New York City and the surrounding area have some of the most valuable and high-density real estate in the country. As these properties age, or are reconditioned for new uses, construction and remodeling activities bring new life and economic value to these residential, commercial, and institutional buildings.

Often times, these construction activities take place while parts of the property are still occupied. Unfortunately, all too often, these types of projects in an occupied home or building can lead to a wide range of indoor environmental quality (IEQ) concerns and even potential health issues. This is due in part to the fact that construction and renovation projects can release airborne particulates, biological contaminants, and gases.

Particulate material, such as dusts and fibers, are likely to be produced during construction and renovation activities, reports the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). The agency also shares that nontoxic dusts are irritants and can exacerbate lung conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive lung disease. Materials that contain fibers, such as fiberglass composite materials or insulation, can irritate the skin, eyes, and respiratory tract when disbursed into the air. Toxic dusts containing asbestos, PCBs, or lead can cause serious long-term health effects.

“Buildings that have suffered water damage are also likely to have mold growth that can be aerosolized and spread throughout a property if the proper safety precautions have not been put in place,” said Michael Berrevoets, President, VOETS, LLC. “Even the uncontrolled disturbance of bird or rodent droppings could spread potentially allergenic or infectious dust. These are all reasons why construction activities in occupied buildings create unique challenges that require the expertise of experienced building science professionals.”

Providing indoor environmental quality services in New York City and the tri-state area are the experts at VOETS who specialize in testing, monitoring, and consulting. Their services help to prevent, identify, and mitigate exposure hazards to protect building occupants and workers. They also recently sponsored an educational video about IEQ in occupied buildings undergoing construction activities that can be seen at:

New York has the highest population density of any major city in the United States, with over 27,000 people per square mile. To support this many people, the city and surrounding suburbs are filled with millions of homes, schools, offices, and industrial complexes.

In many of these buildings, air ducts play a pivotal role in keeping people comfortable and productive. This critical component of a building’s HVAC system allows for ventilation and a path for warm or cool air to provide a healthy indoor environment. However, if the ducts become dirty and contaminated they may not operate efficiently and could create indoor air quality (IAQ) concerns. This could increase energy costs and lead to respiratory issues and complaints.

To help prevent air duct contamination, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides the following tips:

Use the highest efficiency air filter recommended by the manufacturer of the heating and cooling system.

Change filters regularly.

If filters become clogged, change them more frequently.

Be sure there are no missing filters and that air cannot bypass filters through gaps around the filter holder.

When having the heating and cooling system maintained or checked for other reasons, be sure to ask the service provider to clean cooling coils and drain pans.

During construction or renovation work that produce dust indoors, seal off supply and return registers, and do not operate the heating and cooling system until after cleaning up the dust.

If the heating system includes in-duct humidification equipment, be sure to operate and maintain the humidifier strictly as recommended by the manufacturer.

To prevent ducts from becoming wet and supporting microbial growth, the EPA recommends:

Promptly and properly repair any leaks or water damage.

Pay particular attention to cooling coils, which are designed to remove water from the air and can be a major source of moisture contamination of the system that can lead to mold growth. Make sure the condensate pan drains properly.

Make sure ducts are properly sealed and insulated in all non-air-conditioned spaces.

If replacing an air conditioning system, be sure that the unit is the proper size and that all ducts are sealed at the joints.

“Dust and filth can accumulate, and microbial growth can occur in a building’s air duct system if it was not properly designed and maintained,” said Michael Berrevoets, President, VOETS, LLC. “Air ducts can even spread airborne contaminants and gases from one part of a building into another. At VOETS, we investigate indoor air quality issues in all types of buildings across New York that involve issues associated with air duct contamination, poor ventilation, and other HVAC associated issues. Our ventilation experts have extensive experience and access to the most advanced air monitoring and testing equipment to resolve these types of issues to help ensure everyone has access to healthy indoor air quality.”

VOETS also recently sponsored a video with tips to prevent air duct contamination that can be seen at:

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that millions of workers in the United States are exposed to solvents on a daily basis. The agency goes on to state that solvents share many chemical, physical, and biological properties that warrant national attention be directed to them as a group.

