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Most Frequently Asked Questions about
Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)

*Updated irregularly as time permits*
A bit of wit, a bit of sarcasm, a bit of dry humor, and THE FACTS.
Please forgive the occasional typo or syntax error, they are there for those looking for them . . .

Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) =

(individual stuff is further down the page)

  1. What is Environmental Quality?
    Environmental Quality is the sum of all possible aspects of living spaces that produce what is generally perceived as comfort. Possible environmental / biological irritants that can spoil this setting generally fall within two categories, that is: Mass-based or Energy-based irritants.

  2. How does one conduct an Environmental Assay?
    An Environmental Assay by definition implies an investigation of ALL factors that can influence individual perceptions of comfort. However, due to various constraints, most individuals ask to have specific items investigated, but not others.

  3. What factors limit the extent of an Environmental Assay?
    Price, Quality, and Timing. The customer / client controls one factor, the other two depend on the limitations of that first choice.

  4. I am chemically sensitive. Can I use Aluminum foil to seal sources of aromatic emissions like wood moulding, cabinets, etc.?
    The short answer is No. For the longer answer, two issues need to be considered here.

    Chemically, every piece of wood is treated with pesticides at the lumberyard, to keep it marketable, even before it is coated with nice and shiny stuff like Polyurethane. Applying a seal on one surface forces the material to outgas through another surface. So unless you can completely surround the material, the aromatics will still find their way indoors. That is because walls have holes for cabling and piping, and walls, which will experience part of the aromatic outgassing, will allow passage of air, bringing the aromatics into the living space. Most materials outgas more "stuff" at beginning of life, and less as they age, but never fully stop. Sealing any material, like with shrink-wrap, will cause those more concentrated emissions to remain in place until such time as the wrap is removed, at which time the material will continue outgassing where it last left off. A clue should be forming in your mind, right about now, that outgassing can only be circum"vented" by regular and frequent (or continuous) purging with fresh air, from outside.

    Electrically, if the residential electric system is comprised of Romex wiring, which causes an electrified birdcage effect, every piece of conductive material (like that Aluminum foil), has the capability to absorb part of the field and re-radiate it back, possibly making the situation much worse. If you then consider trying to ground each and every piece of foil, you run up against a technical challenge, even for the expert.

  5. I am Electrically but not Chemically sensitive, while a friend is the opposite. How come?
    Every one is sensitive to both, in varying degrees. However, some feel their sensitivity is exclusively Electrical, or Chemical. But, due to the subtle diversity in our makeup, one will be more obvious than the other. Generally there are several categories of individuals that are most sensitive, and they are (without any specific order of importance):

    Infants, the Elderly, the Injured, Women in general, Women transitioning through Menopause, Pregnant women, Fetuses.

    Most individual being fortunate enough to have passed through infancy, will at some time fit into one or more of the other categories. So becoming sensitive is not a matter of IF, but WHEN.

  6. What is Environmental Hypersensitivity?
    There are certain individuals that refer to themselves as Multiple Chemical Sensitive (MCS), some as Electrically Sensitive (ES), some as Electrically Ill (EI), some as suffering Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), etc. These are all variants of Environmental Hypersensitivity and are characterized by exaggerated reaction to normal irritants due to an Immature, Frail, or Damaged Immune System.

  7. My structure was built following Green and Sustainable concepts. Yet I still feel sick within it. How come?
    Green and Sustainable concepts may be well-intended, but as a friend once told me, "the path to hell is paved with good intentions." Green and Sustainable in and of themselves do not cover all bases (or mean Healthy). A notable omission is the Electromagnetic aspect of the environment. That\\'s because someone in some outfit stated that: "uncontrolled EMFs do no harm". However, extensive and well-documented evidence shows the medical profession using Controlled EMFs to assist healing (implying a "biological interaction"), so the natural deduction would be that Un-controlled EMFs can be used to inflict pain / harm (or anything other than healing). So the individual who made the statement about uncontrolled EMFs doing no harm, and all who agree with him / her are idiots. No ifs, ands, or buts.

    To complicate issues, there are certain "consultants" that buy into "myths," such as needing a remote turn-off switch, even despite the fact that armored wiring is used. The latter precludes the need for the former. But they get put in, sometimes mis-wired, forcing me to get paid to fix the problem.

