
  • Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) – Contaminants can make their way into the building through poor building maintenance (unsound roofs, windows, building envelope, etc.), stored chemicals (cleaners, copy machine products, manufacturing, etc.), and furniture. Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing (MEP) systems may be over stressed or otherwise unable to properly ventilate the space. If these systems are not functioning as needed to support the building and its use, negative pressure or insufficient ventilation may result, and allow infiltration of pollutants. Although there is no national mandate for IAQ standards, several States uphold laws that regulate the assessment, management and mitigation of pollutants like mold and radon that impact/affect indoor air quality. It should be noted that many non-governmental agencies offer guidelines that have become the industry standards.

Scary Substances

  • Asbestos- Asbestos is found in many building materials, especially those used between 1930-1970s. Due to its extreme durability and fire resistance, it is still used in small amounts but it is now known that microscopic fibers that can easily become airborne and exposed during the breakdown of materials or during renovations/demolition. Asbestos is a known as a human carcinogen and, in addition, it is the culprit of a variety of other lung, chest and abdomen illnesses. As a result, current Federal as well as state and/or city regulations requires an asbestos survey to be conducted before renovation or demolition of any building, regardless of year of construction. This measure ensures that if asbestos is present it is not released into the environment where it can cause potential harm to humans. Once asbestos is found, it can be removed/remediated by an asbestos professional. Numerous federal, state and local regulations control the creation, installment, monitoring and removal of asbestos containing materials.Asbestos has been the cause of over 100,000 deaths.   As it is a naturally occurring material and in many building materials, asbestos can be harmful to people that aren’t in the industry.   Asbestos is still used and manufactured in the following products: roofing materials, joint compound, floor tiles, masts, window caulks, brake pads, and many other materials.
  • Mold – Mold is nature’s way of breaking down organisms. Recent building technology has newer secure building techniques more efficient in encapsulating the indoor environment.  As such, moisture can stay indoors and grow mold. Mold can grow as a result of poor ventilation systems, leaky plumbing, and other placing in the building that are not properly insulated from outdoor weather. The sheer presence of mold in the environment does not necessarily mean harm or disease. Over the past few years, several states have added mold regulations.  In the absence of regulations in some states, there are many industry standards that are utilized.   Mold growth has resulted in many health issues. These range from allergies, to significant illnesses, and unfortunately death.There are a variety of ways in which you can remediate mold in your building including drying, cleaning of exposed mold, and removal of impacted materials. A professional asbestos consultant can help you assess mold, test, remediate, and monitor the asbestos in your building.

    As mold spores are ever present in our environment, it is easy for mold to grow in/on our building materials.  Cellulose materials such as sheetrock, wood, wallpaper, fabrics, etc. are known to grow mold with the introduction of moisture.  Whereas most mold growth is related water intrusions, high relative humidity (60% and higher) can grow mold on building materials.

  • Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) are widely present in sidewalk caulk, window glazing, expansion joints, crack sealants, caulks used as gaskets, surface coatings (e.g. paint), and caulks used between masonry blocks used in buildings built or renovated between 1950 and 1979. While much of the material is presently in good condition, the presence of these potentially harmful chemicals can expose building occupants to significant human health risks. Similar to asbestos, PCB must evaluated, tested, and removed then replaced with materials not containing the contaminant.
  • Crystalline Silica – Crystalline Silica is found in many building components including glass, stone, concrete, caulking, and drywall, to name a few. Exposure occur is the material is disturbed through cutting, sawing, or otherwise performing demolition or renovation to materials containing respirable crystalline silica. Over exposure can cause irreversible fibrogenic lung disease and can be associated with autoimmune disorders, kidney disease, and is a known carcinogen. OSHA Respirable Crystalline Silica in Construction (29 CFR 1926.1153) is now being enforced as of October 23, 2017. New requirements include development of a written control program for each site and retaining competent person staff that site.  The required plan must include provisions for sampling, engineering controls, record-keeping, prohibited practices, medical surveillance and hazard communication.

As a building owner or manager you may be required to proactively address the quality of your property’s indoor environment to protect or enhance the health, safety and well-being of your occupants.  While it may appear that there is a risk of positive results if evaluation or testing is done in your building, the benefits far outweigh the cost of buying a building with a hidden hazard and the financial and legal risks associated with remediating and/or exposing your building inhabitants to these potentially damaging hidden horrors. The General Duty Clause of the United States Occupational Safety and Health Act (Federal OSHA) applies to just about everyone.  29 U.S.C. § 654, 5(a)1: Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”

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