Charice Smith, Fort Belvoir Industrial Hygienist

Meet Charice Smith, Garrison Industrial Hygienist

Fort Belvoir’s Safety Office has two specialists to detect and remove mold in homes and offices. We spoke recently to Charice Smith, who has dedicated her career to helping others through public health.

Q: How did you choose Industrial Hygiene as your career?
 In college, I was on track to be in physical therapy. It wasn't until Hurricane Katrina hit, and I volunteered to go down during the summer, and I started thinking about the study of people in the environments that they're in. So that led me on the track to become a Reservist for the Public Health Corps, and study Environmental Health. I went back to school for my Master of Public Health and Global Health and Environmental Science.

Q: Could you explain the importance of this position?
An IH is going into the environment, and running the tests, as well as coming up with remediations It’s a job that sees the process from beginning to end, and what I like is that we are getting to know the residents throughout the process.

Q: What’s your first task when you begin inspecting?
We're testing for moisture. It's not always apparent, which is why this job is so important. You can't always see it, or there’s no guarantee the problem area is even wet to the touch. So when we test, we're looking moisture levels above 15 percent.

Q: What are some important steps that residents should take to keep the home healthy and safe?
Most important is maintaining a low humidity in the home. I think that's the first thing that you should worry about. Try to get air ventilation and, when feasible, opening windows and doors. Also make sure your HVAC system is working properly, because it plays a big role in controlling humidity.

Q: Does remediation solve the problem?
It solves that specific issue, but its important to understand the conditions that caused it in the first place, and even after the issue is fixed make sure you don’t offer that same environment for mold to come back. For example, don’t go back to keeping the exhaust vent off when showering or cooking. It’s also important to keep tabs on maintenance reminders and have them change the air filters on schedule – don’t let that go.

Q: What if the resident is unsure if a situation is acceptable?
Make sure you’re communicating, because we can’t help fix what we don’t know about. The first step would be to have the maintenance team look at the issue. They want to help residents, so make sure that problems are taken care of as soon as possible. We want to make sure everyone enjoys a safe environment to live and work. If you think about it, we’re the guardians of safety.

Paul Lara, Fort Belvoir Public Affairs