Monthly Archives: August 2012

Toxins Found in School Supplies

 

Have you done your back-to-school shopping yet? Our children started 3 weeks ago (I know!) so we are all done, but now I’m going back to check on what we bought because of a report that was published this week by the Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ) about phthalates in vinyl school supplies.

Normally, we would think about what character a child wants on her lunchbox or what color he wants his binders to be, but bags, binders and backpacks can contain these dangerous chemicals. Luckily, there are alternatives.

What products contain Phthalates?

According to this Hidden Hazards report, 75% of ” children’s “back-to-school” supplies tested in a laboratory had elevated levels of toxic phthalates, including popular Disney, Spiderman, and Dora branded school supplies, such as vinyl lunchboxes, backpacks, 3-ring binders, raincoats, and rainboots.”

If these products were toys, they would be illegal, but their danger is even greater, in my opinion, since they are used every day and some have direct contact with food.

The CHEJ has also published a guide to buying phthalate-free school supplies that you can read HERE. Some highlights:

  • Anything labeled “vinyl” could contain phthalates.
  • Check the recycling symbol for a “3” or the letters “V” or “PVC”
  • If you cannot tell whether a product contains PVC, email or call the manufacturer or the store and ask what the product is made of.

All of us are used to choosing school supplies based more on the preferences of our students than by the materials they are made from, but the levels of chemicals combined with the heavy use of these items warrant more time put into research and careful buying.

Wendy Stackhouse is the Online Community Manager for AirTek and our parent company, Alliance Environmental Group, which offers residential and commercial cleaning, pest control, demolition, structural pasteurization and many other enviromental challenges. She has two Middle Schoolers.

Hand Sanitizer and Air Quality

 

We’ve been having a great discussion on LinkedIn in the Environmental Information Association Group this last week about my blog post on Improving the Indoor Air at School (Part 1 for Teachers, Part 2 for Parents) and a topic I hadn’t thought about came up: hand sanitizer.

Not only do you find bottles of hand sanitizer in every classroom these days, teachers are asking for families to donate more so that everyone can keep their hands clean and minimize the spread of germs, which is a noble cause. But they may be doing more harm than good.

An article in American Chronicle authored by Lourdes Salvador reported that hand sanitizers are “germicidal products contain both fragrance and ingredients which are registered pesticides.” That doesn’t sound good.

According to Physicians for Social Responsibility hand sanitizers “contain chemicals which are recognized as respiratory and/or neurological irritants, known to cause coughing and headaches, and to trigger asthma attacks.” Not good, either.

At AirTek, we would be the last to minimize the danger of the spread of disease, whether from contaminated ventilation systems or germs passing from person to person. We do, however, have concerns about chemical contaminants that can be avoided. Hand sanitizers are a great solution for an outdoor venue without running water, like a petting zoo or fairgrounds. But indoors your best bet for clean hands AND clean air is good old (fragrance free) soap and water!

If you would like to join the discussion, please join our open LinkedIn Group!

Wendy Stackhouse is the Online Community Manager for AirTek and our parent company, Alliance Environmental Group, which offers residential and commercial cleaning, pest control, demolition, structural pasteurization and many other enviromental challenges. Check out our new website!

Volatile Organic Compounds

 

We have talked a lot on the AirTek blog about the dangers of Volatile Organic Compounds(VOCs), the chemicals that enter your indoor air from products like:

  • Paint
  • Varnish
  • Adhesives
  • Carpeting
  • Cleaners
  • New furniture

and many other things we often find in our homes.

Why worry about VOCs?

Health problems that can result from exposure to VOCs include:

  • Eye, nose, and throat irritation
  • Headaches
  • Loss of coordination
  • Nausea
  • Liver, kidney and central nervous system damage
  • Cancer

Here’s a great new video from the Indoor Air Quality Association about the problems associated with VOCs. AirTek has been a member of the IAQA for many years and we appreciate their always providing extremely informative content and allowing us to use it on our blog!

