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Green Buildings –Solving One Problem, Creating New Hazards?

Posted by Shivi Kakar

Mar 28, 2011 6:39:27 AM

Dale Wilson, CIH, LEED AP

We all know what Green Buildings are, right? There are various permutations but generally, to be green, the structure is designed, built, maintained and sustained in an environmentally responsible and resource-efficient manner. The end-all objective is to reduce impact of the “built package and system” on both the environment and mankind by

  • Using energy, water, and other resources efficiently

  • Protecting occupant health

  • Improving employee productivity

  • Reducing pollution and waste

As a LEED AP-certified professional who specializes in Indoor Environmental issues with a focus on fire and life safety, I was very interested in recent articles that are creating awareness of some critical health and safety problems inherent to the green building movement that 1) use innovative, locally-produced products, and 2) implement new design, construction, and operation approaches intended to reduce energy usage and be environmentally sound.

Green Building Fire Safety

In Megan Grennille’s recent EHSWire article about the seminal Triangle Fire, it noted that building and fire code rules caught up with the high rise construction only after the tragedy of 146 worker deaths highlighted the challenges of safety and rescue in the case of a fire. The same situation recently occurred in Bakersfield where a green-constructed Target store highlighted some new concerns for health and safety for emergency responders:
“The fire at the Bakersfield Target started, firefighters learned, at the photovoltaic array [solar] on the building's roof. Even after the firefighters disconnected the electrical mains, they discovered that the solar panels were still energized, presenting a safety challenge in addition to the fire.”

This brings to light how the integration of green building practices on a seemingly typical commercial building can present new hazards that must be identified to protect building occupants and emergency responders.  Fire fighters responding to an alarm may cut electrical power from the supply grid, but what is the procedure if there is an active solar array or an integrated wind turbine generating power as a part of the building?  Other “new” electrical and fire hazards facing unprepared emergency responders include the unknown level of fire resistance of recycled/green building materials, how to control fire spread on green vegetative roofs, and how to control smoke in wide, open atrium areas.
“ owners of green buildings might have to be aware that the green designs can present previously unconsidered challenges that arise as a direct result of construction choices. ...Because codes — even a decade after green design concepts hit the mainstream — still largely deal with traditional building designs and materials, facility managers have to know how to address the intersection of green design and current codes.”

The bottom line is that "green concepts should be reviewed as part of a fire-protection and life-safety analysis”, because buildings, green or not, must meet building and fire code standards to protect the health and safety of both the occupants and emergency responders.

Moisture and Mold Management in Green Buildings

Another potential hazard of green buildings is the management of moisture within the building and how selection of a green design and materials may be inappropriate if the location and weather are not considered:  “the design-and-construction community must not assume that if one builds green, then one will be building regionally correct or even lower risk buildings”.

A recent article, Hidden Risks of Green Buildings, was written from an insurance underwriter’s perspective and centered on the management of moisture.  The article mentioned the trend of using carbohydrate-based building products instead of petroleum-based building products.  That is where my eyes widened! Any indoor quality consultant knows the formula:  moisture + food source = perfect habitat for mold growth.  Carbohydrate-based building products are food for mold!

Moisture comes from many sources in a building: bulk water from a rook, window, or facade leak; water pipe break; HVAC condensate overflow; condensation on cold surfaces; or vapor (relative humidity) in the air.  Additional humidity can be added to the air by introducing humid outdoor air that has not been properly dehumidified or from other sources such as showers, locker rooms, steam rooms, gyms, kitchen facilities, human respiration (particularly if more people are occupying the space than the original design).  ( More information on these moisture-related potential problems including the risk of LEED “flush-outs” can be found here.)

Moisture meeting carbohydrate-based building materials over time certainly does look like the potential beginning of The Perfect Storm, because, in reality, carbohydrate-based building materials, even treated with the best biocide, would only be “mold resistant” not “mold proof”.  Given food, water, and time… mold will grow.  So as a professional IEQ consultant who has seen it all when it comes to mold contamination, I sincerely believe the article’s foreshadowing that “ the design community would be advised to prioritize the lessons…already learned from the waterproofing, humidity control, and building forensics community”.  When using potential mold “food” within a building, moisture control is ever more critical to the air quality of the building as well as the building material’s life cycle.

