By Rick Mullen,
Maintenance Sales News Associate Editor
During his presentation to an audience of cleaning industry professionals titled, “Mold Won’t Hurt You … Unless You’re You,” Doug Hoffman, CEO/president of the National Organization of Remediators and Mold Inspectors (NORMI™), outlined some of the ways mold and other environmental contaminants can be harmful in the workplace, as well as in schools.
“I’ve been involved in this industry since 1995, and its been amazing how much misinformation there is in the marketplace about managing mold,” Hoffman said. “When we formed NORMI in July 2004, our goal was to get the correct information into people’s hands, and to help facility maintenance directors and people working in the cleaning industry to understand what they can do to assess environments, prior to hiring a professional.
“It is not always necessary to pay somebody lots of money to do an assessment for mold and bacteria. There are some things that can be done leading up to hiring someone, which can be very inexpensive.”
From www.normi.org: “NORMI … is one of the fastest growing certifying agencies in the country, and has been involved in providing high quality training for mold and indoor environmental professionals since 2004. Having trained thousands of construction professionals throughout the United States, Canada, Europe and South America, NORMI provides over 14 certifications and is the only training/certification provider that meets licensing laws now established in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Maryland, New York and Washington, D.C., the five states now licensing mold professionals.
“Many states are considering regulations regarding mold professionals licensing, and NORMI is in the forefront of that legislation to help protect the public and the trade without jeopardizing business growth. Sound, reasonable regulations become a solid foundation on which well-trained professionals can operate their businesses with success and credibility. NORMI offers legislation to states that are currently considering establishing a mold licensing law.”
“There are specific laws and guidelines that govern the way assessments and remediation can be done,” Hoffman said. “NORMI is the only organization currently qualified to be approved in all five states that have licensing laws.”
In discussing the impact of mold and other contaminants have on people, Hoffman said individuals react differently to whatever environment they might be in at any given time.
“My wife and I recently celebrated our 47th wedding anniversary. I learned a long time ago that I am not my wife. She is very different from me. She sees things very differently from how I see them,” Hoffman said. “I had to learn early on, just because I would walk into an environment and couldn’t smell anything, I couldn’t ignore that fact that she could.”
Hoffman urged employers in the audience to be aware of, and not ignore the fact that individual employees are likely to have various reactions to contaminants, such as mold, dust, bacteria, etc., that might be present in their work environment.
“Sometimes, as employers, we forget that our employees are sensing and feeling different things than we are in the environment,” Hoffman said. “At times, we have ‘canaries’ who work for us, and they can tell there are things going on in the environment that we don’t know about.
“People are beginning to understand they are reacting to their environment. For example, when they get headaches at work, it is not just because of their bosses, but there might be something going on in the environment that has to be addressed.”
As an example, Hoffman played a video featuring Dr. Doris Rapp, a pediatric physician and a pioneer in the allergy field, who promotes a practice called provocation-neutralization, which is, essentially, applying diluted allergens to treat allergies. Dr. Rapp spoke of a case study involving an 8-year-old boy.
“I’d like to show you why some people become very angry,” Dr. Rapp said. “It can affect children and adults, and, much to my amazement, this is frequently precipitated by molds — exposure to a moldy house, a moldy room or rainy days. This particular 8-year-old boy had difficulty on moldy, damp, wet days — his whole personality changed.”
Dr. Rapp said, when exposed to mold, the boy would go from being a normal, happy child, to one who displayed anger, and even aggressive behavior. Using provocation-neutralization, when the boy was given a drop of allergy extract his behavior returned to normal.
“Can you imagine a child reacting to the environment this way?” Hoffman asked. “What would our reaction typically be? We might blame it on bad parenting saying, ‘That child needs to be disciplined.’ Or maybe, ‘We need to give that child some drugs.’ The reality is, because of the environment, that child was demonstrating what we call ‘hyperactivity.’”
THE ‘BARREL EFFECT’
Also, in the video, Dr. Rapp said, “We have polluted our air, our food, our water, our phones, our workplaces and our schools, so that schools are no longer environmentally safe. Children can’t learn, they can’t behave, they don’t act appropriately. Teachers can’t teach, and it is because of the various environmental factors inside the school that are polluting much more than the outdoors.”
Dr. Rapp said one important concept that must be understood in dealing with contaminants in the environment is called the “barrel effect.”
Hoffman played another video in which the narrator said, “Think of your body as a barrel that will remain healthy if it is only partially full. When it is filled to the top, you will become ill. This helps to explain why someone can become ill at one time but not another, in spite of exposure to offending substances.
“For example, suppose you were exposed to a little dust and mold — not enough to cause any deeper problems because your barrel was partially empty. Then, on another occasion, (when) your barrel is filled to the very top because you are being exposed to too much of a combination of dust, molds, foods, pollen, or chemicals … you will become ill. If you can keep your total exposure below that critical level, you will remain well, even though you have been exposed to things that can bother you.”
Hoffman said these concepts are not new, as Dr. Rapp has been talking about how exposure to contaminants in the environment impacts people, as well as the barrel effect, for 30 years.
