Hazards you should know about

What Are Building Diseases?

  • Chemical – Due to their fumes.
  • Electrical – The human body is sensitive to electrical frequencies. Wiring should be minimal, not placed closer than 1 metre to the sleeping bed, and the use of T.V. and other appliances should be reduced. Even static electricity from synthetic floor coverings can cause problems.
  • Cage – This occurs when concrete and steel buildings screen out natural radiations which help regulate life systems.
  • Location – This covers geobiology which is concerned with natural radiation that originates within the earth. It is a new science based on traditional principles.

 

Building Biology also deals with the environment in general and the climate of living. The climate of living can be determined by things such as:

  • installations and furnishings
  • noise and acoustics
  • lighting and colours
  • radiation, avoiding disturbed areas
  • radioactivity
  • space, form and proportion
  • physiology and psychology of living and working
  • city planning with biological, ecological and sociological aspects.

Source: acs.edu.au

 

Allergens- In the past 25 years, the incidence of allergies has doubled in western countries and scientists are at a loss to explain this phenomenon (Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy). Health statistics reveal a disturbing story: peanut allergies has more than doubled in the past 5 years, 1 in 4 children now have asthma and hospital admissions for anaphylaxis – a potentially life threatening allergic reaction – has increased by 700%. Most authorities agree that environmental factors play a major role. An allergy is an abnormal, overreaction of the body’s immune system to a substance which under normal circumstances is harmless

 

Sources of allergens in the home

Here are some sources of allergens likely to be in a home.

  • Dust
  • Dust mite
  • Pets
  • Pollens
Testing your home

Air testing is a complicated procedure that requires a thorough knowledge of the sources of hazards in and around the building, an understanding of the current exposure standards, and the use of highly technical and expensive equipment. A building biologist will test your home for dust and ultra-fine particles and provide you with advice to reduce your exposure levels.

Chemicals- Pesticides, building materials and paints, household furnishings, as well as personal care and cleaning products cover the majority of chemicals most people are likely to be exposed to. These volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are responsible for much of the indoor air pollution commonly found within a home.

 

Sources of chemicals

Here is a partial list of chemicals likely to be in your home.

  • Fake tan products
  • Hormone disrupting chemicals in household products (why pregnant women, children and people with breast and prostate cancer should avoid)
  • Cleaning products
  • Makeup – “saving face”
  • Personal care products
  • Pesticides
  • Plastics
  • Plastic baby bottles
  • Building materials
  • Sunscreens
  • Non-stick cookware
How toxic are your products?

Where personal care products list their ingredients on the packaging, manufacturers of cleaning products are not obliged to. As such you don’t know what you are really being exposed to.

There are 3 ways to assess how toxic the ingredients in your product are:

  1. Check the label on your cleaning product for warning signs such as POISON, TOXIC, CAUTION, CORROSIVE or WARNING.
  2. Skin patch test. When using a product for the first time, it is always recommended that you do a skin patch test. Apply a small amount of the product on the pulse area of your wrist. Leave on up to 48 hours (unwashed). If the skin becomes itchy, red, and/or painful you are likely to be allergic to it and need to remove it immediately.
  3. Obtain the Material Safety Data Sheet for the product directly from the manufacturer whose details will be on the label. Once you have the list of ingredients in the product, you will need to obtain the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for each individual ingredient.

 

Testing chemicals

There are a variety of means by which a building biologist can assess chemicals in a building. Most requires sophisticated and expensive equipment. The cost will vary depending on the type of chemical you wish to assess and whether you want instant results or require data logging capabilities.

Solutions

When it comes to volatile organic compounds the warmer the room, the greater the rate at which they “outgas” into the air. New building materials and paints can take years to off gas. As such, ventilation is the key to reducing one’s exposure especially in a new or recently renovated building.

Drinking Water– Like air, drinking water quality is something most of us take for granted, but can we afford to be so complacent? Australians often brag that they have one of the cleanest drinking water supplies in the world. Theoretically this assumption is correct if you drink it from the protected forest catchment area. As this is not permitted, the chemicals that are consequently added to ‘purify’ the water and the hundreds of kilometres of pipes through which it must travel, affect the quality of water that ultimately comes out of your tap.

