Insight Residential Inspections Environmental Information

This section of our website provides basic environmental information about potential problems in and around your home. If you have any questions or need further information, don't hesitate to contact the experts at Insight Residential Inspections LLC.
WaterRadonAsbestosCarbon MonoxideFormaldehydeLead Base Paint
Mold / FungusElectric and Magnetic Fields from 60 Hertz Electric PowerSeptic Systems

warningWater

Your water is supplied by either a well or a municipal water system. If you have a well, either deep or shallow, water is pumped into a pressure tank that feeds the whole house. When water is used the pressure in the tank drops turning the pump on which refills the tank

If you have a municipal water feed, it is provided for you at a cost. This type of system maintains a more consistent pressure unless there is a problem. Also, most contaminants have already been removed, although one has been added: Chlorine. Also, your supply may be affected due to problems in the system beyond your control.

There are hundreds of elements that can be found in well water depending on the well location and any contaminants in the area. There are only two that are required to be tested for by the state of Michigan bacteria, and nitrates.

Some lending institutions may also require lead testing. There can be no Bacteria in your water. Nitrates have a limit set by the EPA of 10.0 PPM (parts per million). Most laboratories will use 10.0 mg/L (milligrams per liter). The maximum contaminant level for lead is 15 PPB (parts per billion).

Some other more common elements tested for are: Hardness, Iron, Hydrogen Sulfide, Chlorine, Silica and T.D.S. (Total Dissolved Solids).

Hardness can be removed by using a water softener. Various degrees of softening can be achieved, but you do not want to be too soft either.

Iron can be removed by chlorination or filtration. A whole house filtration system designed for your specific well or city water is a must today.

Hydrogen sulfide, that smell you sometimes come across, can be removed by aeration, chlorination or venting: depending on how bad your problem is will help determine the best system for you.

Silica is removed by filtration. This is not a common problem unless you are in an area where it is prevalent.

Total Dissolved Solids must be tested for and have a Standard Limit set by the EPA of 500 PPM (parts per million). The removal of T.D.S.s is best done by filtration.

Chlorine is a problem. It is not found in water naturally. It is added to kill bacteria and other problems. The municipal water supply uses chlorine in large amounts. So do home systems. The problem is after the chlorination, it and the dead bacteria should be removed.

An article in the Medical School Journal had a segment from a book by Dr. Joseph M. Price. Dr. Price did a study and found a direct link to the inception of chlorine in water to kill bacteria and the unmistakable rise in the cases of Atherosclerosis in the early 1900s. He then linked this phenomenon to an environmental factor; the introduction of chlorinated water in the late 1890s. By the third decade of the 1900s, or the 1920s, this practice of water chlorination had become widespread and so were heart attacks.

Lead is not as much a problem as it once was. Lead is rarely found naturally in water. Rather it enters somewhere in the delivery system, through leaching from lead service connections, pipes or lead solder in copper pipes. Lead use in water systems has all but been eliminated. Lead in solder for copper pipes was phased out by the late 1970s. Lead leaching occurs when water sits in the pipes for several hours. Before drinking and cooking always flush out the water that has been sitting in the pipes or use an under-the-sink filtration system.



Any type of problem with water can be tested and treated. The problem is we are poisoning ourselves with new chemicals each year and it takes decades to realize it.

Reason for Disinfecting a Water Supply
The reason for disinfecting a water supply is to eliminate harmful bacteria. Human beings and other warm blooded animals discharge such bacteria which may enter a water supply through the soil as a result of improper construction, leaks, repair work, flooding and seepage from sewage systems. An effort should be made to determine the cause of the problem. After the source has been eliminated, the disinfecting procedures can be used. If contamination problems persist, a permanent disinfection unit (chlorinator) should be installed or a new well drilled.

Samples from new or repaired wells should not be tested for bacteria until the wells have been fully developed and disinfected with chlorine in an approved manner since the water is exposed to contamination during the construction or rehabilitation process. Likewise, when pumping equipment is withdrawn from the well for repairs, a similar procedure should be followed.

PREPARATION OF DISINFECTION AGENTS

I. Sodium Hypochlorite Method This chemical is in a liquid form and usually contains 5.5% of chlorine by weight. It is sold in stores as “Clorox”, “Household Bleach”, “White Sail”, and by other trade names. It can be added to the well with little preparation.

Preparation:

  1. Add about half pint to a bucket of cold water and stir well. Note: A minimum of four buckets of disinfecting solution is added to a water supply for disinfection.
  2. Do not permit the solution to be exposed to light for a long period of time.
II. Chloride of Lime Method This substance is a white powder containing about 30-33% chlorine by weight. It absorbs moisture readily and therefore must be kept in a tightly sealed container.

