Nicole Bijlsma: Healthy Home, Healthy Family

What exactly is Building Biology? And how can you use it to improve your health and well-being at home?

Today, we will learn everything about Building Biology from Nicole Bijlsma. Nicole Bijlsma is a woman driven by a passion to help the environment. Nicole, a former naturopath and acupuncturist with 15 years of clinical expertise, switched careers to become a building biologist after discovering a clear association between many of her patients' illnesses and health concerns in their homes. Nicole is the best-selling author of Healthy Home, Healthy Family. She is also the founder of and the head of the Australian College of Environmental Studies.

Nicole Bijlsma: Healthy Home Healthy Family Update Introduction

Well, as we see images at the east coast of Australia of houses submerged in water and one can only think, I mean, I feel so for the devastation that has caused and only hope that the support of the government, you know, when we can build billion-dollar sports stadiums, that we’re pretty good in pretty good shape. I would only hope that we could transfer that money and really look after the people that have suffered and find places which are less prone and build buildings which are more environmentally friendly.

Because today’s topic is about Building Biology, the built environment, and how the built environment impacts on our health, both in our home and also in our work environment. And I always so look forward to talking to my guest today, who has been a guest on the podcast before, Nicole Bijlsma Now, Nicole is a qualified naturopath acupuncturist. 

She has a graduate certificate in occupational health and safety, and she is the founder of and the head of the Australian College of Environmental Studies. And we talk about that. It is a college dedicated to the education of people, about the health hazards in the built environment.

As though that isn’t enough, Nicole has also just completed her PhD at RMIT in Melbourne and she is just a wealth of information and passion all rolled up into one and is here to share with you some of the issues which I think we should all be familiar with. It often surprise, well, it doesn’t surprise me, actually, that people don’t realise there are people like building biologists out there. 

I think we should be consulting them regularly and certainly when we are planning anything major within our house or if we have a health issue and want to eliminate this one very important aspect from our health picture. Looking at it very holistically engaging with a building biologist is a really important and empowering step in your health journey.

But the catching up with Nicole in this time now where we are just inundated with rain and moisture and damp and the potential for mould and etc., etc., not to mention the fact that we are bathed in electromagnetic radiation.

I mean, literally, the number of devices, wi-fi devices that we surround ourselves with, that we put to our heads, placed in our pockets, put in on our laps, keep by our beds, is kind of quite mind-boggling. But you have to be aware of a problem that something is a problem before you actually realise how important it is. And that’s what today’s programme is about. Look, there’s so much in it. Nicole is so passionate. I hope you enjoy this conversation I had with Nicole Bijlsma.

Podcast Transcript

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to Unstress. My name is Dr Ron Ehrlich. I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which I am recording this podcast, the Gadigal People of Eora Nation and pay my respects to their Elders – past, present and emerging.

Well, as we see images at the east coast of Australia of houses submerged in water and one can only think, I mean, I feel so for the devastation that has caused and only hope that the support of the government, you know, when we can build billion-dollar sports stadiums, that we’re pretty good in pretty good shape. I would only hope that we could transfer that money and really look after the people that have suffered and find places which are less prone and build buildings which are more environmentally friendly.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:00:58] Because today’s topic is about Building Biology, the built environment, and how the built environment impacts on our health, both in our home and also in our work environment. And I always so look forward to talking to my guest today, who has been a guest on the podcast before, Nicole Bijlsma Now, Nicole is a qualified naturopath acupuncturist. 

She has a graduate certificate in occupational health and safety, and she is the founder of and the head of the Australian College of Environmental Studies. And we talk about that. It is a college dedicated to the education of people, about the health hazards in the built environment.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:01:42] As though that isn’t enough, Nicole has also just completed her PhD at RMIT in Melbourne and she is just a wealth of information and passion all rolled up into one and is here to share with you some of the issues which I think we should all be familiar with. It often surprise, well, it doesn’t surprise me, actually, that people don’t realise there are people like building biologists out there. 

I think we should be consulting them regularly and certainly when we are planning anything major within our house or if we have a health issue and want to eliminate this one very important aspect from our health picture. Looking at it very holistically engaging with a building biologist is a really important and empowering step in your health journey.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:02:34] But the catching up with Nicole in this time now where we are just inundated with rain and moisture and damp and the potential for mould and etc., etc., not to mention the fact that we are bathed in electromagnetic radiation. I mean, literally, the number of devices, wi-fi devices that we surround ourselves with, that we put to our heads, placed in our pockets, put in on our laps, keep by our beds, is kind of quite mind-boggling. 

But you have to be aware of a problem that something is a problem before you actually realise how important it is. And that’s what today’s programme is about. Look, there’s so much in it. Nicole is so passionate. I hope you enjoy this conversation I had with Nicole Bijlsma. Welcome back, Nicole.

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:03:28] Nice to be here again. Here.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:03:30] Nicole, Building Biology. Boy, is that a word that everybody should be familiar with? And it amazes, well, it’s not entirely surprising that people, ordinary people out there in the community may not know about it. It shocks me how few health practitioners know about it. Can we just go back to a little bit of basics and just tell us Building Biology 101. 

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:03:56] Right. Well, I established the building biology industry in the late 90s because of a need to educate people about health hazards in the home. And of course, my journey, as you know, started with ten miscarriages after moving into a lovely home on half an acre in the river in Warrandyte, which is an incredible place. 

But no one was able to figure out why we had sleep disturbances and had all these miscarriages, despite going to all specialists. And in the end, they just said, keep trying. So, I mean, we never really knew what it was exactly. However, our health declined since moving into this lovely place and we were sleeping on the other side of the world.

