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By Laura Champagne


Revitalization projects are popping up everywhere. Abandoned mills and failing shopping malls are being repurposed into residential centers and business incubator facilities. These projects bring new life to the community and the local economy. Yet, these projects can present special challenges to developers and facilities managers.

A critical set of questions should be asked prior to jumping to the rebuild. How was the building shut down? How long was it abandoned? Did water intrusion take place? Were humidity levels properly controlled? These questions all point to one major concern: are there elevated levels of biological contamination? Namely, mold.

Until this question is answered work should not proceed. First, demolition crews should not be expected to work in an unsafe indoor environment. Second, if the mold contamination remains unresolved its continued presence may compromise the health of new occupants and the viability of the revitalization project.

abandoned buildings
(Source: Adobe Stock / Generative AI)


Recently, in Connecticut a class action lawsuit involving mold exposure brought by tenants was settled for millions of dollars. What was the cause of the problem? An old mill was redeveloped into residential apartments, but the underlying mold contamination was ignored. The new fit and finish simply masked over the biological contamination. When humidity rates would rise in the building the mold levels would explode, harming the residents.

Likewise, an old mill was recently converted to a cannabis grow facility without first addressing biological contamination growing on the old beams. High humidity levels required with the growing process combined with the unresolved mold growth created a mold plumb, which endangered both the workers and millions of dollars of medical grade cannabis. This problem could have been avoided by properly addressing the underlying mold problem at the start of the project and at far less cost.

Facilities managers and developers must assess the level of biological contamination in old buildings and then take steps to properly abate the problem.

The takeaway from these examples is clear — facilities managers and developers must assess the level of biological contamination in old buildings and then take steps to properly abate the problem. The simplest step is a visual walk through of the building looking for signs of past water damage or current microbial growth. If microbial growth is visually identified, then further testing may not be needed. This microbial growth should be properly abated. However, merely passing a visual inspection is not sufficient because significant microbial growth can be present but at levels that are visible to the human eye.

A best practice to follow would be to retain a qualified company to conduct testing such as swab testing of surfaces and air testing the air throughout the building. These test results will establish with scientific certainty the nature, degree, and scope of any biological contamination. These test results will also point to areas of the building which are most compromised and help to identify building defects that may need to be addressed during the reconstruction phase.

A worst practice to avoid is to assume that a complete demolition of all interior spaces will resolve any biological contamination. This a common misconception held by house “flippers” that all too often leads to disaster. Debris being removed from a building will shed millions of live mold spores into interior spaces. Further, the key structural components of a building such as wooden floor joists, wooden rafters and support beams will not be removed, may be compromised, and should not be ignored.

adaptive reuse, abandoned buildingsHistoric Hotels of America Names 2024 Best Of Adaptive Reuse

These hotels are living proof that historic buildings can serve contemporary needs while preserving their timeless character. Read more…

There is good news. Recent advances in life science technologies now permit the use of plant base proteins and enzymes to quickly, efficiently, and at low cost abate elevate levels of indoor mold. This is called enzymatic cleaning. There is no longer a need to use toxic inorganic chemicals. Natural Home Solutions, LLC uses proprietary product EnzyCleanse, which is composed of plant-based enzymes and proteins. It is fogged into interior spaces to effectively abate mold. This fogging process is typically performed prior to demolition teams starting their work. By doing so, demolition crews are not exposed to elevated levels of mold. Further, because the fogging process deeply penetrates porous surfaces much of the building material that would traditional have been removed can now be preserved — lower redevelopment costs. Finally, compliance testing using swab testing or air testing can be conducted to establish with scientific accuracy that the fogging process has successfully abated the problem.

Developers and facilities managers tasked with a redevelopment project now have a powerful new life science tool to address indoor mold — enzymatic cleaning.

mold remediation, abandoned buildingsLaura Champagne is co-owner of mold removal company Natural Home Solutions, keeping homes and businesses safe from mold contamination through Xspor’s proprietary, organic EnzyCleanse™ solution. The company is comprised of scientists seeking to expand the usage of green, sustainable cleaning solutions for the safety of humans, animals and the environment.  

Read more facility management-related articles about mold contamination and removal.

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