Ellis Environmental Management Inc.

Ⓒ 2021. The following articles are here for you to stay up to date on recent projects by Ellis Environmental Inc as well as news and information related to our services.

Airborne Dust - Types & Hazards

We do many projects that relate to the measurement and improvement of indoor air quality. As a result, we receive many questions, some of which we hope to answer here regarding Ultra-Fine Particles (UFPs), types, acceptable amounts, and how you can protect your indoor air quality. If you have a question, please contact us.

Dust, of course, is a part of our daily lives.  But understanding the relative hazards of various TYPES of dust is an important part of managing the risks associated with each.  Read on.

  1. Particulate matter (PM) contains microscopic solids or liquid droplets that are so small that they can be inhaled and cause serious health problems. Some particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter can get deep into your lungs and some may even get into your bloodstream. Of these, particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, also known as fine particles or PM2.5, pose the greatest risk to health. Fine particles are also the main cause of reduced visibility (haze) in parts of the United States, including many of our treasured national parks and wilderness areas.
  2. PM 10.  Nuisance dust and pollens.  These include dust particles smaller than (<) 10 microns.  Prevalent in construction dust.  Not as hazardous as PM 2.5 (see below), but should be kept below 60 ug/m3 if possible.  Like a nesting doll, PM 10 actually includes PM 2.5 particles. 
  3. PM 2.5.  Also known as “respirable dust” since it can be drawn more deeply into the lungs and is thus more dangerous.  <2.5 microns. 
  4. Ultra-Fine Particles (UFPs)  UFPs are those particles measuring less than 0.1 microns in diameter.  In any given sample of air, UFPs constitute the greatest number of particles, yet make up only a small fraction of the mass.  IAQ investigations in thousands of buildings have already shown UFPs to be directly related to complaints.  UFPs are usually products of combustion or chemical reactions.  Engine exhaust, laser printers, and leaf blowers are possibly the 3 primary generators of UFPs. 

Generally, we’ve found the following average UFP concentrations in sampled environments – expressed in particles per cubic centimeter, or p/cc.  (Results must be considered anecdotal until additional data can be processed.)

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The South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) Evolution

SCAQMD. The South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) continues to evolve. Here are a few new asbestos-related developments or rules that have been promulgated or clarified by the Agency in the past few years:

  1. The agency has abandoned AHERA sampling protocol and now requires a minimum 3 samples collected from each unique material, regardless of quantity and type.
  2. Concrete - floors, loading docks, stairwells, etc. - must be sampled prior to any disturbance. 3 samples required, but chipping a piece from the surface (instead of coring with a powered coring bit) is acceptable.
  3. The agency now requires a "discussion" of asbestos in asphalt, whenever it must be removed prior to removal. This came up when a roadway had to be removed to access asbestos - cement pipe. We take that to mean that sampling of asphalt is now required.
  4. In some cases, asbestos – cement pipe must be saw cut to facilitate new fittings.  SCAQMD now requires a full enclosure (tent) and HEPA air filtration for this effort. 
  5. We continually speak to and correspond with this agency on compliance issues and will happily share copies of those exchanges if requested. 
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Ellis offers surface and air SARS-CoV-2 (coronavirus) testing

SERVICES OFFERED.  Ellis offers SARS-CoV-2 (coronavirus) testing by way of:

  • Indoor air testing using a low flow sampling pump with PTFE filters (37 mm cassette)
  • Surface testing at common horizontal touch points using “PurBlu” specialty swabs.

SARS-CoV-2 transmission can occur by an infected individual’s droplets (> 5um in diameter, travel up to 1 meter) or by droplet nuclei (<5 um in diameter, travel greater than 1 meter).

Droplets (>5um) can occur by coughing, sneezing or talking (close contact-settle quickly).

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Evidence-Based Facility Disinfecting Services

Ellis Environmental Provides a "Scientifically Proven" Clean

Before you open up your facility after the quarantine, it needs to be clean, not just cleaned. With the level of uncertainty around the novel coronavirus, you cannot afford anything less than evidence-based clean; a level of clean expertly administered, monitored, and scientifically cleared by Ellis Environmental.

