September, 2001

Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors

EPA scientists develop technology for detection of


Two EPA scientists have developed an innovative way to detect potentially dangerous molds much faster and with more accuracy. The new technology can be used to detect the mold Stachybotrys, commonly known as “black mold” and more than 50 other possibly problematic molds.

Molds typically grow in buildings affected by water damage and have been found in homes, hospitals, schools, and office buildings. It is estimated that about 50 to l00 common indoor mold types have the potential for creating health problems.

Exposure to mold has been identified as a potential cause of many health problems including asthma, sinusitis, and infections. It is also believed that molds play a major role in cases of sick building syndrome and related illnesses.

Drs. Stephen J. Vesper and Richard Haugland at the EPA Office of Research and Development, National Exposure Research Laboratory in Cincinnati, Ohio have developed a DNA-based system that allows rapid identification and quantification of molds in a matter of hours. Current methodologies require days or weeks to identify molds before remedial action can be taken. With the new technology, up to 96 analyses can be run simultaneously by laboratory technicians, reducing the labor required to analyze samples while significantly increasing the accuracy and validity of the analysis. The new technology also enables scientists to make risk assessments by identifying which mold is present and in what numbers.

In recognition of their work in developing the technology, the EPA scientists received the prestigious Federal Laboratory Consortium Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer. They were in competition with researchers from all the Federal laboratories.

Technology is being introduced by the Environmental Technology Commercialization Center, headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, one of the agency’s technology transfer centers that assists U.S. industries in the licensing of EPA technologies. The technology is available for licensing on a non-exclusive basis by laboratories, indoor air quality specialists, or other environmental professionals. Aerotech Laboratories, Inc., a small Arizona business, is the first licensee under this government patent.

UL encourages use of ground fault circuit interrupters
Install and test GFCIs regularly for a life-saving layer of protection.

It’s that time of year again. Time for home improvements. You may be among those who dread tackling spring cleaning and household projects, or maybe you’ve been looking forward to using a brand new power tool since the first frost. Either way, before you plug in that electric drill or fire up your circular saw, make sure you’re using a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI).

A GFCI is a small, inexpensive device that can help prevent electrical mishaps inside and outside our home.

Ground faults occur when the electrical current in a product strays outside of the path where it should flow. If your body provides a path for the stray current to the ground, you may be injured. Ground faults are often the result of damaged appliance cords or water getting into products. If every home in the US used GFCIs, experts say that more than two-thirds of all residential electrocutions could be prevented.

GFCIs provide protection against electric shock and electrocution from ground faults or contact with live parts by a grounded individual. They constantly monitor electricity flowing into a product. If the electricity flowing through the product differs even slightly from that returning, the GFCI will quickly shut off the current. The advantage of using GFCIs is that they detect even those amounts of electricity too small for a fuse or circuit breaker to activate and shut off the circuit.

Three types of UL Listed GFCIs designed for home use are readily available, and fairly inexpensive and simple to install:

Wall Receptacle GFCI – This type of GFCI is used in place of a standard receptacle found throughout the house. It fits into a standard outlet box and protects against ground faults whenever an electrical product is plugged into the outlet.

Circuit Breaker GFCI – In homes equipped with circuit breakers, this type of GFCI may be installed in a panel box to give protection to selected circuits. A circuit breaker GFCI serves a dual purpose: it shuts off electricity in the event of a ground fault and will also trip when a short circuit or an overload occurs.

Portable GFCI – A portable GFCI requires no special knowledge or equipment to install. One type contains the GFCI circuitry in a self-contained enclosure with plug blades in the back and receptacle slots in the front. It can then be plugged into a receptacle, and the electrical products are plugged into the GFCI. Another type of portable GFCI is an extension cord combined with a GFCI. It adds flexibility in using receptacles that are not protected by GFCIs.

Once a GFCI is installed, it must be checked monthly to determine that it is operating properly. Units can be checked by pressing the “TEST” button; the GFCI should disconnect the power to that outlet. Pressing the “RESET” button reconnects the power. If the GFCI does not disconnect the power, place a call into a qualified, certified electrician.

Moisture meter now allows data logging of up to 1,000 readings

Woburn, MA—Protimeter North America has developed a data logging function for use with its MMS Moisture Measurement System. Up to 1,000 moisture readings can be captured from the MMS, all with time & date stamp. Readings from any of the instrument’s functions can be logged. Data may be subsequently uploaded to a Windows-based PC through a standard RS-232 port.

The MMS is a hand-held instrument that detects moisture on and below surfaces, measures relative humidity/temperature and determines whether condensation is present. The MMS is used in cleaning and restoration, home inspection, flooring and anywhere moisture content is an issue. The new data logging ability provides verifiable documentation of results for insurance claims and other reporting requirements.

In the non-invasive search mode, the meter measures up to 1" below the surface and detects moisture below finished surfaces like ceramic tiles and floor coverings. In pin measure mode, two needle electrodes are pushed into the surface of different building materials to determine actual moisture content or the material’s wood moisture equivalent (WME) value. The MMS can also be used as a hygrometer to measure relative humidity, ambient temperature and dew point. Its replaceable sensor, supplied with the instrument, can also be embedded in solid floors and walls to obtain a material’s equilibrium relative humidity (ERM) value.

A LCD provides immediate visual display during measurement and each reading is data logged at the press of a button. For more information contact Protimeter North America at 800 321 4878.

Radon measurement and mitigation training offered
The Midwest Universities Radon Consortium (MURC), an U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Training Center, is offering radon training for professionals who are interested in providing measurement and mitigation services for residential, commercial and educational environments. The courses are designed for home inspectors, contractors, public officials, non-profit and other private firms. MURC courses are currently being offered in the U.S. Midwest.

Radon is a known cause of cancer and is responsible for about 15,000 deaths per year in the U.S. Radon testing and reduction are often a condition of home sales.

The major courses MURC offers are in radon measurement, mitigation, and continuing education.

The courses are being provided by MURC in collaboration with the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Regional Radon Training Centers, individual states, industry, the National Radon Safety Board and the National Environmental Health Association. The agencies and organizations work together to provide a network of programs and provide outreach materials for participants.