Expect the Unexpected in Any Mold Remediation Project

Asbestos, lead paint, and an approaching hurricane are some of the challenges overcome during a remediation project at a Virginia military base.

Much has been written about the health effects of mold during the past few years. While mold is ubiquitous in nature, exposure to large quantities of mold, if left unchecked, can lead to health problems that include allergies, asthma, and other respiratory or toxicological conditions, some of which may be irreversible.

Mold can develop from a water leak in a broken pipe or piece of equipment, a leaking roof, or anywhere water infiltration may be found. Water damage in buildings, under the right conditions, can proliferate in a matter of weeks or even days and escalate your remediation costs if left unabated. Our team of mold remediation professionals learned that often the initial scope of work will not be the only challenge you may encounter along the way. Such was the case during a recent project our firm performed at an active-duty military base in Virginia. In addition to the original mold remediation project we were contracted to perform, our team had to deal with asbestos-containing materials, mold spores that re-aerosolized during the cleanup, an unexpected incident involving lead-based paint, and a less-than-fluid schedule brought on by an unprecedented perfect storm.

Situated along the coastline, the base is in operation 24/7/365. Some of the buildings there are multi-functional, housing military personnel on the upper floors and training facilities on the lower floors. Similar to a college dormitory, these buildings contain break rooms, lounges, recreation areas, offices, restrooms, and fitness areas. Each three-story building can house up to 400 troops.

Last summer, rooftop HVAC units in three of the dormitory/training buildings malfunctioned. The base's coastal location exposed the buildings to high-humidity conditions, which quickly created a perfect environment for mold growth.

The presence of mold prompted base representatives to release a performance work statement (PWS) identifying tasks that included cleaning (i.e., wiping down) and sanitizing of all non-porous items (e.g., walls, floors, doors, ceiling tile grids), disposing of mold-impacted ceiling tiles, and cleaning salvageable ceiling tiles using a High Efficiency Particulate Air vacuum. Our team responded to the PWS and was subsequently awarded the project. Under our contract, we retained a certified mold remediation contractor to implement the PWS, remediate the mold in the three buildings, and apply a microbial inhibitor up to the ceiling line and deck in each of the three buildings where mold was identified.

Once the base identified a point of contact for the project, all necessary base staff were briefed on the project objectives, and the work commenced. One of our roles in the project was to start each work day with a site safety briefing for contractor personnel, along with providing daily updates on work progress to the base project personnel. At the completion of the cleaning of each floor of each building, we accompanied the base point of contact and the mold remediation supervisor on an inspection of the abated area. The inspections confirmed that work was being completed according to the project specifications. Throughout the duration of the project, tape-lift and air samples were shipped overnight to an American Industrial Hygiene Association Environmental Microbiology Laboratory Accreditation Program (AIHA EMLAP) certified laboratory, where the samples were analyzed on an expedited turnaround.

Flooring and Ceiling Surprises
Phase I of the project began in Building 1 in early October 2012. First, we collected pre-abatement tape-lift samples that would later be used to show whether the remediation was effective in removing gross mold contamination. Our team marked the pre-abatement tape lift sample locations in the field so that the sampling locations could easily be found for post-abatement sampling.

Building preparation included the removal and disposal of mattresses and other porous items, such as fabric-covered chairs and sofas. The remediation contractor then could begin its work of wiping down non-porous items, such as bedframes, wooden and metal chairs and tables, bookcases, dressers, and HVAC registers, and then removing larger items from the building to make way for the cleanup. The remediation contractor then used a HEPA vacuum, re-wiped exposed surfaces to capture residual spores, and applied a microbial inhibitor that was left to dry for approximately 24 hours. We then collected post-remediation air samples and tape-lift samples for comparison to ambient air concentrations and initial tape-lift results.

