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   ARTICLE   |   From Scotsman Guide Commercial Edition   |   June 2004

Mold Problems?

Successful and Sensible Solutions Start with a Plan

Assessment and remediation techniques for mold contamination continue to evolve. As we gain more experience in managing mold problems, it becomes evident that successful resolutions start with a planned approach.

Contamination Assessment

In this initial step, it is important to determine not only whether a mold contamination problem exists, but the extent of the problem, as well.

Assessments can be accomplished through visual inspections and sampling. In the simple and obvious cases, visual evidence is enough to confirm that a contamination problem exists and will accurately help in estimating the extent of the problem.

In more subtle or complicated cases, sampling may be required. Sampling can consist of bulk extractions, surface lifts or air samples. Although air sampling is not always scientifically indicated at this stage of an investigation, it may be mandated for political, social or legal reasons.

Regardless of the type of samples investigators collect, it is important that they design a sound, scientifically-based sampling strategy, follow the proper sampling protocol, utilize the services of a credible, accredited microbiological analysis laboratory and take the time to explain and interpret the data provided by the lab. In summary, the investigation must have a defined purpose, and the need for sampling must be balanced with the need for sufficient information, especially if remediation is to be considered.

Moisture Investigation

There are three basic requirements to cause mold to grow and spread: mold spores, sources of nutrition and water.

In most commercial, industrial and residential environments, mold spores are practically impossible to control and prevent. These spores are everywhere on earth, indoors and outdoors, invisible to the naked eye and are carried on the wind, clothes, pets and feet.

Food sources for mold are also everywhere and are just as difficult to control or eliminate. Practically everything that contains cellulose will provide a medium for mold growth. This includes paper, wood, wallboard, etc. – many of the materials used in the construction of commercial and residential buildings.

Moisture, the third requirement for mold growth, is the most controllable factor. That is why a good investigator will put significant effort into determining the source of moisture. If we can identify the source of the moisture intrusion and design and implement an effective repair, we are on our way to preventing a future recurrence of a mold problem.

Building engineers and architects are uniquely qualified to understand the phases of building construction, as well as the proper construction techniques and methods. This knowledge is essential in isolating problems with roofs, windows, plumbing, foundations and storm-water drains, so that effective solutions may be designed.

Problem Resolutions

At this point, two primary problems need to be addressed – remediation of the mold contamination and repair of the water intrusion. To ensure a healthy indoor environment, the mold should be removed. On non-porous surfaces, the mold can usually be wiped clean with soaps and disinfectants, and the material can be re-used. For porous materials, the contaminated material usually needs to be removed and replaced. As a general rule-of-thumb, contaminated areas up to 10-30 square feet can be cleaned by the owner/manager with appropriate personal and environmental protection, while areas in excess of 100 square feet usually require the services of an experienced mold-remediation contractor.

When selecting a reputable mold-remediation contractor, the property owner/manager should consider many factors:

  • Experience, training, education and/or certification
  • References from previous projects
  • A written Remediation Plan to include: SOPs for worker/occupant safety; sampling and monitoring (bulk, swab, air); containment procedures; remediation procedures; chemical use procedures; and MSDSs
  • Level of insurance coverage
  • On-site supervision
  • Safety and health professionals for site monitoring and consultation
  • Clearance documentation, provided by a qualified safety and health professional, (usually an industrial hygienist)

Clearance air sampling, which ensures that a space is essentially free of contamination and suitable for re-occupancy, is used to supplement the final visual inspection and should not be considered a replacement for a diligent final visual inspection.

Building Management (O&M) Plans

Many mold contamination cases can be traced back to inadequate management systems and procedures. Sometimes building owners and managers do not have written plans and procedures in place to: maintain HVAC systems, inspect and repair roof and window leaks, replace weather caulking, clean gutters, respond to plumbing problems, clean condensation drain lines, etc.

Some of the important elements of an effective building management program would include:

  • Designated building maintenance manager (with provisions for continuing education and training)
  • Telephone call lists for reporting problems
  • Pre-qualified and pre-selected contractors for the inspection and repair of HVAC, roofing and siding, plumbing, electrical, etc.
  • Procedures and records for HVAC operations, balancing and maintenance
  • Water intrusion reporting (immediate) and repair (within 48 hours) procedures
  • Occupant education and training

The best time to develop a building management plan is before you have a problem. If you already have such a plan, this is also a good time to conduct a check-up to determine if the plan is complete and functional. 

A Team Approach

Effective investigation and remediation of mold contamination problems, and repair and management of moisture intrusion issues can best be accomplished through a coordinated team approach. Wisely investing your limited financial resources in the early stages can deliver returns through the prevention of mold and moisture problems. Utilizing the teamwork services of experienced and qualified building engineers, industrial hygienists, architects and environmental real estate scientists can result in sensible, cost-effective, long-term solutions to mold problems. 


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