Q&A: Toxic Smells At Work

  • October 13, 2011 1:11 pm

THE QUESTION

Hi Alexandra,

Last Thursday there was a very strong smell of burning plastic [at work]. The school sent out the AC specialists who thought it was the belt, or burnt out motor. They turned the AC off for hours and the smell [was] persistant. I had to go home because the smell made me nauseated, gave me a headache and irritated my throat and lungs.

It wasn’t just me but all the students who were here that day.

One specialist thought it was the monitors heating up. But when on Friday someone suggested it was the HUGE curtains we have hanging (pvc looking and OLD), he asked me if I wanted to smell it.

When I did I vomited all over the place.

So, we took down the curtains after they brought a can to measure the air toxicity level in the room.

Do you by any chance have any suggestions about what to do now? Send the curtains for testing? Should I get a lung test? Any ideas on who might know?

I know you must be very busy, but if you have the time I would really appreciate any advice.

Thank you,

S.

THE ANSWER

Dear S.,

Sounds horrid.

Is the smell gone? What did the air toxicity test show? If the curtains remain down and were the problem, they should be gotten rid of–why bother testing them. Ventilation is important — open windows if you can. Does the school have any (industrial) air purifiers? Or fans?

I’d say get rid of the curtains entirely and if the smell is gone then you’re good. I’m not a doctor but I don’t think a lung test is needed if the smell was a one time thing and you’re no longer feeling sick.

There are environmental experts who come in and test air and that is what I’d suggest but it sounds like [the school] already did those tests. If the smell remains, push to get the results of the test and ask them to remove the curtains.

Best,

Alexandra

Q&A: How To Deal With Mold

  • May 26, 2011 4:40 pm

THE QUESTION:

Dear Alexandra,

I live in a 17th Century building with very thick walls and lots of black mold. We Clorox-spray it off in the winter, but now have a newborn baby whose lungs are probably going to be black with mold before he picks up his first Gitane / or perhaps bleached with Clorox before his first sniff of blow. It’s too cold to leave the windows open (what rids us of the mold).

Any suggestions on getting rid of it other than Clorox?

Thanks, Daisy

THE ANSWER:

Well leave it to my old school buddy to ask an extremely colorful and yet important question. (Hi, Daisy!)

Mold can grow anywhere in your house, and it can be easy to get rid of. But you have to know what you’re dealing with. There is black mold (bad for you) and then there is black mold (unsightly but safe). It can be hard to tell which is which, but the toxic stuff is rare and tends to crop up primarily on consistently moist material that contains cellulose (paper, wood, ceiling tile etc.). That doesn’t sound like what you’re contending with on those walls. But if it is, I’d call in an expert asap.

If you know that your black gunk is the run of the mill variety, here is an excerpt from Planet Home on how to deal with mold in your bathroom. This method involves hydrogen peroxide and can work elsewhere, too.

I’m more concerned about that Clorox spray than I am about Gitanes, especially for the moment. Chlorine bleach is the most common cleaner accidentally swallowed by children. If mixed with ammonia, the combo releases highly toxic chloramine gas. It’s considered a severe irritant and a carcinogen precursor. And there are all sorts of environmental concerns that come up regarding what happens when chlorine bleach is released via wastewater and comes into contact with natural materials (it can form dioxins, furans, trihalomethanes, and more). It’s best avoided, especially in a home with a newborn.

The excerpt:

If you see any mold forming, particularly at the bottom of your shower curtain or on that hard-to-keep-dry crack between the tub and the wall, use a cleaner containing hydrogen peroxide or plain old 3 percent hydrogen peroxide.  Keep in mind that peroxide is good at killing active mold, not mold spores.  The gray color won’t go away immediately or sometimes ever (this usually comes from mildew that has gone deep into porous grout).  It can’t hurt to spray this area daily if you have a perpetual mold issue.

And do keep those windows open from time to time, even if it is chilly. Ventilation is key when battling mold, so is reducing moisture.

How are YOU dealing with mold?