Shareholders or policyholders. Who matters most? Take this quiz:
The Board of Directors of my insurance company has a lawful duty to protect:
a. the financial interests of the policyholders.
b. the financial interest of the stockholders.
c. both of the above.
d. none of the above.
The answer is (b). The Board of Directors of an insurance company’s first (or fiduciary) duty is to the shareholders that elected them.
This means that the financial interests of the shareholders come before those of the insured policyholder when that corporation is an insurance provider. Profits come to a business from paying out less than what they take in. Shareholders demand this in return for their investment. Insurance companies comply. Know this as you shop.
The National Law Review has published a list of the “eleven worst insurance companies” and I encourage you to read it. Before you take too much comfort in finding that your home insurance provider did not make the list, you should consider that many that made the list are providers of health insurance. The factors that were used for the home and business insurers that made the list, however, are not unique to them but are commonly shared among smaller companies that would have at least made “dishonorable mention” if the list did not include other types of insurers.
What this list should teach those of us who buy insurance is the need for us to carefully select an insurance provider based on something other than cute or funny television commercials. Sweet talking lizards that collect your insurance premium can quickly become vicious and vexatious crocodiles defending the company against your valid claim. If you can learn this before you become vulnerable as a result of catastrophic loss, the better off you will be.
The Missouri Department of Insurance publishes a complaint index to help Missouri consumers determine how likely they may find displeasure with an insurance company’s claim handling process. Considering how few unsatisfied policyholders will actually go through the red tape to file a complaint with the State government , when an insurance company exceeds the normal rate of complaints under such circumstances – it really says something.
Asbestos has been used for its heat and fire-resistance properties dating back to ancient Rome. However, the mineral that was once used for its resistance against fire is also a potential hazard should a fire or a natural disaster happen. The fire-proofing properties of asbestos are a double-edged sword. A building full of asbestos can collapse after a fire, sending dust laden with the dangerous fibers into the air. Should any other natural disaster occur, such as a flood or tornado, homes and buildings built prior to the 1980s’ may send out millions of asbestos fibers into the air.
Asbestos Use in Homes and Buildings
After the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warned people of the dangers of asbestos fibers in the 1970s’, homes and buildings were eventually built without using asbestos. However, prior to the early 1980s’, asbestos was used quite a lot in homes, buildings, at job sites, and in products. Today, should a natural disaster or fire break out and come into contact with any structure that contains asbestos, its fibers, which as aforementioned are fire and heat-resistant, can become airborne and travel for several miles.
According to the EPA, in the summer of 1993, the community of Lincoln County, Missouri experienced a devastating flood that left over 50,000 people without homes, and several others with broken appliances, household items, automobiles, and more. As a result, county staff were responsible for disposing of the debris. After investigations, it was found that a good majority of the debris, specifically car parts, shingles, wood, and home insulation, was riddled with asbestos fibers. This of course, posed risks to the entire community.
Although no one knows for sure when a natural disaster will strike, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that taking proactive measures beforehand will reduce the risk of asbestos ingestion when and if a disaster occurs. For example, if waste hazards need to be burned after a disaster, proper precautions should be used at all times:
Shower facilities should be available to all workers.
The general public should be warned about the work being performed.
Coolant vests, face masks, and other safety equipment should be utilized.
Burnup and cleaning sites should always meet federal and state guidelines.
Local authorities should always be on-board to help meet regulations and safety issues, such as the local fire department and emergency response team.
Anyone who has been diagnosed with asbestos cancer or another asbestos related disease is advised to seek legal assistance due to the complex nature of these cases. The Mesothelioma Lawyer Center has in-depth information on asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma, and legal information for each of the 50 states, including information on asbestos exposure in Missouri.
The following is a recently enacted Missouri law that protects seniors from certain scams regarding contractors.
Up until 8/28/12, a building or remodeling contractor could intentionally deceive a homeowner and steal money intended for materials and/or labor for unnecessary work and similar scams and, if successfully located, be sued. Typically, the contractor (after losing a lawsuit) would file bankruptcy to avoid paying the judgment, change the name of his company and move on to other potential victims.