 

Health concerns

This will depend on your source of drinking water:

  1. Tap water
  2. Tank water
  3. Bore / well water
  4. Bottled water
Testing your water

Water testing is the only way you can adequately assess what you are actually drinking. Water can contain:

  1. Pesticides many are linked with cancer
  2. Copper can cause digestive problems, liver and kidney damage, increased risk of miscarriage
  3. Lead is associated with learning and behavioural disorders in children, nerve and kidney damage
  4. Iron rust build up will turn the water a browny yellow colour, clog pipes, affect water pressure and may cause digestive problems
  5. Bacteria E Coli can cause serious illness and death
  6. Chlorine a lifelong consumption is associated with an increased risk of bladder and bowel cancer
  7. Hardness causes the build-up of lime scale which can affect your whitegoods and a higher use for shampoo and detergents
  8. pH of your water the more acidic the water, the greater the rate at which heavy metals can leach
  9. Nitrates and nitrites from fertilisers and animal wastes are associated with serious health risks including blue baby syndrome and an increased risk of blue green algae

 

Electromagnetic Fields- Did you know that there are hundreds of schools across Europe removing Wi-Fi, and countries like Germany actively encourage its citizens to avoid it and use hard wired connections instead. So can we live in a modern society without suffering from the adverse health effects of the radiation?

Yes, but only if you are informed. From mobile and cordless phones to overhead power lines, baby monitors and electrical appliances, we are exposed to multiple sources of radiation on a continual basis. In the past 100 years, we have progressively added an enormous amount of man-made signals to the natural electromagnetic background of the planet to the extent that there is practically no where left that is not being influenced by it in some way. The frequencies of greatest concern are those used in telecommunications, household appliances and building wiring.

 

Australia’s exposure standards

According to Nicole Bjilsma Australia’s exposure standards for Radiofrequencies used in telecommunications (Wi-Fi, mobile phones, smart meters, cordless phones…) to other countries like China, Switzerland, Russia and Austria which by the way – are one hundred to one million times LOWER than what is permitted in Australia. How did a form of technology, which the World Health Organisation classified on the 31st May 2011 as ‘possibly carcinogenic to humans’ get introduced into most of our schools, workplaces and homes for the sake of dividends for shareholders?

Are you electrically sensitive?

Electrical Hypersensitivity (EHS) is a 20th Century condition that was first acknowledged by the Swedish as a disability and more recently by the Canadians, when it was documented in computer workers in the 1980s. Since that time, household appliances, building wiring and the introduction of wireless devices including mobile phones, cordless phones, ipads, blue tooth devices, laptops, game consoles have become synonymous with modern day living. Like most household hazards, these technologies were introduced with little regard for their impact on human health. The number of scientific papers and reports on man-made electromagnetic fields is rising daily with well over 25,000 papers published in the past 30 years (WHO, 2011). In 2012, progressive countries including Belgium, Sweden and Germany are implementing strategies to educate health professionals, day care centres and medical practitioners about the disorder, creating EMR-free zones in the community, and investing funds to research the disorder. Many schools throughout the United Kingdom and Europe are questioning and in some cases, banning the use of wireless technologies using the precautionary principle as their argument. Pressure is mounting on the World Health Organisation to recognise EHS as a disease.

Occasional exposure to high electromagnetic fields is not likely to pose a health risk to most people; however exposure to high electric and/or magnetic fields over a long period of time (such as when sleeping) are when problems are likely to arise.

An epidemic of under and miss diagnosis can be attributed to the fact that EHS is characterised by a range of non-specific symptoms which vary widely amongst sufferers. In addition there are no biomarkers to test what is occurring in the body and sadly, few practitioners who are trained to identify the symptoms. Consequently many sufferers are misdiagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, ME, fibromyalgia, or fobbed off as being psychosomatic. This is further complicated by the fact that once a person’s threshold is reached, a snowball effect occurs whereby multiple systems become involved (immune, central nervous system, respiratory…) and sufferers consequently become sensitive to additional hazards such as chemicals (Multiple Chemical Sensitivity) and mould.

