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notsodiy 08-27-2009 11:26 PM

getting rid of ceiling tile dust
Hi everyone. This is my first time posting here. I hope somebody will be able to help me out. It's a long story so please bear with me.

I moved into the basement of a rental house just over two months ago and it's been pretty much a nightmare. I discovered mold on the ceiling tiles (as well as elsewhere), so the landlord had the old ceiling tiles removed and the above wood cleaned. They were about 1x1 tiles probably still here from the 60's or 70's that fit right up against each other and were glued right onto the joists, no metal frame or anything.

Well the landlord went to home depot and bought your standard 2x2 ceiling tiles that are supposed to be mounted on the metal frame like in office buildings and such. She had someone glue and staple them back onto the joists. It looks absolutely ridiculous and amateur. I would never have signed the lease to this place with a basement looking like that.

This happened just over a week ago. I came home after it was done and the entire basement smelled of chalk, from whatever is coating the ceiling tiles. The person who did it also left a gigantic mess for me to clean up. I had to clean off all my furniture (though they claim it was covered) and vacuum my couch, not to mention cleaning the entire floor and scrubbing down the walls and trim.

I thought after cleaning everything, and leaving some windows open for it to air (there is central air in the rest of the house, but not in the basement, which is also ridiculous because the ducts are just running right there) the smell would go away.

It's over a week later and not only does it still smell of chalk, but I spend 5 minutes inside and I feel like the chalky dust has covered me. I feel like I've been in a pool hall and rubbed the chalk all over my hands. And it's aggravating my allergies.

So my question is, what can I possibly do to get rid of the dust, if anything? I bought an air purifier and it hasn't done any good at ridding the dust. It's maybe even made it worse because the air that blows out hits the ceiling tiles and maybe shakes more dust loose.

Any suggestions you may have would be extremely appreciated. I'm sick of all the trouble I've been put through, and it's not like I even own the place.

Maintenance 6 08-28-2009 07:16 AM

You really didn't say how the old tile was removed. A "professional" abatement company or otherwise. Is the dust from the removal or the new install? I'll add to your discomfort. Some of those old tiles contained asbestos. Send a dust sample out and get it tested. It's not common, but I've run into it. Your air purifier is probably not moving enough air to be effective. You need to exhaust a large volume of air. Use a HEPA rated vacuum and go over everything. ESPECIALLY any upholstered furnishings or carpets. A regular vac won't trap small enough particulates. You have a worse situation in that the stuff had mold growing in it. Now you could have mold dust floating in the air, which will keep getting re-introduced after it settles out, unless you remove it. The mold could well be what's aggravating your allergies.

notsodiy 08-28-2009 07:32 AM

The dust is most definitely from the new install. A professional mold remediation company came in and removed the tiles, and cleaned the wood in the entire basement. They used some sort of negative air pressure whatever to ensure that the mold would not aerosolize. I made sure the homeowner chose a real mold remediation company and not just some random contractor. They took care of removing the tiles, and everything looked pretty clean (no dust on anything). Then the landlord hired some "handyman for hire" company to send out somebody to put in the new ceiling tiles the next day. I came home from work and there was dust all over everything, even though the landlord claims the guy covered my furniture with a tarp.

I went over the couch my friend's vacuum since I only own a tiny one (no rugs), and I believe it is HEPA (it's a nice vacuum either way), but I am not sure.

Another thing I forgot to mention just in case it's important - in order to control the humidity levels in the basement I was given a dehumidifier which I run for about 1/2 the day. There is no ventilation in the bathroom either.

I hope that information helps.

Oh, and where can I send a dust sample to get tested?

Maintenance 6 08-28-2009 07:54 AM

Do a google search for asbestos test labs. There are plenty around, and not too expensive. If a remediation company removed the moldy tiles and used proper containment and exhaust, then dust from that process is probably not an issue, even if there was a trace amount of asbestos. Sounds like you just need to exhaust some air to remove any airborne particulates. You really need a HEPA rated vac to clean up. Some of the "really nice" home vacs are also some of the worst for bypass of microscopic particulates. They get them to pick up boulders by removing restrictions from the airstream, like efficient filtration. Anything that gets through the vac filter gets re-introduced into the air. The small airborne dust is what you are noticing, not the heavier stuff that settles out quickly.

notsodiy 08-28-2009 09:21 AM

I will look for a HEPA vacuum then and check if my friend's is HEPA. The air purifier I got is HEPA. But I guess that's not enough to take care everything?

Thanks for your advice.

notsodiy 08-28-2009 09:55 AM

Actually I found the vacuum online and it has HEPA:

Maybe we didn't clean enough? We got as much off of the floor, walls, and couches as we could.

