Spring has just arrived! As we welcome the return of milder temperatures, PM Environmental’s industrial hygiene experts help us focus on a less pleasant part of the season – air quality problems caused by mold.
One sure sign of the season is spring cleaning – giving our homes a fresh start by clearing away the staleness and clutter of months of hunkering indoors. We don’t always associate spring cleaning with commercial property maintenance – but maybe we should. Spring is a great time to think about the potential industrial hygiene (IH) challenges on your property, and to address matters that may have arisen, or grown worse, over the winter months.
It's probably worth a quick refresher on exactly what we mean by industrial hygiene. The American Board of Industrial Hygiene defines it as –
“…the science of protecting and enhancing the health and safety of people at work and in their communities, [addressing] health and safety hazards created by a wide range of chemical, physical, biological and ergonomic stressors.”
High on the IH hazard list for many property owners is – yuck – mold.
A few things to keep in mind about mold:
It’s not all bad. We sometimes forget that many molds are naturally occurring and quite useful (think beer, wine and cheese).
Mold needs food and water, just like we do. Certain materials are better food sources for mold than others, but it can feed on just about anything and grow just about anywhere, including hard surfaces like concrete, glass and even dust.
It doesn’t have to be black to raise a red flag. People sometimes believe, incorrectly, that only the most toxic mold – black mold – is cause for concern.
In fact, the mold you don’t see may be just as troublesome. Often, the first sign of a mold problem is a complaint about air quality by an employee or customer. Different people have different degrees of sensitivity to mold, just as they do to other airborne allergens, and flare ups are common when seasons change.
Remember: even if you don’t see mold, it’s important to respond to concerns about air quality and call in an expert like PM Environmental.
More Than a Spring Thing
The coming of spring can give mold a new lease on life anywhere in the country. In northern regions, heavy winter snows followed by rapid thaws can lead to leaky roofs, flooding basements and standing water – inviting mold to grow. In the south, the culprits are heavy rains and lingering humidity.
But seasonal changes and weather-related water intrusion events aren’t the only triggers for mold. Inadequate airflow in an attic or glitches in the changeover of HVAC system from winter mode (heating) to summer (cooling) can also create conditions conducive to mold growth.
Finding and fixing mold problems can be challenging, but the potential cost of remediation increases as long as potential issues are overlooked or underestimated.
Case in point: what looks like the start of mold growth in one area may tell only part of the story. In one of our client’s facilities, mold observed on a suspended ceiling was thought to come from a leaky pipe and be isolated to the one area of ceiling tile. But further investigation and air quality testing showed that longstanding water intrusion issues above the suspended ceiling had led to mold growth in other building systems, including duct work.
Examples like that illustrate why it’s smart to act quickly and choose the right IH partner when you suspect mold. Another reason: while there are industry guidelines for identifying and quantifying the presence of mold, most states have no clear regulations guiding how to remediate. Experience can make all the difference in getting the job done right.
PM’s Above and Beyond Approach to Mold
PM Environmental’s IH service line is experienced in rooting out the source of mold, quantifying its impact on air quality, and providing confidence in the quality of air post-remediation.
When contacted for a mold/air quality consultation, our process begins with comprehensive visual inspection of the impacted area(s), air sampling and testing. We collect and analyze air samples from different sectors of a building, as well as comparison samples of surrounding outside air, to determine whether and where mold spore levels are elevated.
We employ a number of other tools to inspect for mold. Moisture meters, borescopes that drill half-dollar sized holes in walls, and thermal imaging cameras can all help determine if moisture is hiding on or behind building materials like drywall.
After sampling and analysis, we develop customized remediation protocols that clients and their remediation contractors can rely on to plan and budget for remediation. And whenever possible, our support extends to providing oversight of the process and validating air quality after remediation.
Customers who work with PM can rely on additional safeguards against the impact of water damage and mold. Our mold assessments also include sampling for asbestos, to make sure that the eventual remediation plan will meet the most stringent standards. And we look for water intrusion and visible mold growth during Phase I Environmental Site Assessments (ESAs), even though it is not required by the standard.
Back to where we started: spring cleaning
In many cases, concern about mold spores in the air at commercial properties can be remedied by good old fashioned housekeeping. We have seen numerous cases of elevated indoor mold levels where no obvious source was found, but lots of accumulated dust was observed. Where dust settles, mold can feed. In springtime and year-round, practical maintenance like keeping buildings clean and changing HVAC air filters regularly can lead to better air quality and fewer complaints.
Need more information about mold? Check out our list of 5 things you need to know about mold. Or call us with your concerns: 1-800-313-2966.
PM Environmental contributors to this article include Jon Balsamo, National Manager, Industrial Hygiene Services, and Amanda Stone, Regional Manager, Due Diligence.