How to Remove Mold — and Know When to Hire Experts
The issue of mold cleanup has been on the forefront of state and federal officials’ minds as the Northeast continues to rebuild after Hurricane Sandy. Mold spores can aggravate existing respiratory problems, particularly asthma—and there was an alarming increase in asthma cases after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
“You’re going to see that here in the Northeast,” says Mike Shain of NY Indoor Air Quality Solutions. “Cold helps postpone the growth of mold; humidity is low in wintertime, which gives people a bit of a reprieve. But come May, June, or July, if landlords haven’t resolved their issues, mold is going to flourish.” In response to the dangers posed by mold, New York City recently announced that it will be spending $15 million to eradicate mold in about 2,000 Sandy-affected buildings.
Whether a mold problem appears at your site due to a moist environment created by a natural disaster or by faulty plumbing, you need to get rid of the mold as quickly and effectively as possible. We’ll discuss who should do the mold cleanup work at your site—your employees or an outside expert. We’ll also give you tips on how to choose a mold remediation company, if you need one. And we’ll also highlight the latest changes to the Uniform Physical Conditions Standards (UPCS) with regard to mold and mildew.
Air Quality and REAC Inspections
The standards by which REAC inspections are conducted and scored for multifamily properties changed significantly on Jan. 1, 2013. The Federal Register, Vol. 77, No. 154, published on Aug. 9, 2012, announced a sweeping set of changes to the UPCS, which are the basis of HUD’s Real Estate Assessment Center (REAC) inspections as well as the IRS and others’ mandated affordable housing inspections.
One significant change occurs under the Units/Health and Safety category. The official UPCS language for Air Quality—Mold/Mildew Observed has been modified to include a minimum threshold for citation. Prior to these changes, Mold/Mildew was cited when “evidence of mold/mildew” was merely present. The new definition says that the defect is cited “If the area has at least one square foot of mold or mildew.”
When to Call in the Mold Cleanup Experts
Guidelines issued by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offer some commonsense standards for you to follow when deciding if your employees or an outside expert should handle the mold cleanup. The guidelines give recommendations as to when you should hire a professional to deal with a mold problem. The guidelines also offer recommended cleaning methods.
The guidelines issued by the EPA recommend basing the decision on who should handle a mold problem on the amount of square footage affected by mold. The guidelines discussed below apply to most mold problems you’d encounter, but don’t apply to mold found in the HVAC systems of buildings.
10 square feet of mold or less. If mold is found only in a small area (10 square feet or less)—say, on ceiling tiles or patches of walls—the guidelines say that your maintenance staff can take care of the problem.
Maintenance staff should wear proper protection when doing the work. This includes using N95 disposable respirators (which can be found in most hardware stores) and wearing gloves and goggles.
Also, the actual work area should be unoccupied, the guidelines say. But there’s no need to vacate people from adjacent spaces unless they’re particularly at risk, like infants or people with serious medical conditions or immune deficiency problems.
Your staff should place any mold-covered material they find in a sealed plastic bag. And when finished, they should wipe the work areas clean. They should also wipe clean any pathways they’ve walked on during the cleanup.
10-100 square feet of mold. If mold is found in this amount of space, the guidelines say that your maintenance staff can take care of the problem, but it may be smarter to call in the experts. If you choose to have your staff remove the mold, the recommended precautions are identical to those above, with these additional recommendations:
- Cover the work area with a plastic sheet and seal the sheet with tape to contain the dust before starting the mold cleanup; and
- Use plastic sheeting to seal off ventilation ducts or grills in the work area;
- Vacuum the work area and paths taken by staff with a vacuum containing a HEPA filter.
- Make sure that not only the work area but the area immediately adjacent to it is unoccupied while the work is being done; and
- If you expect to generate a lot of dust while taking care of the mold problem (for example, if you have to knock down plaster walls), follow the procedures explained below for 100 or more square feet of mold—including hiring a professional to fix the problem.
100 or more square feet of mold. If mold is found in this amount of space—say, the wallboard in an entire room is covered with mold—the guidelines say you should hire a professional mold remediation company to combat the problem. This amount of mold would be too much for your maintenance staff alone to deal with safely.
Recommended Methods of Mold Removal
In addition to giving you information about when to hire a professional to take care of a mold problem, the guidelines also give recommendations on how to remove mold. According to the guidelines, the first thing you should do when faced with a mold problem is to locate and get rid of the source of moisture or humidity that’s causing the problem.
Then try to get rid of the mold itself. The guidelines caution against painting or caulking over moldy surfaces. The paint is likely to peel. A variety of mold cleanup methods are available. The specific method or group of methods used will depend on the type of material affected.
Wet vacuum. Wetvacuums are vacuum cleaners designed to collect water. They can be used to remove water from floors, carpets, and hard surfaces where water has accumulated. They should not be used to vacuum porous materials, such as gypsum board. They should be used only when materials are still wet—wet vacuums may spread spores if sufficient liquid isn’t present. The tanks, hoses, and attachments of these vacuums should be thoroughly cleaned and dried after use since mold and mold spores may stick to the surfaces.
Damp wipe. Whether dead or alive, mold is allergenic, and some molds may be toxic. Mold can generally be removed from nonporous (hard) surfaces by wiping or scrubbing with water, or water and detergent. It’s important to dry these surfaces quickly and thoroughly to discourage further mold growth. Instructions for cleaning surfaces, as listed on product labels, should always be read and followed. Porous materials that are wet and have mold growing on them may have to be discarded. Since molds will infiltrate porous substances and grow on or fill in empty spaces or crevices, the mold can be difficult or impossible to remove completely.