At AirTek, we are always thinking about your indoor air and your health. If you need help making sure that your indoor air is as clean and contaminant free as possible, contact AirTek!

We would love you to Like us on Facebook or Follow us @AirTekCA on Twitter! We post, share, Tweet and Retweet about air quality issues every day and are also there to answer any questions you might have. Join the conversation!

Wendy Stackhouse is the Online Community Manager for AirTek and our parent company, Alliance Environmental Group, which offers residential and commercial cleaning, pest control, demolition, structural pasteurization and many other enviromental challenges. Check out our new website!

Health Benefits of Having a Baby AND a Pet

Stackhouse dogs

This post comes with a disclaimer: I have two dogs and a cat and am definitely an advocate of adopting pets from animal shelters. I also have two children who have had pets throughout their lives, including fish and a lizard (RIP).

At the same time, I understand the difficulty of having a baby and a puppy at the same time and I wouldn’t really wish that on anyone!

We are lucky in my immediate family not to have any allergies or asthma to cause us concern about the triggers that come with furry friends.

But in our extended family we have some highly allergic folks, some who treat their allergies and have pets and some who choose to keep their homes fur-free.

Then again, it might not be luck. A new study reported in the Journal Pediatrics has shown that children who live with a pet during their first year are healthier than those who live in a pet-free zone.

As a mom myself, I know I had a lot of anxiety about what my children were exposed to when they were babies, especially during the (blessedly short-lived) crawling stage, but since we already had pets when they were born, I tried to take the pet-related environmental challenges in stride. Turns out it was probably a good thing I did.

The researchers found 31% fewer respiratory tract infections in kids who had a dog and 44% fewer ear infections, with the additional benefit of a concomitant reduction in the use of antibiotics. With today’s bacteria becoming more and more resistant to antibiotics, the less frequently any of us take these essential medicines, the better off we are.

The benefits were greater for kids who had a dog than those who had a cat, but there were still health benefits for cat-owning families.

There is no doubt that if your child suffers from respiratory challenges like allergies and asthma, a pet can add to his or her problems immeasurably. And it is always a good idea to keep the contaminants that pets add to our indoor air like dander under control. But if your family doesn’t have to worry about triggering allergies or asthma, a pet can actually strengthen their immune systems.

So maybe the fact that my daughter never had an antibiotic until she was 6 and between my two children (now 13 and 11) there has only been one ear infection isn’t due to the fact that we are pet owners, but maybe it is! Another good reason to get out there and adopt a new best friend!

Wendy Stackhouse is the Online Community Manager for AirTek and its parent company Alliance Environmental Group. And, yes, those are her dogs! There is no picture of her cat, who has pledged to someday kill Wendy in her sleep. To stay up to date on indoor air news and information, Like AirTek on Facebook and Follow @AirTekCA on Twitter. We publish our blog every Tuesday and Thursday.

Tips for Improving the Air at School, Part 1: Teachers

First Day of School

It’s back-to-school week at my house and many others in Southern California and of course we are both happy and sad about that. It’s been nice to have the kids at home and make some happy memories of our summer together, but it’s also fun to take on some new challenges and learn new things, right?

Okay, the kids aren’t happy about it, but what can you do.

Parents, however, need to know first of all that their children are safe and well-cared-for during the long schooldays. After all, their children are going to spend a lot of hours in the school environment for the next 9 months. So let’s talk about the indoor air at school.

What can contaminate the air at school?

Many of the same substances that plague our indoor air at home can affect the quality of the air at school, including:

  • Volatile organic compounds from paint, adhesives and cleaning products
  • Mold
  • Dust
  • Car exhaust not escaping once it gets in
  • Pollen from plants on campus

There are things that both parents and teachers can do to make the indoor air at school safer and today we will tackle teachers.

What can teachers do to improve the indoor air in their classrooms?