Preparation:

  1. Take a ten ounce can of Chloride of Lime and put the contents into a bucket.
  2. Add about one quart of water and stir thoroughly with a wooden stick to form a uniform past which should be free of lumps.
  3. Add about two gallons of water and mix thoroughly.
  4. Let mixture stand until the insoluble material settles to the bottom.
  5. Pour off the clear solution into another bucket. This is to be added to the water supply for disinfection.
PROCEDURE FOR DISINFECTION OF WATER SUPPLIES
  1. Pour the disinfecting agent into the well.
  2. Pump the water through the water storage tank until the odor of chlorine comes out of all the water taps. If no odor should appear, add an additional quantity of disinfectant until a chlorine smell is noticed. Allow the disinfecting solution to remain in the well, storage tank and piping system for 12-24 hours by turning off the water pump and using no water. This could be done overnight or a day when no one is home.
  3. After the disinfection time has elapsed, pump off a generous amount of water from the well each day until the odor of chlorine has disappeared. Care should be taken as to where this waste liquid is pumped as it might kill grass, flowers or life in streams, etc. Do not pump all this water into your septic system.
    CAUTION: DO NOT DRINK THIS WATER UNTIL ALL CHLORINE IS PUMPED OUT OF THE LINES AND WELL. THIS MAY TAKE SEVERAL HOURS OF CONTINOUS RUNNING OR SEVERAL DAYS OF RUNNING PART TIME.
  4. Retest the water supply two-three days after the odor of chlorine has disappeared.

warningRadon

A colorless, odorless, tasteless, active gaseous element produced by the radioactive decay of radium. Each state is relatively short lived, eight seconds to four days; at which point they disintegrate. As the radium disintegrates it emits radiation in the form of alpha and beta particles and gamma rays.

The parent source of radon occurs naturally in many materials such as: soil, rock, and building material; and the gas is released continually into the atmosphere. Exposure to radon gas is related to lung cancer. In fact radon gas is believed to be second only to cigarette smoking as a cause of this deadly disease. The EPA's safe limit is measured at 4pCi/L (picocurie per Liter). Radon gas can be greatly reduced or eliminated by sealing basement floors and foundation walls with products on the market for just that. Also ventilation to crawlspaces and fresh air brought in to airtight homes can disperse the concentration to safe levels. Radon-proofing is best left to contractors who do just that. These methods include sub-slab depressurization, sub-membrane depressurization and sub-soil drainage depressurization. Radon in water can be removed by ventilation, distillation and reverse osmosis.

warningAsbestos

The name asbestos is given to any group of minerals that is fibrous, flexible, fire-resistant and durable. Asbestos fibers are light and small enough to remain airborne for a long time, but that is usually not a problem unless the asbestos-containing material is disturbed or until it disintegrates with age.

The EPA did not begin to phase out the use of asbestos until the mid-1970s. So many thousands of asbestos products are still found in the home. In addition, many homes constructed prior to 1975 have asbestos floor and ceiling tile, wall and pipe insulation, or other building materials which contain asbestos.

If airborne asbestos fibers are inhaled, they can cause health problems 15 to 40 years after exposure. These fibers remain in the lungs a long time and can cause scarring of lung tissue (asbestosis) and several kinds of cancer. It is important to remember that asbestos is only a threat to your health if it is airborne. If you come across what looks like asbestos and it appears to be intact leave it alone. If you're not sure a sample can be tested. If it is coming apart or you need it removed the EPA has a list of companies that do remove it.

(Excerpts from the American Lung Association.)

warningCarbon Monoxide

A major combustion pollutant in the home is carbon monoxide, (CO). While we have spent billions of dollars monitoring and reducing the amount of hazardous pollutants in the atmosphere, we are often exposed to high concentrations of this gas in doors. If venting and maintenance are not adequate, gas appliances (ranges, water heaters, clothes dryers, etc ), fireplaces and wood or coal stoves can emit troubling amounts of this gas. In addition, kerosene heaters and environmental tobacco smoke can contribute significant amounts of this gas to indoor environment. Long term exposure to carbon monoxide can produce neurological and cardiovascular damage. In addition, every winter, hospitals see children admitted complaining of dizziness, headaches, nausea and fatigue due to high levels of this pollutant in the home. High levels of carbon monoxide in the home have also caused several deaths. Nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide cause upper respiratory irritation. Sulfur dioxide is particularly threatening to people with asthma, allergies, or lung disease. There is no safe level of these gases. Appliances and heaters should be operating properly and should be vented properly or well ventilated.