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:04:34] The metre panel, there was geopathic stress under the bed, there were high levels of noxious gases in the master bedroom because we were near the section and the council used to come and spray all this beautiful round up all over our property because we had the boundary to Parks Victoria on the Yarra Riverside. 

So many issues going on that you couldn’t see, you couldn’t smell. And as I started to figure out since we moved here, our health has declined and it was simply a matter of relocating bedrooms. And then I had twins naturally, and subsequently had three kids and the rest is history. I’m just shocked. I started to spend years researching the impact of the environment on human health and going, “Why wasn’t this in my double degree? 

I spent years at uni getting an acupuncture. Agree. Studying naturopathy, going to China and doing training there in acupuncture in 92. And none of this was addressed. And there was so much data even then at the US APA website on indoor air quality and chemicals.”

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:05:35] Hmm. I mean, you know, I’ve heard that story. You’ve mentioned it to me before and shared it. And it’s just so extraordinary. Because to dive into that a little bit because ten miscarriages, I mean, one is traumatic enough. Two is quite disturbing. Ten is quite shocking. And you must have gone through every single test, every doctor must have explored bloods and this and that and hormone levels and… 

I mean, yeah, that’s I mean, that’s why I think this is such an important topic for everybody because everyone’s got their own little health journey and some of our health journeys are not so little. And yet this and you mentioned a few things that you said it so quickly that people may have missed it. Gee, So you were on the other side of the metre… 

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:06:27] Metre panel. 

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:06:28] A metre panel. So this is the switchboard that most houses have… 

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:06:34] So you have a switchboard. Yeah. And a metre panel. Sometimes they’re together. In most homes, they’re in the same box, but in multi-storey apartments, the switchboard will be, say, in the kitchen and the metre panel will be a bank of metres (now smart metres) on someplace on that block. So yes it’s the metre panel that you know, the old one that used to go round and round.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:06:54] Yes.

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:06:55] The really used to come in and identify the readings that can emit a high magnetic field and that can be high because in the middle of the night the hot water service can kick in. And then, of course, it’s drawing energy. And as it goes, the energy goes through the metre panel and creates a magnetic field that can come at one and a half or so metres from the back of the wall, where, of course, our head was.

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:07:19] From my experience as a building biologist and doing electromagnetic field testing, people don’t sleep well when they’re exposed to elevated electromagnetic fields. That’s the first thing we’ll always look for when it comes to sleep disturbances, which is pandemic. I mean, the latest parliamentary inquiry, 2016 showed that 40% of Australian adults aren’t sleeping very well. 40% of sleep disturbances are remarkably present in almost every single chronic disease. 

And children. It’s like it’s a pandemic. What happened in that time? The release of digital devices, and wireless technologies, especially since 3G in 2000. And we are ubiquitously exposed to these radio frequencies which we know affect melatonin, which we know affects sleep, and yet very few people talk about it. It’s just so obvious when you bring it up. 

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:08:10] And then I go into doing an audit and the kids, teenagers are sleeping with their phone under their pillow, you know what I mean? And it’s constantly changing into the nearest cell tower and meeting radiation during the night. So, you know, Bluetooth is on and mobile data is on and all these things are on and they’re exposed to a radio frequency device during the night. This is a huge problem and it’s easy to solve. That’s the irony. It’s easy to solve.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:08:34] Well, well, well, before we dive into the rest of the building biology, let’s touch on that because we’ve got people’s attention now, I’m quite sure. And yet this is, as you say, so ubiquitous. How do we solve that without throwing out all that technology?

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:08:52] Well, the best option is to reduce your exposure as much as possible and try and use alternatives. So a corded phone, if you can find it or I mean, I love my phone. I love the fact that I can run my business anywhere in the world. I would take more than I would talk. And I would never, ever put this against my head, because if it’s used on one side of the head for more than an hour a day for ten years, your risk for brain tumours, specifically acoustic neuroma and glioma almost doubles. 

So I would always keep it at a distance from my person, which is what they say in the settings in order to cover themselves from a litigation perspective that you’re not to put this near your person, which questions whether it’s fit for purpose. And that’s another question altogether.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:09:39] Well well, you know, we put it in our pocket. We put it in our coat pocket. We put it in our pants pocket. You know…

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:09:46] Bras.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:09:47] Bras. Amazing. And I mean, you know, where do we go with that? But now we’re back in the bedroom. We’re in the bedroom. And. Okay, all technology out of the bedroom. That’s a given.

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:10:04] Absolutely. And the quickest way to reduce exposure is to not have wi-fi enabled devices in the bedroom. Some of the biggest sources, apart from the cellphone are printers and a mouse. A mouse can emit high levels of radiation, actually, and, of course, adjacent rooms. So be mindful of what’s on the other side of the wall of the bedhead. You don’t want any appliances there that are Wi-Fi-enabled. You don’t want a metre panel. You don’t want an inverter from a solar panel. 

And that’s really, really important to try and get rid of all that. If you don’t want to get rid of it, say, for example, it’s a teenager’s room and they study there, then at least turn it off at the PowerPoint on the wall. That will shut down everything. Because a lot of the devices now have multiple antennas. So you think you turn it off on the device and then another antenna kicks in at a different frequency and without a metre, you’re never going to know. So I always say switch your digital devices off at the wall.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:11:01] And you mentioned inverters because a lot of people are rushing and we have this as well, solar panels. And solar panels go on the roof and sometimes bedrooms are often upstairs. How far? I mean, you know, what can we do about that? Should we be LED light or I don’t know, was LED the right thing? But should we be lining our bedroom ceilings and rooms or how should we deal with that?

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:11:25] Well, the inverters generally aren’t the problem. It’s, so the inverter is the problem, not the solar panels themselves. So the inverter is converting DC Sun energy into AC electrical energy. And in that conversion, it’s emitting a high magnetic field. 