If mold spore results were less than the concentrations in outdoor air, gross removal of the mold contamination was deemed complete for that area, and post-remediation tape-lift samples could then be analyzed. If elevated air sampling concentrations were found, the mold remediation contractor re-cleaned the area and the sample collection and analysis process was repeated. This was done until the air samples were less than the outdoor air, at which time the tape-lift samples could be analyzed -- if cleanup objectives were met -- and the remediation could be deemed complete. The final step of the remediation included the necessary repairs to the HVAC system to prevent water from re-infiltrating the buildings.

Phase II of the project began in Building 2 near the end of October. Building 2 is a slightly smaller building, and preparation and cleanup of the building mirrored the Phase I project. After the building preparation, the project took a left turn and the unexpected prevailed.

During the remediation work, a section of carpet was lifted to reveal floor tile that contractors suspected contained asbestos. We proceeded to collect a sample of the floor tile and underlying mastic, which was sent to an accredited laboratory for expedited analysis. Upon confirmation of the presence of asbestos in the floor tile, base representatives decided to manage the asbestos-containing floor tile under its operations and maintenance program. The carpet was left in place and a carpet cleaner was brought in to steam-clean the carpets as part of the abatement process.

This is when the project took another sharp turn: Additional air sampling conducted after the steam-cleaning indicated elevated concentrations of mold spores. It was surmised that the mist from the steam cleaning re-aerosolized the mold spores in the carpet and resulted in elevated spore counts in these areas. This necessitated re-cleaning the entire building and supplemental air and tape-lift sampling to show that gross removal of mold contamination in the area was complete.

Another unexpected twist in the remediation project occurred in Building 2 when a 6-inch-thick layer of fiberglass batting insulation was discovered above the ceiling tile system in two areas of the building. Visible mold growth was found on its paper backing. As the ceiling tiles and the batting were being removed, paint chips from the plaster ceiling above rained down on the work crew. Our team immediately stopped the work, called the base point of contact, and together proceeded to determine whether the fallen paint chips contained lead. Base personnel used XRF direct read technology to confirm the presence of lead in the paint. The mold remediation contractor quickly switched gears and implemented lead safe work practices. Fortunately, the contractor also was licensed and experienced in lead-based paint removal techniques, and its personnel removed the paint chips so the mold abatement could resume in a timely manner.

Lines of Communication Are Key
With the discovery of asbestos-laden tile prompting the cleaning of the carpet and re-aerosolized mold spores in Building 1 and the unexpected falling lead-based paint chips in Building 2, it is safe to say the project schedule went off track. Adding to the project hurdles was the development of the unprecedented perfect storm. As the National Weather Service posted warnings of approaching Hurricane Sandy, the base evacuated all non-essential personnel, and our team and the mold remediation contractor headed back to their homes in New Jersey.

"Superstorm" Sandy wreaked havoc on the Garden State, and many employees from both our company and the mold remediation contractor were forced to stay put for two weeks and contend with Sandy's aftermath.

The base is an active facility where troop activities take priority over any remediation work. When working on an active military installation, you learn that there are many moving parts and many unexpected occurrences. A building on a military base is unlike a commercial building where a tenant space may be vacant for several months, allowing for a streamlined remediation process regardless of the other hurdles you may encounter. In addition, it is not unusual for military personnel whom you interact with on a daily basis to be deployed in a moment’s notice. For this reason, it is always important to establish a line of communication that goes beyond your initial contacts, so that whenever possible work can move forward even though troop activities on the base continually change.

Second, make sure to identify who is responsible for building maintenance because it may not always be personnel from the entity that actually occupies the building. In this project, we found that establishing strong lines of communication with base personnel, as well as educating ourselves on the operational logistics, improved the daily work process.

Phase III of the project is expected to commence in Building 3 in the coming weeks, and our experience in Phases I and II has provided us with insight to other potential variables that may impact future work. As with any remediation project, you must be prepared to adapt to various changing work conditions to meet the project's objective.

This article originally appeared in the May 2013 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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