“Doctors are finding it is absolutely true that we can only tolerate so much in our environment — some of us less than others,” Hoffman said. “The reality is, when we are exposed to these contaminates, whatever they may be, and mold is just one of them, our immune system can’t overcome the stress.”
In the second video, the narrator discussed the case of a fourth-grade teacher who became profoundly ill because of her sensitivity to chemical odors at school.
Hoffman gave another example of his dentist who suffers from chemical sensitivities.
“He has a sign in his lobby that says, ‘If you came this time with perfumes, next time don’t come.’ People are becoming more and more sensitive to environments,” Hoffman said. “As employers, we need to be aware that some people are incredibly sensitive. It is not just mold or bacteria, but also the chemistries in the cleaning solvents that we use.
“What is happening in our industry is fascinating. We are learning to be able to link what is going on in the environment with what is going on in our bodies.”
Hoffman said DNA testing can now be conducted in association with a particular environment, connecting the environment to what is happening in people’s bodies. He gave an example of a cruise ship passenger who became ill with Legionella. Such testing could have pinpointed that the ship was the environment in which the man contracted the Legionella bacteria.
From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website www.cdc.gov: “Legionella bacteria can cause a serious type of pneumonia (lung infection) called Legionnaires’ disease. The bacteria can also cause a less serious illness called Pontiac fever.”
Hoffman cautioned business owners that if, as the result of testing, their workplace environment was found to have caused someone to become ill, that could be grounds for a lawsuit.
Hoffman showed a slide involving another case study done by Dr. Rapp, in which a child wrote his name backwards after being exposed to mold. Before the mold exposure, his handwriting, PFM and pulse rate were all normal.
According to www.hopkinsmedicine.org, a peak flow meter (PFM) is a small handheld device made of plastic that measures the amount and rate of air that can be forcefully breathed out of the lungs.
During a reaction to a mold allergy test, the boy’s PFM decreased, while his pulse increased. In addition, he wrote his name right to left, with the letters backwards, as though they were being viewed in a mirror.
Following a mold allergy treatment, his handwriting and pulse returned to normal and his PFM was elevated.
“Typically, how would he have been diagnosed? — as dyslexic, right?” Hoffman asked. “For the rest of his life, he would have been known as a child with a learning disability, when, in fact, he was reacting to the environment. Had the environment been cleaned up, he might not have had that reaction.”
Hoffman said Dr. Rapp advocates paying attention to what she calls the “big five” as indicators that there may be something in the environment affecting an individual in a negative way.
As outlined in her book “Is This Your Child,” Dr. Rapp’s “big five” consists of:
■ When there is a characteristic change in how you, or your child, feels, acts, or behaves;
■ When there is a characteristic warning change in how you look. Red earlobes, dark eye circles, nose rubbing, throat clearing and wiggly legs are all typical clues;
■ If your pulse becomes irregular or too fast after a chemical or allergenic exposure, your entire body is in an alarm state, because your blood vessel circulation or heart has been affected. In others, it is the blood pressure that is affected;
■ If your handwriting or drawing is altered, your nervous system and brain have been affected;
■ If your breathing becomes more difficult or your peak flow meter (PFM) reading drops, this indicates your lungs have been affected by some exposure.
Hoffman reiterated that businesses that ignore potential negative environmental issues are opening the door to litigation.
“The question is, ‘How can we avoid that possibility?’” Hoffman said.
In answering his question, Hoffman outlined a five-step process of assessing an environment, from “Managing Indoor Air Quality” by H.E. Burroughs and Shirley J. Hansen.
■ Phase I: The Preliminary Assessment Process;
“The preliminary assessment process can be conducted in-house,” Hoffman said. “We have a NORMI questionnaire that well help guide you through this process.”
■ Phase II: The Qualitative Walk-Through Inspection;
The NORMI™ Professional Screening Partner process is a DIY program available as a guide through this process, Hoffman said.
■ Phase III: Simple Quantitative Sampling and Assessment Techniques;
This phase involves the use of do-it-yourself testing kits.
“You have to know which ones are good and which ones aren’t, and which ones work and which ones don’t,” Hoffman said.
■ Phase IV: Complex Quantitative Diagnosis;
This phase involves hiring a NORMI professional to conduct the diagnosis.
“It will probably include air and surface samplings and maybe a building science evaluation,” Hoffman said.
■ Phase V: Proactive Monitoring and Recurrence Prevention.
This phase involves the NORMI IAQ Management Plan, Hoffman said.
NORMI’s solution-based training includes classes for the public and industry professionals who want to know more about mold and other indoor air quality contaminants.
Onsite classes can be tailored to fit a specific business model or corporate need for training. For more information, visit www.BestTrainingSchool.com.
Hoffman is a state of Florida Certified Class A General Contractor, Certified Master Plumbing Contractor and Certified Roofing Contractor. He is also the author of “Mold-Free Construction 2.0” (www.MoldFreeConstruction.com).
Contact: NORMI, 22174 Prats Road,
Abita Springs, LA 70420.