Canada's first mould-detecting dog is saving building owners from a fog of plaster dust.
"Before, we would have had to put a whole room under containment and then physically open up walls to see where the problem is," says Frank Haverkate of indoor environmental testing company, Haverkate and Associates.
Now, Quincy just sits and points at the mouldy spot.
Because dogs have such sensitive noses, they have long been put to work detecting things such as bombs and drugs. Mould may be less exciting but its effects can be devastating. Haverkate, a certified microbial investigator, says Quincy can pinpoint the mould down to a square foot area within walls, floorboards and ceilings.
The 2-year-old yellow Lab is trained to seek out mould and to alert Haverkate by sitting when she finds something. When she sits, Haverkate says, "show me" and Quincy points her nose to the exact location of the mould.
"If she's not able to point her nose right at the spot, if she seems a little confused where it is, it's usually in the ceiling area," Haverkate says.
At that point they go upstairs, where Quincy often finds the spot through the floorboards.
Haverkate said customers' reactions to Quincy have been very positive. "A lot of people can't believe that there's such a thing, that there's a mould detection dog."
When he explains that Quincy was trained at a facility for arson and bomb dogs, most people understand a little better.
Quincy was trained at the Florida Canine Academy by owner and certified master trainer Bill Whitstine. He says the dogs' capacity for discrimination is impressive. "They're able to sniff through all the other odours and only look for (mould)."
The dogs train seven days a week for three to four months, Whitstine says. He gets most dogs from the humane society.
A mould dog from the Florida Canine Academy costs about $19,000, which includes training the owners. "The people are much harder (to train) than the dogs," Whitstine says.
The dogs think of it as a game, he says. "They think we've hidden something in there and they go in to look for it."
Haverkate and Associates charges from $600 for an assessment to $1,500 for a more thorough inspection (including lab testing and Quincy's search).
What does Quincy get for her efforts? Doggy treats. "That's what she's working for, that's her paycheque," Haverkate says.
As for risks to Quincy, Whitstine says he did a five-year study with Auburn University in Alabama that found that dogs have an amazing ability to purge toxins from their nasal passages. Still, Haverkate doesn't take any chances with Quincy.
"The dog comes in last and I use my equipment first. If I have to use a respirator, the dog doesn't come in, period."
Canine sleuth Quincy sniffs out mould problems in houses. Many ways to improve indoor air quality,
When Rorie McIntosh was concerned his house might be making him and his family sick, Frank Haverkate arrived on the scene with two steel suitcases full of high-tech equipment and his most valued tool of all: Quincy.
A two-year-old yellow lab, Quincy is the first and only mould detection dog in Canada. Since September, she's been on the job for Haverkate and Associates, a Toronto-area indoor environmental testing and consulting company that specializes in mould growth in residential and commercial buildings.
Haverkate is the only microbial investigator in Canada, certified by the American Indoor Air Quality Council, and one of four registered mould remediators in Ontario.
Shortly before the September, 2002 closing of their new home in Whitby, McIntosh and his wife Alison noticed most ceilings had pink streaks. He was concerned it was mould and was worried about the health risks it posed to his young daughter and then-pregnant wife.
McIntosh had his lawyer contact the builder and, by the time the family took possession of their house, some, but not all, of the ceilings had been fixed.
After they moved in, a worker was sent to spray the ceiling several times with a solution which dripped, staining the family's clothing and soaking carpets. The builder replaced the carpets months later at McIntosh's insistence.
McIntosh pressed the builder for almost a year about what the ceiling problem was and how it was treated. He eventually received a letter from the company that supplied the ceiling finishing materials.
The letter explained that a pink discolouration on textured sprayed ceilings is "mildew" formation due to slow or poor drying conditions. (Haverkate says mould is commonly referred to as mildew, but mildew is actually a type of mould found only on plants.)
It recommended treating the problem with a solution of one part chlorine bleach to five parts water, and the builder said it followed that direction. But McIntosh says the worker did not wear protective wear or ask the family to leave the home while the spraying was being done.