With a new law that recently makes the financial exploitation of a senior a felony, a contractor who performs such acts can be arrested if his victim is 60 years old or older. After his arrest, his ability to make restitution and repay the money to his victim could get him a lighter sentence.
Missourians who encounter such scammers should contact their local law enforcement officials, immediately.
Missouri Revised Statutes Chapter 570 Stealing and Related Offenses Section 570.145
August 28, 2012
Financial exploitation of the elderly and disabled, penalty–definitions–certain defense prohibited, additional violation, restitution. 570.145. 1. A person commits the crime of financial exploitation of an elderly or disabled person if such person knowingly by deception, intimidation, undue influence, or force obtains control over the elderly or disabled person’s property with the intent to permanently deprive the elderly or disabled person of the use, benefit or possession of his or her property thereby benefitting such person or detrimentally affecting the elderly or disabled person. Financial exploitation of an elderly or disabled person is a class A misdemeanor if the value of the property is less than fifty dollars, a class D felony if the value of the property is fifty dollars but less than five hundred dollars, a class C felony if the value of the property is five hundred dollars but less than one thousand dollars, a class B felony if the value of the property is one thousand dollars but less than fifty thousand dollars, and a class A felony if the value of the property is fifty thousand dollars or more.
2. For purposes of this section, the following terms mean:
(1) “Deception”, a misrepresentation or concealment of material fact relating to the terms of a contract or agreement entered into with the elderly or disabled person or to the existing or preexisting condition of any of the property involved in such contract or agreement, or the use or employment of any misrepresentation, false pretense or false promise in order to induce, encourage or solicit the elderly or disabled person to enter into a contract or agreement. Deception includes:
(a) Creating or confirming another person’s impression which is false and which the offender does not believe to be true; or
(b) Failure to correct a false impression which the offender previously has created or confirmed; or
(c) Preventing another person from acquiring information pertinent to the disposition of the property involved; or
(d) Selling or otherwise transferring or encumbering property, failing to disclose a lien, adverse claim or other legal impediment to the enjoyment of the property, whether such impediment is or is not valid, or is or is not a matter of official record; or
(e) Promising performance which the offender does not intend to perform or knows will not be performed. Failure to perform standing alone is not sufficient evidence to prove that the offender did not intend to perform;
(2) “Disabled person”, a person with a mental, physical, or developmental disability that substantially impairs the person’s ability to provide adequately for the person’s care or protection;
(3) “Elderly person”, a person sixty years of age or older;
(4) “Intimidation”, a threat of physical or emotional harm to an elderly or disabled person, or the communication to an elderly or disabled person that he or she will be deprived of food and nutrition, shelter, prescribed medication, or medical care and treatment;
(5) “Undue influence”, use of influence by someone who exercises authority over an elderly person or disabled person in order to take unfair advantage of that persons’s vulnerable state of mind, neediness, pain, or agony. Undue influence includes, but is not limited to, the improper or fraudulent use of a power of attorney, guardianship, conservatorship, or other fiduciary authority.
3. Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit the remedies available to the victim pursuant to any state law relating to domestic violence.
4. Nothing in this section shall be construed to impose criminal liability on a person who has made a good faith effort to assist the elderly or disabled person in the management of his or her property, but through no fault of his or her own has been unable to provide such assistance.
5. Nothing in this section shall limit the ability to engage in bona fide estate planning, to transfer property and to otherwise seek to reduce estate and inheritance taxes; provided that such actions do not adversely impact the standard of living to which the elderly or disabled person has become accustomed at the time of such actions.
6. It shall not be a defense to financial exploitation of an elderly or disabled person that the accused reasonably believed that the victim was not an elderly or disabled person.
