subClinical Environmental Health News (sCEHN ©)
INDOOR ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH IN THE NEWS
November 29, 2012 New Jersey Shore, USA. Devastation and destruction at the New Jersey shore requiring water damage repairs, flood biological risk remediation and mold prevention after the dubbed "monster storm' hurricane Sandy now dubbed as NJ's "Katrina" may pose a much larger risk in the months to come says Medical Mycologist Professor Dumanov regarding the long term effects of Sandy.
Interviewed by Cynthia Green from NJIE
Professor Dumanov your research work is well recognized in the field of mold related illness, disease and health risks especially in the area of such exposure within human habitations. You have expressed a major concern with the unknown and hidden risks that may put many people in danger in the coming months possible exposure to mold and work associated with it. What is the basis of your concern?
Prof: As a researcher, with specialties as medical mycologist and toxicologist practicing clinical industrial hygienist and environmental epidemiologist my focal work has been fungi that effect and infect humans and animals at many levels not commonly understood. The complexity is due to many factors that are easily ignored or dismissed by non-scientists. The fact is that as a result of Sandy's overwhelming destruction there is a rush of work being generated by well-intentioned and normally experienced construction companies that have rarely or have never had the experience of working with materials that become contaminated by biological and chemical agents that are known to pose health risks including the so-called mold inspectors and remediators. We have to understand that even though mold fungi are foremost in the minds of many that suffered property damage, contamination with bacteria from sewage, including fecal coliform from septic system breaks and overflow have infected many structures therefore requiring full decontamination of the affected materials.
Yes, but can this not be handled normally like any other flooded areas in the past?
Prof: Yes and no. But there are the factors that have not been calculated into the equation or rarely considered that in many cases become a significant complication in the months and years to come.
First, the extent of devastation is putting a large demand on workers that have had little to no experience working with such exposed and contaminated materials. There is often little to no understanding how and what building materials are affected by different biological agents. This includes health risk exposure to workers from the construction debris (let us remember the World Trade workers debris exposure and resulting health effects).
Second, then the proper selection, application and safe use of fungicides and biocides - think about biocides bio means life and cides mean to kill. Biocides do not care if it will kill bacteria, mold or humans and animals. There is a common erroneous belief that sodium hypochlorite (bleach) with kill any and all mold. Bleach has very limited and selected efficacy for that purpose and must be understood to be used and applied appropriately to be of any value.You mention worker exposure. What are the risks?
Prof:We must consider the workers. Many workers are unknowingly being exposed to biological and chemical hazards and are being poisoned from remediation chemistries during biocide application and then the returning occupants are exposed to residuals from these fungicides/biocides due to off-gassing, a gradual evaporation.
I often discuss remediation with young workers telling me they are resistant to the effects of mold and they conduct work unprotected and they are feeling fine. What is unknown to these workers is that yes, when you are in your 20s your immune system is at its optimum but over time the toxins produced by mold and bacteria suppress or weaken their immune systems and in the coming months and years there is a good chance they will develop a health disorder on any given level dependent on their direct exposure, host immune status and overall dosage and particular agents chemical or biological.
What are the risks to biocides fungicides?
Prof:When it comes to the fungicide/biocide, of which fungicides are very dangerous to humans, workers must again use safe and best practices to protect themselves from skin contact and even more importantly from inhalation. The major problem with inhalation toxicity is the false sense that everything is clear because there is no longer any odor detectable by the simple smell test.
What do you advise to returning homeowners?
Prof: Before home owners reoccupy the home it must be carefully assessed for any chemical residuals from the repairs and remediation that may pose a health risk. Ask for documentation relating to the chemistry used. The MSDS is a report of the compounds used in these products. This especially true for females, those that are pregnant, about to get pregnant, neonates, infants, children, the elderly, those with any immune disorders, those with allergies or asthma, chemical sensitivity, currently under medication or treatment for cancers and other diseases. Simply if you have nearly any health impairment you will likely suffer more so from the residuals of remediation.
So it is OK if you are healthy?
Prof: Not that simple. For those that are fully immunocompetent, without asthma, atopy, allergies and have no other underlying disease or health condition should never be considered to be health risk free. Why? The problem is that everyone wants to look a a magical number, a threshold regarding exposure to any etiological agent and then they try to assign a risk value to that number wrongfully believing an exposure to small amounts of chemical or mold toxins will have not effects on health. Medical science tells you that that is a deeply erroneous, false and dangerous assumption. Do not allow yourself to be chronically exposed to these poisonous and toxic biocides - disease and death may result in time. Sadly, this is especially true for all the strong young healthy workers that often tell me 'I work around mold every day and has no effect on me" then encountering them years later with notable yet undiagnosed morbidity. Simply make sure you employ all safe and best practices in using personal protection equipment including masks and body covering as necessary - side on caution and prevention of exposure. Consult with the appropriate experts.
What have been your findings?
Prof: We have found that in most cases contractors have been performing an excellent job in the identification of damaged areas that require repair but in numerous cases major health risk factors have been not recognized that would have been a big problem to the health of returning occupants that include mold, bacteria, chemical toxins and other health risk factors.
What are the risks from the septic sewage exposure?
Prof: We have conducted post remediation investigations that are inspection of work that has been performed by contractors to validate the efficacy of the work performed to determine if in fact these home is now free from mold, bacteria, fecal conform, urea, chemical antibiotic toxins, and many other health risk factors that may be a result of the water intrusion but also as a result of the work performed this includes exposure to lead that may have been in home built prior to the 1970s, fiberglass, asbestos and other cofounders to dermatological (skin) and mucosal (oral-upper respiratory) epithelial injury and exposure risks.
We will let you go. But what is the closing message?
Prof: What we are seeing right now are tremendous efforts by state and local authorities putting the shore back in order. FEMA financial aid and assistance is important along with the limited guidance being provided. What is yet to be seen is how effective and how safely the work is done and the risk mitigation to retuning home and business owners. From what I have seen local governing authorities working tirelessly doing a marvelous job coordinating efforts with residents, contractors and supporting consultants with working going on slowly but smoothly. We will know that result in the months and years to come. Ultimately it is the responsibility of each individual home owner to make sure they obtain the required professionals for their specific needs especially if there are any health concerns especially with children that may have allergies and or asthma and for adults with any immune disorders.
NJIE - Thank you!