Ellis has partnered with a local AIHA accredited testing laboratory and several reputable abatement contractors to assist our clients in providing their occupants with something that we are all searching for: evidence. Evidence-based in accredited testing laboratory data and approved surface biological agent sampling protocol (qPCR swab testing).

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Ellis Successfully Administers Disinfecting Efforts for Two Local Credit Union Branches Following a Positive Employee Test for COVID-19

Ellis has just completed a successful administration of its second decontamination/disinfecting project in an occupied office (bank) environment. In both of these cases, the branches were both temporarily closed following an employee testing positive for COVID-19.

In the interest of health and safety, both clients elected to pursue an active branch cleaning effort – one that would provide their occupants with scientific documentation that facility disinfection was monitored and performed by licensed professionals.

An abatement contractor was retained to do a Level III COVID-19 Cleaning (Confirmed Exposure) which includes:

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Coronavirus - Is Disinfection Even Necessary?

COVID-19 Virus. My company (ten employees) provides, among other things, surface testing for known contaminants. As most of you know, there is no published protocol for the collection or analysis of the Coronavirus in an office environment. Instead, we're suggesting the collection of surface swabs from the representative desk and countertops AFTER administering and monitoring an abatement contractor's disinfection effort, performed according to a cleaning protocol that my company had prepared. Results of the post-cleaning surface tests will be expressed either as "bacteria positive" or "negative."

We were ready to start administering just such a cleanup at a bank branch in the San Fernando Valley after a worker was diagnosed "positive" for the virus and was sent home. The cleanup effort was intended to reduce or eliminate bacteriological contaminants as photographed and documented by our firm.

Initially, the insurance carrier denied the claim. They stated, in effect, that the coronavirus only survives on surfaces for a very short time, so leaving the bank vacant for 5 days, followed by normal cleaning, should be sufficient.

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COVID-19 Work Plan: Reduction of surface bacteria in office and other work environments

To our valued clients,

Our current global climate has created an unprecedented atmosphere - one that is full of questions and concerns. Ellis has been approached by numerous clients searching for professional direction on cleaning and disinfecting their facilities. While there is no CDC or CDPH-approved clearance sampling protocol for testing following decontamination of surfaces impacted by the COVID-19 virus, the attached work plan has been effective in reducing overall surface bacteria and biological contaminants.  We offer it here for your use without charge or warranty.  

This method IS labor-intensive and intended for use by an experienced abatement contractor with a trained crew.  Its success will depend on constant professional oversight and direction by a 3rd party consultant to ensure the labor is performed thoroughly, carefully, and as designed. 

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Ellis is strong thanks to you!

We were on a roll . . . increasing, record revenue for the past 4 years running, 10 employees, the latest in testing equipment, and 3 or 4 company trucks depending on who you ask.  (Thank you, Mike Motors.) 

I was feeling down over the weekend because, after 3.5 years with no changes in personnel, a key industrial hygienist resigned last week.  It made for a rough weekend of quiet thought and second-guessing myself. 

But you know what?  This morning at 05:30, I met 3 employees at the office and helped them get their assigned vehicles loaded up for a day of monitoring and inspections at various locations in LA County. 

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Sampling Concrete for Asbestos

For years, concrete floors, walls and footings were not considered to be “suspect asbestos-containing materials.”  Concrete was often not even sampled during a standard asbestos survey.  Some time ago, the SCAQMD confirmed that concrete was indeed a “suspect material,”  so we began collecting surface samples from accessible concrete walls and floors, using a cold chisel and a hammer. 

During a recent refresher training session in Anaheim, an instructor noted that concrete in the middle of a wall or floor may be different than concrete on the surface.  He (or someone) suggested coring through each slab or wall to get a better representation of the material.  We performed a few of these cores, but I didn’t like it.  It seemed overly burdensome and expensive for the client.  l  So I wrote directly to the SCAQMD, requesting clarification.  My letter and their response are shown below:

From: Duane Behrens [mailto:This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.]
Sent: Tuesday, June 18, 2019 1:23 PM
To: Christopher Ravenstein <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Cc: Ellis Professional Staff <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Subject:  Sampling Concrete

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Ellis Staff & Vehicles - 2019


It occurred to me the other day as I walked through the office (and the parking lot, actually) of how much we’ve grown. New vehicles add to our growing fleet, sophisticated new IAQ equipment – all of it helps us respond faster and do better work for you. We believe in re-investing in the business, including investing in our people, maybe most importantly, in our people.