7. (1) It shall be unlawful in violation of this section for any person receiving or in the possession of funds of a Medicaid-eligible elderly or disabled person residing in a facility licensed under chapter 198 to fail to remit to the facility in which the Medicaid-eligible person resides all money owing the facility resident from any source, including, but not limited to, Social Security, railroad retirement, or payments from any other source disclosed as resident income contained in the records of the department of social services, family support division or its successor. The department of social services, family support division or its successor is authorized to release information from its records containing the resident’s income or assets to any prosecuting or circuit attorney in the state of Missouri for purposes of investigating or prosecuting any suspected violation of this section.
(2) The prosecuting or circuit attorney of any county containing a facility licensed under chapter 198, who successfully prosecutes a violation of the provisions of this subsection, may request the circuit court of the county in which the offender admits to or is found * guilty of a violation, as a condition of sentence and/or probation, to order restitution of all amounts unlawfully withheld from a facility in his or her county. Any order of restitution entered by the court or by agreement shall provide that ten percent of any restitution installment or payment paid by or on behalf of the defendant or defendants shall be paid to the prosecuting or circuit attorney of the county successfully prosecuting the violation to compensate for the cost of prosecution with the remaining amount to be paid to the facility.
(L. 2000 H.B. 1386 & 1086, A.L. 2003 S.B. 556 & 311, A.L. 2005 H.B. 353, A.L. 2012 S.B. 689) *Word “of” appears here in original rolls of S.B. 689, 2012.
In certain municipalities in Missouri, property damage that requires extensive repair will also require permits and inspections for the work. Prior to moving into a new home, many areas will also require occupancy permits prior to allowing a new buyer or renter to reside within the home.
The following links are provided as a service to assist homeowners in locating the offices that can assist them to ensure that their contractors are properly licensed, that the required permits are obtained, and that the necessary inspections are provided.
Here are links to many of the Saint Louis County (and some other) municipality websites or contact information.
Compost is an accumulation of degrading food scraps, plants and other nutrient-rich organic matter. It is an easy and environmentally responsible way to dispose of biodegradable kitchen waste, which can then be returned to the soil as fertilizer for vegetable and flower gardens.
Composting is Good
Composting helps to reduce the volume of material in landfills.
Compost is used to improve soil structure and provide nutrients for growing plants.
So, what’s wrong with composting? The benefits of the practice are generally well-known, but few people are actually aware of the potential hazards and dangers composting can pose.
Diseases Contracted From Handling Compost
Compost can be a breeding ground for dangerous pathogens, some of which have killed or seriously harmed unsuspecting gardeners. Inspectors should familiarize themselves with these illnesses, some of which can be contracted in other parts of the house. Listed below are some of the more common physical ailments that can result from unprotected contact with compost:
Aspergillosis is a fungal infection of the lungs that is caused after the inhalation of a fungus commonly found in rotting plant matter. While normally not life-threatening, aspergillosis can be extremely dangerous if enough spores are inhaled. The disease killed a 47-year-old British man after he was engulfed in clouds of dust from the compost he had intended to use in his garden.
The symptoms of Farmer’s Lung resemble pneumonia, and may result from respiratory exposure to certain fungal and bacterial pathogens present in rotting organic materials, such as mushrooms, hay and sugar cane. Beware of dusty white patches, as they are a sign that dangerous spores are present. Farmer’s Lung can usually be treated with antibiotics.
Histoplasmosis is caused by fungus that grows in guano and bird droppings. Healthy immune systems can usually fight off histoplasmosis, although infections can become serious if large amounts of the toxin are inhaled, or if the infected person has a weakened immune system.
Legionnaire’s Disease is a respiratory infection that’s caused by the inhalation of L. Longbeachae.
Paronychia is a local infection that occurs in the tissue around the fingernails and toenails. Prolonged moisture and the abrasive effects of soil can create openings in the skin that allow the infection to occur, producing pain and throbbing.
Tetanus is a disease of the central nervous system that’s caused by bacteria that is very common in soil. While even a minor cut can allow the bacteria to enter the bloodstream, immunizations against tetanus are quite common.
