2008 Mold Update: Manage Your Risks

Killing mold solely through a chemical remediation process may not eliminate the health symptoms that building occupants may be complaining about.

Now that American industry seems to have focused all of its energies on the newest hot topic—going “green”—many issues that formerly seemed to grab so much attention, such as the health effects of mold, have faded into the background. The fact is that mold continues to be a problem in the residential, commercial, and industrial markets, and it must be dealt with on an ongoing basis. This article takes a look at the state of mold remediation and what’s new in the area.

Licensing Legislation
When it comes to indoor air quality concerns, the issue of mold continues to be high on the list of most U.S. state legislators, with Texas, Louisiana, and Florida having passed legislation requiring mold professionals to be trained, certified, and licensed.While a handful of other states also are actively studying or debating mold remediation licensing, professionals in the occupational health and safety industry continue to face the challenge of finding qualified, reputable contractors to remedy the serious hazards of mold in commercial facilities and workplaces. (See “What to Look For in a Mold Remediation Contractor” on page 70.)

The sad fact is that there are more state/federal/ local requirements, certifications, and licensing mandates for individuals at storefront nail salons than there are for people coming in to perform, test, sample, and remediate mold. Still, the recent passage of the Florida legislation, which will be effective in 2010, points to a growing awareness about the need for a uniform code of competency, work practices, and ethics among the contractors performing this essential work. Laws like Florida’s are urgently needed throughout the United States.While many states now demand written disclosure of the presence and location of existing mold infestation to prospective tenants or purchasers, there still are no federal or state standards for acceptable mold levels in buildings or homes. Despite growing health concerns, litigation, and building shutdowns because of mold contamination, many owners and facility managers admit they are inadequately prepared to deal with a mold outbreak. In addition to lawsuits with awards in the millions of dollars, mold causes more than $2.5 billion per year in insurance claims.

As a result, the demand for qualified mold inspectors and remediators is expected to grow exponentially over the next few years, which is giving rise to dozens of correspondence-style schools or two-day certification programs whose academic motto is “mold is gold.”Many of these programs lure inexperienced entrepreneurs with bold predictions that mold will be the defining environmental issue of the 21st Century or that mold testing and removal is rapidly becoming “big business.”

Contracting with graduates of such programs, many of whom possess little or no remediation knowledge or qualifications, poses considerable risk to building owners. In an industry that lacks regulations and license requirements and is often characterized by recommendation of expensive (and sometimes unnecessary) testing and laboratory analysis, inadequate and unsafe equipment, unskilled “temp” workers, and insufficient liability insurance, building owners and managers need to rely on qualified, competent experts who can not only successfully manage a catastrophic mold infestation, but also leverage the latest tools and protocols for long-term prevention.

While there are no current federal and state regulations for mold remediation methods,there are several peer-reviewed and accepted standards of care that provide a good knowledge foundation for building owners and facility managers when faced with mold contamination in buildings.They include Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings by U.S. EPA; Assessment & Remediation of Fungi in Indoor Environments by the NYC Department of Health; Bioaerosols: Assessment & Control by ACGIH; Standard and Reference Guide for Professional Mold Remediation S520 by IICRC; and Assessment, Cleaning & Restoration for HVAC Systems/ACR 2006 by NADCA.

What’s New in Remediation and Prevention?
Although there are new products emerging that can be used as tools in the remediation process, the best method for proper remediation of mold-contaminated porous building materials is to remove and discard all affected building materials under negative- pressure air engineering controls. In situations where removal of building materials is not feasible, such as the case of damaged structural wood members, or if the mold growth is limited to the surface area only, mold-contaminated materials may be effectively cleaned and the surface mold growth removed via procedures such as damp wiping and HEPA vacuuming. In addition, there are even more aggressive removal technologies, such as abrasive blasting, including the use of sponge media, or cryogenic blasting, also known as dry ice blasting.

More and more products are being introduced claiming “no need for costly removal or demolition on mold-contaminated areas . . . just spray on our product and kill the mold.” Although there is still some controversy about the most effective way to treat mold, all experts agree that dead mold spores are just as allergenic as live mold spores. Therefore, killing mold solely through a chemical remediation process may not necessarily eliminate the health symptoms that building occupants may be complaining about.