And it occurred to me you are a big part in making this possible. From all of us who come to work every morning wanting to outperform ourselves, thank you for this opportunity to practice a profession we love.

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When Water Intrudes

Recent heavy rains in southern California are impacting many buildings. We’re seeing damage to ceiling spaces, wall spaces and floors.  If not addressed quickly, mold growth – and its attendant problems – are likely.

Avoiding mold growth is not difficult

These simple steps are the most efficient way to get your building and work spaces back in service, at a minimum cost, and with the shortest possible delay. Done quickly, mold growth can be avoided altogether.

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Ellis Responds to Southern California Woolsey & Hill Fires

In the aftermath of the Southern California Woolsey and Hill Fires, Ellis is providing services at reduced cost to schools, daycare and other facilities with children present. Because of insurance limitations, we cannot respond to requests from private residents or homeowners.

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Iron Mining - and Mesothelioma

Regarding the high number of mesothelioma deaths in northeastern Minnesota (3 to 4 times the national average), the Vermillion and Mesabi mining ranges were among the first big mining ranges famous for their large deposits of iron ore.   In these mining pits, a large amount of taconite was also mined, which contained iron.  Taconite is compared with asbestos because of similarities in chemical makeup.  Taconite products are commonly distributed - not just in the Mesabi and Vermillion ranges – but also around the surrounding Great Lakes Region.  These products have been linked to the increased number of mesothelioma diagnoses in this area.  Unfortunately, mesothelioma can take many years to develop.   So, anyone who worked in the mines or was exposed to products made from these materials is at risk of developing mesothelioma. 

More information can be found at the Mesothelioma Guide:

View Mesothelioma Guide

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Ellis Surpasses $1 Million In Sales

In 2017 and for the third year running, our little company (Ellis Environmental) surpassed $1 million in sales and assets. Not bad for a 9-person effort. During that time and in addition to our core services, we saw a steady rise in the number of indoor air quality investigations performed, representing app. 12% of total revenue in FY2016/17. Many, many thanks to the faithful clients, employees, contractors and vendors who have made this possible.

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Visual Inspections on VFT and Associated Mastic Abatement

I wanted to share some protocols and "tips" I've learned and followed during my years with Ellis performing inspections on vinyl floor tile (VFT) and mastic abatement. Though these jobs are often viewed as fairly straight forward, challenges and obstacles can arise quickly, and owners can often land themselves in some fairly sticky situations as a result. 

Here's how Ellis approaches these inherently complex jobs:

  1. What is the substrate material?

This is critical to the abatement and inspection process for VFT & mastic, and it's something that must be learned long before abatement begins --during bulk sampling. Inspectors and consultants performing building surveys should always make a note and include substrate material in their sampling reports. Because:

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A Year In Review

2015/2016 were Ellis’ most successful back-to-back years since the company was formed 22 years ago. Some of our more notable accomplishments:

  • Ellis assisted a large Glendale landowner in assessing possible contaminants at an adjacent property prior to purchase. The project required Ellis to assemble, coordinate and review the efforts of geologists, toxicologists, contractors and developers. In this case, potential cleanup costs were significant, and the buyer made the difficult choice to pass on the purchase.
  • Ellis provided AHERA 3-year, asbestos re-inspections for Palos Verdes, Inglewood and other public school districts. After identifying the asbestos materials (ACMs), Ellis prioritized identified ACMs for removal based on their condition, damage, accessibility and “friability” (ability to become airborne).
  • Ellis assisted a local/regional airport in identifying toxic substances (primarily lead and zinc) released following 3 severe hangar fires. Procured bids for and managed the subsequent hazardous materials cleanup.
  • Ellis provided lead and asbestos surveys, lead surveys, and testing for lead in potable and drinking water for more than a dozen regional charter schools.
  • Provided countless indoor air quality studies, testing for airborne carbon dioxide, ultra-fine particles (UFPs), carbon monoxide, volatile organics, asbestos dust, lead dust, mold, gram-positive cocci, enterococcus and a host of other contaminants.
  • Ellis assisted in responding to more than 100 water intrusion events for various clients. Most of the water intrusions were rainwater, but we also responded to gray water, sewage and water supply line leaks. Ellis is the best first call here; we identify wet wallboard (and other damaged materials) and then manage their timely removal before mold has a chance to grow. For sewage-related spills, clearance enterococcus swabs are collected to insure a complete cleanup.
  • Ellis assisted UCLA Housing, Loyola Marymount University, Mt. St. Mary’s, Santa Monica College, and other regional colleges and universities in procuring bids and managing the removal of moisture-damaged, asbestos-containing and/or lead-containing materials classrooms and housing facilities.