Solvents, as described by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), are substances that are capable of dissolving or dispersing one or more other substances. Most solvents are liquids, but they can also be a gas. The term solvent usually refers to organic solvents, meaning it contains carbon. Organic solvents can be classified into three main types; these include oxygenated solvents, hydrocarbon solvents, and halogenated solvents.

In the home environment, people can be exposed to solvents when using cleaning products, personal care products, nail polish remover, paints, glues, adhesives, and various other household products. Children exposed to high levels of solvents may suffer from asthma.

There a numerous occupations where workers can be exposed to solvents if their job involves dip cleaning, vapor degreasing, manufacturing that uses glues and adhesives, paint stripping, fueling, transferring flammable solvents, painting, offset printing, dry cleaning, installing carpets, and cleaning electronics, automotive parts, engines, and circuit boards. Workers may also be exposed if they are involved with manufacturing soap, printed circuit boards, semiconductors, personal care products, pharmaceuticals, or textiles among other industries.

“Whether at work or in a residential setting, solvent exposure can occur by breathing contaminated air,” said Michael Berrevoets, President, VOETS, LLC. “According to OSHA, health hazards associated with solvent exposures include toxicity to the nervous system, reproductive damage, liver and kidney damage, respiratory impairment, and cancer. At VOETS, our indoor air quality and industrial hygiene professionals test for solvents and other airborne hazards. If an issue is identified, we offer our expertise to develop solutions that eliminate or mitigate solvent exposure hazards. These services may include ventilation audits, respiratory protection programs, work process evaluations, and other actions.”

VOETS also recently sponsored an educational video about solvent exposure risks that can be seen at:

Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a new report about a rise in the number of deaths associated with malignant mesothelioma. Detailed in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the number of annual deaths in the United States due to the condition actually increased from 2,479 in 1999 to 2,597 in 2015.

Malignant mesothelioma is a disease where cancer cells are found in the thin layer of tissue that lines the chest cavity and covers the lungs or the thin layer of tissue that lines the abdomen and most of the organs in the abdomen.  Many people with malignant mesothelioma have worked or lived in places where they inhaled or swallowed asbestos. The disease can takes years to decades to appear after exposure.

“Although the use of asbestos-containing materials has been dramatically reduced over the last several decades, it was once used in thousands of products and common building materials,” said Michael Berrevoets, President, VOETS, LLC. “In New York City and the surrounding tri-state region, there are countless commercial, industrial, institutional, and residential properties that still contain asbestos. As these materials become friable over time, or if they are disturbed during demolition, renovation, or remodeling activities, they can become an inhalation hazard. Building owners in New York City that are contemplating renovation, alteration, or demolition activities are responsible for determining whether asbestos-containing materials are present in any areas that will be affected by the work.”

Helping to protect employees and building occupants in New York from asbestos exposure risks are the environmental experts at VOETS, LLC. Their services help to keep companies and institutions in regulatory compliance as they utilize only New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Certified Asbestos Investigators for each asbestos survey and can thus file the necessary ACP5 forms.

Employees that go to work or tenants that arrive home, and develop allergy symptoms that improve or go away once they leave the building, could very likely be having an allergic reaction to indoor environmental allergens.

In many circumstances when this occurs, the facility manager of the building will be contacted to investigate the complaint and resolve the problem. In a typical indoor environment there can be numerous indoor allergens that can impact individuals who are susceptible to exposure.  These can include everything from mold, pollen, cockroaches and dust mites, to volatile organic compounds (VOCs), tobacco smoke, latex, and even perfumes from co-workers or other tenants.

People’s allergic reactions can also be exacerbated by issues in the building, such as a lack of ventilation or elevated humidity levels.  In some circumstances, the allergy sufferer may be allergic to multiple substances that they are being exposed to in the building.

A typical investigation may involve examining the HVAC system for filtration, humidity levels, and air exchange rates. Testing various locations for possible allergen sources, which may include dusty conditions, moisture damage, visible or hidden mold growth, cleaning protocols and chemicals used, and determining if any renovation activities could have generated dusts?  Even new paint, carpeting, and furnishings could be off-gassing VOCs into the indoor environment.