So you want to make sure the inverter is well away from where people spend time, that it’s not on the other side of the wall of the bed head or a workstation or desk or your favourite couch or something like that. Ideally, it would be on the garage or on a spare bedroom. You know, a guest bedroom, for example, would be a better option.

The other thing is the newer solar panels have microinverters in the panels themselves, and then that can be a bit more problematic. So the closer you are to that, the higher the risk for magnetic field exposure. So the good news is distance is the key. So if you’ve got the inverter on the garage or spare bedroom or a wall that no one’s been in a time in close proximity, that should be fine.

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:12:23] The only other issue that’s come up a lot with solar panels is that they can create high levels of dirty power or dirty electricity. Now, that is high-frequency spikes from 50 hertz to 300 gigahertz. High radio frequencies in fractions of a second. So it’s doing this all the time and that in some people up to 5% of the population seem to be reacting negatively to that. 

And I’ve found patients who’ve been diagnosed with electromagnetic sensitivity. They can’t live in a house where they’ve got solar panels for that reason because it’s riding along all of the building wirings and through the electric field, which is coming at 1.2 metres from the wall through the end at the wiring is involved in the power points.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:13:08] Mm-hmm. Wow. And you also we’re still with your, you know, your story. And you mentioned Roundup. And it was interesting because I was down at Centennial Park a few months ago and they were saying in the ponds very carefully, we have to be careful with the ponds. 

We have to be careful with the runoff from rainwater because it empties into the ponds and can destroy the very delicate life in the pond. And the sign next to the pond said council has just sprayed Roundup around it. And then and the irony of those two signs juxtaposed literally right next to each other is kind of breathtaking. Tell us a little bit about Roundup and how ubiquitous that is around houses and buildings and stuff.

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:13:54] It’s extraordinary. The termite treatments and pesticides and Roundup. It’s just ubiquitous everywhere. Everybody’s got it in their bodies. And the only way to reduce exposure, of course, is first, to have organic food. That’s huge, huge exposure. Probably more than even what’s going on outside is ingestion as opposed to inhalation. But Roundup is a carcinogen. We know that now, and yet it’s the number one herbicide on the planet. 

Unfortunately, pesticides in every way from the Arctic to Antarctica they’ve found in polar bear livers. And they’re probably the most toxic chemical that I’ve researched because many of them are hormone-disrupting chemicals. It’s funny you say that Ron, because of last week, there was a massive spill in a likely in Altona in Melbourne and it was full of nonylphenol, which is an incredibly strong endocrine-disrupting chemical that killed all the fish. You know, I think that someone, the manufacturer had dumped all this detergent and the detergent is nonylphenol. 

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:14:57] And the only reason I know that is because I had someone to come and clean my carpets of like because I bought a pup, a boxer pup and I’m like having kids all over again. And he was urinating on the rugs and like, I’m having a heart attack. So I went to clean it. And because the urine is acidic, if you use detergent, it makes it worse and makes it smell worse. You have to use an alkaline cleaner. 

So I got a professional to come in and I said, “Before you come in, I want to look at your safety data sheets to the chemicals you’re using.” He didn’t have that. So I looked on his ingredients in the van and it was loaded with nonylphenol.

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:15:35] Now nonylphenol in the 1990s and Ana Soto and Carlos Sonnenschein were researchers who were looking at whether breast cancer was an oestrogen dependent cancer. And what they did is they set up an experiment where they had all these plastic test tubes and breast cancer cells to all of them and then added a chemical to some of the breast cancer cells, oestrogen, to show that they multiply. 

And what they didn’t expect was that in the control group, there were just breast cancer cells sitting in there and nothing else had been added, no oestrogen that they were multiplying the same way as if oestrogen had been added. And eventually, they realised that the manufacturer of the plastic tissue had added the chemical nonylphenol to the plastic test tube which had made the breast cancer cells multiply.

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:16:24] And here we are last week, you know, at 91, 2001, 2021… 30 years later, you know, a massive dump of nonylphenol that killed the fish in China just last week. Full of nonylphenol, which is an oestrogen that is a serious endocrine-disrupting chemical that can have massive ramifications for breast cancer risk, which we know one in eight women have breast cancer diagnoses that are often not related to genes. 

I mean, it’s just staggering. Like you said, it’s happening every day right in front of our eyes. And we don’t learn. We’re not implementing anything. There’s no impetus because me being sceptical, we’re in a capitalist society where the CEO is paid dividends to shareholders and it comes at the cost of human health.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:17:05] Mm-hmm.

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:17:07] Right.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:17:08] Yeah. Well, it’s actually the end of one story in the continuing story of so much else that goes on in our society. But you also know you just touched on there you had this dog and good for you. I had two Labradors. I had two Labradors. If only I knew how much here they dropped it. But if we are getting our house carpets cleaned or, you know, pest control comes in. What do you advise people to do? I mean, you mentioned alkaline cleaners, but the cleaner probably didn’t have that. Did they?

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:17:42] No. I sent him off on his way.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:17:45] He didn’t know what he was letting himself in for there when you called up. But what should we do? Well, you know, like shampoo. I want my carpet shampooed, my furniture shampooed. What should I do?

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:17:56] Right. So if it’s acidic spill and that’s mainly things like urine or wine or meat, you want to add alkaline. So use bicarb soda to neutralise it first. That would be the quickest way. Anything that’s edible that you can use as a cleaning agent is the number one top priority because you know it’s not going to be toxic. 

So thinking of it that way, that would be the best way to go. If it’s an alkaline spill and I’m trying to think of what that would be apart from oven cleaner, which is excellent, I can’t think of many alkaline scenarios. You probably use it in acid, like lemon juice or something like that. 

