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Environmental Blog

Pollution Exclusions: “What Do You Mean I’m Not Covered?!”

Last week I went to a clients home to give him an estimate on a lead paint abatement project. He is a General Contractor and recently purchased a small but beautiful home in Huntington Village. The house had a lot of character and was approximately 80 years old. This project was special to him because his son and daughter-in-law were moving into the home, with their 10-month old son.

The young couple just left their apartment in New York City a couple of months ago, because their new home was just about complete. The interior was done and all that was left was to sand and paint the exterior clapboard siding. So the couple and their child moved in, excited to spend their first holiday season together in their first house.

The painting subcontractor used a dry abrasive sanding technique with no controls to catch the removed paint or control the dust. The windows and doors of the home were open at times during this process. My client’s daughter-in-law had asked him about the possibility of lead paint so they decided to have a consultant come in and do some testing. The consultant followed the EPA and HUD guidelines on lead dust testing protocol and found that the levels in the home exceeded levels which are considered safe by 50 times! Even after my client had cleaned every square inch of the house, the retesting came back at 10 times the level considered safe for human occupancy.

Lead is a highly toxic metal that can cause a range of health problems, especially in young children. When lead is absorbed into the body, it can cause damage to the brain and other vital organs, like the kidneys, nerves and blood. Lead can also cause behavioral problems, learning disabilities, seizures and in extreme cases, death. Some symptoms of lead poisoning may include headaches, stomach aches, nausea, tiredness and irritability. Children who are lead poisoned may show no symptoms.

My client realized that this project was best handled by experts and he knew it would be costly. He notified his homeowner’s insurance company but they denied coverage based on the pollution exclusion in the policy. Because faulty workmanship by the painting subcontractor is not a covered cause of loss, the pollution exclusion applies and coverage was denied.

He then told the painting subcontractor that he would have to notify his insurance company because the cost of the cleanup was going to run into the tens of thousands of dollars. The painting subcontractor’s insurance company also denied coverage based on the pollution exclusion in his policy. Because my client didn’t have pollution coverage on his business either, he was at a dead end. He could sue the painting subcontractor because he had liability in this instance, but that would take years and he maintained a good relationship with this contractor for many years.

In the end, he decided to foot the bill himself. An additional $40,000.00 in costs because his business, his subcontractors business and the home did not have pollution coverage. Pollution coverage can obtained much more easily these days and it costs much less than you might imagine. Talk to your agent and discuss your options on pollution coverage…before you need it.

Is Raccoon Damage A Covered Loss?

A few weeks ago I asked that you imagine that you went away for a few weeks over the winter and when you came back, you found your home or business ravaged by a gang of raccoons. Those cute little masked faces. Those stuffed animal looking bodies. You couldn’t imagine them reeking havoc in your attic. I know. I remember tossing them pieces of cat kibble on my porch, while drinking a glass of wine. These little creatures would never destroy my property, right?

Let me tell you, nothing is worse than the stench of an attic than has been turned into a raccoon den. I can smell it the minute I walk up to a home or building that has been infested. You see, raccoons, if you pardon the expression, like to poop where they live. They poop in areas of your attic, away from where they nest, in huge piles called latrines. These latrines may contain parasites that can be very hazardous to humans.

These parasites, called raccoon roundworm (Baylisascaris procyonis), live in the raccoon’s intestine and produce microscopic eggs that are shed in the raccoon’s feces. One raccoon roundworm can produce more than 100,000 eggs a day. A raccoon can pass millions of eggs in its feces everyday, depending on how many worms are in its intestines. Once deposited into the latrine, these eggs develop into the infectious form in two to four weeks and can survive for several years. If the infectious form of the eggs is inadvertently swallowed or inhaled by humans, the larvae hatch out of the eggs and move into the organs of the body. The larvae travel throughout the body and may cause serious eye disease, spinal cord or brain damage, or death.

You’re not thinking they’re so cute anymore, right?

