Building Survey

This video from The Daily Show in 2011 is a funny (but, really NOT funny) poke at Canada’s asbestos mining industry. I do not know if Canada is still mining asbestos, but I imagine it is still a concern.

Given the right audience, this video might be a good diversion during an asbestos training for comedic relief.

Caution, some moderately foul language (and “beeps”). For sure PG13+ (if anyone pays attention to those ratings).

The Daily Show, Jon Stewart, “Ored to Death”, by Kristen Wiig 2011 (4:54).


If you are in the United States, you have probably been hearing issues with lead (Pb) exposures. The main focus lately has been in Flint, Michigan and their (new) source of water, which contains high levels of the metal. Wiki here.

So, who is to blame?

The NY Times suggests we should blame HUD for the millions of pounds of lead in paint. However, I’m not so sure we can cast all of the blame on them, the legislators, or manufactures. But, we are going to be dealing with lead exposures in the future.

I do not know the depth and extent to which lead poisoning is occurring throughout the US. I’m not sure anyone really does. But, there are MANY sources of lead exposure. For example: leaded gasoline (tetraethyl lead) was used in the past, aviation fuel (av gas low lead) still is, lead in paint, lead in copper pipe solder, lead in fishing weights, lead in ammo, lead in sheet rock, lead in Chineese toys…I could go on.

Bottom line though, if you (or your kids) have elevated lead levels,…there is a source. So, What To Do? Here’s my takeaways:

  • Test you & your kids for their blood lead levels.
    • It is a very established method, but isn’t an exact science. Don’t freak out if they are above “background” levels. Just do what you can.
    • The CDC recently lowered their recommended blood lead threshold to 5 ug/dl of blood.
    • Don’t do chelation therapy, unless the blood lead level is REALLY high. How high? I’m not a doctor.
    • DO eat lots of vegetables and fruit. These have found to lower lead levels the best (but maybe not the fastest).
  • Find the source.
    • Keep looking, there might be more than one. School, work, hobbies, nearby businesses, daily activities.
    • Measure: dirt, water, paint, your workplace.
    • Consider how small an amount is dangerous. 5 micrograms in 1 deciliter of blood. 5 micrograms is 5 millionth of a gram. A fruit fly weighs about 200 micrograms. So, cut a fruit fly into 200 pieces, take 5 of them…you get the idea.
  • Tell others.
    • Recommend that others investigate for themselves.

lead paint

You’ve probably heard of this issue in the news, originally from the CBS News 60-minutes Show, March 1, 2015.

Formaldehyde is NOT good to have indoors, especially with kids (or those with upper respiratory issues). I believe there are a lots of homes and facilities with issues (which are not reported).

There are is some good information out there if you are worried you may have this flooring in your home or business. In summary, here are some notable points:

  • you should really ignore the people pushing this issue (remember they shorted the stock before the news story)
  • formaldehyde is used in a lot of product during manufacturing
  • go to Lumber Liquidators and get your free test kit
  • if you find high levels of formaldehyde, do something.
  • But, the solution may not be to tear out your floors.
  • Remember, formaldehyde can come from many sources.

Here’s a good article on the subject from Galson Labs. If you have concerns, hire a qualified industrial hygienist.


Here’s my top 5 gifts for Christmas in the (my) occupational hygiene world of construction:

  1. A new carbon monoxide monitor.
    • Not just a “normal” $40 model. A Nest Protect Fire & Carbon Monoxide monitor, which is in the $100 range. This thing is sweet. Talks to you, sends you a text message. Here’s a review from Cool Tools. Or, just buy it here.
  2. High flow air pump, Gast model.
    • I have some other flow rate pumps up to 5 liters per minute (LPM), but this one is great for flow rates 10-up to 28 LPM (depending on the model). Good for high volume area type samples and vacuum wipe sampling. You must have 110 power available, but once calibrated, it’s a done-deal. They can be bought for under $250. Grab a rotometer too, if you don’t have one.gast pump
  3. Wireless response system to use during training.
    • Attendees have a wireless response keypad and the trainer can ask a multiple choice question. It allows the audience to reply. The results then show up on the screen. Great for anonymous responses, or a general overview from your audience. There are several vendors, here’s an example, and the leader in the industry is Turning Point. I think these are in the $500-$1,000 range.
  4. A bulk asbestos example kit.
    • A bunch of “typical” building materials which are asbestos containing. In sealed glass jars, of course. I don’t know where you’d buy this sort of thing. I wish I would have kept all of my samples over the years.
  5. A dedicated short term silica sampling kit.
    • SKC has a new sampler which can sample at a higher flow rate  of 8 LPM, compared with the usual 2.5, or 1.8 LPM. (which, if you think through the math; allows you to achieve a detection limit with a lower sample volume, and a shorter time duration) Unfortunately, you must purchase a new SKC Leland pump/charger, PPI sampler, calibration junk. Total cost is probably in the $2,000 range.


