Article: Home testing service assess hidden dangers

Home testing service assess hidden dangers
MIDDLETON – Brian and Julie Blindt live on a peaceful street lined with expensive newer homes in Middleton Hills. Their home is orderly and clean, despite the toys of their 21-month-old daughter, Sydney, two yellow labs, two cats and a big tank of fish.
Everyone in the house is healthy. And they want to keep it that way. “Our biggest concern is the health of our daughter,” Brian Blindt said.
That’s why they hired Robin Pharo, president of Healthy Home Reports, to inspect their home for allergens, toxins, carcinogens and other invisible dangers that might be lurking.
The Blindts – he’s a massage therapist with UW Health and she’s a veterinarian – are well aware that things that can’t be seen, smelled or felt can cause everything from minor irritations to cancer in both people and animals.
On Sept. 21, Pharo came to the Blindt home with a black case of specialized electronic detection devices, and spent about three hours testing the home from basement to attic, and asking questions about the habits of family members. Some of the high-tech electronic gadgets stayed in the home for about a week to monitor changes over time. Pharo tests for radon, high levels of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, mold, airborne particles, relative humidity, water quality, volatile organic chemicals and potentially dangerous electromagnetic fields and whether the flow of air in and out of the house is properly balanced. Her findings also tell whether energy is being used efficiently.
Almost immediately after she began testing, Pharo found trouble in the Blindt home: elevated levels of carbon dioxide. “In every house we’ve been in there’s good news and bad news,” she said.
She also found large electromagnetic fields in the bedrooms. Sydney’s crib was in a field caused by poor wiring in her bedroom wall and a wireless baby monitor in the offending socket. That problem was easily solved by moving her crib. In the master bedroom, a large field was found on a nightstand that held a cordless phone and a clock radio, meaning the adult Blindts were exposed as they slept. Again, the solution was simple: move the phone and the clock off the nightstand to the other side of the room.
Computers, especially wireless, televisions and hairdryers also create large electromagnetic fields. To fix an electromagnetic hot spot without ripping open the wall, a $40 plug-dampening device can be installed to eat up excess voltage.
“It’s fuzzy science, but my clients with fibromyalgia say they notice a big difference when they move their beds out of electromagnetic fields,” Pharo said. It is not disputed that electromagnetic fields above certain levels can trigger biological effects, but there is currently debate about health effects of low-level long-term exposure.
Recently Pharo met with the Blindts to discuss her findings and their options. Pharo, certified by the Green Advantage Program developed for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for building-related professionals, charges $700 for the testing and report.
The Blindts were in for some disturbing news. Their radon level, at 7.2 picocuries per liter, is dangerously high. Radon is a colorless, odorless and tasteless radioactive gas that’s formed during the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water. It exits the ground and can seep into homes through cracks and holes in the foundation. It can also enter a home in well water. It increases the risk of lung cancer, especially for smokers.
Pharo also discussed the high levels of carbon dioxide in the Blindt home, and suggested strategies for improving ventilation. Carbon dioxide is an odorless, colorless gas that can cause health effects that include headaches, dizziness, restlessness, difficulty breathing, sweating, tiredness and increased heart rate and blood pressure.
Another problem she found was high relative humidity upstairs, with mold particles in the master bedroom, indicating microbial growth with spores released into the room. Pharo recommended buying a digital hygrometer to measure relative humidity in the master bedroom and living room, and if the relative humidity gets above 50 percent, using a dehumidifier or air conditioner.
Pharo found no problem with carbon monoxide, but urged the family to buy more carbon monoxide detectors.
There was some good news, too: Volatile organic compounds in the Blindt home were within acceptable limits, and there were no problems with water quality.
The Blindts decided to go ahead and fix the radon problem immediately, rather than do further testing to verify the radon test results. Pharo estimates it will cost them about $800 to get their radon under control. A ventilation system to lower the carbon dioxide levels would cost about the same amount, though less expensive solutions can be tried.
“It would probably be easier to live oblivious to problems like chemicals, pesticides and molds,” Blindt said. “But once you know about them you have to do something. We’re looking at this as a long-term investment for ourselves, and we want to raise our child in the healthiest environment possible.”
Robin Pharo has general recommendations to improve the health conditions in every home.
• Throw away partially full containers of old or unneeded chemicals, because gasses can leak from even closed containers.
• Don’t use air fresheners. Limit or eliminate the use of all candles except those that are soy-based and made with lead-free wicks and natural scents (available at Satara, across the street from Overture Center). Most candles use chemical scents and have lead in their wicks which is released as they burn.
• Dust often with a damp cloth that captures dust rather than scatters it. Dust before you vacuum so dust has time to settle on the floor, where the vacuum can pick it up.
• In winter, expose the house and furniture (mattresses, overstuffed furniture) or bedding to the outside cold for one or two days to kill dust mites.
• Get involved in an Environmental Action Team. EnAct is a free program that helps people make healthy lifestyle choice that protect the environment and save money. Many neighborhoods in Dane County have participated in the program in the last three years. Groups of 5 to 10 households meet eight times, and use the EnAct discussion guide which has local resources and hands-on activies that help reduce solid waste, save energy and water and make more environmentally sound transportation and food choices. Go to
• Use environmentally-friendly cleaning products such as Shaklee’s Basic-H, which also can be used as mosquito repellent and for automotive and camping care. Contact Natural Solutions by Anke for a week trial of the Shaklee cleaning bucket. Email or call 438-2229.
• The Consumer Protection Agency recommends, as a bare minimum, putting a carbon monoxide monitors on every floor of homes. It encourages families to put one in every bedroom because the effects of CO often happen while sleep.