Cleaning up the mess can be dangerous and costly. My workers follow strict remediation protocols which I developed with help from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and a respected toxicologist friend, Dr. Charles Gilbert. Typically, cleanup methods include the physical removal of the contaminated attic insulation, duct insulation and debris by scraping, H.E.P.A. vacuuming and wiping all affected walls, floors, rafters and sheathing with a biocide solution. We always install engineering controls and critical barriers which include the use of H.E.P.A. filtered high capacity air ventilation units in the work area to prevent the generation of dust and the spread of any bacteria. After removal of the raccoon waste and fine cleaning, all building materials are covered with an antimicrobial encapsulant that inhibits any future bacterial growth and the spread of the parasitic roundworms eggs.

So, is there any good news here? Yes. You’re probably covered. Although damage from rodents and other vermin is not covered under most commercial and residential insurance policies, raccoon damage is. Raccoons are not rodents. They are members of the bear family and therefore the damage caused by them doesn’t fall under the rodent/vermin exclusion of most insurance policies.

So they’re not in the rat family and the cleanup is covered. Maybe they’re not so bad after all.

It’s Time to Inspect Your Property to Prevent Water Intrusion Damage

It’s a great time of year to take a walk around your building or home to investigate and prevent the sources of water intrusion. With the ground relatively hard or frozen, sprinkler systems turned off for the winter and the vegetation surrounding the foundation at a minimum, an hour of your time would be wisely spent averting disaster. One damaged downspount or one clogged drain could cause tens of thousands of dollars in damage that most likely would not be covered by your business or homeowner’s insurance policy.

That’s right … not covered. Structural damage, mold growth and damage to contents caused by the infiltration of surface water into the building are typically not covered by your property or renters insurance policy. Besides surveying your property, it would be a good idea to give your agent a call to verify this, and to make any changes in your coverage that you feel are appropriate.

Don’t put this off. Trust me. You’ll be kicking yourself if this happens to you and you procrastinated. Here, I’ll make it easy for you. Consider this a checklist.

Basements –

Water Stains – Look for signs of water intrusion around basement entryways and windows. Check for water stains on the concrete floor or finished flooring, around window boxes or on the ceiling (first floor subfloor).

Basement Entryways – Clogged floor drains are often the culprit here. Keep drains free of leaves and make sure they flow freely.

Mold – Look for mold growth on ceiling rafters, the bottoms of stored contents, window boxes and walls. If you see a white powdery substance on the concrete foundation walls, it is likely not mold, but efflorescence. Efflorescence comes from the minerals (calcium and magnesium) left behind when groundwater passes through the concrete foundation and evaporates in your basement.

Attics –

Water Stains – Check for signs of water intrusion on the roofing sheathing or concrete decking. This would typically indicate roof damage of some sort, which is typically a covered item on your insurance policy.

Mold – Look for mold growth on the rafters and sheathing. Mold in attics is usually due to improper ventilation. During the winter, warm moist air enters the attic from inside the home, where it condenses. This moisture causes mold to grow on the wood sheathing.

Outside –

Gutters and Downspouts – The biggest culprit here is a detached downspout. Water flows down, but not away from your building. It soaks into the soil against your building and enters your basement through defects in the foundation wall. Make sure that leaders take water far enough from the building so it doesn’t reenter at a low spot.

Roofing – Look for damaged roofing shingles or deteriorated built up roofing, especially around utility units and roof drains. Look for signs of ice damming. Ice damming is caused when ice backs up under a pitched roof’s shingles. The damage can be severe but luckily this is an item that is typically covered under your insurance policy.

Siding – Look for damaged EFIS (Dryvit or one step stucco) systems or traditional siding. Improperly installed or damaged EFIS can cause extremely costly water damage and detecting the point of intrusion can be a nightmare.

Irrigation systems – 4 times out of 5, the water intrusion problem is due to over-watering. When its not, it’s because the sprinkler head is accidentally aimed towards the foundation or a window.

Grading – Did your neighbor just regrade his property causing water to flow up against your building? You better correct it fast before you end up with all that runoff in your basement!