Do you smell dirty clothes in your indoor building? Do you suspect your heating ventilation and air conditioning system of causing the smells?

It might be what’s called, “Dirty sock syndrome”. Typically found in high humidity locations. A brief video overview can be found here (You Tube 2:03)

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has good information on indoor air quality and how it affects people as they work. They also have some scientific information about how improving the indoor space (by ventilation, temperature, particles, etc) can create a better environment.

AIHA has a “Position Statement on Mold and Dampness in the Built Environment” (March, 2013).  It lays out the reasons to control moisture in a building, and some basic steps for remedy (spoiler: air sampling doesn’t usually help).

Bottom line: Check your coils before replacing your entire system. Replacing these might be cheaper. Or, sometimes they can be cleaned, but it is a strict protocol. One possible solution is here (I do not endorsement, or recommend this particular product/brand. Do your own research).

Unfortunately I have no problem finding an appropriate picture for this blog on Ebay. People are weird. Yuk.

dirty sock

This question gets asked a lot, and in many different ways. Such as:asbestos iron

  • Will I get hurt if I touch asbestos? (aka: How long can I be exposed?)
  • What if I have done siding removal/cutting pipe/removed TSI (etc) on an asbestos containing product, am I safe?
  • If I am only doing going to do touch asbestos for 20 minutes (or ___ time), will I still be in compliance?
  • I am disturbing less than 3 square feet of asbestos, I can do this legally, right?

The answer is:   it depends.

Or, an alternative answer: if you think you are disturbing asbestos; you’d better verify (by performing an air sample).

Nowadays there is no excuse for exposing employees, tenants, neighbors to asbestos. And, really, if you are working with asbestos, you need to be extra diligent to inform everyone about the hazard. The worst situation isn’t from a single exposure to asbestos, or an OSHA fine. The worst situation is this:  when you don’t pre-plan, and then verify your exposure levels. Because, someone will make up a worst case scenario, and at that point, you are already behind.



If you really have an indoor air quality and mold/fungus issue, it usually stems from moisture. I’ve talked about it before, here. The simplest answer is to find the water. Control the moisture and you inevitable will control the future indoor air quality concerns. Once you have found (and controlled) the water, then it is time to repair the damage and lingering water (which can’t evaporate).

The issue is: where does moisture come from? Well, it ‘can’ come from almost any direction:

EPA moisture control

  • from above (rain, roof vents, skylights)
  • from below (moisture in flooring, concrete)
  • walls (penetrations into the exterior, or windows and flashing)
  • out of thin air (relative humidity)

The EPA has written a new document titled, “Moisture Control Guidance for Building, Design, Construction and Maintenance“. As a contractor, how do you know when the clean up is too much to handle? I’ve written a bit more about it here.

The best time to clean up a moisture issue was yesterday, but the second best time to clean it up is today. Don’t let it sit, it usually doesn’t get any better.

I titled this post, “hazards of drywall”, but it encompassing most of the common hazards of plaster, mud, gypsum, wall-hangers, tapers, and acoustic employees.

  1. Corrosive drywall.

    I have not dealt with this subject on a personal level. However, AIHA has a new guidance document titled, “Assessment and Remediation of Corrosive Drywall: An AIHA Guidance Document“, which is a clarification of an earlier white paper document from 2000, titled, “Corrosive Drywall“. The danger is from a specific type of drywall which was imported from China. After installation it is known to emit sulfide vapors, which corrode copper (electrical wires), and can give off a sulfur smell (HT to JeffH in Ohio).