How to Avoid Potential Hazards of Composting
The following general safety precautions should be followed in order to avoid transmission of dangerous fungi, bacteria and other pathogens found in compost:
Always wear dry, breathable gloves to avoid direct contact with the skin, and to protect yourself from injury while using gardening tools and implements.
Wear protective footwear that covers your skin adequately to avoid direct contact with compost. Do not wear them anywhere except outdoors.
When stirring and tilling the compost, which is required on a regular basis in order for it to process and break down, always wear a nose and mouth guard or dust mask to avoid inhaling the various spores that will become airborne during tilling and turning.
Avoid tilling on windy days.
Do not store compost in fully closed or airtight containers. Without any air, it can actually become combustible.
Wash your hands after dealing with compost. While this suggestion may sound obvious, many garden enthusiasts get so absorbed with their activities that they forget the potential dangers from poisoning.
If you develop a severe cough or infection of the skin (especially if there is an open sore or puncture wound), seek medical attention immediately. You may require antibiotics or a tetanus shot.
Surprisingly, a great deal of heat is created by the microbial activity, which is occasionally enough to cause a fire. In August 2009, a compost pile spontaneously combusted at the Saginaw Compost Facility in Saginaw, Michigan. However, these fires are extremely rare, as they occur only under a limited set of circumstances that would ordinarily be avoided using common sense.
According to the Alberta, Canada’s Department of Agriculture, the following key conditions must be met in order for a compost pile to light itself on fire:
dry materials that go unattended;
dry pockets of debris among a non-uniform mix of materials;
large, well-insulated piles;
limited air flow;
poor moisture distribution due to neglect or oversight in monitoring; and
unknown temperature within the pile, and time for the temperature to build up.
WARNING: While self-incineration of compost is possible, compost piles probably catch fire more often from ordinary sources, such as lit cigarettes or electrical mishaps. Also, gardeners who use ash from incinerated trash or the fireplace sometimes neglect to make sure that the ash has cooled sufficiently before adding it to the compost pile.
Inspectors can offer their clients the following tips to help avoid compost fires:
Assure adequate ventilation of the pile to release heat. Turn the pile or use a mechanical aeration system to ensure ventilation. Narrow, short piles generally have adequate ventilation.
Do not turn a pile that is smoldering, as the sudden infusion of oxygen can cause the pile to erupt into flames.
Do not let the pile get too dry. The University of Missouri states, “Organic material can ignite spontaneously due to biological activity at moisture contents between 26 to 46% moisture, if the temperature exceeds 200° F.”
Monitor the pile’s temperature, focusing on the hottest spot in the pile. Use a thermometer long enough to reach the center of the pile. Do not let the pile get too hot. If the temperature of the pile exceeds 160° F, reduce the temperature through the following methods:
reduce the size of the pile;
add water to 55% moisture;
mix in coarse, bulky material, such as wood chips; and
do not pile compost next to buildings or any flammable structures, as fire can spread easily.
Worms are often added to compost piles to aid in the breakdown of organic matter. But if the compost piles are not constructed and maintained properly, they have the tendency to attract unwanted pests. Flies, termites and beetles are attracted to the smell of decay, and they, in turn, will attract larger predatory critters to the pile. Use the following pest-control tips:
Do not compost eggs, meat, oils, bones, cheese or fats. Compost piles should be “vegetarian.”
Bury the compost with soil or leaves to contain the smell and to aid with the biodegrading process.
If using a portable composter, make sure it has a cover that will discourage the entry of pests and animals.
Beware that enclosed compost piles can overheat and create high levels of dangerous gasses, such as methane, so be sure to rotate the container or till the pile daily.
Do not place compost near a building. In addition to the fire concerns, compost placed adjacent to buildings can promote infestation.
NOTE: These practices can also mitigate the foul smells that can plague compost piles.