Are you interested in green construction? Have you thought of the potential hazards that can be created when using new technologies, new materials and tightening up the envelope?
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Topics: indoor air quality, health and safety, General EHS, Construction H&S, Emergency Response, worker safety, Air Sampling, Mold, Fire Safety, Exposure, Respiratory, green buildings, Working Green

New Large Vehicle Greenhouse Gas Emission Standards from EPA

Posted by Shivi Kakar

Nov 28, 2010 11:22:41 PM

Megan Grennille

Your next visit to a truck stop may be more pleasant in a few years.  New standards were announced on October 25th from the DOT (Department of Transportation) and EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in heavy-duty trucks and buses.  The standards, which are set to be phased in on new vehicles in 2014, will include requirements to improve fuel efficiency which benefits businesses, the shipping industry, and cities and towns.

The large vehicles being targeted by the proposed standards are divided into three categories: combination tractors, heavy duty pickups and vans, and vocational vehicles.  Combination tractors will have a 20% decrease in CO 2 output as well as fuel consumption.  Heavy-duty pickup trucks and vans will have separate gas and diesel standards; by 2018 CO 2 emissions and fuel consumption will decrease by 10% in gas vehicles and 15% for diesel.  Vocational vehicles, such as buses and utility trucks, could see a 10% reduction in fuel consumption and CO 2 emissions by 2018.  

The new regulations bring environmental and economic benefits.  People who live near bus depots, cities, and highways should be happy.  And, on those hot smoggy days near the end of this decade, the air will be a little cleaner.

What do you think of the regulations? Will they impact your business?
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Topics: DOT, indoor air quality, General EHS, EPA, Hazardous Materials, worker safety, Occupational Health, Air Sampling, Exposure, chemicals, environmental air monitoring, Working Green, greenhouse gas emissions

What is a Certified Industrial Hygienist?

Posted by Shivi Kakar

Apr 23, 2010 5:47:54 AM

Sarah Stibbe Damaskos
Where were you the first time that someone casually mentioned that they were a Certified Industrial Hygienist? Chances are you immediately pictured some type of space-suited dental hygienist flossing the world’s most horrific tooth grunge.  Or maybe you heard the term “industrial hygiene” and the frightening image of super-sized Teflon underwear floated into your head?  The good news is that you were almost right – conceptually.

Certified Industrial Hygienists (“CIH”) are cool. Sometimes they do get to wear Major Tom kind of protective clothing and poke around dirty places but most of the time they’re more like a squad of Super Safety People and their goal is to protect you.  According to the American Board of Industrial Hygiene ( “Industrial hygiene is the science of protecting and enhancing the health and safety of people at work and in their communities.” 

Industrial hygienists (rather than be called Super Safety People which is so much better for T-shirts) fall into a large group more commonly known as Environmental, Health and Safety experts but CIH focus exclusively on Health – Occupational Health and Environmental Health.

The American Industrial Hygiene Association ( has created this handy list of typical EHS roles: 

  • Investigate and examine the workplace for hazards and potential dangers

  • Make recommendations on improving the safety of workers and the surrounding community

  • Conduct scientific research to provide data on possible harmful conditions in the workplace

  • Develop techniques to anticipate and control potentially dangerous situations in the workplace and the community

  • Train and educate the community about job-related risks

  • Advise government officials and participating in the development of regulations to ensure the health and safety of workers and their families

  • Ensure that workers are properly following health and safety procedures 

Essentially it means that a group of highly-trained, certified professional are able to prevent, investigate and address work and community safety issues so that you can live a longer, healthier life.  Specifically, industrial hygienists are focused on

  • Chemical, Biological, Physical and Other Hazardous Agent Exposure

  • Emergency Response Planning

  • Community Impact and Awareness

  • Workplace Conditions / Occupational Safety

  • Detection, Planning and Control

If you own a business and your operation has the potential to expose employees or subcontractors or neighbors to possible health hazards, you need an industrial hygienist to reduce your risk, save money and, of course, offer everyone peace of mind. If you would rather pretend that environmental, safety or health issues are not important, I suggest you purchase a pair of Teflon underwear and super-size it.

How do you feel about being called an Industrial Hygienist? What would be an improved or more descriptive job title?
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Topics: Emilcott, indoor air quality, health and safety, General Industry H&S, Construction H&S, Emergency Response, H&S Training, Hazardous Waste Management, Compliance, worker safety, Lab Safety & Electrical, Fire Safety, Public Safety, Working Green

Don't Get Burned! October is Fire Safety Month

Posted by Shivi Kakar

Sep 29, 2009 5:06:49 AM

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Topics: General Industry H&S, H&S Training, Fire Safety, Working Green, NFPA

10 Items You Need To Know About Water and Mold Damage In A Commercial Building

Posted by Shivi Kakar

Sep 1, 2009 2:37:34 AM

Mike Gfroehrer
1. The uncontrolled release of water may result in mold (fungi) growth in a previously non-water damaged area of a building if the water release is not adequately addressed within 48 hours of its occurrence. In addition to mold growth, water damaged can result in structural damage and support the proliferation of other types of biological organisms including dust mites, cockroaches, rodents, algae, and/or bacteria.