1. Open the windows–Although it is too hot this week to keep classroom windows open and let all the air conditioning out, that will soon change. Let some air in to move some of the contaminants collecting in your classroom out.

2. Don’t block the ducts–Classrooms today are crowded with people and materials, but make sure you don’t put anything in front of the vents or ducts that help keep the air circulating throughout the building.

3. Keep the classroom clean–Especially in elementary school, pillows and carpets used for “storytime” and similar activities can get dirty, dusty and even harbor dust mites.

4. Report leaks immediately–If your classroom has a leak or any water damage, be sure to get it fixed before a mold problem can take root. Mold spores are everywhere, just waiting for a damp spot to make their home.

5. Classroom Pets can trigger allergies or asthma–If you have a pet in your classroom, be sure to keep its enclosure scrupulously clean. Dander can affect any child who is allergic and make it more difficult for them to learn.

6. Minimize air fresheners and other odor concealing products–Hey, I have a 6th Grade boy myself and I know how redolent a classroom can get by the end of the day! But air fresheners are adding pollution to your indoor air and just masking the less pleasant odors. Encourage the children to wear (unscented) deodorant and try to resist the impulse to spray!

On Thursday we will give parents some tips for improving the indoor air for their students and the wonderful teachers who help them so much.

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL!

Wendy Stackhouse is the Online Community Manager for AirTek and our environmental services division Alliance Environmental Group. We welcome your comments! For more news and tips or to ask questions of our experts, Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter! For updates on environmental services like mold remediation, lead removal and pest control including bed bugs, Like us at Alliance Environmental on Facebook or follow Alliance on Twitter!

Babies Exposed to Mold May Develop Asthma

 

Every mother worries about what her baby is exposed to and the list of things to worry about grows all the time.

From dirt on a dropped pacifier to germs on an unsterilized bottle, everything is a threat and everything must be considered. Well, for the first child anyway!

But in the past few years we have learned about even more substances that we should avoid exposing our babies to, including: plastic that leaches chemicals into food and beverages contained or microwaved in it; pesticides on fruit; antibiotics in meat and secondhand smoke.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, every day 36,000 children miss school due to asthma. PediatricAsthma.com reports that “Asthma is the most common chronic condition among children under the age of 18, affecting 6.3 million.”

Mold is an asthma trigger and can definitely make asthma worse for those who suffer, but a recent study has shown that exposure to mold in infancy is linked to development of childhood asthma.

Scientists at the University of Cincinnati found that mold brings a greater risk to children’s respiratory health than dust mites and cat dander, although exposure to known allergens does make asthma more likely in people who have allergies. There is evidence that mold exposure at around 8 months of age is linked to asthma in later childhood.

It is important to prevent and control mold in your home whether you have a baby or not, but mold is definitely another factor mothers and fathers should pay attention to if they want to protect their children’s health–and their own.

If you have a problem with mold, neither you nor your children should have any more exposure than necessary. In California, contact AirTek for help eradicating mold in your home or other building before it becomes a health issue for your family. Our Environmental Services Division, Alliance Environmental Group, can get rid of any kind of mold with containment, removal and decontamination services.

Wendy Stackhouse is the Online Community Manager for AirTek and our environmental services division Alliance Environmental Group. We welcome your comments! For more news and tips or to ask questions of our experts, Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter! For updates on environmental services like mold remediation, lead removal and pest control including bed bugs, Like us at Alliance Environmental on Facebook or follow Alliance on Twitter!

Tour the New Alliance Environmental Group Website

Alliance Logo

We would love it if you took a look around the new website of our Environmental Services Division, Alliance Environmental Group. We are very proud of the clean design, the easy navigation and the new features which will help all of our customers find the services they need. If you haven’t yet taken a look around, here are some of the highlights!

Our Menus are clear and easy to navigate:

And of course–the Alliance Blog! On our other blog, we talk about asbestos, lead paint and lead poisoning, mold, bed bugs and other environmental challenges for your residence or commercial building.