Maintenance 6 08-28-2009 10:03 AM

I really doubt that your air purifier is moving enough air to be effective within a reasonable time. A box fan direct to the outside would do much more for you. Hopefully, the remediation contractor did a good job of controlling the work environment so that any of his airborne dust is not left over. I imagine that no-one did any air sampling before, during and after that process to assure that his containment and removal was effective. Typically, homeowners aren't aware that air sampling should be a part of the remediation process and be performed by an independent agent.

notsodiy 08-30-2009 11:26 PM

I insisted that they get an air sample from a 3rd party beforehand. If I tried to push them (landlord and homeowner) to get an air sample afterward they probably would have gotten mad at me and not done it anyway. The homeowner refused to share the results of the air samples with me too, so I have no idea what was found, just their word that it was "an abundance of common household mold".

None of the windows here are big enough for a standard sized box fan. I tried to get them to get me a fan previously to help ventilate the bathroom (why should I have to buy a fan? not my mess) and they said no. I suppose I could price out smaller sized box fans, but assuming it does the trick, I won't have a use for it again.

vsheetz 08-31-2009 03:43 AM

Sorry to hear of your problems. This kind of thing agravates me to no end - I have had many rental properties over many years and try to ensure the properties are well maintained, repair folks know what they are doing, and the tenant is treated properly. I am rewarded with the peace of mind I have done the right thing and low tenant turnover.

Your landlord should be stepping up and resolving the issue - clean-up, dust and odor abatement, re-fixing the ceiling, etc. I suggest you try to go to the landlord again...

Maintenance 6 08-31-2009 06:30 AM

It's unfortunate that they botched the air sampling. There should be samples taken inside at the location of the mold. Samples taken of outside air for comparison (background). Samples taken outside of the containment to assure that everything is staying inside the controlled environment and a final clearance sample taken after everything is cleaned up. The final is important in that it shows that the clean up was effective and should show the levels being at the same level as the outside or lower and certainly lower than the starting sample. Without all of these samples taken, there is no way to decide if the remediation effort was a success. The effort was wasted taking only a beginning sample. You could use any kind of fan and fashion a temporary duct from some heavy garbage bags and duct tape. Adapt the plastic duct to the window opening and tape it to the window frame and the fan case.

notsodiy 08-31-2009 07:23 AM

If I can't find a fan of the right size, I can try that duct thing.

vsheetz, the landlord explicitly stated that they would not be cleaning up the dust left by the ceiling tile. They tried to make it seem like the only reason they fixed the mold problem was because I was concerned about it, and claim the tests came back not bad enough to absolutely need to get rid of it. That's BS because preventative maintenance is way more important and less expensive than fixing a problem when it has gone too far.

I could try to suggest they get someone back for an air sample, but I pretty much envision the landlord saying "we picked a good company and I don't see the need to get air samples again".

It was suggested that they replace the drywall on one wall of my bathroom too, and the landlord said "if you don't like the dust then we just won't replace the drywall". I said if it needs to be replaced then replace it. The response was "none of this work *needed* to be done, so if the dust is causing you problems we just won't do it".

Maintenance 6 08-31-2009 07:45 AM

Google "Erin Brockovich mold suit" and then send the landlord copies of the articles. Maybe he'll change his mind.

notsodiy 09-02-2009 11:18 AM

The homeowner (they live overseas, which is why they have a landlord taking care of the property) emailed me about the repairs stating she believes the job was completed satisfactorily. So I responded saying I did not agree (which I told the landlord two weeks ago), outlined the steps I had done to clean up everything, and how I could still smell it and feel it. I also suggested they get a post-air sample to ensure the job was completed correctly. I also sent photos of the ceiling tiles (including broken ones and those with broken trim) since they live overseas and could not inspect the house themselves.

As I suspected, I was met with hostility saying they had spent a lot of time and money to address my concerns (they should be concerned about their house and do the repairs because of that). I found a loose ceiling tile while I was taking photos and the response was "if I tile comes loose, we'll fix it". You think they'd be asking "why is a tile that was just installed coming loose?". The response to the dust was that I should be able to meet them half way in cleaning up a little dust (which would be fine if it were just a little). Apparently the mold measured was minimal and not a health hazard so they saw no reason to get a post air sample.

This weekend I hope to find a fan to ventilate the rooms and see if that helps.

Unfortunately I have no idea how much mold was found originally because the homeowner refused to provide me any information in the report. I appreciate your suggestion about the mold suit, but hopefully it won't come to anything like that.

Thanks again to everyone who has chimed in with suggestions.

Edit - I was gone this past weekend and left the air purifier running and it seems to be slightly better but it still needs to be properly ventilated.

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