Ubiquitous, omnipresent, universal mold. Mold is everywhere. And it seems as if the coverage of mold is everywhere as well. The media is full of stories of mold proliferation in facilities after storm damage, evacuations of mold-contaminated schools, and escalating claims of health problems from occupants in mold-filled buildings.
In reaction to this, the interest in fungal contamination and indoor air quality (IAQ) has increased among building owners, contractors, and the general public. Yet, amidst these mounting concerns, what are the best ways to prevent mold growth and clean buildings?
“Mold spores are all around us, mold has always been with us, and mold will be in our buildings,” explains Cole Stanton, director of Sales, Fiberlock Technologies, Andover, MA. Beyond the omnipresence of mold in the environment, there is the overwhelming presence of mold’s chief food source: cellulose-based materials in buildings. Stanton urges building owners to concentrate on moisture control, the third piece in the mold problem puzzle. “When we talk about mold we have to recognize that moisture is the controllable element,” says Stanton.
“If we can control moisture, we can go a long way toward preventing mold problems in new construction,” says Stanton. Founded in 1984, Fiberlock Technologies, a leading manufacturer of coatings and chemicals for buildings’ environmental issues, manufactures products for mold remediation. With a bevy of EPA-registered disinfectants, sanitizers, cleaning products, and mold-resistant coatings for structural and heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning applications, Fiberlock serves environmental contractors, building contractors, and professionals involved in operations and maintenance programs.
An Ounce of Prevention
The building industry needs to recognize that the exposure of structural elements to moisture during construction is as inevitable as the presence of mold itself. Beyond drying structural elements during and after the construction process, Stanton urges building owners and contractors to ensure building materials are cleaned with EPA-registered disinfectant/sanitizing cleansers designed to kill mold. Builders should have a protocol in place so that mold inspections are done during the construction proc-ess and addressed with the appropriate techniques and products.
Historically, the buildings industry has relied on bleach to disinfect; however, there are negative aspects to bleach, including its corrosive nature; damage to skin, eyes, and respiratory systems; its odor; its discoloration of surfaces; and that it is not in regulatory-compliant disinfectants. “The law is very clear: It is illegal to use a product that is EPA-registered for one use for another use,” says Stanton. Because of the availability of economical EPA-registered disinfectants/sanitizers and the damaging effects of bleach, Stanton sees a trend toward building professionals choosing compliant products for mold remediation.
Another building trend is the increased use of mold-inhibiting sealants/coatings. These coatings are designed to be inhospitable to mold spore germination. Mold-inhibiting sealants are fungistats, unlike disinfectants, which are fungicides or mold-killers. Fungistats can be used in crawl spaces, subflooring, and other areas open to moisture and condensation where there is no existing mold problem. Fungicides and fungistats allow building owners to stop and prevent mold germination, respectively.
For example, at a recent Fiberlock museum project, the facilities management department chose a fungistat to line the museum’s ductwork at the point of installation and the heating and ventilation system, thus making the system easier to clean and reducing the likelihood of microbial activity inside of the air supply system.
“One of the things to remember about mold-inhibiting coatings is they can also reduce the costs of remediation,” says Stanton. While in the event of a building leak or catastrophic water intrusion, the presence of mold-inhibiting sealants will not prevent all molds from starting, sealants can help cut a building owner’s costs by reducing the amount of mold growth or buying time for mold remediation to occur.
A Time For a Cure
When should a business owner bring in a consultant? “If a building owner has to ask whether they should bring someone in, it may indeed mean they should bring a consultant in, because the problem is a big task or because they may be in unfamiliar territory,” says Tony Worthan, president and chief operating officer, Air Quality Sciences Inc., Atlanta. While a small isolated incident may be easily handled, a building owner who finds a mold problem that is systemic, such as multiple roof leaks or several rooms with a musty odor, may need a consultant to gauge the scope of an issue.
Air Quality Sciences Inc. was created to do product chemical emissions testing for Fortune 1000 companies. Having tested over 30,000 products since its founding in 1988, Air Quality Sciences provides laboratory services to industrial hygienists with its chemical and microbiological laboratories. From Ireland to Nebraska to Guam, the company provides evaluations, diagnosis, and recommendations regarding chemical and microbial issues. “We help diagnose problems, whether related to construction defects, such as poorly designed mechanical systems, or natural disasters, such as tropical storms and flooding,” says Worthan.
IAQ consultants conduct observations for mold issues and gain knowledge of a building’s mechanical systems, design, and layout. After sampling to diagnose the problem, consultants provide recommendations for building solutions and can assist in finding a qualified remediation firm. As the remediation process occurs, a consultant can monitor the process and clear the building for occupancy. For example, after a hurricane, Air Quality Sciences helped save a building owner remediation costs by instructing how a water-damaged building should be dried.
Indoor air quality consultants help building owners react to problems that are happening in facilities before they become significant. “A lot of times it depends on the training and expertise of the staff at that facility, as well as being able to recognize problems early on,” says Worthan. Regarding prevention, consultants can train facilities management staff members to recognize problems through training.
Using simple analytical tools, Air Quality Sciences educates building staffs in benchmarking their buildings. The company also provides technical call centers to offer the building community direct contact with experience at a moment’s notice. In addition to customized classroom training, Air Quality Sciences provides classroom-based training. An emerging important trend is web-based training, offering basic indoor air quality information and tailoring instruction to a particular building type, such as healthcare or educational facilities.
“It is important that there be training of staff on how to communicate if they do see issues; how to communicate back to management; and how to communicate with the occupants of the building, as well as the media, if the problem is significant enough,” says Worthan. He stresses the value of communication to nip mold growth problems in the bud and to alleviate fears and halt misinformation. Adds Worthan, “The best thing is to make sure the occupants from guests to end-users know what is going on and that the media is well-informed.”
“People have become more aware of the potential health effects associated with mold exposure, which has to do with the ability of mold to exacerbate allergies and cause infections,” says Worthan. Interest in mold contamination has increased steadily over the last five years, especially in the last 18 months due to the extremely wet summer in the Northeast. By focusing on communication at all levels, building owners can shed sunlight on a host of problems.
“There is a real movement in the field to address indoor air quality from a prevention aspect rather than waiting until the problem gets so large and results in the shutting down of a building,” says Worthan. Building owners and facilities managers need to have a system in place so they can solve mold issues before they become a problem. Building owners and facilities managers should also determine prevention strategies that allow their staff to be armed with techniques to recognize IAQ issues.
Yes, mold is everywhere. But with the proper products, proc-esses, and consultants in place, building teams can train their staffs and develop a solid operation and maintenance plan to keep mold at bay.Regina Raiford Babcock (firstname.lastname@example.org) is senior editor at Buildings magazine.