Preventing mold growth in the design and building stages of new construction continues to be a challenge for architects, builders, and general contractors as they implement a growing number of products and procedures that will help to stop the problem before it starts. For example,many homes and commercial buildings are now being constructed with a rainscreen system, which creates a drainage cavity behind the exterior cladding to prevent moisture incursion and promote air ventilation that would help to prevent the buildup of mold in the exterior wall system. Builders are no longer leaving construction materials unprotected on the job site and exposed to the elements. Many have instituted proactive procedures to minimize water damage to structural wood members, gypsum wallboard, and HVAC duct systems by keeping materials securely covered during the construction process. Others are taking care to be sure the concrete slab on a construction site is properly dried and cured prior to installing flooring materials or other finishes that are susceptible to mold growth, in order to avoid problems down the road that can lead to construction defect litigation.

Anomalies in weather patterns continue to create mold problems. Although Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck several years ago, there are still many damaged structures in the Gulf states waiting for renovation that will involve the remediation of mold-contaminated building materials. In frigid climates, mold continues to be an ongoing problem as a result of issues with frozen pipes’ breaking and ice-damming on roofs that can cause very significant water damage within buildings, even in the coldest weather. If water damage is not addressed through aggressive structural drying, mold growth will occur within 24 to 48 hours after the water damage has occurred.

Is Any Place Safe from Mold Contamination?
The basic answer is no. Even facilities that base their reputations on cleanliness, such as hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and nursing homes, are not immune from mold growth. The solution is for the facility to take an aggressive and straightforward approach in remediating the problem and helping to prevent its recurrence.

For example, the presence of mold in the HVAC duct system of a major medical center was discovered after a routine inspection. Although the hospital’s director of facilities reported that all sampling and assessment by its indoor air quality consultant revealed the level of mold was lower than in outdoor air samples, the hospital decided to take action as a precautionary measure. The seven month mold remediation project involved cleaning and rebuilding portions of the facility’s HVAC system.Crews worked in phases on four five-story nursing towers, as well as in the penthouse mechanical equipment rooms. They performed interior demolition of certain contaminated building components, such as the HVAC system’s sound attenuators, followed by reconstruction services. The facility’s towers were closed down, one at a time, for the remediation and rebuilding. All remediation activities were monitored by an independent, third-party IAQ consulting/engineering firm that also performed post-remediation verification.

The best ways for an occupational health and safety professional, building owner, or manager to minimize his or her liability when it comes to the presence of indoor mold growth are to become educated on the topic and to implement a Water Intrusion Mold Management Program (WIMP). Education can be achieved by becoming familiar with industry peer-reviewed guidelines and recommendations, reading articles such as this one, and attending seminars or conferences run by reputable organizations. Implementation of a WIMP can be achieved through first determining with a risk manager and/or legal counsel, along with the facility’s operations department, the goals and objectives for the program. The next step is establishing reliable relationships with professionals in the industry who can assist the development and implementation of the WIMP.


What to Look for in a Mold Remediation Contractor

Occupational health and safety professionals, building owners, and managers should demand a commitment to excellence from any mold remediation contractor with whom they contract. Following are some suggested requirements to assist in selecting a qualified mold professional:
• Demonstrated experience/expertise in mold/microbial remediation in a commercial or institutional building environment, rather than residential experience only
• Demonstrated expertise in constructing and installing negative-pressure enclosures and engineering controls to prevent mold spores from migrating to non-impacted areas of buildings
• Proof of written maintenance programs and integrity testing on all HEPA-equipped air scrubbers/vacuum cleaners to ensure efficacy
• Proof of pollution liability insurance that includes mold remediation and does not exclude “microbial matters”
• Résumés of key project personnel demonstrating training and certification for proficiency and competency in the guidelines and standards established by nationally recognized organizations and trainer providers, such as IAQA or IICRC
• Proof of written work practices and procedures specifically for microbial remediation (not just copies of the EPA Guidelines)
• Documentation of relevant OSHA safety programs (i.e., respiratory protection programs, medical surveillance programs, HazCom training, etc.) The ultimate right answer when it comes to dealing with indoor mold growth is to require that all contractors and/or consultants not only demonstrate these competencies, but also be licensed (if applicable) by the states in which they operate. Building managers and homeowners alike have the right to expect that the professionals they hire to assess and remediate mold contamination—with all its inherent health, litigation, and economic risks— have been properly trained, certified, and licensed (if applicable) to do so. To settle for a lesser standard will only serve to compound this already controversial issue.


This article originally appeared in the October 2008 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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