Given the right environmental conditions, it is something with the potential to cultivate and grow in any facility.
And, if it is not remediated quickly and thoroughly, it can fester and cause malodorous problems, sicken building occupants and damage building materials.
This multicellular fungal enemy we dare not speak of is none other than mold.
Common and harmless or toxic and black, the presence of mold has the potential to soil the image of a facility and cause countless headaches for those tasked with interceding its existence.
With over 100,000 known types of mold — roughly 1,000 of which can be found in the United States — chances are good that you will encounter it in some capacity while on the job.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), while it is possible, there is no practical way to completely remove all of the mold spores in an indoor environment.
As such, it is vital that surfaces be cleaned regularly and the moisture of the indoor environment be controlled to inhibit the opportunities for mold spores to incubate.
“Mold requires four things for growth: Air, warmth, moisture and a food source,” says Damon Gersh, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Maxons Restorations Inc. “Air and warmth are constants in indoor environments, and food sources can be any cellulose material — drywall, wood, carpeting, adhesive used with floor and wall coverings, etc. Moisture sources are the most critical factors in mold prevention and detection. In areas that are not well-ventilated, excessive humidity can be enough moisture to promote mold growth.”
There are currently no federal standards pertaining to mold remediation.
However, organizations like the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC) recognize best practice methods that include the use of high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtered vacuums to minimize the chance of spores becoming airborne during removal, discarding contaminated items and using biocides to both kill existing mold and inhibit its regrowth.
Of course, the easiest and most effective method is to keep mold growth at a minimum through routine, preventive cleaning and maintenance.
Do It Yourself?
Most custodial professionals, while Jacks — or Jills — of all trades, lack the acute knowledge and training necessary to safely and successfully conquer mold.
It is generally accepted that a custodial or maintenance professional can handle an isolated contamination incident of 10 square feet or less.
However, for anyone tasked with ridding a larger, more widespread area, specific training must be undertaken and certification received to remain in compliance with the EPA.
Such training courses are offered by numerous companies and organizations.
But, given the often high employee turnover rates seen in our industry, providing this training to employees can become rather costly.
According to Peter Sheldon, vice president of operations for Coverall Health-Based Cleaning System, hiring a qualified contractor to deal with mold issues is a good idea.
“Mold can create substantial and sometimes life-threatening health risks,” notes Sheldon. While someone can look for the sources of the problem themselves, the proper equipment to find hidden causes can be cost-prohibitive and exposure to potentially toxic mold spores can be dangerous for untrained individuals without the proper personal protective equipment (PPE). A trained and certified mold remediation expert has the necessary testing and removal equipment. These certified professionals possess the expertise to not only remove the existing mold, but also recommend solutions to prevent future reoccurrences.”
As with any task, certain PPE is recommended for anyone addressing a mold issue.
Just as a racecar driver would not start a race without a helmet and a fireproof suit, someone remediating mold would be foolish not to have, at a minimum, goggles, gloves and a respirator.
“Mold cleanup workers are required by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to use disposable protective clothing and respirators,” states Joe Akin, media coordinator for Healthy Homes Inc. “Respirators include the half-face or full-face air purifying respirator (APR) and the full-face, powered air purifying respirator (PAPR). As specified by OSHA, workers who use the respirators must be properly trained, be properly fit tested and have a medical clearance.”
The thinking behind this is to create a barrier between the contamination and the worker.
Since mold inhalation has been associated with countless respiratory ailments, it is of the utmost importance that corners not be cut when it comes to worker safety.
And, to ensure that all of the risks are known and accounted for, ongoing training and education is prudent.