In summary, the benefits of compost piles can be quickly eclipsed by health hazards and nuisances if they are not designed correctly and maintained properly
Between approximately 1965 and 1973, single-strand aluminum wiring was sometimes substituted for copper branch-circuit wiring in residential electrical systems due to the sudden escalating price of copper. After a decade of use by homeowners and electricians, inherent weaknesses were discovered in the metal that lead to its disuse as a branch wiring material.
Although properly maintained aluminum wiring is acceptable, aluminum will generally become defective faster than copper due to certain qualities inherent in the metal. Neglected connections in outlets, switches and light fixtures containing aluminum wiring become increasingly dangerous over time. Poor connections cause wiring to overheat, creating a potential fire hazard.
In addition, the presence of single-strand aluminum wiring may interfere with a home’s insurance coverage. Home owners are advised to talk with their insurance agents about whether the presence of aluminum wiring in their home is a problem that requires changes to their policy language.
Facts and Figures
On April, 28, 1974, two people were killed in a house fire in Hampton Bays, New York. Fire officials determined that the fire was caused by a faulty aluminum wire connection at an outlet.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), “Homes wired with aluminum wire manufactured before 1972 [‘old technology’ aluminum wire] are 55 times more likely to have one or more connections reach “Fire Hazard Conditions” than is a home wired with copper.”
Aluminum as a Metal
Aluminum possesses certain qualities that, compared with copper, make it an undesirable material as an electrical conductor. These qualities all lead to loose connections, where fire hazards become likely. These qualities are as follows:
higher electrical resistance. Aluminum has a high resistance to electrical current flow, which means that, given the same amperage, aluminum conductors must be of a larger diameter than would be required by copper conductors.
less ductile. Aluminum will fatigue and break down more readily when subjected to bending and other forms of abuse than copper, which is more ductile. Fatigue will cause the wire to break down internally and will increasingly resist electrical current, leading to a buildup of excessive heat.
galvanic corrosion. In the presence of moisture, aluminum will undergo galvanic corrosion when it comes into contact with certain dissimilar metals.
oxidation. Exposure to oxygen in the air causes deterioration to the outer surface of the wire. This process is called oxidation. Aluminum wire is more easily oxidized than copper wire, and the compound formed by this process – aluminum oxide – is less conductive than copper oxide. As time passes, oxidation can deteriorate connections and present a fire hazard.
greater malleability. Aluminum is soft and malleable, meaning it is highly sensitive to compression. After a screw has been over-tightened on aluminum wiring, for instance, the wire will continue to deform or “flow” even after the tightening has ceased. This deformation will create a loose connection and increase electrical resistance in that location.
greater thermal expansion and contraction. Even more than copper, aluminum expands and contracts with changes in temperature. Over time, this process will cause connections between the wire and the device to degrade. For this reason, aluminum wires should never be inserted into the “stab,” “bayonet” or “push-in” type terminations found on the back of many light switches and outlets.
excessive vibration. Electrical current vibrates as it passes through wiring. This vibration is more extreme in aluminum than it is in copper, and, as time passes, it can cause connections to loosen.
Identifying Aluminum Wiring
Aluminum wires are the color of aluminum and are easily discernible from copper and other metals.
Since the early 1970s, wiring-device binding terminals for use with aluminum wire have been marked CO/ALR, which stands for “copper/aluminum revised.”
Look for the word “aluminum” or the initials “AL” on the plastic wire jacket. Where wiring is visible, such as in the attic or electrical panel, inspectors can look for printed or embossed letters on the plastic wire jacket. Aluminum wire may have the word “aluminum,” or a specific brand name, such as “Kaiser Aluminum,” marked on the wire jacket. Where labels are hard to read, a light can be shined along the length of the wire.
When was the house built? Homes built or expanded between 1965 and 1973 are more likely to have aluminum wiring than houses built before or after those years.
Options for Correction
Aluminum wiring should be evaluated by a qualified electrician who is experienced in evaluating and correcting aluminum wiring problems. Not all licensed electricians are properly trained to deal with defective aluminum wiring. The CPSC recommends the following two methods for correction for aluminum wiring:
Rewire the home with copper wire. While this is the most effective method, rewiring is expensive and impractical, in most cases.