NATIONAL STANDARDS FOR CO EXPOSURE
ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers): ASHRAE requires that ventilation air meet the outdoor air standard as determined by the EPA.

EPA (Environmental Protection Agency): A person should not breathe 9 PPM CO or over for any eight hour period, or 35 PPM or over for more than one hour.

OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration): The average exposure over an eight hour work day can not exceed 50 PPM.

AGA (American Gas Association): The maximum allowable concentration of CO should not exceed 400 PPM in flue gases.

warningFormaldehyde

This pungent gas can be a real menace in the home. Although there are established guidelines for workplace exposure to formaldehyde, many people suffer from irritations and health problems at exposures well below these limits.

Formaldehyde is found in many household products and building materials. Major sources in the home are urea formaldehyde foam insulation; resins in particle board, fiberboard and plywood paneling; some carpeting, upholstery and drapery fabric. Mobile homes and many recently constructed homes, because of extensive use of these materials and air-tight construction practices, appear to have the greatest problems. An often overlooked source of formaldehyde is environmental tobacco smoke.

Exposure to formaldehyde vapors can cause eye, nose and throat irritation, coughing, skin rashes, headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and nosebleeds. Studies indicate that formaldehyde as a probable human carcinogen. There are several different standards set by several different organizations. The American Lung Association is the standard by which we go by, and it is the lowest standard at 0.1 PPM (Parts Per Million). FHA set their standards at 0.3. HUD at 0.4 and OSHA at 3.0. What can be done about formaldehyde gas? Well time is one solution. Foam in walls will release the greatest amount when new. After approximately fifteen years the foam has out gassed and very little or no gas is released any more. Or remove what might be the culprit from the dwelling.

warningLead Base Paint

The President signed and Congress passed the Residential Lead Base Paint Hazard Protection Act in 1992. This law directed HUD and the EPA to come up with the disclosure information, inspection procedures, abatement procedures, clean-up procedures, OSHA guidelines and waste management or disposal procedures.

As the understanding of the adverse health effects of lead, the sources and pathways of exposure to children have improved, so has the recognition of the seriousness of lead hazards, and the need to address them.

At low levels lead has the greatest impact on children’s developing brains and nervous systems; causing reductions on IQ, attention span, reading and learning disabilities, behavioral problems, hyperactivity, A.D.D. and mental retardation. Does this sound familiar with today’s children?! According to the Center for Disease Control, childhood lead poisoning is the most common environmental disease of young children. The CDC has established that adverse health effects can occur at blood levels of 10 microgram per deciliter and have therefore used that as the threshold for children and 20 microgram per deciliter for adults. That is to say that this is the action levels where something has to be done. The first step or action would be to determine these levels are accurate; additional testing may be required. If levels are at or above the threshold then the persons environment needs to be looked at and determine a source. Extensive testing may be required to determine sources. Lead sources can be removed or abated, encapsulated or sealed. The EPA has acceptable materials and methods for this. Once the patient is removed from the source, elevated blood levels are monitored and if need be can be lowered by chelation.

HUD and the EPA have done a good job in addressing Lead Base Paint in our environment and how to live lead safe, not lead free. Since the 1970’s lead has been removed or lowered in its use to control the possibility of lead poisoning and to educate the population. For example when lead was removed from gasoline in 1977 atmospheric lead was reduced by 90%.

warningMold / Fungus

Molds and fungi have been around since the beginning of time. The public has a lot of confusion about mold because not much is yet known about the various species, as well as their effects on health. Less than 10% of the world’s mycota have been described. Since the recent diagnosis of respiratory and neurological symptoms linked to the toxins produced by mold spores as well as a self-defense mechanism (mycotoxins), the concern about toxic mold has grown.

Mold spores are everywhere and will begin to grow on almost anything. Mildew will begin to grow on non-porous surfaces, such as: ceramic tile, tubs, toilets, aluminum and vinyl window frames, etc., but will usually go dormant (not die) due to lack of a food source. To sustain growth and colonize, mold needs moisture and a food source, such as cellulose, carbon, and nitrogen. Mold has even evolved a battery of enzymes to digest extremely tough substances like, keratin from our hair and nails, and chiton from insects’ shells, and of course they need moisture. Remove one of these sources and you eliminate the ideal medium for mold growth, and it will go dormant. Too high or too cold a temperature and mold will go dormant. The easiest way to prevent or at least control mold growth is moisture control. Currently there are no Federal regulations that directly address mold remediation. Therefore, in the absence of actual regulations we can only reference guidelines that have been established by the New York City Department of Health and the U.S. E.P.A.

