April 30, 2020 / Debra Gursha

Everyday IH: Environmental Health and Safety During a Family Move

A few months ago, my brother received a phone call notifying him that a two-bedroom assisted-living apartment near his Minneapolis home had become available for our aging parents. The move would need to happen soon if our family was serious about my parents occupying the apartment.

Before this life change, my parents were living in Pennsylvania Dutch country in a 2,300 square-foot colonial that they bought in their retirement years. Instead of downsizing in retirement, they upsized. The house came with a dry basement and tons of storage closets, a garage, a basement, and an attic crawl space.

My dad had spent his entire career as a vocational teacher and department chair in our home state of New Jersey. During school breaks, he operated a home repair business. From his vocational work and home maintenance activities, he had accumulated a massive collection of household hazardous waste, which he took with him to Pennsylvania.

My dad was extremely thrifty. In addition to not discarding any of the solvent-based products he acquired over the years, he also performed his own house maintenance on his new house. This meant a fair amount of additional hazardous waste including jugs of gasoline mixtures and gallon containers of “camping” fuel from the 1970s. My dad had a bad habit of holding onto cylinders of compressed gases, which he had used for electronics soldering. He and my mom had also kept several TVs from the 1980s and 90s.

On top of it all, the former owner of their Pennsylvania house had put in a bunch of fluorescent fixtures in the finished basement, and, as a result, my parents had no shortage of extra fluorescent bulbs.

Moving with LEED Principles

The weekend my parents were moving to Minneapolis, my brother, sister, and I arrived at our parents’ Pennsylvania home with one of my nephews. As an industrial hygienist, I took charge of the hazardous waste removal while my sister and brother handled the financials. My brother and sister were supportive of the hazardous waste disposal since we all “came of age” during the environmental movement.

We were lucky that our parents’ county held their monthly hazardous waste day that weekend. My sister and I made two trips to drop off the hazardous waste and electronics. When we got back to my parents’ house, we opened a storage closet and found a large box of additional fluorescent bulbs, which meant another trip to the county garages before they closed for the day.

To minimize our carbon footprint, our family tried to put as many of the principles of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) management into action. Our first action was to work with a cleanout company that was willing to perform a separate scrap metal recycling from the house. My sister collected approximately 10,000 metal screws, nuts, and other fasteners from the house. By the time we put two large piles together, we estimated that we had 1–2 tons of scrap metal. We fished out some tools to take back to our respective houses, but most of my dad’s lifelong collection of hand tools went into the metal recycling pile.

The second LEED principle we put into place was donating as much furniture as we could to a local furniture bank. This donation not only helped reduce the carbon footprint but provided a needy family with some quality furniture. We tagged the furniture for the donation with fluorescent sticky notes and left it in the garage for the charity to access.

At the end of the weekend, we had extra cardboard boxes. We called our real estate agent and explained that her next client could take the boxes and use them for their own move. We were glad that we minimized cardboard usage.

Heat and Ergonomic Hazards

The weekend my parents moved out of their house was one of the warmest on record. We felt sorry for the county hazardous waste worker who was sweating buckets of perspiration as he unloaded the heavy TVs from my pickup truck along with the hazardous waste. We dropped some cash in the donation jar so that he could have a quality dinner at the end of the day.

The movers did not have it any easier. We were their second move of the day, and they were soaked with sweat when they arrived at my parents’ house at 10 a.m. We tipped each of the movers and gave them a bunch of bottled waters.

The three of us had to perform our own first aid by popping a bunch of pain relievers from lower back pain and hydrating with sports drinks. As an industrial hygienist, I regret to say that I did not practice the best ergonomic lifts that weekend.

After my parents had relocated and their house was sold, the three of us felt we had done an adequate job in properly disposing of the household hazardous waste, universal waste, and electronics from their house. In the end, the experiences from the move made us think about how IH/EHS principles might be applied to other everyday non-occupational activities while trying to save a little piece of the earth.

Debra Gursha

Debra Gursha, CIH, CSP, is an industrial hygienist in the Boston area.


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