Use copalum crimps. The crimp connector repair consists of attaching a piece of copper wire to the existing aluminum wire branch circuit with a specially designed metal sleeve and powered crimping tool. This special connector can be properly installed only with the matching AMP tool. An insulating sleeve is placed around the crimp connector to complete the repair. Although effective, they are expensive (typically around $50 per outlet, switch or light fixture).
Although not recommended by the CPSC as methods of permanent repair for defective aluminum wiring, the following methods may be considered:
application of anti-oxidant paste. This method can be used for wires that are multi-stranded or wires that are too large to be effectively crimped.
pigtailing. This method involves attaching a short piece of copper wire to the aluminum wire with a twist-on connector. the copper wire is connected to the switch, wall outlet or other termination device. This method is only effective if the connections between the aluminum wires and the copper pigtails are extremely reliable. Pigtailing with some types of connectors, even though Underwriters Laboratories might presently list them for the application, can lead to increasing the hazard. Also, beware that pigtailing will increase the number of connections, all of which must be maintained. Aluminum Wiring Repair (AWR), Inc., of Aurora, Colorado, advises that pigtailing can be useful as a temporary repair or in isolated applications, such as the installation of a ceiling fan.
CO/ALR connections. According to the CPSC, these devices cannot be used for all parts of the wiring system, such as ceiling-mounted light fixtures or permanently wired appliances and, as such, CO/ALR connections cannot constitute a complete repair. Also, according to AWR, these connections often loosen over time.
alumiconn. Although AWR believes this method may be an effective temporary fix, they are wary that it has little history, and that they are larger than copper crimps and are often incorrectly applied.
Replace certain failure-prone types of devices and connections with others that are more compatible with aluminum wire.
Remove the ignitable materials from the vicinity of the connections.
In summary, aluminum wiring can be a fire hazard due to inherent qualities of the metal.
Health concerns related to the growth of mold in the home have been featured heavily in the news. Problems ranging from itchy eyes, coughing and sneezing to serious allergic reactions, asthma attacks, and even the possibility of permanent lung damage can all be caused by mold, which can be found growing in the home, given the right conditions.
All that is needed for mold to grow is moisture, oxygen, a food source, and a surface to grow on. Mold spores are commonly found naturally in the air. If spores land on a wet or damp spot indoors and begin growing, they will lead to problems.
Molds produce allergens, irritants and, in some cases, potentially toxic substances called mycotoxins. Inhaling or touching mold or mold spores may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.
Allergic responses include hay fever-type symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, and skin rash (dermatitis). Allergic reactions to mold are common. They can be immediate or delayed. Molds can also trigger asthma attacks in people with asthma who are allergic to mold.
In addition, mold exposure can irritate the eyes, skin, nose, throat and lungs of both mold-allergic and non-allergic people.
As more is understood about the health issues related to mold growth in interior environments, new methods for mold assessment and remediation are being put into practice. Mold assessment and mold remediation are techniques used in occupational health. Mold assessment is the process of identifying the location and extent of the mold hazard in a structure.
Mold remediation is the process of cleanup and/or removal of mold from an indoor environment. Mold remediation is usually conducted by a company with experience in construction, demolition, cleaning, airborne-particle containment-control, and the use of special equipment to protect workers and building occupants from contaminated or irritating dust and organic debris. A new method that is gaining traction in this area is abrasive blasting.
The first step in combating mold growth is not to allow for an environment that is conducive to its growth in the first place. Controlling moisture and assuring that standing water from leaks or floods is eliminated are the most important places to start. If mold growth has already begun, the mold must be removed completely, and any affected surfaces must be cleaned or repaired.
Traditional methods for remediation have been slow and tedious, often involving copious amounts of hand-scrubbing and sanding. Abrasive blasting is a new technique that is proving to be less tedious and time-consuming, while maintaining a high level of effectiveness.