“All of this can be a challenge for a facility manager as they are tasked with multiple responsibility and many do not have the training or access to the required testing and monitoring equipment that a seasoned indoor air quality professional can provide,” said Michael Berrevoets, President, VOETS, LLC. “At VOETS, our experts have resolved these types of issues in commercial, residential, and institutional properties across New York City and the tri-state area. We assess the complaint, building conditions, and conduct air and surface testing when and where it is needed. The end result allows us to provide the information and expertise so the facility manager can quickly resolve any problems that are discovered.”

According to a Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey conducted in 2011, 5.9% of residents in New York had been told they have Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) by a health care professional.  That year, the percentage equated to over 1.15 million residents of the state being afflicted by a group of diseases that cause airflow blockage and breathing-related problems.

COPD includes emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and in some cases asthma.  The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has reported that COPD is the third leading cause of death in the United States, claiming more than 120,000 American lives each year. More than 12 million have been diagnosed with the condition, but another 12 million more likely have COPD and don’t know it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states tobacco smoke is a key factor in the development and progression of COPD. However, exposure to airborne pollutants in the home and workplace, genetic factors, and respiratory infections also play a role.

“It is well known that there are a number of common indoor pollutants and allergens that can aggravate COPD conditions for those suffering from the condition,” said Michael Berrevoets, President, VOETS, LLC. “Elevated indoor levels of everything from mold, dust mites, and pet dander to volatile organic compounds from fragrances, cleaning chemicals, paints, and industrial processes can make matters worse. At VOETS, our building science and indoor environmental quality experts offer air testing and monitoring services for these and other respiratory irritants that cause health concerns. If an issue is discovered, changes can then be implemented to eliminate or mitigate the exposure risk.”

Millions of people work in office buildings in New York City and the surrounding tri-state area. Over the past decade, a growing number of workers and many of their employers have increasingly recognized the importance of a healthy, comfortable, and productive indoor environment.

This awareness has created a growing demand for good indoor air quality (IAQ) in the office environment. Unfortunately, many office buildings have significant indoor air pollution sources that can impact building occupants. These sources may include off-gassing from furnishings, occupant activities, housekeeping practices, pesticide applications, and microbial contamination to name a few.

One significant factor that greatly influences the effect of these sources and the overall quality of indoor air in offices is the ventilation system and its design, operation, and maintenance. Employees typically have little, if any, control over the system. As a result, it is not uncommon for there to be a notable number of reported health problems from office workers associated with their work environment.

A number of well-identified illnesses, such as Legionnaires’ disease, asthma, hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HP), and humidifier fever, have been directly traced to specific building problems. These are known as building-related illnesses. Most of these conditions can be treated; nevertheless, some pose serious health risks and may require prolonged recovery times after leaving the building.

“We are tasked with investigating IAQ issues in office buildings on a regular basis,” said Michael Berrevoets, President, VOETS, LLC. “Often, these cases can be fairly straightforward; however, sometimes building occupants experience symptoms that do not fit the pattern of any particular illness and are difficult to trace to a specific source. The complaints may be localized in a particular room or zone, or may be widespread throughout a building. To identify and resolve these types of cases, our building science experts put years of experience, state-of-the-art monitoring equipment, and advanced air testing services to work. Once the issue or issues are identified, a plan is then developed to resolve the problem and keep it from returning.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 11 children have asthma and 1 in 12 adults have the condition. The chronic disease results in billions of dollars in annual medical costs, and approximately 25 million missed days of work and school. The CDC states that four thousand people die from asthma-related causes and it is a contributing factor in another 7,000 deaths every year.

To control asthma, many people take medicines and can try to avoid the triggers that can cause an attack. In homes, offices, and schools, asthmatics are advised to identify and remove triggers from their indoor environment that can cause an attack or make their asthma worse.  Common asthma triggers include:

  • Mold – Breathing mold can trigger an asthma attack. Homes and buildings with high humidity levels or that have suffered from water damage may contain high levels of mold.
  • Dust Mites – Dust mites are tiny bugs that are found in most homes. To prevent an asthma attack, frequently wash bedding on the hottest water setting.
  • Cockroaches – These insects and their droppings can trigger an asthma attack. Eliminate cockroaches by removing as many water and food sources as possible.
  • Pets – Furry pets can trigger an asthma attack. Keep pets out of bedrooms, bathe pets each week when possible, and vacuum regularly.
  • Smoke – Exposure to smoke can trigger asthma.
  • Outdoor Pollution – Outdoor air pollution from factories, vehicles, and other sources can trigger an asthma attack.
  • Other Triggers – Infections linked to influenza, colds, and respiratory viruses can trigger an asthma attack. Sinus infections, allergies, breathing in certain chemicals, and acid reflux are also potential triggers. Even physical exercise; some medicines; weather conditions; breathing in cold, dry air; and some foods, food additives, and fragrances can act as an asthma trigger.