More than a year later, McIntosh was plagued by a lingering cough and his infant son often suffered skin rashes, so he was worried that the mould and its treatment had created air-quality problems.
He contacted The Star, which put him in touch with Haverkate.
"In this kind of scenario, we don't know what the problem is, so we look at possible pollutants," says Haverkate. "Rorie was coughing a lot and that could have been medical or environmental."
Haverkate says mould is a huge issue in houses about 20 years old, since that's when houses were being built tighter but weren't properly ventilated.
New houses can also have mould issues, because they are being built so rapidly that materials such as wooden studs are not dried out properly.
Surprisingly, older houses may not have serious problems, since many of the materials used to build them don't foster mould growth.
Haverkate ran a gamut of tests on the McIntosh house, including checks of temperature and relative humidity and levels of sewer gases, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, volatile organic compounds, mould and radioactive building material.. Many of Haverkate's tools look like props in sci-fi movies, like his laser particle scan, Geiger counter and a thermal imaging camera that scans surfaces and displays temperature changes (moist areas show up as dark blue or black).
But all the high-tech wizardry has nothing on Quincy. The dog was trained in Florida at the same academy that trains arson, bomb and drug-sniffing dogs. Haverkate had to take part in some intensive training with Quincy before he was allowed to bring the former humane society ward home. "The academy loves humane society dogs," says Haverkate. "They like the dogs that are too hyper. These dogs need something to do."
Wearing her blue "Mould Detection K-9" coat, Quincy sprang into action, sniffing along the perimeter of rooms as Haverkate urged her to "seek." When she detects mould, she sits or lies down.
Haverkate rewards her with food. He says she can pinpoint the exact location of mould growth inside a wall or floor, which is difficult, if not impossible, with air testing alone. What she can't detect is how large the mould growth is, so some sampling is usually required.
In the McIntosh home, Quincy found mould under the dishwasher and fridge, in a few spots in the carpet and under some furniture pieces. None of these posed any health risk.
But the basement yielded some mould "hot spots," based on follow-up lab tests. The bleach-soaked carpet, which had been removed from the main floor was stored there, and cardboard boxes were sitting on the cold concrete floor.
Haverkate recommended that the old carpet be removed carefully after sealing it in plastic to contain any mould spores. (Bleaching kills the mould but the spores still pose a risk if inhaled.)
The cardboard boxes should be replaced by plastic bins. When all test results were returned, Haverkate determined the ceiling spray did not cause residual environmental issues. However, there are two problems with the house's indoor air quality, which can be easily remedied.
The house had extremely low humidity readings. Haverkate says while high humidity can cause mould growth, levels that are too low can cause a variety of respiratory and sinus problems.
He advised McIntosh to use a temperature and relative humidity meter frequently to monitor levels on each floor. In winter, the levels should be 30 to 40 per cent and, in warmer months, 50 to 55 per cent.
McIntosh could increase the levels by using a humidifier, preferably a flow-through type.
The other problem is high dust levels, especially of microscopic particles that can settle deep into the lungs.
Haverkate recommended the home's inexpensive furnace filter be replaced with a 3M Filtrete pleated insert. And the old filter had not been replaced since June, 2003 — filters should be changed every three months.
Haverkate also suggested McIntosh invest in a central HEPA filtration system to filter out microscopic particles. He said most portable vacuum cleaners, even those with HEPA filters, do not effectively remove dust particles and can, in fact, pollute the air. A central vac is ideal, but a less costly solution is Miele's portable HEPA vacuum (model 528S), which does remove the particles, says Haverkate.
McIntosh was relieved to hear there are no big health risks in the home.
"I was a little surprised, but it was good news," he says. "And we're already acting on Frank's recommendations. We've changed the furnace filter, we're getting a new vacuum and we're going to get a humidifier. Indoor air quality is not an issue that comes up much, even though we spend so much time in our homes. This was a real eye-opener."
Haverkate's assessments start about $650 and can run up to $2,200, depending on the amount of laboratory sampling required./p>
For information, call 905-882-2202 or click on http://www.moulddog.ca.
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