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Written By: Robert E. Sheriff, MS, CIH, CSP, President
October 3, 2018
Anyone who has lived or worked in a city or even a small town with a city hall or churches with bell towers knows the problem – Pigeons! Also called “winged rats,” they love to roost in abandoned buildings, on the ledges of office buildings, skyscrapers, in bell towers and especially on statues in parks. But roosting isn’t all they do. We’re all familiar with the white “pigeon poop” adorning so many of our civic structures and monuments. The white stuff is bird urine; the little black or dark brown dot inside a “deposit” is the actual “pigeon poop.” The most common locations of these bird droppings are attics and towers of public buildings, skyscrapers, apartment building attics, garages and abandon buildings. It can build up over months—even years—to be quite significant.
Eventually, it becomes necessary to get rid of the stuff, not only because it’s unsightly but because pigeon droppings harbor parasites, bacteria, molds and viruses that can be harmful to humans. Sometimes these accumulations can run into tons of material. According to the NYC Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Illinois Dept. of Public Health, birds, particularly pigeons, and bats as well, are known to harbor Histoplasma capsulatum and Cryptococcus neoformans, two fungi which can infect humans. They also may harbor a bacterium (Chlamydophila psittaci) which can cause an infection called ornithosis. Birds are also known to carry the West Nile and St. Louis Encephalitis viruses. Ticks and mites, which carry diseases in their own right such as Lyme Disease are also carried by birds and may transmit diseases to humans.
In the general population, the risk of infection from bird droppings is fairly low, unless large quantities of dried droppings are made airborne and inhaled. This condition almost always occurs as a result of a clean-up operation by a remediation crew, although it could happen to anyone who tries to clean up bird droppings on their own. It can also affect other building patrons during or after a clean-up.
Histoplasmosis and Cryptococcus produce generally mild infections with flu-like symptoms, and sometimes no symptoms at all to a reasonably healthy person. But, if large quantities of these molds are made airborne, then unprotected exposure can produce serious lung infections and even death. For this reason, only experienced, reliable clean-up contractors should be used for remediating a building or other structure, and the work must be isolated to protect other building occupants.
Experienced remediators will have the equipment, training, and expertise to isolate a contaminated area with enclosures, similar to those used for asbestos remediation that will prevent the release of microbes to the atmosphere, thus protecting residents and passersby. Experienced remediators will also know how to protect their workers with respirators, protective clothing and eyewear. They will also know how to disinfect an area and may be able to suggest means of discouraging a return of the birds.
There are also tests of both the air and solid droppings for the microorganisms that cause disease. Environmental consultants such as Atlantic Environmental can perform such tests, as well as writing up plans for clean-up, supervise clean-up, and perform final testing/sampling after the work is complete.
Our primary service areas for Bird Dropping Testing/Sampling and Consulting are: NJ, NY, NYC, PA, CT, DE, (Boston) MA, RI, Wash DC, WI, MD, MI, (Chicago) IL, VA, IN, (Atlanta) GA, AL, NC, SC, TN, (Dallas, Ft Worth) TX, OK, DC, AR, we can service most other areas of the U.S. but with some added travel charges.