PITTSFIELD — Across the Berkshires, employers and employees are slowly returning to their offices and other workplaces after months of economic stagnancy. Schools soon face similar challenges as the academic year begins. Everyone is grappling with how to re-open safely.
With the coronavirus, even one mistake after reopening can be a step back for you, your customers or students, your employees and your business overall. What can you do to make sure that doesn't happen?
Responding to the COVID-19 crisis
Eco-Genesis Corp. is the answer. It's a Pittsfield firm that's been delivering comprehensive environmental, and health and safety consulting expertise since 1990.
EGC has extensive experience in indoor air quality evaluations and abatement/remediation planning and procedures to address the presence of microorganisms, so the firm is well-positioned to provide its expertise to schools and businesses on how to deal with the pandemic.
"Suiting up, the level of personal protective equipment worn for asbestos and hazmat is typically of a higher order. We're used to dealing with the PPE at all levels," says Myron Ritrosky, a Berkshire native, founder and president of EGC.
The company has strict protocols in place to protect its employees and clients, and is also subject to federal, state and local oversight for its own work.
EGC documents and verifies equipment used, precleaning performed and appropriate disinfectant used per EPA's N-List and applied per federal guidance for effectiveness. In most cases, EGC reports directly to the client, usually a business owner or facility manager; sometimes, in confirmed COVID-19 cases, boards of health ask for verification of disinfection.
The company issues a completion certificate when the process is over, and the EGC's written disinfection plans assist in the formal recording of the work, such as to the client.
Direct objective monitoring
Onsite oversight by an independent third party assures property owners and decision makers that the cleaning services they contracted are being done properly. EGC technicians and industrial hygienists oversee crews using objective monitoring, as per the CDC recommendation that the observation be performed by someone other than those doing the disinfection.
The cleaning contractor, for example, should be using a disinfectant included on EPA's "List N: Disinfectants for Use Against SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19)," and operating according to instructions contained in the EPA registration document. It contains instructions about how to properly mix, apply and use the disinfectant, cleaning required (if any), and applicable PPE to be used to protect the applicator.
"You must have the right disinfectant and understand the space you're dealing with. Is it a construction setting with a lot of dust? An office with good housekeeping? Often, you have to clean prior to applying the disinfectant because a layer of dirt will eliminate the effectiveness, and the dust can become another contaminant," notes Ritrosky. "If you do it improperly, you won't get the effectiveness the disinfectant might otherwise provide."
ATP Testing, an important tool
EGC also conducts adenosine triphosphate (ATP) testing, providing a measurement of cleanliness of high touch surfaces. ATP is a traceable enzyme produced by all living organisms.
"A swab test takes 10 seconds to analyze," says Ritrosky, so EGC can tell clients immediately, on site, if the level of cleanliness sought has been achieved.
EGC can test locations once or twice a month, as an important tool to aid in continuous improvement and performance. The company performs this kind of work for a wide range of clients, from schools to private businesses.
Attention to other contaminants
The economy isn't the only thing that's been stagnant. What about the air ducts at your facility? The surfaces? And the water lines? Reopening of buildings can be challenging following an extended shutdown.
Though busy with the current spate of COVID-19-related work, EGC regularly performs occupational hazard assessments in the built environment. This includes addressing problems related to mold, legionella and comfort parameters, such as how much fresh air an HVAC system in a building should provide to an office space per occupant. This type of facilities management consulting and mold testing dealing with "sick building" are the norm for EGC.
The company also provides ongoing project management and building and site services, such as work involved with demolition or renovation, the removal of underground storage tanks, and cleanup of oil spills in the environment.
"Many of these services we offer come together for businesses in terms of reopening," notes Ritrosky of the phased reopening of the state, as issued by the governor.
The CDC recently released guidelines for the safe reopening of buildings to address additional issues such as mold and legionella resulting from humidity, water leaks and stagnancy of water systems in closed buildings.
"Water sitting in pipes at 70 to 110 degrees can cause legionella to really bloom," notes Ritrosky of another kind of potentially dangerous situation. "Flushing the water system must be done as recommended to assure there are no issues."
Winging it or enlisting expertise? Public health at stake
Ritrosky is a Massachusetts licensed site professional and certified industrial hygienist licensed by the American Board of Industrial Hygiene. He has extensive experience with hazardous sites involving a wide range of contaminants, including mold, bacteria, viruses, beryllium, silica, mercury and petroleum releases.
He also serves on the American Industrial Hygiene Association's Indoor Environmental Quality Committee and participates on the Legionella Body of Knowledge Project Team, a nexus of information that directly informs EGC's work in assisting businesses with reopening safely.
Providing an essential service during the pandemic, EGC is guided on the coronavirus by a variety of respected sources, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology; the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers.
"We've gone from busy, well-trusted environmental and health and safety consultants to extremely busy, essential partners in this time of crisis and concern," says Ritrosky of the transition from primarily site assessment and remediation oversight and monitoring to increasingly checking for the presence of coronavirus and its successful elimination.