  2. Asbestos in mud/plaster.

    Be aware, some older buildings (pre 1980s) may have asbestos in the mud compound or plaster (not as common). This will be a concern if you are performing demo on these walls. Info here.

  3. Silica (dust) in joint (mud) compound.

    Some types of silica I have found to have silica. This can be an issue when sanding. AND, if you install drywall like me…you do a lot of sanding. More information from an earlier post can be found here. NIOSH has some suggestions too.

  4. Leaded sheetrock. If you are installing (or demo) leaded sheetrock, you NEED to protect yourself. Airborne levels of lead can approach the exposure limits, even during installation. More info here.
  5. Lead in paint. If you’re tying into existing plaster/drywall and there’s paint, you need to know if there’s lead in it. Sanding on the paint is a good way to be exposed. More info here.
  6. Ergonomics. Hanging the wallboard takes a toll on your body after 20 years (or less). Not to mention sanding. Washington OSHA (L&I) has a good demo.
  7. Noise. Cutting steel studs, powder actuated tools (there’s lead exposure too, you know).
  8. Skin hazards. Cutting, but also dermatitis from prolonged exposure to dust.
  9. Eye hazards. Dust, carpentry, etc. Working overhead is an easy way to get falling items in your eyes.
  10. Falls. Last on my list, but certainly not the least. Scaffolding, working from ladders, and using stilts, to name a few.

I previously wrote about a worst-case scenario in which asbestos was not discovered till after it was disturbed.TSI asbestos

Recently I heard a story of the opposite:

A general contractor hired a company to remove various pieces of asbestos. They had obtained an asbestos building survey, which clearly stated where the  asbestos was located. A boiler with surrounding insulation was identified as non-asbestos containing (asbestos-free). The employee was using a bobcat to demolish the boiler. As he started to tear into the insulation surrounding the boiler (disturb it), he paused. He checked the building survey again, and it had clearly stated it was “asbestos free” (actually 5 samples had been taken of the insulation around the boiler). Then, he did what most other people would not do: HE REFUSED to demo the insulation. He told the General Contractor and owner he thought it was asbestos containing and wanted it tested, AGAIN.

Guess what they found? Yep. Asbestos WAS contained inside the insulation around the boiler.

There was obviously some break-down in communication with the report, inspector, and possibly the lab.  However, this employee is to be commended and, really, the safety culture at this company should be congratulated. You never know where you will find asbestos.  The employee had enough guts to speak up for his safety (and for the others).

Measuring good-safety behavior is the type of thing we should reward. In the past (and still today) many safety-people measure losses ( ie. how many injuries). This is backwards thinking. We should be rewarding good behavior and encouraging people to speak up for safety.

For example; what do you say to this guy?

scaffold ladder

Hypothetically (and allegedly):demo1

  • You receive a project as a subcontractor.
  • You are verbally told no asbestos or lead onsite. Only that’s not true.
  • There is asbestos, and you, and multiple other subs, have disturbed it.
  • The prime contractor says, “oops”. Has the materials tested, and then blames the owner for not letting them know.
  • OSHA is called and citations are issued to the owner and GC for not testing and telling people.
  • A year goes by and now both the owner and GC are being sued by 5 employees for $10,000,000 (yep $10 million, that’s the max BTW).
    • As a footnote: this incidentally is not a worker compensation case (yet) since they are not suing their employer (they are suing the GC and owner)

Even if the employees don’t win $10m, are you prepared for: the headache, loss of client-relationship, trust breaking? Here’s a similar hypothetical article about such a situation.

On the flip side, here are some positive things you can do:

  • get a written copy of the building survey (lead & asbestos) ALWAYS. (you might also ask for cadmium, radon, other possible hazardous substances)
  • Train your employees about asbestos prior to having to deal with it.
  • Give employees the power to “stop work” if they are suspicious of possible asbestos containing material (PACM).
  • When handing out a building survey to your subs, get their acknowledgment (in writing, of course)
  • Fight your OSHA citations. Go to your informal conference. Present your evidence and, at the very least, beg for forgiveness.

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