IICRC Proposes New IAQ Standard for Remediation Contractors

IICRC Proposes New IAQ Standard for Remediation Contractors

The proposed standard is intended for use by those working in the mold remediation industry.

The Institute for Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC) just released a 45-day draft review of a new S520 consensus standard for professional remediation of microbial growth. The IICRC standard is a framework to be used by indoor air quality professionals, site inspectors, technicians and remediation contractors to improve work practices and procedures within an institutional, commercial or residential structure. The information benefits facilities managers and building owners seeking to improve the quality of workmanship under their supervision.

As a member of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the IICRC issues certifications in more than 20 different fields. With nearly 49,000 certified technicians and 6,500 certified remediation firms throughout 22 countries, the IICRC membership represents wide range of different industries. It also works with many national and international trade groups.

The creation IICRC S520 standard occurred in cooperation between microbiologists and other scientists, public health experts, industrial hygienists, remediation contractors and restoration service providers. Additionally, the proposed standard involved collaboration with cleaning and restoration training schools and trade associations that support the professional restoration industry as well as allied tradespeople and others with relevant professional and practical experience. The proposed IICRC S520 standard is intended for use by those working in the mold remediation industry. If the economists are correct, the standard could reduce the remediation cost by several-fold, making it more affordable for clients who may be either underinsured or not covered by property insurance.

The IICRC S520 standard does not consider remediation of certain other biological agents like Histoplasma capsulatum, Cryptococcus neoformans, Hanta virus, animal-derived pathogens or highly infectious agents including bird or bat droppings. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) offers operational guidance for proper decontamination procedures. Moreover, the IICRC S520 standard does not address the specific protocols and procedures for restoration, remediation or abatement of hazardous or highly regulated materials when they may be present or likely to be present in a water-damaged or intrusion in a microbial-contaminated structure, system or the building contents. Some examples of hazardous building materials not covered by the IICRC S520 standard include asbestos, inorganic lead, elemental mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), pesticides, petrochemical solvents and radiological agents.

There are five steps in the mold remediation process. These steps include:

  • Conduct a risk assessment to determine if and where microbial growth may exist and the scope of any remediation work needed to abate the damaged property or contents,
  • Record and photograph the environmental condition and work tasks performed during mold remediation and any rebuild after completing the remediation process,
  • Containment and control the work to prevent the spread of any microbial contamination,
  • Define the scope of work and chemicals used to remove the microbial growth and
  • Identify and remedy the source of the water damage and any microbial growth.

Salvable building materials should be dried to acceptable moisture levels as specified in the latest edition of ANSI/IICRC S500 Standard for Professional Water Damage Restoration. Remediators should be trained and educated in remediation techniques along with understanding the health and safety hazards of the job. Such worker training and education should include:

  • Understand building structures and systems to determine sources of microbial growth
  • Consider climatic and seasonal variables like rainfall, temperature and relative humidity
  • Assess the building ventilation, airflow and air filtration and humidity in areas of concern
  • Use best practices to remove microbial growth from building surfaces and contents
  • Ensure workers are properly trained in the use of chemicals such as required by the OSHA Global Harmonized Hazard Communication Standard – 29 CFR 1910.1200 or equivalent
  • Understand the precautions listed on the product Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) when using or applying antimicrobials, surface coatings, stain removers or cleaning agents
  • Ensure technicians wear the appropriate respirator and/or personal protective clothing
  • Construct and implement an OSHA-compliant written comprehensive respirator program
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions as directed when applying chemical agents to ensure their efficacy for surface coating, stain removal or cleaning
  • Ensure all primary and secondary containers are properly labeled and visibly readable
  • Follow all other state and federal requirements including permits, licensing and training for work with hazardous materials like asbestos, lead or other regulated building materials
  • Consider other safety hazards like lockout/tagout for electrical circuits and wiring, ground fault protection, confined space entry, procedures for forklifts or other mechanical devices

Remediation contractors should refrain from the following work practices:

  • Use only a disinfectant or fungicide instead of remediating or removing the microbial growth with a stain remover before or instead of cleaning
  • Use a chemical product to kill microbial growth when the product is not registered by a regulatory authority such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • Use any product or application method to administer a gas or vapor in the air that is intended to kill microbes without prior cleaning and/or if the application like fogging or misting is not specifically registered for that product
  • Microbial-resistant coatings should not be used as "sealants" or "encapsulants" to contain or cover microbial growth
  • Temperature extremes either hot or cold should not be used as an alternative to cleaning
  • Bypassing cleaning the heating, air conditioning and ventilation (HVAC) system when recommended by an indoor air quality professional
  • Avoid cleaning contaminated building contents as part of the overall remediation project

Disinfectants may be used by the remediator contractor only after cleaning the surface first. These chemical agents should be used only as a supplemental treatment wherever there is a need to prevent future microbial growth. If the building owner or facility manager seeks to maintain LEED building certification, only plant-based, botanical or environmentally friendly products should be used to prevent the introduction of chemical solvents into the indoor environment.

There is another important consideration regarding the denaturing of microbial growth that is not fully addressed in the IICRC S520 standard. This means the microbial growth no longer has the ability to replicate due to the interaction with a chemical or physical agent. While proteins can be denatured by other means such as sterilization with heat, using ethylene oxide gas, hydrogen peroxide vapor or ultraviolet radiation, these remedial measures are contraindicated because of toxicity or physical harm. The IICRC S520 standard does not address the issue of using certain chemical products for this purpose but certainly eludes to the fact that such remediation methods alone should be strongly discouraged to avoid remediation. Products developed for this purpose should be used only after thoroughly cleaning and remediating to prevent future microbial growth.

Training alone does not provide sufficient qualification or competency to alleviate microbial growth in buildings. Competency should be based on several key factors such as past performance besides training, education and experience. Certification requirements should consider the extent of previous field experience in microbial remediation, formal coursework to understand the best practices to perform the work and successfully completing a written exam. Some governmental agencies require mold remediation certification as a requirement for performing contract services. Remediators should be aware of contract and insurance requirements and comply with all applicable laws and regulations. In the absence of specific legal requirements, certification should be the preferred method for onboarding and hiring workers who are engaged in mold remediation.

Will the new IICRC S520 standard stand up to scrutiny under ANSI review? Let’s wait and see. The likelihood is the standard moves the needle much closer in the right direction to protect workers, the public and property owners or managers while controlling abatement costs. It also provides a benchmark for building managers and property owners when bidding the remediation work with qualified contractors to ensure the work will be done within the framework of the IICRC S520 standard.

This article originally appeared in the April/May 2023 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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