Semantics: Environmental Damage Coverage is Sometimes Determined by How it's Presented - Part 1

You just suffered some sort of environmental damage to your property. A sewage treatment plant back up contaminates your building. A chemical fire in your warehouse inundates your building with noxious fumes. It’s an expensive mess, but at least you have insurance coverage, right?

Nothing can send a chill down your spine more quickly than an insurance adjuster informing you that you are not covered for an expensive damage to your property. In the past month, two of my clients were told just that.

One client owns a chemical processing plant. They take raw chemical compounds, process them into liquid plastics that are used to put plastic coatings on cards, posters and other paper products. Dozens of 55 gallon drums and 500 gallons tanks of chemicals come in and out of their warehouse every day. Can you imagine not having an insurance policy that would cover you for an accidental release of these materials? As so often is the case, the building owner did not realize she should have pollution coverage until it was too late. They were denied coverage for the chemical pollutant damage because it was determined that it was excluded by the policy.

However, after a little persuasion and considering the facts of the incident, the insurance company decided to provide coverage for the loss. Why? Because the actual damage in this incident was an intense odor imparted to the building when a chemical they were working with polymerized; that is it had chemically changed. When it polymerized it gave off a permeating burnt plastic smell. There was no actual fire, but the heat box the chemical was in had malfunctioned, heating the product to a temperature at which the chemical changed, giving off the burnt plastic smell. This was close enough to a “fire” in the insurance policy definition, that the adjuster decided to provide coverage.  And my client had dodged a $500,000.00 bullet.Yet another reason to sit down with your agent and make sure that you are covered for damages that your business is likely to incur.Pollution coverage can be obtained much more easily these days and it costs much less than you might imagine. Talk to your agent and discuss your options on pollution coverage…before you need it.

Next week I will write about a similar coverage issue. 80,000 gallons of raw sewage backs up into the crawlspace of a condominium complex. Dozens of apartment owners are forced out of their homes. But when the insurance company denies coverage of the $250,000 clean up based on a pollution exclusion, the “you know what” really hits the fan.

Environmental Damage Coverage is Sometimes Determined by How it's Presented. Part 2

Last week I wrote about a “fire” damage in a client’s chemical processing plant. She had been denied insurance coverage for the chemical pollutant damage because it was determined that it was excluded by the policy. She was confronted with the horror of picking up the tab for $500,000 in clean up costs. However, after a little persuasion and considering the facts of the incident, the insurance company decided to provide coverage for the loss.

Why did the insurance company change their opinion? Because they were persuaded to consider the facts of the incident in an “outside the box” manner. Although there was no actual fire, the damage in this incident was an intense burnt plastic odor. The product had chemically changed in a malfunctioning heating unit, permeating the building with this odor. This was close enough to a “fire” in the insurance policy definition, and the adjuster decided to provide coverage.

Semantics can play a big part in the determination of coverage on your environmental damage claim. Recently, a client who runs a condominium complex had a very “crappy” (sorry, bad pun) situation unfold on her. 20,000 gallons of raw sewage backed up into the crawlspace directly under the owner’s units. The complex’ sewage treatment plant became clogged and the sewage level elevated to a dangerous height. When the alarm didn’t go off due to a malfunction, the sewage pipes in the crawlspace blew their seals and created an incredible mess. Dozens of apartment owners were forced out of their homes.

A sewage back up due to an equipment malfunction. Covered, right? Unfortunately the insurance company’s independent adjuster argued that there was no coverage because sewage is a pollutant under the insurance policy’s pollution exclusion.

The best thing to do in these situations is to research the case law of similar events. My client found that the Supreme Court of New York had decided against an insurance company that had recently denied coverage on a very similar claim. She researched the case on the internet, condensed the salient points of Judge’s decision and cited the case in a letter to the independent adjuster. After a few weeks of hand wringing, the insurance company reconsidered their position and provided coverage for the cleanup.