 

Sufferers are likely to experience several of the following symptoms:

  • general: insomnia, fatigue, nausea and headaches (often described as vice like or gripping)
  • skin: burning, prickling and biting sensation on the skin like ‘electric shocks’. This intensifies the closer they get to an appliance or the walls (building wiring)
  • nerve: restlessness, irritability, poor short term memory, difficulty concentrating, dizziness, dyslexia, forgetfulness and learning difficulties
  • heart: palpitations, chest pain, increased heart rate and blood pressure changes
  • musculoskeletal: body aches and joint pains, jaw and teeth pain, numbness or tingling sensations, muscle tremors
  • hearing: ringing in the ears (tinnitus), hearing loss, impaired balance
  • immune: impending flu like symptoms that don’t eventuate
  • eye: impaired vision

 

Long term exposure to electromagnetic fields

A doubling in the incidence of childhood leukaemia (when kids are exposed to more than 4mG) (Powerwatch, 2010). Government agencies around the world including the US National Institute on Environmental Health Sciences and the UK National Radiological Protection Board Advisory Group on Non-Ionising Radiation (AGNIR) now agree that magnetic fields above 4mG arising from 50/60Hz are a possible carcinogen. In 2002 the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified 50Hz magnetic fields as a possible carcinogen (International Agency for Research on Cancer, 2002).

Mounting research indicates a possible connection between mobile phone use and specific forms of brain tumours namely gliomas and acoustic neuromas (Swedish Professor Lennart Hardell, 2008).

There is a growing body of evidence to indicate that magnetic fields of around 12mG may increase the rate at which breast cancer cells multiply as a result of their ability to suppress the ‘anticancer’ hormone melatonin (Blackman et al, 2001 and Harland et al, 1997).

Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS – Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) (Feychting et al, 2003) (Hakansson et al, 2003) (Ahlbom, 2001)

Miscarriage (Lee et al, 2002) (De-Kun, 2002) (Cao et al, 2002)

 

Sources of electromagnetic radiation in a building

Here are some sources of electromagnetic radiation likely to affect a building.

  • Appliances and building wiring
  • Baby monitors
  • High voltage transmission & power lines
  • Inverters from solar panels
  • Lighting
  • Mobile phone towers
  • Phones
  • Radioactivity
  • Smart meters and the meter box
  • Wireless technology

Testing your home

Electromagnetic field testing is a complicated procedure that requires a good understanding of the electromagnetic spectrum, an ability to identify the various frequencies likely to affect the built environment, use of highly technical and often expensive equipment as well as shielding techniques. Get a building biologist to check your body voltage, and to measure the electromagnetic fields (extra low frequency magnetic fields and radio/microwaves) in your home and workplace. Your consultant should have a nationally (government) accredited qualification to ensure they are competent to conduct electromagnetic field testing. Be wary of consultants who conduct testing that have no formal qualifications and have a conflict of interest to sell thousands of dollars in shielding materials – the majority of which is not justified to address the issues.

 

Simple tips to reduce your exposure

This will depend on the source, type of frequency and, in the case of microwave emissions from mobile phone towers and cordless phones, the power output.

  1. Distance – it’s called the inverse square law and it essentially means as you double the distance away from the EMF source, you will reduce your exposure to it by 75%. It’s the cheapest, simplest and most effective advice I can give. Keep at least 1 metre at a distance from the source especially in areas where you spend time such as the bed, favourite couch, desk and so on.
  2. Shielding is a last resort if you are unable to eliminate the source of the field. Shielding is used to reduce ones exposure to electric fields and to radiofrequencies, however it is not effective against magnetic fields. It is a complicated procedure that will require the expertise of a building biologist and licensed electrician who needs to earth the paint and/or material. Shielded cabling or sheath cabling in metal conduit is recommended to reduce the electric field in the walls. All wireless technologies should be avoided in shielded rooms as it will reflect the radiation back into the room.
  3. Earthing mat to reduce your body voltage when working and sleeping
  4. Demand switches and contactors are placed in the fuse box to reduce one’s exposure to electric and magnetic fields
  5. Put the mobile phone and ipad in airplane mode when the kids are playing games

Geopathic Stress- The practice of geomancy was originally derived from Celtic and Germanic cultural traditions. Druids, priests and community leaders would dowse to determine the most appropriate and beneficial site to build homes, churches, and the town well and town square. These places were the hub of the community and would therefore be positioned in a powerful place. Examples include Ayers Rock, Stonehenge, the Egyptian Pyramids and the Oracle of Delphi. Geomancy is a tool that is used to discern and influence the health of the energy of an area. It takes into consideration both the positive and negative sites including sacred sites, sacred geometry and the earth mysteries. The basic premise of geomancy is that we have a close and subtle connection to the environment around us; a relationship which extends far beyond the obvious physical connection that we encounter in our everyday lives.