And so on. Our employees are, without exception, degreed chemists or industrial hygienists. Clients seem to appreciate and rely on the confidence, experience and professionalism those employees bring to each project. We’re thankful for each opportunity to do so.

All the best for 2017.

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Lead In Drinking Water


Ellis is retained by a number of local school districts to test potable (drinking) water for lead content. 

BACKGROUND - Dissolved lead in drinking water is poisonous.  It can lead to nerve and brain damage, particularly in exposed children.  Lead can enter a school's water supply in one of two ways:

  • Through a contaminated municipal water supply (ala Flint, Michigan); or
  • Through deteriorating lead joints in the building's branch, copper supply lines.  As the joints deteriorate, they can release lead directly into the water.  This is of particular concern in older buildings.

CASE HISTORY – So far, results from testing at different schools have been fairly consistent; lead has been identified in a small percentage of water fountains at each school.  So let's use the first school tested as an example:

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Friable vs. Non-Friable


In its normal state, asbestos-containing floor tile is "non-friable" - that is, cannot be crushed under normal hand pressure. Because asbestos is an inhalation hazard, this quality makes non-friable materials safer to work around and remove.  In California, OSHA (Title 8 S1529) and the SCAQMD (Rule 1403) recognize this fact, and regulate the two types of  materials (ACMs) differently.  Removal of non-friable materials (such as roofing mastics) often require little more than proper signage and trained workers, while the removal of friable fireproofing requires numerous additional engineering controls:  negative air filtration, critical barriers at doors and windows, poly sheeting on walls, 3-stage decon unit, and so on. 

In the eyes of the SCAQMD, removal of asbestos flooring mastic, if performed with scrapers and mild solvents, does NOT render the material friable, and it may be transported as non-friable / non-hazardous asbestos waste. For larger work areas, most abatement contractors find it best to supplement the use of solvents with abrasive pads affixed to rotary scrubbing machines.  The SCAQMD views this as "removal by mechanical means", which automatically re-classifies the mastic as "friable."  This in turn triggers the requirement for tenting, HEPA filtration, 3-stage decon unit, and other OSHA Class 1 engineering controls.

But what about the waste that is generated during this process?  We recently observed a contractor install Class 1 engineering controls as required prior to the use of mechanical buffer machines to remove mastic.  All good and in compliance with AQMD rules. 

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Certified Asbestos Consultant

California OSHA considers the administration of an asbestos abatement project to be a “Health and Safety” service, requiring the participation of a CAC.

Ellis recently responded to an asbestos emergency at a major southern California university. An abatement contractor had been given an asbestos survey report prepared by Ellis. They were then hired to remove the asbestos materials in that report prior to renovation.

And here's where it got odd: An outside "construction manager" suddenly convinced the college that this newest project could be managed "in-house," i.e. without assistance or input from Ellis or from any other California-certified asbestos consultant (CAC).

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California, Asbestos, and Disclosure Protocols

A potential client asked me an important question: "After performing an asbestos building survey, does [Ellis] have an obligation to disclose any asbestos findings to any State/regulatory agency? Or will it remain private to the client?"

I thought it was an important enough question to share the answer I gave, along with the opinions of a couple of Ellis employees:

Duane: "Unlike with lead paint, there is no legal requirement for a testing agency to share asbestos sampling results directly with any regulatory agency. It is the Owner and general contractor who must, by law, provide results of sampling to employees, building occupants and any trades working in the building."

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