On May 7. 1993, the New York City Department of Health, the New York City of Human Resources Administration, the Mt. Sinai Occupational Health Clinic convened an expert panel on Stachybotrys (Black Mold) in Indoor Environments. The purpose was to develop policies for medical and environmental evaluation and intervention to address what is now known as Stachybotrys Chartarum contamination. The original guidelines were developed because of mold growth problems in buildings in the early 1990’s. In March 2001. the E.P.A. submitted their guidelines for the remediation/cleanup of mold and moisture problems. Both documents begin with general discussion regarding the omnipresence of mold, and the importance that moisture sources are addressed quickly. Nevertheless, the core of each guideline is the proper handling and restoration of mold. First and foremost is the elimination of the moisture problem (e.g. roof leaks, plumbing leaks, foundation leaks, etc.)

The NYC (DOH) offers a brief discussion of restoration procedures by type of contaminated material and size. Non-Porous Material (e.g. metal, glass, ceramic tile, porcelain, hard plastic, etc.) Semi-Porous Material (e.g. lumber, concrete, etc.) Non and/or semi porous materials that are structurally sound and are visibly moldy can be cleaned and reused. Cleaning should be done using a detergent solution. Porous Material (e.g. drywall, insulation, ceiling tiles, etc.) Porous material with more than a small area of contamination should be removed and discarded. Porous materials with a small area of contamination can be cleaned and reused, but should be discarded if possible. The work area and surrounding areas should be cleaned with a detergent solution and HEPA vacuumed.

A certified professional contractor should be used when remediating porous materials with large areas of contamination. All materials to be reused must be dry and visibly free from mold. Routine inspections should be conducted to confirm the effectiveness of the remediation work.

Remediation consists of five levels:
  1. Small isolated areas < 10 sq. ft.
  2. Mid-size isolated areas 10 – 30 sq. ft.
  3. Large isolated areas 30 – 100 sq. ft.
  4. Extensive contamination of more than 100 contiguous sq. ft. in an area
  5. Contamination of HVAC systems
There are four methods of remediation that can be used individually or collectively:
  1. Wet vacuum or steam cleaning
  2. Damp wipe surfaces with a detergent solution; or scrub as needed. An antimicrobial solution and sealer can be incorporated on semi-porous material.
  3. HEPA vacuum after all material is thoroughly dried.
  4. Discard contaminated material in plastic bags and HEPA vacuum


Again, after any remediation regular inspections should be conducted to confirm mold does not reappear.

Standard parameters have not been established to determine an action level as there are a plethora of fungi species affecting each individual differently depending on age and health.

This is just a small overview of mold and remediation of mold, with excerpts from the NYC DOH guidelines.

VISIT THE FOLLOWING WEBSITES FOR MORE INFORMATION

The Environmental Protection Agency, www.epa.gov/iaq/molds

The National Association of Home Builders, www.moldtips.com

The Indoor Air Quality Association, www.iaqa.org

warningElectric and Magnetic Fields from 60 Hertz Electric Power

There are electric and magnetic fields where ever there is electric power. This means there are fields associated with big and small power lines, wiring in homes and places of work, and all electric appliances. However, because the biological effects of fields are complicated and still not fully understood, answers to simple questions about whether there are risks are not straight forward. The electric power that we us in our homes, offices and factories is AC, or alternating current. The power that we use in North America alternates back and forth 60 times each second. Scientists call this 60 hertz power. 60 hertz power creates electric and magnetic fields. These fields are created by electric charges. Taken together these are often referred to as electromagnetic fields. A magnetic field represents the force that a moving charge exerts on other moving charges because they are moving. A group of charges all moving in roughly the same direction is called an electric current. Magnetic fields form closed loops around currents. Everything that has an electric charge has fields associated with it. Hence, electric and magnetic fields are found through out nature and in all living things. The strengths of electric and magnetic fields diminish as you move away from electrical objects just as light from a candle grows dimmer as you move away from it or the heat from a campfire falls off with greater distance. Currents produce magnetic fields. Stronger currents produce stronger fields. For example, the magnetic field generated by a hair dryer will be higher when the dryer is operated on its high heat setting (when it draws lots of current). Since magnetic fields are created only when current is flowing, appliances which are plugged in but turned off do not produce magnetic fields. Several different units are commonly used to report the strength of magnetic fields. The two most common units are the gauss and the tesla. Field strengths can be calculated very accurately using formulas from physics and electrical engineering. It may be easier just to measure the field than to try to calculate it.