Types of geopathic stress

Geopathic stress may arise from both natural and man-made activities; excavation and mining being two such examples. Daily disturbances of the earth’s magnetic field produce variations in geomagnetic activity which is reportedly associated with widespread effects on human health and behaviour including the way in which we dream (Lipnicki, 2009). Types of geopathic stressors include geological faults, geomagnetic lines, ley lines and water courses.

Suspected health concerns

Health concerns concerning geopathic stress were first raised by German Doctors in the 1920s when they were investigating cancer clusters in several villages. Von Pohl was alleged to be able to predict the incidence of cancer of two towns using a map. Most of the health concerns associated with geopathic stress are anecdotal – this is because there is currently no scientific equipment to adequately measure these fields. Like other forms of extra low frequency electromagnetic fields, the mechanism by which geopathic stress may cause harm is not well understood. Reported symptoms may range from unexplained fatigue, sleep disturbances, mental and behavioural disorders to infertility and chronic immune problems (however to date, this has not been scientifically validated).

Testing your home

To determine if your building is affected by geopathic stress you can either get a dowser or building biologist to assess the site.

To determine if your body has been affected by geopathic stress, see an experienced kinesiologist or a naturopath who uses ART (autonomic resonance test), VEGA or MORA machine.

Germs & Mould You can’t always see or even smell it; however it affects almost 1 in 3 Australian homes and can have devastating consequences on the lives of those who can’t make antibodies against it. So given that fungi are nature’s greatest decomposers and have been around well before us, why is mould such a problem now? Energy efficient homes are like plastic bags (air and water tight) with compromised passive ventilation. Consequently there has been a considerable increase in the number of complaints to the Building Commission about condensation issues. In addition we have gone from using natural building materials like hard wood timbers that naturally contain resins that are resistant to fungal attack to pre-digested particle board that has become the perfect fast food for mould. The two factors come together to create a toxic time bomb.

The cause of mould is moisture

A fungus needs food and moisture to thrive. As microbes are everywhere on this planet from the Arctic to the Antarctica, and most building materials and furnishings in our homes are the perfect fast food for mould, the key to addressing any mould problem is to identify the source of the moisture. Once moisture sits on a surface for more than 48 hours, bacteria and fungi have a field day.

  • condensation issues: will be seen as water droplets on a surface. This can arise from the use of humidifiers, drying wet clothes inside a room with poor passive ventilation, unflued gas appliances, steam created from kitchen (cooking), laundry (washing, dryer) or bathroom activities (showering, bathing), too many occupants in a bedroom (we exhale water vapour), lack of insulation in the house and single paned windows (creates condensation on the walls and/or windows)
  • plumbing, gutter or roof issues allowing moisture to penetrate inside the building
  • building on a flood plain or aquifer
  • insufficient drainage around the home
  • building into a hill, on or at the bottom of a hill
  • garden beds butting up against the house;
  • sprinklers spraying on the home
  • living in humid areas (consistently above 70% relative humidity)
  • absent or insufficient water proof barriers in the wet areas of the home
  • insufficient subfloor ventilation
  • damage to the damp proof course
  • metal framed homes creates thermal bridges (condensation occurs)
  • concrete slab has not yet cured and is consequently releasing tonnes of moisture into the indoor air mass
  • water damaged timber was used to build a home (or was left out in the rain during construction)
  • building materials and furnishings in the home such as vinyl, metals, ceramics or sealed timbers/concrete have poor hygroscopicity (i.e. do not breathe). This creates a greater difference in surface temperatures

24% of the population cannot create antibodies to mould; so every time these people are in a water-damaged building, they feel unwell.