Abrasive blasting is a process for cleaning or finishing objects by using an air-blast or centrifugal wheel that throws abrasive particles against the surface of the work pieces. Sand, dry ice and corncobs are just some of the different types of media used in blasting. For the purposes of mold remediation, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and dry ice are the media commonly used.
Benefits of Abrasive Blasting
Abrasive (or “media”) blasting provides some distinct advantages over traditional techniques of mold remediation. In addition to eliminating much of the tedious labor involved in scrubbing and sanding by hand, abrasive blasting is extremely useful for cleaning irregular and hard-to-reach surfaces.
Surfaces that have cross-bracing or bridging can be cleaned more easily, as well as areas such as the bottom of a deck, where nails may be protruding. Areas that are difficult to access, such as attics and crawlspaces, can also be cleaned more easily with abrasive blasting than by traditional methods.
The time saved is also an advantage, and the typical timeframe for completion of a mold remediation project can often be greatly reduced by utilizing abrasive blasting.
Soda-blasting is a type of abrasive blasting that utilizes sodium bicarbonate as the medium propelled by compressed air. One of the earliest and most widely publicized uses of soda-blasting was on the restoration of the Statue of Liberty.
In May of 1982, President Ronald Reagan appointed Lee Iacocca to head up a private-sector effort for the project. Fundraising began for the $87 million restoration under a public-private partnership between the National Park Service and The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Inc. After extensive work that included the use of soda-blasting, the restored monument re-opened to the public on July 5, 1986, during Liberty Weekend, which celebrated the statue’s centennial.
The baking soda used in soda-blasting is soft but angular, appearing knife-like under a microscope. The crystals are manufactured in state-of-the-art facilities to ensure that the right size and shape are consistently produced.
Baking soda is water-soluble, with a pH near neutral. Baking-soda abrasive blasting effectively removes mold while minimizing damage to the underlying surface (i.e., wood, PVC, modern wiring, ductwork, etc.). When using the proper equipment setup (correct nozzles, media regulators, hoses, etc.) and technique (proper air flow, pressure, angle of attack, etc.), the process allows for fast and efficient removal of mold, with a minimum of damage, waste and cleanup. By using a soda blaster with the correct-size nozzle, the amount of baking soda used is minimized. Minimal baking soda means better visibility while working, and less cleanup afterward.
Dry ice is solidified carbon dioxide that, at -78.5° C and ambient pressure, changes directly into a gas as it absorbs heat. Dry ice pellets are made by taking liquid carbon dioxide (CO2) from a pressurized storage tank and expanding it at ambient pressure to produce snow. The snow is then compressed through a die to make hard pellets. The pellets are readily available from most dry ice suppliers nationwide. For dry-ice blasting, the standard size used is 1/8-inch, high-density dry ice pellets.
The dry-ice blasting process includes three phases, the first of which is energy transfer. Energy transfer works when dry ice pellets are propelled out of the blasting gun at supersonic speed and impact the surface. The energy transfer helps to knock mold off the surface being cleaned, with little or no damage.
The freezing effect of the dry ice pellets hitting the mold creates the second phase, which is micro-thermal shock, caused by the dry ice’s temperature of -79º C, between the mold and the contaminated surface. This phase isn’t as much a factor in the removal of mold as it is for removing resins, oils, waxes, food particles, and other contaminants and debris. For these types of substances, the thermal shock causes cracking and delaminating of the contaminant, furthering the elimination process.
The final phase is gas pressure, which happens when the dry ice pellets explode on impact. As the pellets warm, they convert to CO2 gas, generating a volume expansion of 400 to 800 times. The rapid gas expansion underneath the mold forces it off the surface.
A HEPA vacuum is a vacuum cleaner with a high-efficiency particulate air (or HEPA) filter through which the contaminated air flows. HEPA filters, as defined by the U.S. Department of Energy’s standard adopted by most American industries, remove at least 99.97% of airborne particles that are as small as 0.3 micrometers (µm) in diameter. HEPA vacuuming is necessary in conjunction with blasting for complete mold removal.