But generally with cleaning it really comes back down to utilising nature’s greatest resource, which is the sun. Incredible UV sunlight drying. Drying is important. A healthy home is a dry home. So utilising trying to bring in, you know, microfiber cloth vacuum cleaning with a HEPA filter, don’t bring too much moisture in the home.

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:18:52] I’ve seen many, many homes be completely contaminated because they’re steam cleaning the carpets every six weeks because the kids have got asthma and allergies and because it’s happening over winter when they don’t dry the carpet and rugs within 48 hours, it becomes like a microbial bomb. 

You know, it becomes a mould problem. And that whole room and adjacent rooms become contaminated with spores and high fever because they didn’t dry it out because you already have… In a healthy home, you have up to 500 spores, fungal spores per square inch. In a healthy home. And those spores should replicate what’s outside. That’s normal.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:19:30] But gee, you talk about steam cleaning as a way of bringing moisture into the home. But I think up and down the east coast of Australia, some of the disasters that we have seen, I mean, what does one do with a house that has been covered in water?

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:19:50] Yeah, that’s a difficult one. Sandeep (Gupta) and I did a webinar recently that had five and a half thousand views in two weeks about this, and I said to Sandeep, “To be honest if you’ve had a flood or storm damage where the water’s come from above, I mean, can it really be remediated?”.

This is the real question because I see very few homes to be properly remediated that enable someone with chronic fatigue syndrome or stress that can live in those homes. I think the first thing I want to make note of is wherever you live, there are going to be pros and cons. If you live in a humid environment, it comes at a cost. And the cost is unless you’re prepared to dehumidify that house, to keep the relative humidity between 40 and 60%, then you’re going to have problems. 

If the humidity is above 60%, you’re going to get dust mite proliferation, which by the way is the number one cause of allergies worldwide that people will suffer from. And that tends to be all year round, sneezing, fit, coughing, etc. But if it’s above 70% relative humidity for more than two days, you’ve got 48 hours. Then basically everything, every surface of that house will have dust and will have fungi that is going to utilise the moisture in the air as a source of moisture to grow and so will the bacteria.

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:21:08] So that’s the problem. If you choose to live in Sydney, Central Coast, Queensland, Darwin, etc., then you need to think about how you’re going to pull the moisture out of the air. Most of the year in order to prevent it from becoming a mould box. That’s the cost of living there.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:21:24] So building in or having dehumidifiers, I mean, opening up windows, letting the sun in is great if we can do it. But dehumidifiers, gee, I mean, should be a standard part of every home?

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:21:36] I think so. And look, that’s the interesting thing about opening windows, because if you open windows in a human environment that has 90% humidity outside and 70% inside, humid, the rule of psychometry, the first principle is that humidity goes from high to low. 

So if there’s more humidity outside and you open a window, you’re going to drive it inside and exacerbate a moisture issue. That’s why I strongly suggest in these homes, one of the best things you can get is like a hygrometer and you can get it from Tandy’s, electronic stores, might be $30 or something like that.

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:22:09] And it has a probe that you can put outside as well as one inside. And it will tell you if the humidity is higher outside than inside, keep the windows shut. If it’s dry outside, open up the windows. You know and utilize the weather. So that is a very cheap thing to do that will help people understand humidity. 

You know, have this in your bathrooms and your laundries, because if you’re getting any condensation in those rooms and, you know, the ventilation is not adequate and you need to do something about it, you shouldn’t have condensation in a bathroom when you have a shower or bath. So, you know, improve the ventilation. Make sure it goes to the outside, not just to the roof cavity.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:22:51] Yeah. Wow. That’s that is really that’s great advice. That hygrometer and dehumidifier because let’s face it I mean the rain in Sydney last night up in the northern coast the north coast again I feel so for those people up there who have been hit again. When we are building, so these houses, I mean because so many houses now have gyprock as a part of their house and once gyprock gets wet, you can’t really dry it out, can you?

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:23:20] No. So once you get a porous surface that’s wet like carpets, underlay, books, you know, gyprock…in theory, it needs to be dry within 48 hours. If it doesn’t dry within that time, you’ll have microbial growth. And therefore, it becomes it goes from a restoration, water damage restoration job to a mould remediation job. Goes from a few hundred to a few thousand, tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars. And you really have a very short window in which to address water damage. So that is definitely problematic.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:23:55] I mean, just as a small example, I spilt a glass of water on my desk about a week ago. And I have this post-it pad here, which I’m showing, which is kind of, it’s kind of ruined in a way, and it still feels a bit damp. So I actually saved it for this conversation. I’ve just thrown it out. But I mean, just as you said that I looked down at my desk and I thought, actually, I spilt my water here. And there’s the dry post-it note and there’s the wet one. I did an experiment leading up to our conversation.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:24:23] If you are building your house, so let’s say these houses are really badly damaged. How can we proof our houses when we go to pick places to build first? But even then, how does one sort of moisture-proof your house by ventilation, I guess. 

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:24:43] Yes. So to prevent condensation of mould, there are several things you can do, simple things you can do. Firstly, you want to protect against wind-driven rain. So you want eaves. A house built without eaves is really stupid. You want eaves. That’s important. And the other thing, of course, is to have permeable vapour wraps. 

So, you know, that aluminium wrap that they put around the house, it needs to be it needs to prevent liquid water moving through, but it needs to allow water vapour to move through. And that was really where the national construction code failed because what they had was they only thought about liquid water.

So if there’s all this water vapour generated from inside, from the occupants breathing, we breathe out – per person three litres of water vapour per day. By the time you put into bathing, cooking, washing and breathing, each person is equivalent to around ten litres of water vapour per day. Every washing load you do is five litres of water vapour put into the air.

