Case Study 1 – Family Expecting Baby in Jing’an Area Apartment
Ken C, Partner at a consulting firm, and a long-time Shanghai resident who moved from the US in 2003, and his wife Jamie, were expecting a baby and recently moved into an 7th floor apartment in Jing’an district. Like many new move-ins, they renovated, including repainting and adding new furniture.
Ken had heard about PureLiving through word of mouth and contacted us wondering how they could check out the safety of their new home. He said, “We never thought much about the air or water before, but with a baby on the way, we wanted to make sure we did everything to prepare a safe environment.”
The first thing Louie Cheng, PureLiving founder and the couple’s advisor, did was to interview the couple to understand their building environment, activities, health situation, and capture any specific concerns. This information helped identify potential pollutants to test for and create a customized testing strategy that avoided unnecessary costs.
- Building environment: 167 m2 apartment, 5 year old building, wood floors, individual wall-mounted air conditioners, no existing air or water filtration
- Occupant activities: Husband occasionally smoked in the bathroom. Wife cooked frequently. No pets
- Health sensitivities: None, but occasional headaches
- Other complaints: Foul odor in the bathroom and a chemical smell in the bedroom
We recommended a test strategy that focused on pollutants posing risk to the baby:
- Particulate matter (PM2.5) – tiny airborne particles have been tied to decreased birth size and birth weight, particularly in male infants
- Lead – exposure to lead in any amount retards physical and mental development and has been correlated to low IQ.
- Nitrate (in water) – interferes with the bloods ability to carry oxygen to the brain, potentially resulting in “blue baby” syndrome where infants suffer brain damage
- Carbon monoxide – colorless and odorless, carbon monoxide is released by incomplete combustion and is the second leading cause of accidental poisonings in the US
In addition, we tested for volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are emitted by new furniture, paint, and other renovation materials. Finally, we checked the water for dangerous levels of the most common pollutants in Shanghai: bacteria, chlorine, and heavy metals.
Four problem areas were identified:
- Particulate matter – levels were recorded at 4-7x the US EPA allowable level for a 24-hour period
- Lead – Airborne lead at all points tested at about 6x the US EPA allowable standard. The lead levels found in the soil in the building complex, including inside the children’s playground, was nearly double the EPA standards.
- Formaldehyde – the bedroom tested slightly above the Chinese national standard for formaldehyde, a pungeant VOC and known carcinogen.
- Turbidity – the water tested 3x higher than the EPA standard for turbidity, a measure of the cloudiness of water.
Analysis and Remediation
Louie called the couple to walk through the results and discuss possible solutions.
- Health Impact: Can lead to respiratory disease and infection, including asthma, shortness of breath, bronchitis, pneumonia, and also taxes the immune system. Particulates increase blood pressure, the driver of stroke and heart attack. Can also cause low birthweight and size
- Sources: Outdoor air was the primary cause, based on high levels of particulates in Shanghai outdoor air and occupants’ habit of opening windows.
- Solutions: Use a HEPA vacuum, purchase of a HEPA air purifier, and reducing external ventilation during peak traffic hours.
- Health Impact: Extremely dangerous for fetus or young children as it can stunt growth and lead to hyperactivity, impaired hearing, and low IQ.
- Sources: Given the elevated levels of lead in the soil outside and the occupants’ habits of wearing shoes in the house, external contamination was the primary source. Cigarette smoke also contains lead, and could have been produced through indoor smoking
- Recommendations: Use a doormat and remove shoes before entering the house. We also recommended against any smoking in the house. Finally, a HEPA air filter would help filter out airborne lead.
- Health impact: Formaldehyde, a pungent VOC, frequently causes neurological reactions, including eye and throat irritation, headaches, and dizziness. Long term exposure is linked to cancer, and the EPA named it a “known carcinogen” in 2010.
- Sources: The elevated level was likely related to the glues or chemicals used in a new synthetic mattress mat
- Recommendations: Air out the mattress pad and if smell didn’t reduce, discard. Also, introduce specific indoor plants to reduce formaldehyde and produce oxygen
- Health impact: Turbidity is a measure of the cloudiness of water caused by foreign or organic material. Organic material can combine with chlorine to produce carcinogenic byproducts
- Sources: Usually indicates secondary pollution or bacterial film from water piping
- Recommendations: Install a sediment, activated carbon, or other physical water filter
In addition to the test result deficiencies, Louie was able to identify the bathroom odor as “sewer stink” resulting from a dry u-bend in the piping. Filling this pipe eliminated the odor immediately.
Ken and Jamie followed most of the recommendations to modify their behavior and habits. They also bought an air purifier to remove lead and particulates from the air. “We didn’t realize that small changes like taking our shoes off or opening the windows during the day would have such a big impact,” says Ken. “Making these changes cost us nothing but we wouldn’t have known to do it.”
The client, Ken had this to say about his experience with PureLiving China:
“What impressed me the most was that after we received the reports and the transaction supposedly ended, our consultant, Louie, conducted independent research to try to identify sources of the sewage smell in our bathrooms. His research and suggestion was right on, and we were able to solve a problem that’s been plaguing us for a long time. I certainly didn’t expect this level of service – PureLiving went above and beyond to delight a customer.”