As I said last week, it is so important that you sit down with your agent and make sure that you are covered for damages that your business is likely to incur. Sewage back is a very common occurrence both in homes and co-op/condominiums. While it worked out well for my client in this case, often the insurer will decide to defend their position in court. This can cost you a lot of time and money and the courts may decide that dual meanings of an exclusion favor the insurance company’s position. Pollution coverage can be obtained much more easily these days and the relatively low cost of the premiums can be well worth the peace of mind.

Asbestos Abatement and Insurance Coverage - The Basics

So we all know that asbestos is typically considered a pollutant under most commercial and residential insurance policies. But I make my living on removing asbestos from buildings, usually after it has been deemed “covered” by an insurance adjuster. So when is asbestos abatement covered? If you have followed this blog over the past few months, you probably know by now that coverage on pollution claims can be determined by many factors. When it comes to asbestos abatement coverage, these factors are relatively short and specific.

What caused the asbestos damage? Was it due to deterioration from high humidity over time? If that asbestos pipe insulation is in your damp basement or crawlspace and is falling off due to intrinsic moisture damage, you probably are not covered. The same goes for surface water intrusion damage or asbestos damage due to seepage.

Was the asbestos damaged in a fire? Did your boiler explode? If that boiler ruptured in some manner or if a fire caused damage to the asbestos boiler jacket insulation, you will likely trigger coverage due to “bursting or tearing asunder of the heating system” or because of the fire damage peril of a policy.

Other common triggers of asbestos coverage are flooding due to sewage back up, toilet overflow, pipe breaks and direct physical damage due to tradesman. If a carpenter accidentally ripped up some of your asbestos floor tile or if your washing machine overflowed causing the floor tile to delaminate, you are likely covered.

What if your asbestos pipe insulation was coated with soot after a puff back or if mold grew on it after a pipe break? Most states, including New York State, require the removal of asbestos containing materials by law if any peripheral or associated work might disturb the asbestos. If the asbestos must be cleaned or painted due to soot or mold damage, then the project must be performed as an abatement project, and is subject to all the applicable regulations of N.Y.S.D.O.L. Industrial Code Rule 56. This includes a fully regulated removal project, filing fees, air testing and other costly requirements.

In short, when it comes to insurance coverage for asbestos abatement: If the asbestos damage is sudden and accidental, you are likely covered. If the damage is due to some sort of deterioration over time, chances are you will not be afforded coverage.

Do you suspect environmental contamination?

What is Your Environmental Damage Exposure?

So, it’s the winter holidays and you close your office for a few days to catch some sun down south. While you are away, a cute little family of raccoons chew their way into the attic space of your shop and decide to have a party. Raccoons, not being the most discrete guests, decide to leave their bacteria and parasite ridden waste throughout your attic space.

The hole they chewed in the roof allows cold air in, which freezes your domestic water pipes, causing water to cascade down through three floors of your building. The water makes its way to the basement giving you an indoor swimming pool.

The water in the basement dislodges the asbestos floor tile and pipe insulation you have been meaning to have removed … but never got around to. As the water rises, it lifts the partially full (and now buoyant) fuel oil tank from the floor which then tips over and gives you a sort of diorama of what the Exxon Valdez disaster must have looked like in Alaska.

You walk in a few days later with your great tan and see three floors of what you think is a new “bold design” wallpaper. This turns out to be twenty different species of mold growing on the walls that remind you of your high school Petrie dish science project.

The point of all this is to illustrate how properties that have little obvious environmental damage exposure can be turned into hazardous waste sites by simple, totally unexpected events. Insurance policy coverage varies greatly and cleanups can be very costly. Although residential insurance policies would usually cover all of the above referenced environmental damage, most commercial policies have limits or exclusions. What does your policy cover?

Stopping Water Damage from Becoming Mold Damage

A client of mine just got back from a family trip to Israel to find his basement covered in mold. Twelve hours before he left for this trip to celebrate his daughter’s bas mitzvah, a pipe fitting in his basement disconnected and flooded his basement with a few inches of water. In their hurry to clean it up before they left, they (and their water damage contractor) made a few mistakes.