 So if you have four people living in a two-bedroom apartment, that’s 40 litres of water vapour in the air. That apartment has to do with what it might not be designed to do. And then you get condensation on the windows and the walls, etc. So you know, that’s a problem. So you have to bring in the humidifiers.

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:26:00] So if you’re going to build you want intelligent wraps. Wraps like pro-climate, and I don’t get a commission from them at all. Where they are specifically designed to enable water vapour to move through. There’s now a very much involved, physics involved in walk and ceiling construction that looks at the type of vapour wrap, it looks at the microclimate and the climate it is in. 

And it’s becoming a very specific science with a lot of physics involved where they have several different designs depending on what climate you’re actually in. So I recommend people invest the money into getting the wall structure and the roof structure specific for the area they’re in.

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:26:41] So for example, if you’re building in the Blue Mountains, that’s very different to being in the CBD of Sydney, even though you’re in the same state because in the Blue Mountains you have all this mist and fog for a significant proportion time of year, which means you’re going to have to build something very different compared to the heart of the Sydney CBD. 

And understanding the climate, the microclimate becomes really important. Ventilation is important again. So make sure that your exhaust fans from your kitchen and your bathrooms are exhausted to the exterior, not to the roof void or to the wall cavity. So it pulls it out so you don’t get this water in the interstitial of the wall cavities, for example. That’s really, really important.

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:27:23] And that the house is designed for the amount of occupants going to be there. You know, if you’re going to have slumber parties with the kids all the time, might not be appropriate to put ten kids in a small bedroom because they’re all breathing all this condensation that you might need to bring a portable dehumidifier in there temporarily to help with that condensation.

So these are the sort of simple principles you can bring in to help reduce the incidence of condensation and mould. Also, the building materials, having building materials at breathe. So if you think of, you know, the Queenslander that has a big hat, big eaves, it has great cross ventilation with the Louvre windows, massive subfloors that you can walk underneath. So it’s very well ventilated underneath. 

So it stops the rising damp coming up through the building and it’s made from timber that can breathe. Timber can absorb and release moisture very well. Whereas materials like concrete, concrete slabs, type that have no high gross capacity, it has no capacity to absorb and release moisture. Just holds moisture and it remains wet for years.

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:28:27] So thinking about the building materials you’re going to use is very, very important, making sure the building which is inside the house aren’t cold. So you want to avoid metal, metal frame windows. They’re problematic. You often see visible mould around them because they’re cold. So when you have water vapour from inside the house hitting a cold window, it hits dew point and condenses straight away. 

Whereas an engineered timber window would be much better because it doesn’t… The surface temperature isn’t cold. So when it heats that the water vapour heats the surface, it’s less likely to condense. Things like tiles and masonry, all of that sort of thing are cold surfaces. So when you have water vapour hit a cold surface, it’s more likely to condense thinking about that.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:29:10] Hmm. Because when you talk about floors too, and you talking about solid timber floors because often particle board or some kind of particleboard, it’s that’s probably not the right word for it, but it looks like a composite of some sort. Is it?

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:29:25] MDF, particle board. Yep.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:29:27] Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. They would not be breathing in the same way. They’d be more like gyprocks and timber, I’m guessing.

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:29:35] Yes, they can. It depends what they sit with as well. The problem with particleboard, it’s like [Inaudible 00:29:40] for mould. Once it’s wet, once it delaminates. Similar to what you saw in your pad, it starts separating and delaminating. And of course, once it’s wet, it needs to be replaced.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:29:52] Mm hmm. Well, now, water. I want to talk about you just having sit there, and I just wanted to because, you know, people are sort of critical of, oh what they put in the water. They put chlorine in the water. And I go, well, I’m actually glad they bring it to my tap. You know, in good neck. What I do with it once I get it is another story. How should we approach water once we turn on the tap? You know, before that, I mean, just to consume it. 

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:30:21] Yes. Well, there are multiple contaminants in water. And as you said, chlorine certainly stops the waterborne illnesses, which is a good thing, because that was one of the things that public health that made massive difference to human health and increased our lifespan as a result of it. 

However, because there has to be sufficient amount of chlorine that it’s active that’s present by the time it gets to the tap. I don’t want to be ingesting chlorinated water because chlorine is the strongest antibacterial that you can be exposed to, which is what’s added to the water supply. 

And I don’t want to be ingesting that knowing that my gut microbiome is one of the most important markers for human health. So I want to make sure that I’ll use a carbon filter to be able to remove that chlorine and carbon filters are quite cheap, you know, 20, 30, $40, they’re not expensive.

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:31:10] The problem is that the contaminants in a water supply will vary depending on the type of taps or pipes you have under your home. Also the type of taps you have recently. It would have been made last year the government announced $2 billion to replace brass taps because brass taps that have been imported in the last ten years have up to 6% lead content in the valves which they need now discovered. 

And of course, Perth Children’s Hospital a few years ago had elevated levels of lead in the drinking water supply in the new Perth Children’s Hospital because of the brass taps. So that’s an issue as well. 

You want to go with a company like Binco, I don’t get in commission from that, mind you. Who specifically have stainless steel components in their tap where that’s important because they could be, you know, lead, lead, of course, with [Inaudible 00:32:07] Michelle on your podcast before and…

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:32:11] Well, yeah. We’ll come back to that in a minute because there’s a lot of these things, you know, I think it’s worth just reminding people, but that’s a real shock. The, you know, the brass, the new brass taps. Oh, we should have… Yeah, that’s… But tell us about lead. Because I know, you know, lead mercury these are all very toxic, but they’re ubiquitous as well, aren’t they? Well, they were and they still are.

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:32:35] Lead is still a big issue. And I don’t think it’s discussed enough, especially with a lot of the programmes on the television with some, you know, building, renovating homes, that is still an issue. Fewer houses built prior to 1986. You should test lead prior to renovating. 