Health effects:

Black Mould or rather a single species of fungi is unlikely to be responsible for the vast array of health effects seen in a water damaged building. It is now thought that it is the chemical stew of microbes (bacteria and fungi) as well as their by-products (fragments, spores, endotoxins, mycotoxins…) that are likely to be responsible for the health effects. Around a quarter of the population have a genotype (haplotype) that does not enable them to produce antibodies to fungi; so every time they walk into a mouldy building, it sets up an inflammatory response in their body that doesn’t switch off. In contrast the rest of the population produce antibodies to these microbes which enables them to recognise and clear them from the body. This inflammation affects key neuropeptides in the brain – vasoactive intestinal polypeptide, melanocyte stimulating hormone and in some cases antidiuretic hormone which can cause much of the symptoms associated with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. This is why some people in a water damaged home can get very sick, whilst their partners can be completely well.

Fatigue that is not alleviated by sleep which completely affects their circadian rhythm (micro sleeps during the day, unable to sleep at night…)

Lung problems such as recurrent colds and flu those are difficult to get rid of, cough, sinusitis, hay fever, pneumonia.

Chronic fatigue syndrome: headache, sleep disturbances, brain fog (loss of words, poor short term memory, forgetful), fibromyalgia (unusual body aches and pains) and inability to thermoregulate (hot and cold)

About 30% of patients will experience excessive urination and thirst (not related to diabetes) and easy to get shocked when touching appliances. This is due to changes in osmolality due to issues with Antidiuretic hormone.

Many patients go on to develop chemical sensitivity and electromagnetic hypersensitivity which are almost identical in their presentation

Symptoms improve when they are away from the water damaged (mouldy) area

Treating mould illness:

There are very few health practitioners who have a good understanding of the devastating effects of mould illness especially in those people who are often misdiagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. The following two GPs have trained under the US doctor Ritchie Shoemaker who is the world leader in bio toxin illnesses.

Visual contrast sensitivity (VCS) testing measures your ability to distinguish between finer and finer increments of light versus dark lines (contrast) which differs to the visual acuity testing conducted in a routine eye exam. Night driving is an example of an activity that requires good contrast sensitivity. VCS testing has been used extensively by the military for aviators as it appears to be a better indicator of visual performance under day and night conditions than visual acuity. Loss of contrast sensitivity may indicate eye disease (glaucoma, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration) or neurodegenerative and inflammatory diseases affecting the optic nerve such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease and bio toxin (mould) illness. Consequently VCS testing has been used by the US EPA, NIOSH and the Centre for Disease Control. What I find so useful about this test is its accuracy in identifying mould illnesses (in conjunction with other inflammatory biomarkers) and its ability to monitor the progress of the mould affected patient. I routinely request all of my clients to do the test, pre and post remediation. Of course, whilst a diagnosis for mould illness cannot be established from this test alone, it is a simple tool that can easily be implemented to gauge changes in the client’s health. VCS test takes about 10 minutes and is free, though they ask for a small donation.

Testing the home for mould:

In some of the worst homes affected by mould, I could not see any visible mould or smell any dampness. Mould testing is a complicated procedure that involves moisture mapping to determine the extent of the water damaged materials, air and surface sampling (which are then sent to the lab to be cultured and analysed), use of borescopes and thermal imaging cameras to identify hidden mould and temperature differences, a good understanding of psychrometrics and the hygroscopicity of building materials and so forth.

Cleaning mould:

As most mould spores are dead, they can still create health problems as they contain mycotoxins. Therefore it is irrelevant as to whether you kills the mould, rather the focus needs to be on getting to the source of moisture and then physically removing the mould with microfibre cloths and HEPA filtering (horse hair is best). For non-porous surfaces use a 20% water to 80% white vinegar solution. For porous surfaces like untreated timber, use a 70% alcohol solution. Use the microfibre cloths to remove. Whatever you do, DO NOT use bleach as it is a useful food source for many types of fungi! If the area of visible mould exceeds one square meter, get a building biologist or accredited mould remediator to investigate.

Lead- Lead paint is responsible for the majority of childhood lead poisoning. Up to the 1950s, Australian paint could contain as much as 50% lead! It was eventually reduced to 0.1% in 1997 where it currently stands. Many of these paints are marketed as ‘lead free’.