2. The uncontrolled release of water in a building with a history of water damage may cause dormant mold colonies from prior water releases to become active in less than 48 hours.

3. One of the most important factors in effectively preventing or controlling mold growth inside a commercial building is to have a written Water Response Plan in place before an uncontrolled release of water occurs.

4. An effective Water Response Plan will include provisions to immediately stop the uncontrolled release of water and prevent its’ reoccurrence.

5. An effective Water Response Plan will include provisions to immediately start removing the water by mechanical means such as extraction with wet vacuums and the use of commercial-grade drying equipment. Areas where drywall (sheetrock) are covered by large pieces of furniture, wallpaper, or cove base/moldings may require special attention that potentially includes removal of sections of the drywall. The source of the water (domestic drinking water vs. rain penetration through the building vs. widespread flooding vs. sewage backup) will also impact the required response activity. Visible inspection, moisture meters, infrared cameras, measurement of temperature and relative humidity are all tools that that may be used to identify where water damaged materials exist.

6. Depending on the capabilities of the commercial building’s maintenance staff, the Water Response Plan should anticipate the use of outside contractors such as licensed plumbers, roofing contractors, environmental consultants, water/fire damage restoration contractors, and/or qualified mold remediation contractors. It is advisable to have an established relationship with each type of contractor in order to best control costs once the Water Response Plan requires activation.

7. The most common health effect resulting from indoor mold exposure is an aggravation of allergies and/or asthmatic conditions. Prolonged exposure may cause hypersensitivity in some individuals, resulting in these individuals experiencing a severe respiratory reaction even when very low concentrations of airborne mold are present at work or at home. The variety of responses is often seen when employees working in the same area report a wide range of individual responses when near the water damaged building materials.

8. If an uncontrolled release of water is not properly responded to mold growth will likely result. Once mold growth is suspected or confirmed a qualified individual should conduct an investigation to determine the extent of the mold growth and develop a Mold Remediation Work Plan. The Mold Remediation Work Plan should identify procedures to follow when cleaning or removing mold damaged building materials so that building occupants are protected and not adversely affected by the remediation project.

9. The Mold Remediation Work Plan must include: which building materials require removal; which building materials require cleaning and disinfection; a plan for the isolation of the work area using barriers (polyethylene sheeting) and negative air machines to control airborne dust generation; documentation of worker training in proper mold remediation work procedures; and the criteria of the Post Remediation Assessment. Simply put, spraying with bleach or covering with an anti-microbial paint is not an appropriate response where mold growth is confirmed to be present on installed building materials.

10. A Post Remediation Assessment (PRA) determines if the Mold Remediation Work Plan was successful in returning the area to non-water damaged condition. The PRA must be conducted prior to the removal of isolation barriers and should include: a visual inspection to confirm water and mold damaged has been removed and the area has been appropriately cleaned; a moisture survey, using moisture meters, to document remaining installed building materials are satisfactorily dry; and confirmation that corrective actions are in place to prevent additional water damage. Depending on the extent of the mold damage air and surface samples may be collected as part of the PRA. Whenever air or surface samples are collected a qualified individual, such as a Certified Industrial Hygienist, should be chosen to determine the sample locations and assist with the interpretation of results.
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Topics: health and safety, Construction H&S, worker safety, Occupational Health, Occupational Safety, Mold, Occupational Training, Working Green, Water Response Plan

High Fidelity: EH&S Style

Posted by Shivi Kakar

Jul 9, 2009 11:32:36 AM's "Top 10 Tuesdays"

Here at, we have decided to launch our 2009 “Summer Series” of blog posts. This year we will be devoted to a series called we’re calling “Top Ten Tuesdays”. Every Tuesday throughout the Summer one of our EHS professionals will post his/her blog specifically targeted towards their particular area of expertise. Each of these posts will be a “top 10”. The posts will include topics such as “Things You Should Know About…”, “Reasons Why…”, etc.

Every subject of EH&S is important for its own reasons; from knowing the standards and practices of a construction or waste site, to practicing proper safety training in a common work place, to going “green” for your own healthy lifestyle. There are always things that can be overlooked, or unknown from the get go. Our professionals are spending some of the 2009 Summer to write quality content about their specific subjects. This is all in the pursuit of keeping the readers of up to date with standards, practices and compliance for at home, at work and everywhere in between.