While abrasive blasting with either baking soda or dry ice is an effective technique, remediation will not be complete until HEPA filtering or vacuuming has been done. Abrasive blasting removes mold from contaminated surfaces, but it also causes the mold spores to become airborne again. The spores can cover the ground and the surfaces that have already been cleaned. So, the mold spores need to be removed by HEPA filters.
Additionally, while some remediation companies claim that there will be no blasting media to remove after cleaning, especially with the dry-ice method, there will be at least a small amount of visible debris left by the blasting that must be removed before HEPA vacuuming can occur. HEPA vacuuming removes all invisible contaminants from surfaces and the surrounding air. When HEPA vacuuming is completed, samples at the previously contaminated areas should be re-tested to ensure that no mold or mold spores remain.
Vermiculite is a naturally occurring mineral composed of shiny flakes that resemble mica. When heated rapidly to a high temperature, this crystalline mineral expands into low-density, accordion-like strands. In this form, vermiculite is a lightweight, odorless and fire-resistant material that has been used in numerous applications, such as insulation for attics and walls.
Vermiculite forms over millions of years due to weathering of the mineral biotite. Unfortunately, biotite deposits are often in close proximity to deposits of diopside, which transform into asbestos due to the same weathering processes that create vermiculite. Asbestos can be easily inhaled because it tends to separate into microscopic particles that become airborne. Exposure to asbestos can result in lung cancer, mesothelioma, inflammation of the chest cavity, and a scarring disease of the lungs known as asbestosis. The risk of contracting these diseases generally increases with the duration and intensity of exposure to asbestos, and smokers may face an even greater risk of lung cancer.
The largest and oldest vermiculite mine in the United States was started in the 1920s near Libby, Montana. Although it was known that the vermiculite there was contaminated with tremolite, a highly toxic form of asbestos, the mine continued to operate until stiffer environmental controls finally forced it to close in 1990. Sadly, by this time, the damage had already been done; the asbestos-infused insulator had been installed in tens of millions of homes in the United States alone. As over 70% of all vermiculite sold in the U.S. from 1919 to 1990 originated from the Libby mine, it is safe to assume that all vermiculite insulation found in buildings is toxic.
Vermiculite insulation is a pebble-like or rectangular, chunky product about the size of a pencil eraser, and usually gray-brown or silver-gold in color. Inspectors should be on guard for empty bags in the attic that bear the name Zonolite®, as this was the commercial name for vermiculite mined in the notorious Libby mine.
What should be done about asbestos found in homes?
Home owners should never disturb vermiculite or any asbestos insulation. These products must be airborne to cause a health risk through inhalation, which most likely happens when they are removed or handled. The following are some additional tips:
Consider that contractors may track vermiculite into the house if they have to enter the attic.
Dispose of waste and debris contaminated with asbestos in tight containers.
Do not allow children to play in an attic.
Do not launder clothing exposed to vermiculite with family clothing.
Do not overreact. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA), asbestos-related illnesses are usually the result of high levels of exposure for long periods of time. Left undisturbed in the attic, asbestos is generally not a life-threatening situation. Furthermore, air generally flows into the attic from the house, and not the other way around.
Do not use the attic as a storage area.
Hire a professional asbestos contractor before remodeling or renovating if these processes may disturb the vermiculite.
Never use compressed air for cleaning around vermiculite. Avoid dry-sweeping, vacuuming, shoveling, or other dry clean-up methods. Wet methods are best.
Seal cracks and holes in attics, such as around light fixtures and ceiling fans, where insulation may pass through.
Use proper respiratory protection. Disposable respirators or dust masks are not appropriate for avoiding asbestos exposure.
In summary, vermiculite is a potentially hazardous mineral used as an insulator in buildings, but its dangers can be mitigated with some simple precautions.