Friday, June 29, 2012

Video on managing IAQ complaints

IAQA Indoor Air Quality Association has produced a new video on managing IAQ complaints.  It is geared towards the building owner and manager.  The advice about being prompt, serious and transparent is sound and will keep people informed and on track towards resolving the problem.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Reference books for mold identification

I have several reference books I use for mold identification and investigation. 

Inspecting a House - Caldwell
Sampling and Identifying Allergenic Pollens and Molds - E. Grant Smith
Biological Risk Engineering Handbook - Boss and Day
Category I: Antimicrobial Pesticides - U of MN Extension
Mold Matters - Danielle and Dobbs -
Identifying Fungi - St. Germain and Summerbell

Three books will be a good start.  E Grant Smith's book on fungal and pollen spores is a must read for persons looking at Air-o-cell cassettes.  Guy St. Germain's book on Identifying fungi is a good introductory text that I have used for a class on fungal identification.  Quizes to test your ID skill are available through thees links - line drawing and microscope views.

Aspergillus restrictus - N. Carlson

Feel free to comment on other reference books that you have found to be helpful. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Significant flooding Duluth Minnesota

More than five inches of rain has fallen around Duluth Minnesota in the past 24 hours.  The heavy rainfall has caused road closures, the closure of the UM Duluth campus, storm sewer back ups, house flooding and the formation of sink holes. Reports are available from the Duluth News Tribune and Minnesota Public Radio.  Updates on the situation are posted at the Duluth City website.
Between 1958 and 2007 rainfall events have increased 31%.  The recent rainfall of greater than 10 inches has increased the amount of soil erosion into the lake according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Satellite photo of Lake Superior near Duluth From NOAA

Below is a sample of photos from an MPR news blog.

Photos from Laura Lott, UMD DEHS are below.

Residential Kayaking

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

U of Minnesota Sustainability Director Talk

Amy Short - Sustainability Director - U of Minnesota June, 2012 - photo - N. Carlson

Amy Short gave a brown bag talk to U of MN DEHS employees on activities related to sustainability at the University of Minnesota over her four year tenure.  She sees the U of MN campus as a lab where we can focus on sustainability in research, outreach and our building operations.   Her office does not have a budget to make these things happen but they can help coordinate activities and use persuasion to pursue initiatives.

Comparing sustainability goals between institution requires some creativity as Minnesota Buildings are compliant with the B3 guidelines where other institutions would comply with LEED.

The University has an ambitious goal of reducing our carbon foot print 50% by 2050.  We have been working on getting some easy wins.  The University has reduced energy consumption and we are decomissioning buildings to reduce building energy use.  We have constructed over 2 million square feet of buildings compliant with LEED or B3 guidelines. 

The big energy consumers at the U of MN are electricity  at roughly 50% and heating via steam at 30%.   The U of MN is working on a combined steam and electric power plant. Initial funding for this project was provided by the legislature.

Some recent successes include the installation of 162 energy efficient clothes washer in housing saving an estimated 3.5 million gallons of water per year.  Purchasing 73 Hybrid vehicles for fleet services with a total of 3 hybrid buses coming on line this summer.  RFID logging system to encourage and reward bicycle use.  They have partnered with LRT to install Solar Panels on the University Office Plaza Building.  Sustainability has been incorporated into the University's Beautiful U day.

Mold spore identification with Raman microspectroscopy

Researchers are using Raman microspectroscopy  (RMS) to rapidly identify common molds. A research article summarized at covers a research paper in the April edition of Environmental Science and Technology.  The abstract of the article by Sutapa Ghosal, Janet M. Macher, and Kandra Ahmed provides basic information about this technique.

This technique has also been considered as a way of determining if a white powder contains bacteria.   I have used FTIR (Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy) as another method to sort out white powders.  In one case cornstarch powder was found in an old art exhibit.  The light microscopy showed a starch particle similar to the one below.  The FTIR confirmed the powder as corn starch.

Starch particle above the #7 - photo N. Carlson

Monday, June 18, 2012

Fusarium mold health effects

The indoor air quality network has produced a brief film on Fusarium spp.  This organisms occasionally shows up on indoor air and surface samples.

A previous blogpost highlighted Fusarium's use in the meat substitute Quorn.

Photo - N.Carlson

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Solar Array at University of Minnesota

This is an update to a previous blog post.  The solar array on top of the University Office Plaza was  installed in March of 2012 and is operational.  The rooftop is located south of the TCF bank Stadium on the Minneapolis Campus of the University of Minnesota.

The installation is expected to reduce the building's carbon emissions by 38 million metric tons per year.  It is part of the Energy Innovation Corridor along the light rail transit line between the downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul.

Friday, June 8, 2012

US household energy use declining

The US Energy Information Administration reported that total residential housing energy use remained flat from 1980 to 2009.  The total number of residential home increased from slightly more than 80 million to just over 115 million during that time.  The energy consumption per housing unit dropped roughly 25% during that period.  Better insulation and more energy efficient lighting and appliances helped lower the energy use even though the average housing size increased over that period.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

University of Iowa sued over mold allergy

A man is seeking $375,000 in damages for the development of a mold allergy while living on a property owned by the University of Iowa.  The University of Iowa plans a to defend themselves.

Further reporting is available from

Cliff Missen compared the University Leaders to slum lords for their unresponsiveness to his concerns about a wet basement in a University owned residence that he occupied.

Shale gas extraction public health concerns

Deborah Swackhammer a professor at the U of Minnesota recently gave a lecture in 2012 at the Institute for Occupational Medicine's conference on the health impacts of shale gas extraction.  The video of her talk is available below.  Her talk focuses primarily on the water use issues.  This covers the water used in the fracking process and the water used to wash the sand.  The heavy ground water use may also impact the surface water levels possibly drying up lakes and streams.  She also mentions categories of health effects for many chemicals used in the fracking process and lays out concerns especially with chemicals known to be endocrine disruptors.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

HEPA filtration defined

The Indoor Air Quality Association has a brief video that helps define HEPA filtration.  It is useful to know what it will filter (particles) and what it won't filter (gases).  HEPA filters remove a minimum of 99.97% of particles of 0.3 microns in size.  The 0.3 micron size it picked because it the most difficult particle size to filter.  It is easier to filter particles bigger or smaller than this size. 

The last section of the video discusses the need to make sure the filters are properly set in the filter racks to prevent bypass.  This is a significant problem.  I have measured particle counts upstream and downstream of filter racks and found them to be the same because the filters were not placed properly in the filter rack. 

HEPA filtration is often used in asbestos and fungal abatement.  It is also part of the personal respiratory protection used by those abatement workers.  

Friday, June 1, 2012

Legionella exposure from compost

BBC news reporter Eleanor Bradford provides a report on legionella exposure to gardener's working with composts. The organism Legionella longbeachae has cause illness and at least one fatality in Great Britain.  Heating the compost to greater than 60C for 48 hours is supposed to kill the organism.

Persons working with compost are told to wash their hands after working with the compost and before consuming food. 

Given the high fungal count of compost material, it may also be prudent to wear an N-95 respirator around the material.  Large compost piles often have high levels of Aspergillus fumigatus.  The most common causitive agent of Aspergillosis.

Aspergillus fumigatus - photo N. Carlson