Fields can add to and subtract from each other. Suppose we have set up two separate 60 Hz. electric fields at the same place in space. Each has a strength of 4 V/m (volts per meter) and they are exactly in strength and direction together at 60 Hz. If we measure the field we will measure 8 V/m. The two 4 V/m electric fields have added. On the other hand, if the two fields are exactly out of phase, that is if one reaches its greatest strength in one direction exactly when the other reaches its greatest strength in the reverse direction, we will measure a field 0 V/m, because the two fields will cancel. This same kind of adding and subtracting also works for magnetic fields. Magnetic fields pass through most common objects without being significantly affected. 60 Hz fields are similar to X-rays (and other forms of “ionizing radiation” such as gamma rays) produce effects in livings systems because the energy carried by the X-rays is so large that it can break molecular bonds. It can actually break apart DNA, the molecules that make the genes. This is the way X-ray exposure can lead to cancer. However, the energy carried in 60 Hz field is much too small to break molecular or chemical bonds. There are ways in which fields can interact with individual cells to produce biological changes. Whether these changes can lead to health risks remains unclear. Scientists have found that fields can produce a variety of biological effects, like changes in the levels of specific chemicals the body makes and changes in the functioning of individual nerve cells and the nervous system. Whether any of these changes can lead to health risks is less clear. Scientists have also studied the statistics on death and disease for people who are exposed to fields in their normal course of living and work. Such studies are termed “epidemiological studies.” Some of them suggest that there may be an association between field exposure and certain forms of cancer. Other similar studies show no such association. The evidence is not conclusive.

Strength of Electric & Magnetic Fields

If you have any questions, don't hesitate to call Insight today to schedule an appointment.


warningSeptic Systems

A septic system is an onsite sewage disposal system. It is yours, not the citys’, not the townships, not the counties’, it is yours to use and maintain. Generally, a septic system consists of a tank. Usually concrete and a drain field, and a seepage tank (pit).

A septic tank is at least 10 feet from the foundation and at least 50 feet from a well or well suction line. They are normally 750 gallons to 1500 gallons and can be a single or dual chambered or can be 2 tanks of equal or different sizes inline. This would depend on how many bedrooms and/or the minimum required by the county Health Department. There can be a distribution tank or box that would evenly distribute effluent to each drain field pipe. With several distribution boxes you can even have a drain field in the side of a low slope hill. The septic tank works by forming a suspension inside. Sewage from the building flows into the tank and at first floats forming what is known as the scum layer. As anaerobic bacteria and enzymes break down the sewage, heavy solids and greases sink to the bottom and form the sludge layer. What is left in between is called the effluent made up of mostly a liquid state sewage and small, fine solids not yet completely decomposed. This effluent drains out into the drain field or seepage tank, a normal working level is the effluent draining out at the bottom 1/3 of the outlet elbow or tee with scum floating on top of that. Effluent can flow into a dosing tank or pump tank where effluent can be pumped to an elevated or mounded drain field or to a filter such as a mounded sand filter and then to the drain field. This would be a professionally engineered type system used to solve a variety of problems or needs.

The drain field or seepage tank is where it all ends up. The drain field is made up of concrete pipes placed end to end or a plastic perforated pipe rested in a gravel trench allowing the effluent to drain down or perk through the soil and Mother Nature finishes the filtering. A seepage tank or pit is used if there are poorly draining soil conditions or the building site does not have enough room for a drain field. The seepage tank is usually perforated concrete filled with stone that disperses the effluent to be absorbed by the soil. Septic system evaluations are not part of a home inspection.

DO'S AND DON'TS

  • DO have the septic tank pumped out by a licensed operator every 2-3 years, depending on use.
  • DO know where it is located and have a way to reach it to be sure it can be pumped easily.
  • DO limit the amount of kitchen waste you put into the system through a garbage disposal.
  • DO limit use of bleaches, detergents, soaps, bowl cleaners or drain cleaners.
  • DO NOT allow vehicles to drive over the tile field; the drain tiles will be damaged.
  • DO NOT allow trees and shrubs to grow over the septic field.
  • DO NOT allow large amounts of water to be drained into the septic tank at the same time.
  • DO NOT connect downspouts, sump pumps or water softener backwash to the septic system.
  • DO NOT put harmful materials down your drains, such as fats, oils, septic additives, solvents or solids like plastic, paper towels, feminine hygiene products or disposable diapers.