Water intrusion happens, whether it’s from a heavy rain, flood or plumbing malfunction, when it occurs it’s important to know how to battle mold growth. In this interview, Mark shares his tips on how to keep water out of your building and prevent a mold problem from starting and turning hazardous.
Q: What proactive steps can we take to reduce the chances of water intrusion, damage & mold growth?
A: The main step is to get the building space as tight as possible to prevent weather intrusion. Make sure all gutters, downspouts and landscaping drainage is free of debris and leaves and running freely. Inspect roof systems to make sure no visible issues are present such as missing flashing or missing shingles. Take other preventative steps like weather stripping and caulking of windows and doors. Inspect beneath sinks and in showers for signs of leaking pipes and drains. Act early to repair any issues before the rains come and mask and increase the problems.
Q: Can you describe a worst-case scenario when someone thinks they are doing the right thing in responding to water intrusion but it goes wrong?
A: Number one, if people are going to manage water intrusion in-house they have to be trained. You can’t just assume they’ll know what to do.
I was called in on an apartment job where there was a water leak. Mold was already visible. The in-house maintenance worker was trying to help and thought the best approach was to bring in blowers to dry the space. But, since mold was visible the blowers actually dispersed the mold into the entire space making the problem much worse. In this case the apartment was still occupied so by releasing the spores into the air the health of the tenants also became a risk.
Once mold is visible, blowers should never be used. De-humidification, cleaning and/or removal will be the best treatment.
It’s important to create an “Operations and Maintenance” plan and to provide training to the affected personnel so when a situation occurs everyone knows what can be handled in-house and when an outside contractor needs to be brought in. Thinking that you’re doing the right thing but not doing it properly will make the problem worse!
Q: How long does it take for mold to grow after a water intrusion incident?
A: As soon as 24 to 48 hours. When water intrusion is discovered, you want to immediately and aggressively start to dry the area down. Attacking the problem within the first 24 hours is the key to preventing mold.
Q: How should mold affected materials be treated if they also contain hazards like asbestos and lead paint?
A: This situation is something we see a lot. A restoration contractor is brought in to contain a mold problem, and in some cases, cut into walls before testing has been done to identify if there are hazardous materials present. If asbestos or lead paint is present then, in this situation, the problem has been made worse. Now, asbestos and lead contamination has been added into a space in addition to the water problem and possible mold layer.
Asbestos and lead are heavily regulated so you need to know if they are present ahead of time so you can take precautions and prevent worse contamination. This is the type of important information that could be added to an Operations and Maintenance Manual.
Q: Are responding personnel required to have special training or protection for working with mold?
A: Absolutely, even though there isn’t a CAL-OSHA regulation, mold is recognized as a hazardous material. People react to mold differently, some may not experience symptoms in the area, but protection is still very important. During cleaning/removal activities fungal spore levels in the area will increase dramatically. Workers should wear respirators, protective clothing and gloves (especially when working with cleaning agents). Depending on the amount of mold growth containment of the work area may be necessary to protect adjacent occupants/areas.
Q: What do you do when a mold incident is discovered?
A: Here are some good steps to follow when an incident is discovered:
- Follow your company’s remediation plan – we always recommend that companies develop an Operations and Maintenance plan that spells out what is acceptable to do in-house and when you need to bring in an outside contractor when handling remediation and containment. There is nothing wrong with handling a job in-house but it’s important to know what your limitations are – what you can safely deal with and when you need to call in help.
- Determine the problem size – how big is it? Even though there are noCalifornia regulations yet, the EPA and OSHA have issued guidelines that can help you determine the scale of the problem.
- Is the space safe to occupy? Check to see if your tenants, students, employees are experiencing health problems then it becomes a case-by-case situation if the need to leave. Safety of tenants/ occupants is the most important and what you want to consider at the very beginning
- Determine the cause – Is there a water leak, plumbing, sewage?
- Keep remediation safe – make sure everyone follows your in-house procedure or the procedure developed by your qualified consultant.
Below are other helpful resources:
- United States Environmental Protection Agency
- Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings
- A Brief Guide to Mold in the Workplace
Mark Sanchez, CAC, CHMM, CA/DPH is the Vice President of ACC Environmental Consultants, Inc. He has over 20 years of experience with health and safety programs and hazardous material investigations. ACC specializes in Mold Inspections, Asbestos & Lead-Paint Surveys, Environmental Site Assessments, Indoor Air Quality and OSHA Training throughout California. For more information please contact ACC at 800-525-8838 or www.accenv.com.