Of course, like asbestos, lead is not a problem providing it’s not in a dust form. So the problem is most pregnant women, myself included, you want to get the nursery right when you’re pregnant and you know for the bubs to come, and that’s when you likely do the renovations, which is the worst time in hindsight. 

So you want to, you can test for lead by going to paint stores or hardware stores to get a lead test checker for about $25 for two and it turns red on the brush if it’s present. So definitely want to test that.

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:33:20] If the house is built quite in 1986 because of course the lead content up until 1965 was up to 60 to 70% lead content in that paint. Yeah. Wow. Tested homes of recently that had 10%, 20% lead content and that’s problematic. So it’s okay if you leave it on the wall providing it’s in good condition. It’s not flaking off. In that case, you can get a company like the Australian Dust Removalists Association. 

It will come in and get rid of all the lead dust in your roof and also properly get rid of it inside the house. So, you know, block off that room and bring in, you know, HEPA filters and scrubbers, etc. and do it properly.

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:34:00] There is also a fantastic guide, the 6 step guide to removing lead paint by the Australian Government you can find online and it gives you some really good practical advice if you’re going to do it yourself, but make sure please that you wear appropriate personal protective equipment because the dust goes everywhere. So you know, you want to seal off that room when you’re removing it and of course, you wouldn’t dry it, get rid of the paint in terms of the dust. You wet it down first before you actually remove it. 

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:34:27] Coming back to the renovation. Because and I know that many bathrooms and we’ve had some installed and I know what you’re going to say here, but I want to ask it anyway. You know, the bathroom was built, the room was made, and then the builder came in with several layers of blue waterproofing. 

And there’s a little bit of a problem. And everyone who’s done a bathroom renovation is very excited when they see that because they know the next step is to lay down the tiles and they’re getting a lot closer to the finish of their renovation. But it’s not as simple as that is it? You paused for a minute’s silence here Nicole. You pause for a minute’s silence here.

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:35:11] You know, nowadays, you’d be lucky if your bathroom lasted… In theory, the service life of a typical new bathroom is seven years. Very few consumers know that their bathroom is designed to last a maximum of seven years for the building warranty because we went from shape-based membranes to liquid-based membranes. 

So we’ve now, you know, a lot of the builders will put on a liquid-based membrane that’s problematic because the sheet based membranes at least lasted up to 30 years. The liquid ones that you paint, the waterproofing membrane will last seven.

And more often than not, they actually only last 2 to 3 years because people often use essential oils to clean their bathrooms, which are essential oils like eucalyptus are so good at dissolving petrochemicals, which are waterproof membranes. There’s a lot of misinformation. In social media, people spraying essentials in the bathroom, get through the grab, and it actually will dissolve the membrane, which reduces the lifespan of that bathroom.

So if you’re going to waterproof and renovate, the first thing I’d suggest you do is if there’s been if the bathroom is more than seven years old and your house was built prior from 2000, it’s likely that there may be moisture and potentially mould in there. So just get someone to test the building biologist or mould testing technician to check the bathroom first if there’s potentially any mould. 

Because if you start taking off the plasterboard in the tiles and there’s hidden mould, that’s going to contaminate the next room and potentially the rest of the house. And I’ve seen many, many people develop chronic fatigue-like symptoms or chronic inflammatory syndrome after a bathroom reno because it exposed all that hidden mould.

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:36:51] It’s amazing how much that wall cavity can keep that mould in there. I’ve seen readings of 70,000 spores per cubic metre and I don’t want to say more than a few hundred in a wall cavity and in that bathroom, maybe a thousand or two. Once that wall comes down, that’s thousands and it’s just spread throughout the house. And now it’s a big job to remediate. That can be very, very problematic. 

So you want to make sure that they, you know if they’re going to do a renovation, that there’s no hidden mould in there. Even just doing the wall cavity sample to make sure that it’s not in there. It’s a simple thing that can be done. If there is, then you get a mould remediator to actually seal off that bathroom, put in scrubbers, put in negative in machines, and then remediate properly so it doesn’t contaminate the rest of the house. 

It is going to be pricey, but it’ll be well worth it for your health. And then when they put the waterproofing in, get a company to do it as a system. Don’t get the builder to put the waterproofing in. Get a company that only does this to do that properly. Like I recommend Gripset, again. I don’t get any commissions.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:37:59] Could you say that again… Grip – 

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:37:59] Gripset. They are a company that specialises in waterproofing and they only allow their technicians they’ve trained through a what who certified waterproofers. They have to also do their training in order to go out. So they only do that. They will make sure that if the whole system is done properly, they don’t do it in bits. And I would say to clients spend $2,000 to do the waterproofing properly, be $20,000 bathroom reno. And it will last 30 years, not seven.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:38:31] Mm-hmm. Wow. So, listen, we talked, we’ve touched on a few issues here, and I know building biology… Let’s talk about building biology. I mean, you’ve brought it to Australia and you’ve developed this. Tell us about your college and tell us about how someone becomes a building biologist. Then I want to go through a visit from the building biologist. 

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:38:54] Well, yes, I founded the building biology industry quite incidentally through my own health issues. Okay, describes so I was researching for years much to my ex-husband’s frustration. You know, you’re doing all this research for nothing for years. Because I want to know what the cause is. That’s why I became a naturopath. What’s the cause of the patient’s condition. I’m sick of getting bags of spice cuticles, which may or may not help. 

So I then started teaching people this and it just developed into a course. We run, oh, it’s the only government accredited building biology course in Australia. I believe the only undergraduate nationally accredited course probably in the world. Two years full time, four years part-time under subjects include mould testing is the one where most people will do all the work with. That’s all their subjects. 12 weeks in duration, most of our students are women. 