  8. My home has a central forced hot air and cooling system, and a good filter. Yet many times I feel stuffy. Why?
    During times of system inactivity, and these times can get extensive during times when the temperature is mild, there is excessive CO2 buildup around you due to normal breathing (read the IAQ block further down) which is to be expected. However, the HVAC unit is not designed to control stuffiness, it\\'s designed to control temperature. You can remove the stuffiness by turning the fan on so that it stays on continuously, or have it outfitted with a timer that forces fan operation for say 10 minutes or so every 30. This will reduce the normal buildup of human-produced CO2.

  9. What is the relationship between Rest and Stress?
    Humans cycle between the two on a daily basis. Stress is a daily waking-state exercise, because life is generally an unending process of fixing one problem before going to another. Levels of stress vary between extremes as well as the tolerance among individuals to stress. Stress needs to be followed by periods of rest, otherwise a burn-out occurs which may be characterized by nervous breakdown, physical shutdown (death), or other behavior that does not fit the norm. When rest periods are also prone to stress, as in trying to sleep under railroad tracks, or with an electric octopus underneath / behind / around the bed, rest is not productive and health begins to decline. Similar to adding straws to a camel\\'s back, there will come a point where the back breaks, and the individual is then quick to point the finger at the most recent (and thought likely) irritant as the cause, when in fact the real culprit may have been extended exposure to a specific, or legion of, irritant(s).

  10. I am interested in finding a Safe apartment. Are there any guidelines on what to look for?
    While there is no "safe" living space, there are degrees of "safer." When walking into an apartment, condo, etc., regardless of how appealing it may be at first glance, consider that the space may have been vacant for many days (weeks, etc.), not been judiciously cleaned, and may have underlying issues that need to be identified. These brief guidelines are to try to rehabilitate any such living space in the immediate and short term.
    • Open the windows to let the fresh air in
    • An enclosed space becomes rich in aromatics and staleness because what life there is within (even normal and expected bacteria and mold) will use up Oxygen and foul the indoors, as far as humans are concerned, not to mention aromatics from material outgassing . . .
    • Empty a large glassful of water down every drain
    • Over several days\\' time the water traps will dry up and allow sewer gas indoors, depending on constantly changing relative pressure differences between indoors and the sewer system
    • Have a look under the refrigerator
    • Some refrigerators have a condensate pan at the bottom, accessible by removing the lower kick-panel - if this is fouled, every time the unit is operating some of the fouling may go airborne
    • Have a look under the stove
    • Check the vent exhaust filter if so equipped; BTW: if the stove is Gas-fired it will need a vent that exhausts outdoors, not your typical cheapie recirculation scheme
    • Have a look under the dishwasher, clothes washer and drier, and any supplied furniture
    • Evidence of lots of dirt is good reason for serious second thoughts
    • Have a look under the kitchen sink
    • Signs of uneven cabinet flooring are signs of recent or long past leaks, with potentially significant concentration of mold below the cabinet flooring, which could be an aromatic or particulate issue depending on constantly changing relative pressure differences between indoors and the space below the cabinet flooring
    • Assess the amount of fixed carpeting and porous fabrics
    • They are all candidates for significant particulate accumulation inclusive of animal / human dander, as well as mold spore and just ordinary fine dust - the mere act of walking on carpeting or sitting on a couch will liberate microscopic dust clouds that can stay airborne for hours and which can be airway irritants - Any such surfaces should be HEPA vacuum cleaned if you intend on occupying that space
    • Have a thorough look at ANY air moving device, such as hot water baseboards, air conditioner, etc.
    • Poor on no filtering can cause fouling (dirt accumulation) of machined surfaces or heat exchange surfaces, causing airborne carryover when these devices are in use; a poor Air Conditioning filter is an indicator of a fouled fan, internal to the unit, that may need cleaning - Use a bright flashlight
    • Evaluate whether carpeting in the hallway to the apartment is part of the picture, based on the preceding thoughts
    • Evaluate whether electric or human-applied deodorizers (if present) are used to mask some prominent feature
    • Most are artificial and may have neurological impact capability
    • Check for Magnetic field presence (with a Gaussmeter, of course)
    • Some near walls and floors is acceptable because you are immediately close to installed wiring. In the middle of the living room the lowest possible level is best, and above 4 - 6 mG long-term is not desirable; bear in mind that you are only checking 60 Hz, and on the EMF Frequency Spectrum that is a single blip on a vast universe
    • If there is a magnetic field in the middle of the living space, ascertain if the content is simply 60 Hz or rich in harmonics
    • You can do this with an AM radio, which will allow you to detect frequencies from 540,000 Hz to 1,640,000 Hz. If there is electrical "noise" content through most of the dial, you then know that there is electrical "noise" at many frequencies below and above that range. This is not good. If there are dimmer switches, turn them off to hear if the electrical noise goes away. If it does, replace the dimmers with plain switches. If it does not go away, go check another apartment
    • Check for AC Voltage on the telephone wire, using a very sensitive (non-contact) Voltage probe
    • If there is, the only healthy way to use the phone is as a speakerphone. Filtering exists to remove AC Voltage from the phone line ($150 - $250 each, depending on type), but you should not have to pay for a phone system\\'s problem. Check the accessible phone wiring for electrical noise with that same AM radio. If there is, it will be an irritant during use, and will be due to the Switching Power Supply within the modem used to separate that from the other bundled service, via Cable or the phone company\\'s optical fiber, FIOS
    • Check for Radio Frequency intensity using the same Voltage probe
    • Turning it on, walk around and approach the windows or metallic devices. It should remain quiet. If it beeps on approach to windows, you will probably want to consider window laminates to reduce RF ingress. If it beeps on approach to something like a stove or refrigerator, check the cord for a broken third prong, or have the wiring corrected.