“For anyone who suffers from asthma, understanding what is in their indoor environment and the air they breathe is essential for controlling the condition,” said Michael Berrevoets, President, VOETS, LLC. “Our indoor environmental quality professionals are regularly called upon in New York City and across the tri-state region to test and monitor all types of buildings for potential asthma triggers. These services can be instrumental for identifying, eliminating, and mitigating asthma triggers.”

Of the more than 500,000 workers in U.S. that are involved in welding, cutting, and brazing, many are employed in occupations in New York City and the surrounding tri-state region.  These can be dangerous occupations according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) which reports that the risk from fatal injuries alone is more than four deaths per thousand workers over a working lifetime.

A significant health risk for those involved with welding activities is exposure to potentially hazardous fumes and gases.  During welding, visible smoke that contains harmful metal fumes and gas by-products is produced that is often in the breathing space of the welder. Without the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) or ventilation, these fumes and gases can be a respirable hazard.

OSHA has developed a fact sheet discussing these hazardous fumes and gases that could be present during welding. The agency lists the following metals that may be a component of welding fumes, they include: aluminum, antimony, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, copper, iron, lead, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, silver, tin, titanium, vanadium, and zinc. The agency also lists the following gases that may result from welding: argon, helium, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, ozone, phosgene, hydrogen, and fluoride.

“Exposure to many of these gases and fumes could result in everything from various types of cancer and stomach ulcers to respiratory irritation and asphyxiation to name just a few concerns,” said Michael Berrevoets, President, VOETS, LLC. “OSHA standards in place are meant to protect workers from these hazards and failure to comply could result in costly penalties and jeopardize the health and safety of these workers.”

Companies, institutions, and government agencies can turn to VOETS to protect their workers from welding fumes and gases and to implement programs to comply with OSHA standards. VOETS’ industrial hygiene experts offer air testing services, ventilation audits, respiratory plans, and employee fit testing among other services. They also recently sponsored an educational video about welding fumes and exposure concerns that can be seen at:

The housing situation for the 8 ½ million residents of New York City is unique as compared to the rest of the country. According to some statistics, about a 1/3 of all Americans live in apartments whereas almost 70% of New York City residents live in apartments. In the borough of Manhattan, roughly ¾ of the housing inventory is comprised of co-ops.

Regardless of whether a New Yorker lives in an apartment, co-op, or condo, water damage or elevated humidity levels indoors can quickly result in the growth of mold.  The presence of elevated levels of mold can cause a wide range of health concerns from triggering asthma and causing allergies to hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HP). Exposure to some types of mold can lead to infections in people with a weakened immune system and could expose people to toxins known as mycotoxins.

Mold spores and fragments occur naturally in the environment and can enter a building from the outside through open doorways and windows as well as through the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system’s outdoor air intakes. Spores can even attach themselves to people, making clothing, shoes, bags, and even pets, all convenient vehicles for carrying mold indoors.

“When mold spores come in contact with a surface where there is moisture, such as where leaks may have occurred in roofs, pipes, walls, or where there has been flooding or excessive humidity, it can begin to grow in as short as 24 to 48 hours,” said Michael Berrevoets, President, VOETS, LLC. “Many building materials, furnishings, and belongings provide suitable nutrients that encourage mold to grow when moisture is present. Wet cellulose materials, including paper and paper products, cardboard, ceiling tiles, wood, and wood products, are particularly conducive for the growth of some types of mold. Other materials such as dust, paint, wallpaper, insulation, drywall, carpet, fabric, and upholstery, also commonly support mold growth. Mold may even be on or in many building materials before they were ever used to construct a building.”

To help identify and resolve mold and other indoor environmental quality (IEQ) issues, VOETS offers comprehensive inspections, environmental testing, and consulting services. If an issue is found, their professionals can provide the expertise to handle the situation and help to ensure that the problem is safely and effectively resolved.