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:39:43] 75% of our women, participants are women. Mature age women from 30 to 60. We are about 75%, which is the only building construction course in Australia that’s primarily women, which I’m very proud about. You know, we go in there and tell the trades you did a shit job and this is what you need to do. Get your ask into gear part my friend and you know, do it properly because these people seek. 

A big part of the work we do is identify health hazards in the built environment. As I mentioned, water damage and mould is a big part of what we do. Also, looking at radiation from Wi-Fi-enabled devices, how can we use technology and reduce our exposures? We look at chemicals so often it’s personal care products, cleaning products, getting them to be mindful about the products they buy and to reduce this rampant consumerism that’s causing global pollution, you know, that sort of thing.

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:40:36] Pesticide management is a big one. Don’t use chemicals or pesticides. How can we create physical barriers, reduce the moisture, and remove the pitfall, you know, to stop protecting the pests and rodents in the house in the first place? Those sort of things. 

And of course, providing advice on how to build healthy homes is an important thing that we do. So there’s a lot of work out there and we just don’t have enough people to do the job. Look, like I said to at the beginning before we started, I don’t have anyone in the central coast yet that’s qualified as a building biologist and yet there’s so much work. 

Just doing mould testing, you know, a three-month course, but in a packet, you’ve got your equipment and yet there are so little people to do the work, which is unfortunate.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:41:15] And I think the overriding message that I’ve always got whenever I’ve thought and talked to you and learnt about it myself because as I said to you, of all the books on my bookshelf here, I pick out ones that I think are critically important. And that’s why I have Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu talking about indigenous health. 

I have the food pyramid, death by food pyramid, which I think has caused massive problems. Joel Salatin talking about regenerative agriculture, which I covered many times on my podcast, and then we call… Is your book Healthy Home, Healthy Family Third Edition now? 

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:41:55] Yes.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:41:56] And that is I consider, you know, these are books that I consider fundamental to our existence. And I actually have taken a little bit of liberty thereby including my own book up there as well. Terrible at but great book. But now when we do call up a building biologist, what should we expect? What’s a typical visit from a building biologist? 

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:42:21] Well, often what the client thinks is a problem and what is the problem can be different. So I really teach my graduates to be like a scout. To bring all their equipment in and don’t make assumptions that the client knows what’s going on, have everything there. The first thing I train them well to do is to take an environmental exposure history. 

And I really think that’s important from a clinicians perspective as well as the building biologist, because if you take a good history, you’re able to identify you know the beginning of the symptoms and what was going on in their life at the time, and then exacerbation or amelioration of symptoms from the history.

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:42:59] And that often will tell me very quickly 90% of the time it’ll show me what has it I need to look forward to exclude, to see, because I’ll know based on their symptoms if they sleep disturbances. I want to check for electromagnetic fields. If there are respiratory problems or fatiguing syndrome, I’m going to look for mould. 

If there are skin rashes, I’m going to look for water and chlorine in the water. I’m going to look at products they’re using on their skin and that they’re exposed to pesticides. If it’s reproduction, I’m going to have to look at the chemical load over, you know, over a longer period of time and what they’re using in terms of endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:43:34] So their symptoms will tell me what hazards they had. The graduates will know what has it can cause their symptoms. So then they’ll go through a process of a visual inspection. So the first thing we do is sit down with the client. I spend up to 45 minutes with the client. I’ve sent them a questionnaire, they’ve filled it out. 

I sit down with them and I go through every question and get them to explain it. I can listen to their voice, I can look at their skin, I can see their demeanour, how sick or not they are. Have they got brain fog, missing words mid-sentence, which means I’ve got to check the EMFs, chemicals, and mould because it can cause all of those symptoms and take a history and get them to explain it in their words. 

Find out what occupancy is here, what’s their process for maintaining the house, the gutters, the bed, the sheets, how often they’re changing them? You know, had they been in previously water-damaged buildings, the mattress, and they’ve now brought it to this building. So is it a problem with this building or the previous building? What about water vapour management? How many showers are we talking about? Are we talking about an Italian couple in a six-bedroom house where there’s very little water vapour and they shower every second day?

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:44:41] Are we talking about four tradies who go to the gym and shower after work? So that’s, you know, 8 showers a day in a one-bedroom apartment. You know, that’s very different. So it gives me an idea of the level of water vapour. I’m looking at, again, the cleaning routine. Do they use dry-cleaning solvents, you know, their behaviour and how they relate to the environment they house and how they interact with that? 

Then I will spend quite a bit of time doing a visual inspection outside and inside, coming in and out of the house. I’m looking for sources of moisture, I’m looking for chemicals, I’m looking for compost or looking for by toxins. I’m looking for shading. Which parts of the house will be most susceptible to condensation and all of those things. Often clients will miss things. 

When I’m looking through the house like there might be eight cans of Mortein because they have an obsession with spiders. If they see one spotted, they have to spray eight cans of Mortein and actually say, I know you do have an organic diet, but the Mortein is actually toxic. And they don’t see the correlation, Ron. We all have it the being upon me. It’s my coffee. Three coffees a day with all the toxins in the beans. I’m prepared to live with that.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:45:51] Nicole, I can’t believe you drink coffee. No, no. You seem too calm. You seem too calm. 

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:45:58] I reckon I’ve got ADHD, and I’m like… 

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:46:00] I think I do, too. But we’ll talk about that off-camera. But that’s.. Go on. Go on.

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:46:07] Mothballs. You know, they might be strict about the food and chemicals and the perfumes and then they have a wardrobe full of mothballs because they’re concerned about that. So it’s looking at the idiosyncrasies of their behaviour and their beliefs and then being able to help them understand the ramifications of that if they do that. Yeah. 