The water saturated the base of the walls, the carpet and the contents on the basement floor. The most common mistake made by most contractors and homeowners in situations like this is in not getting all the water out they possible can before the drying process is started. Quite often, homeowners and contractors are pennywise and pound foolish for not opening up the base of the walls to allow the interior wall cavity to dry. If the base of the walls are not opened up, the studs and runners cannot dry properly and mold will form on the wood surfaces. If there is insulation in the walls, the water will wick up the back of the insulation, which is in contact with the drywall, and cause mold to grow on that surface.

The outer surface of the affected walls need to be inspected to determine if water is trapped behind moldings or cabinetry. In this homeowner’s case, the three inch base moldings were not removed and the built in cabinetry was not disassembled to allow proper drying behind and under them. Although the contractor had placed dehumidifiers and blowers in the basement, he had not properly opened up the water soaked area. This resulted in massive amounts of mold growing under the built in cabinets, between the walls and moldings and behind the walls during the two weeks the homeowners were away. And, unfortunately, the blowers the contractor had set up to help dry the basement actually spread the mold spores around the home.

Other important drying techniques include the treating of the entire water damaged surface with an appropriate biocide, keeping the area warm and raising contents to allow proper dry air flow. Biocides should retard the growth of mold until the mechanical drying equipment installed has reduced the moisture levels in the building materials and contents to a level that will not support mold growth. Contents should be removed from the area or put up on pegs or Styrofoam blocks. The warmer a work area is, the more efficient and effective the dehumidifiers will work. Dehumidifiers will actually freeze up or be inoperative at temperatures below 60 degrees.

In this case, due to the heavy mold growth, the homeowner had to dispose of all the contaminated contents and the basement had to undergo a costly mold remediation of all the affected walls. This could have easily been prevented if the techniques suggested above were employed.

Environmental Dangers in the Eye of the Beholder?

Last evening I performed an inspection of a home in Muttontown, Long Island. The home was to undergo a large renovation and was currently worth over $1,500,000.00. The homeowner requested that I give her a quote to remove a 550 gallon underground fuel oil storage tank that was in an area to be excavated to make room for a new foundation. While checking the basement for other environmental issues such as asbestos or lead paint, I noticed that the ceiling rafters were completely covered with four different colors/species of mold. The homeowner said they were going to move in before they did any work to the basement and at that point they would do the basement renovation. Their general contractor, who happens to be excellent, would “take care” of the mold.

By “take care” of the mold, I could only assume that some unprotected workers would brush the mold off the rafters without even using the most basic of precautions such as respirators, HEPA vacuums, negative air filtration or biocide. A massive amount of mold spores would be liberated into the home and would remain there for years. But this homeowner was relatively unconcerned and “brushed” it off.

Now I am no mold alarmist whacko, but if I was buying a house and investing two million bucks on it, I would spend the $5,000.00 to clean up the mold properly and protect my family from illness.

But concern over environmental hazards such as mold, frequently follows the route of hysteria as well. I do work for a building owner in New York City who absolutely demands that everything be done “By the book”. He has been shell-shocked by lawsuits from tenants who sue him the second they sneeze. One pair of tenants, known as “the sisters” have been involved in ongoing litigation with him for over four years. All this because of a cell phone sized piece of discolored flooring under their radiator which didn’t even have visible mold growth on it. They convinced the City that the apartment was uninhabitable and now only enter it wearing bio suits and respirators.

Mold is, of course, not the only environmental issue that polarizes people into the “Hysterical Hypochondriacs” and “That’s a bunch of hogwash!” groups. Asbestos was the first. And many of the mistakes made with the City, State and Federal asbestos regulations have precipitated the perception that most environmental issues are overblown. Asbestos over-regulation (and the problems caused by it) is far too vast a subject to go into here. But suffice is to say it has caused a shockwave that has hindered the development of desperately needed REASONABLE regulations in the lead paint in mold remediation industry.