We look forward to Tuesday’s (July 13th) post:

Top Ten Things You Need to Know About… HEAT STRESS
By: Paula Kaufmann - CIH
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Topics: OSHA, health and safety, H&S Training, Working Green

Picking a Green Theme Part III

Posted by Shivi Kakar

Jul 7, 2009 8:35:50 AM

Even More Businesses, Charities & Groups that Can Help You be Green
Barbara Glynn Alves
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Topics: Working Green, landfill

Picking a Green Theme: Part II

Posted by Shivi Kakar

Jun 16, 2009 10:23:49 AM

More Businesses, Charities & Groups that Can Help You be Green

Barbara Glynn Alves

Following up on my last posting, here are more helpful ways to help you keep your stuff out of the landfills whenever possible. This posting will focus on e-waste and smaller household items. Thanks to all who responded to my last posting with even more ideas!

E-Waste or Electronic Waste
E-Waste generally refers to consumer electronics such as laptops, personal computers, televisions, toys, phones and batteries. We covet and enjoy our electronics, but they pose a real problem when they come to the end of their life or usefulness. All contain one or more of those real nasty hazards like lead, mercury, cadmium, nickel, zinc, and brominated flame retardants and must be disposed of responsibly and properly. They should not go to the landfills! So what can you do?

Give to your local Women’s and Children’s Shelter. Recycling cell phone for victims of domestic abuse is a worthy and wonderful cause. The Shelter Alliance website will help you find a local connection

The Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (RBRC) is a non-profit, public service organization dedicated to rechargeable batteries. Their slogan “If it’s rechargeable, it’s recyclable!” You can type in your zip code to find a retailer near you who will collect your batteries and cell phone or check out their nation-wide collection events

There are plenty of businesses who collect and recycle electronics for a fee. A quick internet search brought me to several in my local area. I simply typed e-waste + NJ. The NJ Department of Environmental Protection also had a listing under the title “Consumer Electronics Recycling Facilities, which gave me at least 30 names of e-waste recyclers. NJDEP also listed a free state-wide program for computer electronics drop off. Most states are moving in this direction, so check out your state’s environmental management agency website.

Traditional and compact florescent light bulbs are great energy saving choices, but they cannot go in the landfill since they contain mercury. One of my favorite sites comes from our friends at Waste Management, Inc. who has a wonderful program. Online you can buy shipping boxes and small containers with pre-paid postage to ship bulbs and batteries back to them. I actually gave these as holiday gifts to my greener friends and family! Check out and

After my last posting, a reader reminded me of the good works of Goodwill Industries. The Goodwill website is great and easy to maneuver. Their thrift stores are a great place to donate all clean clothing, small housewares and household goods. Some take electronics. They even have an on-line auction program in the e-bay fashion, but your dollars go to them! Goodwill Industries has teamed with Dell® in a program called Reconnect, which is a free drop-off program to recycle any brand of unwanted computer equipment. Go to

There are many thrift stores throughout the US, some for profit, and some that support specialty institutions and schools or charitable organizations. You can choose to donate your household items and clothes or participate for a small profit. The National Association of Retail & Thrift Shops has a search feature on their website, by state, zip code and type of merchandize to locate a thrift shop near you.

A word about clothing bins. There are actually two types of bins: one type collects directly for the charity listed on the front and distributes usable clothes to the needy through different channels (mostly oversees); the other type of bin is rented from a textile recycling operation that gives the charity listed on the front dollars for every pound of textile collected or simply a fixed amount every year to use their name. Clothes in these are usually recycled into rags and spill booms. Most municipalities require bins to be registered and placed in a designated place, so don’t be scared away. In most cases, these are legitimate and serve the recycling, reusing strategy quite well.

Next Posting: Understanding plastics and what all those numbers mean.
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Topics: Working Green, landfill

Picking a Green Theme: Household Items

Posted by Shivi Kakar

May 19, 2009 11:25:01 AM

Businesses, Charities & Groups that Can Help You be Green

Barbara Glynn Alves
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Topics: health and safety, EPA, Compliance, Working Green, landfill

Compact Fluorescent Light Bulb Rules and Regulations

Posted by Shivi Kakar

Mar 24, 2009 8:22:37 AM

Compact Fluorescent Light Bulb Rules and Regulations

Dian Cucchisi - PhD - CHMM
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Topics: Emilcott, EPA, Hazardous Waste Management, Working Green

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