Washington, D.C. – In 2002, the issue of mold and mildew continued to garner great concern throughout the commercial real estate industry. Because it is virtually impossible to eliminate all possible factors that contribute to the growth of mold, moisture control must be an essential part of an overall preventive maintenance program.
Mold is an ever-present fact of life and can be found outside and inside all types of residential and commercial structures. There are literally hundreds of different strains of mold that have been growing in buildings for a long time. Without moisture, mold has no opportunity to develop. Moisture can be caused by high humidity, a dripping pipe, leaky roof – or by a more serious event, such as water damage from firefighting or a major storm. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), mold can begin to grow quickly, often within 24 to 48 hours, and it is therefore important to dry water-damaged areas and items immediately to prevent mold growth.
The science on mold toxicity and causation of ailments is unsettled. Public health experts say it could be years before research proves or disproves whether certain molds (and there are hundreds found indoors) cause the kind of severe health problems being alleged in recent litigation. In some instances the stachybotrys form of mold, one of the most threatening of the potentially so-called “toxic molds,” has been blamed for a range of physical ailments.
Unlike many other known toxins, such as lead, mercury, or cadmium, there are no standards for levels of mold toxicity and no known permissible mold exposure limits for the indoor environment. No state or federal agencies currently offer testing of mold samples.
Mold is a major component of the overall IAQ equation. This important issue is a continuing concern to property professionals, as the health, safety, and comfort of office occupants is the industry’s highest priority.
BOMA leadership on the IAQ front has manifested in several ways. BOMA has testified before Congress on the issue and assisted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) with the development of their IAQ manual. The association has also conducted an industry-wide survey and spent two years delivering, in cooperation with EPA, a comprehensive seminar based on the agency’s manual. With concerns over mold ever-growing, the membership of BOMA International recently approved a new policy governing how mold should be addressed from a practical, scientific, and regulatory aspect:
BOMA International promotes high standards to protect the health and safety of building occupants. To that end, BOMA International supports additional research to examine potential health effects of mold in indoor environments. Research should address construction practices, building materials, building design, operations and maintenance, and tenant behavior, and must be based on reliable evidence and sound science, not supposition. To that end, Congress should move to expand the scope of research on this public health issue, as is it a largely unsettled matter as to which molds at what levels pose a threat to human health.
BOMA International opposes any initiatives by federal, state, and local authorities to write model building codes and standards regulating mold and moisture. Building codes and standards designed to address mold and moisture should be developed through the industry standards consensus processes. The federal government should support the development of these standards through research and public education.
BOMA International opposes legislative and regulatory initiatives advocating overly broad mold-related disclosure requirements in the sale of office properties that might confuse consumers or expose sellers and lessors to unpredictable and unreasonable liability.
BOMA International supports laws, regulations, and policies that will ensure that adequate insurance coverage for mold claims is available to the commercial real estate industry at a fair and reasonable cost.
BOMA International is committed to ensuring tenant satisfaction, its support for research into the causes of mold and mildew, and its opposition to misguided and unjustified regulations. Accordingly, the complexity of the mold issue should be addressed in several ways.
First, we urge Congress to request that the National Academy of Sciences (widely recognized in its role of providing advice to Congress on important matters related to science and technology) undertake a review of the scientific literature on indoor air quality in general, including mold, and make suggestions to Congress concerning the development of a federal research strategy to resolve some of the current unknowns with respect to indoor air quality and public health. In addition, Congress should not allow funds to be used by any federal agency to establish mold exposure guidelines for public and private office buildings until such time as relevant federal agencies carry out other pertinent research.
For more information on the issues discussed in this column, visit BOMA International’s website (www.boma.org) or call (202) 408-2662.