So are environmental dangers empirical or are they truly in the eye of the beholder? Try telling an owner of a Lexington Avenue accounting firm, as I did recently, that his entire office (down to the disc drives in his computer) must be bagged as asbestos waste and disposed of because the building owner, his environmental consultant and the NYCDEP mandated it. All this, even though only one sample came up positive for asbestos in the ductwork above his office following the recent asbestos covered steam pipe explosion. What do I say to him when he says “My dad worked in the Navy shipyards in Brooklyn for years, spraying the hulls of ships with asbestos. He had no respiratory protection at all and we just celebrated his 90th birthday.”

Prevent Catastrophe. Inspect Oil Burner Heating Systems now.

I planned on writing something completely different this week. Something about business emergency preparedness. Unfortunately for the small business owner whose basement I am looking at right now, emergency preparedness and preventative maintenance have come a day too late.

I am typing away on my blackberry, while my workers drum up decades worth of this unfortunate mason contractors files. You see, a corroded fuel oil supply line let go, spilling 200 gallons of oil into his basement file storage rooms.

Compounding the environmental impact of this disaster is the vinyl asbestos floor tile. The oil seeped under the asbestos tiles, melting the mastic and turning the floor into a black gooey mess. After containerizing all of these contaminated contents and building materials in 55 gallon steel drums, my asbestos abatement workers will remove the oil damaged asbestos tiles and mastic under a fully contained negative pressure environment. It’s going to be a long weekend.

All of the building owner’s files are ruined. So are the 60 year old pictures of his parents and other irreplaceable items he stored haphazardly in the basement. He never expected this to happen. Who would? Rotted filters, corroded lines, deteriorated storage tanks and leaking fill pipes are all recipes for disaster. Have your oil burner service company inspect all of the above components when they do their routine annual maintenance and inspections. Make them note on your bill that these items were inspected and appear in good order. This may be very important later because your insurance policy may not cover the cost of the cleanup and repairs. Insurance coverage varies greatly on oil spill remediation. Sometimes there are limits. $10,000 is typical for commercial coverage. Sometimes you might have a strict pollution exclusion. Sometimes contents will be covered, sometimes they are not. Consult with your agent in regard to coverage issues now, not after this happens to you.

All of a sudden it’s heating season. Get those heating systems inspected. Check your policy coverage and make changes that protect you from excessive risk. With oil spills, an ounce of prevention is always worth more than a pound of cure.

Do You Love What You Do?

Do you love what you do? We all have our little frustrations with the “dailys” of our career. But do you have fun often and feel rewarded in the course of your day? I guess I’m lucky that I do.

I’m an environmental contractor. In short, I walk into buildings that have some sort of environmental disaster going on, I figure out the problem and then design and orchestrate the remediation (cleanup). It’s sort of half science/half crisis management. I went to college for chemistry and spent most of my youth getting into and (sometimes) out of trouble so I guess I trained well.

I’ve dealt with anthrax scares, buildings flooded with sewage, illegal marijuana factories, explosive materials in laboratories, buildings turned into huge mold Petrie dishes, attics contaminated with bird and raccoon waste, canals with oil spills, streets and buildings coated with asbestos from collapses . . . you name it.

Although I started as a consultant, I soon realized I wanted to get my hands dirty. I found that I prefer to physically solve a problem rather than talk about it. It feels great being able to tell a building owner or homeowner that you will clean up this potential hazard to their health, and then see it through to fruition. It has a heroic quality to it that is very gratifying just as a fireman must get a rush out of running into a burning building and rescuing a child.

We all have things we are good at and things we are passionate about. If you are lucky enough to marry them with your career, you are very fortunate.

My father always told me, you have to wake up Monday morning and be happy you are going to work. I am.

Oil Storage Tanks - Risk vs. Reward of Insurance Coverage

As an environmental contractor, there is nothing better than telling a business owner or homeowner that the cost of their environmental cleanup project is covered by their insurance policy. A pipe breaks and floods their building, causing mold to grow on the building materials and files. Covered. A fire in their boiler room damages the asbestos pipe and boiler insulation, which then contaminates the entire basement. Covered. A cooling system pipe bursts spraying ethylene glycol all over their offices. Covered. An underground oil storage tank corrodes and leaks a thousand gallons of oil into the soil surrounding your building. Covered?