If you click on any of those menu items, you have easy access to all of the services we offer including:

  • Environmental–Asbestos, Mold and Lead remediation and removal
  • Demolition–Hard, Soft, Heavy and Site Clearing services
  • AirTek–We have our own section on the site for Air Duct and Dryer Vent Cleaning and Kitchen Exhaust Hood Cleaning services
  • Team Heat–ThermaPureHeat services for Bed Bugs, Termites, Roaches, Structural Pasteurization, Construction Drying, and other challenging situations. Read more on the blog about ThermaPureHeat…
  • Trauma–Suicide and Crime Scenes, Meth Labs, Hazardous Waste and Hoarding, we do it all!

You will also notice that we now have a Live Chat window and you can talk to an environmental specialist about your project any time! We are here to serve you!

If you don’t yet Like Alliance on Facebook or Follow Alliance on Twitter (or you are not active on social media) you can see Alliance’s latest Facebook posts on the right and our Tweets on the left on every page. We would love it if you joined us on social media, though, and we’ve made it easy in the upper right with links to our page and feed!

We hope you enjoy the new website and that it provides you with even more value in the future! Bookmark our blog or add us to your RSS feeds for updates and news about mold, lead, asbestos, indoor air quality, allergies, energy efficiency, and everything that relates to our many services. Welcome to our new website!

Wendy Stackhouse is the Online Community Manager for AirTek and our environmental services division Alliance Environmental Group. We welcome your comments! For more news and tips or to ask questions of our experts, Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter! For updates on environmental services like mold remediation, lead removal and pest control including bed bugs, Like us at Alliance Environmental on Facebook or follow Alliance on Twitter!

Carbon Monoxide and Your Indoor Air

 

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas–and it’s a killer. In fact, in some countries carbon monoxide poisoning is the most common type of poisoning overall.

Symptoms of mild carbon monoxide poisoning include: headaches, flu-like symptoms, confusion and lightheadedness and may easily be misdiagnosed, leading to more severe poisoning because of further exposure. Higher levels of carbon monoxide poisoning can affect the central nervous system and heart and even cause death.

Why would you be exposed to carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide comes from incomplete burning of organic matter because of insufficient oxygen. This is one of the reasons running your car in a closed garage is so dangerous. The carbon monoxide comes from the car not having sufficient oxygen to properly burn the gasoline, and then the closed space makes it build up.

 

However, your fireplace or your gas stove could have the same issues, or even your furnace. Here are some tips for staying safe from carbon monoxide:

1. Examine the color of the flame from your gas stove. Blue is good, orange is bad. If you see an orange flame, move on to tip #2.

 

2. Have your gas appliances checked every year to make sure that they are working correctly.

 

3. In the fall, check your fireplace flue for anything birds might have left behind or plants making an incursion into the chimney. Anything that blocks oxygen flow could cause carbon monoxide to build up in your home.

 

4. Clean kitchen ducts and vents regularly. Your stove can be a huge cause of indoor air pollution and carbon monoxide is only one of the dangerous substances your stove can put into your environment.

 

5. Make sure the fan above your stove is working properly. Most kitchen fans do not do a very good job.

 

6. Use the back burners. They are closer to the vent and the fan and any pollution from the stove is more likely to go straight outdoors.

 

7. Install a carbon monoxide detector with a low level indicator. This should help keep you safe as well as put your mind at ease.

Because carbon monoxide can literally kill before you know it, prevention is the best way to deal with it. A little maintenance and thought can go a long way to prevent this common type of poisoning.

Wendy Stackhouse is the Online Community Manager for AirTek and our environmental services division Alliance Environmental Group. We welcome your comments!

For more news and tips or to ask questions of our experts, Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter! For updates on environmental services like mold remediation, lead removal and pest control including bed bugs, Like us at Alliance Environmental on Facebook or follow Alliance on Twitter!