  11. I need to stay in a hotel / motel for a few days to: 1) attend a clinic, or 2) have some work done at my home. Do you have guidelines for this also?
    Tie more of my hands, and there will be less I can do for you . . . Since in a hotel / motel you have less power of influence over your living space, compared to the above, and compared to the more complete influence over your home, there are still a few basic guidelines you can follow to make your life a little more pleasant.
    • By all means ask to see the place you are going to be staying in
      While there, have a look at the heater / air conditioner filter. That\\'s right, it\\'s got one, and it may be long fouled since its last cleaning. The moment it\\'s turned on, a lot of aromatics and particulates may vent into the living space
    • Ensure you get a place that has windows you can open
      Even a city environment with its aromatics may be better than a fully enclosed space with various plastics and deodorizers
    • Ensure you can put a towel down by the door seal
      to close off the air passage between your living space and the hallway
    • Bring your towels, linen, and soap
      Controlling your fabrics\\' and your exposure to fragrances can go a long way to reduce your exposure to smelly fabrics from the establishment, however "nice" they\\'re supposed to be.

Indoor Air Quality

Or Mass-based Irritants:

  1. What is Air Pollution?
    Air Pollution consists of undesired Particulate, or Gaseous content, as well as undesired Temperature, Humidity, and Flow characteristics.

  2. What are undesired Particulates?
    Particulates are small particles that can become airborne, and include Pollen, Mold Spores, Bacteria, Viruses, and Inert or "dead" matter within the same size ranges. Some of these particulates can elicit allergic or toxic reactions.

  3. What is undesired Gaseous content?
    Normal air composition is about 70% Nitrogen (N), 21% Oxygen (as O2), and various other trace gases. When the amount of any trace gas increases significantly, or the oxygen content decreases, then there is a danger of discomfort, nausea, and / or asphyxiation.

  4. What portion of the air do we use in breathing?
    Primarily Oxygen. We breathe in about 21% concentration and exhale about 17% concentration. The latter is not sufficient to maintain consciousness, so we need a continuous supply of that 21%. As the concentration gets reduced, as when there\\'s too many people in one room, the air gets stuffy quick, and ventilation and exchange with a fresh air source is essential to keep people from passing out. In parallel with our Oxygen depletion, we breathe in about 350 parts per million (ppm) Carbon Dioxide (CO2) and exhale about 40,000 ppm (or about 4% concentration) with lots of water vapor.

  5. What is Combustion?
    The rapid combination of some material and Oxygen at high temperature, commonly referred to as a Fire. Slow speed combination also occurs and is commonly known as rust.

  6. What is Open combustion?
    A campfire is an excellent example of an Open combustion process, where large amounts of surrounding air are used to supply the Oxygen needed by the fire. A standard fireplace is functionally identical. However, the intent is to heat the indoors, not throw out air that has already been heated. Unfortunately most oil, gas, and wood fired heating appliances are of the open combustion design. When compounded by the drive for energy efficiency, open combustion appliances should be excluded at the design stage.

  7. There is a smell of oil near my oil furnace, although I don\\'t see any leaks. How come?
    The moment a combustion furnace first ignites there is no updraft in the exhaust pipe to the chimney, so a bubble (or puff) of air composed of combustion products is formed that is of greater dimensions than the furnace. This bubble of air, whose sound of formation resembles a "whoof," can permeate any porous surface, such as concrete, sheetrock, structural lumber, etc. Once the updraft begins, the bubble of combustion fumes is sucked back into the furnace and vented up the stack. This is standard operation, unless there is a fan assist designed to start the updraft before ignition. That initial puff of combustion fumes can produce an oily smell that will linger forever, or until the porous materials are removed. If for this reason alone, Open Combustion Oil furnaces are Not recommended.