Sources

Lead dust may arise from renovating an old home that contains lead paint (used up until the 1970s in Australia), lead in vehicle emissions which was phased out in 2002 (there are tonnes of lead dust still lying around our roadways), emissions from the mining industry, candles with leaded wicks or it may occur unknowingly as a result of one’s career or hobbies (fishermen who use lead sinkers, lead light enthusiasts, furniture restorers, mechanics, shooters and painters). If you are involved in any of these hobbies or careers, it is recommended that you remove clothing in the laundry and shower before your enter the house. Remember that pets can also bring lead dust into a home!

Lead may also arise from our drinking water.

Health concerns

Lead poses a serious health risk as it is associated with anaemia as well as learning and behavioural problems including reduced attention span, altered motor development and poor performance in children. It is also harmful to pregnant women as it may lead to premature birth, low birth weight, miscarriage and still birth.

Testing

Lead test kits are available through The Lead Group and can be used to determine if lead is in the paint before you renovate, or if your soil, dust, drinking water, ceramics, toy paints or jewellery have too much lead in them.

Solutions

  1. Take your shoes off before you enter the home
  2. Use a damp microfibre cloth to dust the home (never dry dust)
  3. Use a vacuum cleaner fitted with a HEPA filter and motorised head
  4. Before moving children or pets into a pre-1997 home test at least one dust wipe and one soil sample for lead to determine if the house is lead safe..

 

Toxic Gases-

Warning signs that your gas appliance requires immediate attention are:

  • Yellow / orange flame
  • Excessive condensation in the room where the appliance is installed
  • Sooting or staining on or around your appliance

Combustion gases such as carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides and sulphur dioxide produced from gas appliances and unflued gas heaters are a health hazard. New energy efficient homes are most at risk if passive ventilation is compromised as these gases can build up to levels that could cause health problems such as asthma.

Sources & health concerns of gases

Car exhausts emit a concoction of toxic fumes including carbon monoxide (lethal), carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon particles, particulates, ultrafine particles (diesel), dioxins and hydrocarbons such as benzene. Several of these are known to cause cancer, exacerbate asthma and hay fever and can even trigger heart disease. This is why building biologists recommend a garage NEVER be attached to a home.

Unflued and faulty gas appliances such as gas stoves, heaters and internal gas hot water services may emit nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, carbon dioxide, formaldehyde and carbon monoxide which may cause fatigue and drowsiness as well as flu like symptoms, coughs, colds, headaches, asthma and even death. They can also produce significant amounts of humidity into the indoor air mass which could provide ideal conditions for mould to grow.

Oil Furnaces release carbon monoxide, and lead and produce similar air pollutants to what can be found in a car garage.

Unvented kerosene and gas heaters cause an increased humidity and subsequent condensation problems, and the same sort of noxious gases as stoves. The effect is greater because they are used for longer periods of time. It is critical therefore that they only be used when they are adequately vented to the exterior of the building.

Wood combustion fire places and stoves release a plethora of noxious agents including carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, cancer causing chemicals (polyaromatic hydrocarbons) as well as particles like ash and soot. They are known to cause both lung and heart disease especially in third world countries where they are commonly used. These can be ‘back drafted’ into a home from chimneys and flues that are improperly installed, blocked, leaking or damaged. In some cases, this could be fatal.

Testing your home

Air testing is a complicated procedure that requires a thorough knowledge of the sources of potential gases in and around the building, an understanding of the current exposure standards, and the use of highly technical and expensive equipment. A building biologist will test your home for noxious gases and ultrafine particles and provide you with advice to reduce your exposure levels.

Solutions

  • Promote passive ventilation. Open windows and doors when gas appliances and wood heaters are in use.
  • Ensure the exhaust fan is on when cooking with gas.
  • Do not idle the car in a garage if it is attached to the home.
  • In relation to a wood heater, burn only well dried seasoned wood; ensure the flue is open and kept clear of obstruction.
  • A licensed plumber or gas fitter should install service and maintain a gas appliance and wood heater on a yearly basis.

Source: buildingbiology.com.au