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:46:28] Hmm. It’s interesting because so many so often people think of environmental pollutants as out there, you know, air pollution, ocean pollution, river pollution, all this. But actually, it’s what we choose to put in on our bodies that makes such a big difference, isn’t it?

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:46:45] That’s number one pollution. It’s often what they’re buying and putting on their skin and putting in their mouths. Absolutely. Definitely. And this is the thing you find with some clients. They might want to buy a neighbour smart metre, etc., for the issue. But they’re living like that 5 hours a day.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:47:04] Phone to ear for those listening.

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:47:06] Yes. So if they’re doing that, you will show with your metres your quantifying. So often the visual inspection will then have the moisture metres and the instruments that we use, you know moisture metres and thermal imaging and electromagnetic field equipment to quantify what we’re actually exposed to. Then we compare it to the exposure standard and then we can determine, you know, what’s actually going on and how to reduce the exposure. 

Yeah, it’s often different to what the client thinks it is, so you really need to be diplomatic in how you come across to the client because what you’re saying a lot of the time is, well, I hear what you’re saying and we can address that issue you’ve indicated. But that’s likely to be a low risk compared to these other issues identified in the house in here. This is how I’ve quantified it. And I’ll show you with instruments.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:47:53] Yeah. Yeah. Nicole, brilliant. Listen, as though that’s not enough for running the college, you’ve also just about to finish a PhD or you have or where are you up to? Can you tell us a little bit about… Don’t go into the full seven years of research. Now, what are you doing? Tell us about your page.

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:48:11] Well, I’ve submitted it in September and I’m waiting for it to be marked. So it has been six months.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:48:16] Okay.

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:48:16] I hope that’s okay. Anyway, I’ve looked at environmental exposures to chemicals and to wireless technologies and its impact on human health. So really looking at which chemicals impact, which chronic diseases and how doctors and clinicians can do something about it. So what’s available for clinicians to assess clinical load? I interviewed the top environmental doctors to see how they address environmental exposures. 

And in the end, as a result of that paper, they really hand strong. If they need at least an hour and a half for the patient to take a proper history, and that was considered to be the most important clinical tool. And yet they were never trained how to do this properly, either in their undergraduate medical training or the postgraduate training. And this includes occupational environmental physicians as well as integrative doctors. 

So without a doubt, the environmental exposure history is very, very important. But they had to train themselves over many years to do it. And of course, these patients are really tricky. They are so sensitive that even taking supplements, they react to it because the detoxification pathways is so jam-packed that it’s very difficult. So it’s a matter of reducing their toxic load with their food, with their lifestyle, and with their home on a very gentle level over a very, very long period of time. 

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:49:35] Nicole, I always so enjoyed talking to you. And every time I do, I feel like I’ve really wasted my time doing dentistry. And I really should have done a building biology course. And what a great thing to have as a skill to change people’s lives for the better. So thank you for putting all that together. Thank you for offering it. We will, of course, have links to the college on our show notes, etc.. And just again, thanks so much for being with us. 

Nicole Bijlsma: [00:50:03] Thank you so much for allowing me to talk about my passion. 

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:50:07] Thanks, Nicole.


Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:50:08] Well, in the same way as I like to connect with my cardiologist, integrative cardiologist Dr Ross Walker, and I like to connect with various guests regularly just to keep the hoop tapping along down the road, keeping heart health going. Well, this is about keeping building health going. And honestly, the number of people who are unwell, who have gone through… 

Well, look at Nicole’s own story, ten miscarriages. Now, you know, to anyone who’s had a miscarriage, you know, it’s a very traumatic experience in one’s life. And if you’re fortunate enough to then have a child, you realise how traumatic that actually is and then to have enough to have another one would be just awful.

But to have ten, to have ten miscarriages and the number of practitioners that Nicole visited and I’ve heard this story before, and she’s gone into it in a lot more detail, off-camera off microphone. But the number of practitioners that were visited to try to come to the get to the bottom of why this seemingly healthy woman should have ten miscarriages. And you can only imagine the blood tests, the hormones, the different treatments, the different supplements, the different this, the different that, and that’s miscarriages.

Well, what about somebody who’s suffering from an autoimmune condition or an inflammatory condition or a respiratory condition or a mental health condition, because that could be affecting your sleep. And once it starts to affect your sleep, it affects every aspect of your health. 

And this is precisely what this podcast is all about and what our Unstress Wellness Programme is all about. That is taking a holistic view of health care and it is not the word holistic is not some new age philosophy of who is in this, you know, kind of we’re putting on laying on crystals. This just happens to be the way the body works. It happens to be the way our house works, our environment works and the planet works.

So get on board with thinking holistically. Sometimes inconvenient truths emerge, which you have to deal with. And that may be challenging, but at least in order to solve the problem, it helps to know. I always feel in order to solve the problem, it helps to know what that problem means.

 And how we live in our homes is certainly a potential source of problems, which it could be on the best diet in the world, taking the best supplements in the world, meditating twice a day. But if your home is toxic, then you are pushing uphill. So that is why visiting with Nicole Bijlsma and hearing about Building Biology and if you were looking for a way of engaging with health in a way that is absolutely fundamental, you don’t necessarily have to go and do a medical or a dental degree. 

You don’t have to go and study for five or ten years and become a specialist. You could actually do that building biology programme and really make a difference in people’s lives and have a very satisfying career doing it. So we’ll have links to Nicole’s site, as I mentioned. I hope these find you well. Until next time. This is Dr Ron Ehrlich. Be well.



This podcast provides general information and discussion about medicine, health, and related subjects. The content is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice or as a substitute for care by a qualified medical practitioner. If you or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately qualified medical practitioner. Guests who speak in this podcast express their own opinions, experiences, and conclusions.