  8. What is Negative Pressure?
    If you have an inflated balloon, it has a higher or positive pressure than the surrounding air. From another vantage point, the air surrounding the inflated balloon is of lower or negative pressure compared to that inside the balloon. When you considers a structure, a fan that is exhausting air outdoors will cause a lower or negative pressure indoors compared to outdoors. Conventional Open Combustion appliances (gas stove, furnace, etc.) will cause negative pressure indoors during operation. If this happens during winter, there will be leaks around all building envelope imperfections, such as doors, windows, etc. that will exhibit entry drafts of cold and dry air. This dryness can cause mucous membrane (eye, nose, throat, lung) discomfort. To remedy this, some use local or whole-house humidifiers, to bring comfort by raising the Relative Humidity (RH) indoors. However, since the air is regularly exchanged with the operation of the appliance, the humidification process needs to be ongoing. While this brings in a lot of fresh air indoors, and dilutes indoor pollutants, the flow is uncontrolled. Even if your structure is deemed "energy efficient" and "tight", if you have an Open Combustion appliance, it fights the intent of tightness and may not operate properly possibly causing other health-related problems.

  9. I smell oil on the main floor, while the furnace is downstairs. Why?
    Sometimes a home has two exhaust stacks, one for the furnace and one for a fireplace. If both terminate at the same chimney height, Negative Pressure as described above can be the culprit as follows: the furnace is operating and needs air for the fire, drawing it from indoors and blowing it up the stack, this causes negative pressure indoors; since the two stacks end at the same height, the fireplace stack which is connected to the indoors and its negative pressure can suck some of the exhaust fumes back indoors. While stacks of the same height may be aesthetically symmetrical and "pleasing," they are a poor engineering design, and abound aplenty.

  10. What is Sealed combustion?
    A grenade is an excellent example of a sealed combustion process. However, its is quite useless for everyday needs in that we want to benefit from the process, and therewith we must be able to control the speed of the combustion process. Sealed refers to the isolation of the combustion process from the living space. A campfire with a radiator filled with water over it, and piping and a pump to bring the hot water indoors to another radiator to provide heat, is a sealed combustion system as far as the living space is concerned. Bringing the fire indoors, the air supply for the fire must come from an intentional outdoor source, say through a pipe. The hot air to be circulated indoors is then isolated from the combustion chamber and the combustion system is "sealed" from an indoor perspective.

  11. I have a "Ventless" gas / propane / kerosene heater. Is it Sealed Combustion?
    Read the operating manual carefully. Unless there is a pipe penetrating the wall to outdoors to bring in air for combustion, and if the manual "requires" a window to be cracked open, it is not a Sealed Combustion unit. If a "cracked open" window is required, and you don\\'t open one because it\\'s too cold outside, you may be creating a recipe for tragedy.

  12. I am chemically hypersensitive, and I am allergic to mold. How do I get rid of it completely?
    The simple answer is: you can\\'t. The longer answer identifies thousands of airborne Mold particles or Spores of different genera available constantly outdoors. If indoors reflect a similar concentration, it is understood as a "healthy" place, from a mold perspective. There is an illusion that one can make indoors totally mold free. The moment anyone opens a door to come in or go out, a simple gust of air replenishes the indoors with a portion of what is airborne outdoors at the moment.

  13. I am chemically hypersensitive, is there a "healthy" humidifier for me?
    I do not conduct research, which requires a dedicated revenue stream, so can only offer general considerations. The definition of "Healthy" can vary with each individual, and looking at it from a strictly chemical perspective, you would want something that does not introduce aromatics in the process of humidification, and something that does not introduce water-borne organisms into the airstream. Potable water is generally treated with Chlorine or Fluorine, so this may be an issue to consider. A spinning humidifier wheel in a pan and forced airstream tends to gather sediments in the pan that needs to be regularly cleaned away. A moist pad humidifier can grow mold if it is not changed between seasons. An untrasonic humidifier can gradually fail due to calcification of the device. Moving water, such as in a water fountain, where the water is allowed to descend a tortuous path may be passive, and yet effective, and attractive as well. Meanwhile . . . one of the best humidifiers is generally overlooked. That is, cooking. Cooking tends to produce rapid water evaporation and subsequent humidification, not to mention the pleasant aromatics associated with food.