It’s important to note that dead mold is still allergenic, and some dead molds are potentially toxic. The use of a biocide, such as chlorine bleach, is not recommended as a routine practice during mold remediation, although there may be instances where professional judgment may indicate its use, such as when immune-compromised individuals are present.
HEPA vacuum. HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) vacuums are recommended for final cleanup of remediation areas after materials have been thoroughly dried and contaminated materials removed. HEPA vacuums are also recommended for cleanup of dust that may have settled on surfaces outside the remediation area. Care must be taken to assure that the filter is properly seated in the vacuum so that all the air must pass through the filter. The used vacuum filter and contents of the HEPA vacuum must be disposed of in well-sealed plastic bags.
Discard damaged materials in sealed plastic bags. Building materials and furnishings that are contaminated with mold growth and are not salvageable should be double-bagged using 6-mil. polyethylene sheeting. These materials can then usually be discarded as ordinary construction waste. It’s important to package mold-contaminated materials in sealed bags before removal from the containment area to minimize the dispersion of mold spores throughout the building. Large items that have heavy mold growth should be covered with polyethylene sheeting and sealed with duct tape before they’re removed from the containment area.
How to Choose a Mold Remediator
If your mold problem is too big for your maintenance staff to handle, you’ll need to find a company that can do the mold cleanup for you—a mold remediation company or mold remediator. Here are nine questions you should ask when hiring a mold remediation contractor:
1. Do you also do mold testing? An important question to ask when interviewing remediation contractors is whether the contractors also do mold testing, says Wes Carlton, vice president of MBA Technologies, a forensic indoor air-quality testing firm. A conflict of interest occurs when a contractor is hired to discover whether a mold problem exists, as well as to fix the mold problem, he explains. If you’re going to get testing done ahead of time, make sure you hire a separate testing company to do it.
2. Do you have prior mold remediation experience? You want to hire a remediation contractor that has prior mold remediation experience, says Jeffrey A. Moerdler, a partner at Mintz Levin, PC, a nationwide law firm with a specialty in environmental law. Therefore, ask prospective remediation contractors whether they have prior mold remediation experience. If they say yes, ask about the nature and scope of that experience, he says. For example, ask whether the prior mold remediation experience was in a residential or commercial building and how extensive the remediation was.
The remediation contractor you hire should have experience with mold problems similar to yours. If your mold problem is extensive and a remediation contractor’s only prior experience involved, for example, remediation of a house’s bathroom, you may want to look elsewhere.
3. Are you affiliated with a recognized professional association? There are currently no government-imposed standards on mold removal or the contractors that perform it. Therefore, you can’t require a mold remediation contractor to be licensed. You can, however, require that the contractor be somehow affiliated with a recognized professional association.
4. What products will you use for remediation? A good remediation contractor should tell you that it plans to remove materials that can’t be cleaned, such as moldy drywall, and to use a cleaning solution with water to clean out all the mold that can be removed without totally removing the material, such as moldy ceiling tiles.
5. How will you dispose of mold-infested material? You don’t want any of the material, such as contaminated drywall, carpets, or furniture, to be left in a Dumpster at your site. The contractor should dispose of the material properly by carting it away to an approved disposal facility. Therefore, make sure you ask what will happen after mold-infested material is removed from your site, and only hire a contractor that will remove it properly.
6. What type of containment will you use? Remediating medium-to-large-size areas of mold contamination often requires containment. Containment keeps the contaminated area separate from the rest of your site so the airborne mold spores can’t spread and contaminate other areas. Most remediation contractors do this by using “negative pressurization,” which means covering an area with plastic sheeting to seal the space between the remediation area and the rest of the site.
7. What is the nature and extent of your insurance coverage? Mold remediation, like any other contracting work done at your site, can potentially cause damage. For example, the contractor could get hurt when knocking down or removing drywall, or residents’ property could get damaged. Ask remediation contractors if they’re adequately insured for any property damage that may occur, and any incident or injury that may arise during the course of the job, including injury to residents, staff members, or passersby.
8. To what extent will you warranty your work? Ask prospective remediation contractors to what extent they’ll warranty—that is, guarantee—their work, suggests Moerdler. And find out whether they have the financial strength to stand behind any warranty they give you, he adds.
Suppose the mold problem recurs and you have to hire a second mold remediation contractor to address the situation. If the original remediation contractor promised to pay all your costs should mold recur, but it’s a small company with limited finances, it may not be able to stand behind that warranty.
The warranty you get from the company should basically say that after the remediation, testing done to the contaminated area will show that you have good indoor air quality.
9. Can you give several references? It’s important to check the reputation of prospective remediation contractors. Ask for several references and pay close attention to the quality of the references you get. When you check references, speak with someone who supervised the work or has direct knowledge of the work, and find out the following:
- Names of the specific senior employees who worked on the reference’s remediation job, including foreman, project manager, or supervisor;
- Nature and scope of the reference’s job, such an entire skyscraper, one floor of a suburban office building, or basement of a home;
- Quality of the remediation contractor’s work, including timeliness, responsiveness, and cleanup;
- Any problems that occurred during the remediation, and how the remediation contractor handled those problems;
- Remediation contractor’s willingness to work with the reference on matters such as scheduling, notifying residents, and building access; and
- Whether the reference would hire the remediation contractor again.
Wes Carlton: Loss Consultant, MBA Technologies, Inc., PO Box 121326, Arlington, TX 76012; www.riskrecovery.org.
Jeffrey A. Moerdler, Esq.: Member, Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, P.C.; 666 3rd Ave., New York, NY 10017; www.mintz.com.
Michael Shain: Owner, NY Indoor Air Quality Solutions, 80 Old Brook Rd., Huntington Station, NY 11746; www.niaqssolutions.com.