Magazine article Occupational Hazards

The Mold Matrix: Innovations in Risk Assessment and Remediation; Based on System Thinking, These Guidelines Can Help You Determine the Severity of Your Mold Problem, and the Ideal Methods and Precautions for Remediation

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

The Mold Matrix: Innovations in Risk Assessment and Remediation; Based on System Thinking, These Guidelines Can Help You Determine the Severity of Your Mold Problem, and the Ideal Methods and Precautions for Remediation

Article excerpt

Mold is an insidious material that at its very early stages is quite natural and unassuming. It is a naturally occurring biological contaminant--with some positive characteristics, including the ability to break down leaves, wood and other plant debris.

In the indoor environment, however, unidentified and unremediated mold can be as significant and costly as most any environmental hazard. Water incursion and damp buildings are the primary sources of mold. Mold can survive almost anywhere with water and humidity (usually where relative humidity exceeds 60 percent). Standing water, water-damaged materials and wet surfaces also serve as a breeding ground for mold. There is no practical way to eliminate all mold and mold spores in the indoor environment; the best way to control mold growth is to control moisture.

Despite its stealthy nature, mold can be tested for, controlled, remediated and prevented through the use of tried-and-true methods and leading-edge technologies. In all cases, mold testing, control and remediation should be left to experts who understand the potential hazards and best practices.

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Everyone, it seems, has a stake in ensuring that potential environmental hazards such as mold are addressed in a proactive, systematic way, but who knows for sure what's right? There are currently no nationwide standards or guidelines in place for environmental testing, remediation techniques, contractor qualifications, and worker training and protective equipment. Many specifications reference the pioneering New York City guidelines, which are clearly outdated for today's world. For example, the guidelines state that no containment is required for 10 square feet or less of active mold growth. However, recent research has measured up to 1 billion mold spores per square foot of drywall--the uncontained removal of which could lead to a severely contaminated facility!

So what can we do about the lack of consensus? Experienced professionals have an opportunity to be innovative--and an obligation to pursue "best of the best" innovations to guide their activities. In LVI Services' experience, a three-step systems approach to mold risk assessment and remediation is essential. Such analysis enables building owners/managers and contractors to make risk-based determinations of which remediation measures and precautions are necessary.

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Step One: Identify Type of Remediation Project

Mold remediation projects can be broken down into four basic types, based on the severity of the problem and the amount of corrective action required. In many ways, the mold remediation systems approach is similar to infection control best practices used in hospitals.

Type A (inspection and non-invasive activities) includes, but is not limited to:

* Removal of ceiling tiles and minimal destructive techniques for visual inspection

* Bulk, tape and/or surface sampling

* Establishment of containment barriers

Type B (small-scale, short-duration activities which create minimal dust) involves:

* Stains on non-porous surfaces that can be wiped clean

* Small spot of growth on ceiling tile or pipe insulation

* Small spill on carpet

Type C covers remediation work that generates a moderate to high level of dust or requires demolition or removal of any fixed building components. Examples here include

* Minor sheetrock removal and/or wall covering

* Significant removal of ceiling tile and insulation above tiles

* Minor duct cleaning and other work above ceilings

* Removal of non-cleanable carpet

* Any individual remediation activity that cannot be completed within a single work shift or weekend

Type D (major remediation projects) typically includes:

* Activities that require consecutive work shifts, and the potential for unauthorized personnel exposure

* Significant heavy mold growth throughout a building

* "Toxic" species of mold present

* Major contamination of ductwork and air handling system

Step Two: Identify Potential Exposed Individuals

Once you identify what kind of project you have, you are ready to consider "the people factor," the building occupants who are potentially exposed to the mold and may need to be protected during remediation. …

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