Coverage for an oil tank leak is very specific to your individual policy. If the resulting oil contamination is originally caused by fire, vandalism or something “sudden and accidental” like a fork lift driving into it, you will usually be covered for the resulting clean up costs. If the reason the tank is leaking is due to corrosion or wear and tear, you may not be covered under the first party portion of the policy.

Many policies have pollution exclusions. These specifically exclude coverage for losses caused by the release of contaminants. However, this doesn’t automatically mean that you will not be covered for environmental damage to your property. For instance, the pollution exclusion of a residential policy is overridden in cases involving oil spill impact to groundwater because it is the liability portion of the policy that provides the coverage.

The New York Central Mutual Insurance Company had a landmark decision against them in 1989. In the case of The State of New York vs. New York Central Mutual Fire Insurance Company, the court reasoned that clean up costs for the homeowner in question were covered. This was due to damage to the groundwater, which is technically “owned” by a “third party”, that being the State of
New York.

Unfortunately, this argument doesn’t completely solve the problem for business owners and their properties. More often than not, business policies have coverage limits for this sort of thing. $10,000 to $20,000 typically. This is rarely enough to cover the cost of an oil spill clean up.

So the business advice here is simple. Find out what pollution clean up your policy covers now, BEFORE you have a problem. Do you have limits to that coverage? What specific exclusions does it contain that will effect your individual risks. You can obtain specific coverage for underground storage tanks for a couple of hundred dollars a year. You can get blanket pollution insurance coverage from your broker.

Fluorescent lights contain mercury, old light ballasts contain PCBs, mold grows, lead paint peels off, asbestos insulation deteriorates and oil tanks leak. Review your policy now! When we meet one day and we are looking at your office basement filled with a pool of oil, I want to tell you that you are covered.

What Is MRSA?

M.R.S.A. (the acronym is pronounced mersa) is an antibiotic resistant bacterium that is responsible for more deaths in the United States each year than AIDS, according to newly published data.

MRSA (short for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) infections usually start when the bacterium comes in contact with the skin and results in the growth of  small skin lesions such as pimples or boils. They are often misdiagnosed as spider bites. These lesions can quickly turn into deep, painful abscesses that require surgical draining. MRSA becomes life threatening when it enters into the bloodstream and causes infections of the heart valves and lungs.

Until recently, MRSA only seemed to be the problem of hospitals and other health care facilities. Hospitals have been dealing with these “difficult to conquer” Nosocomialinfections for years. Nosocomial infections are those which are the result of treatment in a hospital or healthcare service unit, but are secondary to the patient’s original condition. Recent studies show that  85% of the reported cases of MRSA occurred in health-care settings, such as hospitals and nursing homes. However, these same reports also show that 14% occurred in schools, gyms, hotels, day care facilities and other community environments.

When these infections are discovered in health care facilities, they are usually diagnosed and treated quickly, resulting in quick and effective treatment. That, however, is typically not the case when MRSA is contracted in a community setting. Every week the newspaper tells of a family that rented a beach house, or a high school football player contracting MRSA and succumbing to a fast spreading infection.

It is important to note that contracting MRSA is far from a death sentence. There are other antibiotics that are now used to combat this “Superbug” with very good results, assuming the infection is caught early.

I am an environmental contractor who disinfects hospitals and school buildings with MRSA and other environmental health hazards. Unfortunately, most facilities are reactive instead of proactive. Installing antibacterial wipe and eyewash stations or performing routine daily biocide cleaning of doorknobs, gym equipment, locker rooms or hospital rooms is rarely done. I usually receive the “Get here now!” call after a student or patient is diagnosed with a problem. We respond with HEPA vacuums and MRSA specific biocides. Workers don respirators and other appropriate personal protective equipment. Air filtration units and decontamination chambers are set up and the workers wipe down and treat the entire facility.

With MRSA, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered. Wash your hands frequently especially when in gyms, schools and health care facilities. And see a doctor quickly if you or a loved one has an abnormal skin lesion.