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Mold: A Hidden Threat

by | Dec 20, 2022 | Facilities Management, Facility Management, Safety

Photo: Pixabay

By Steve Wilson

Mold may be one of the most destructive hidden threats in America. Institutional and commercial facilities of all kinds face challenges related to mold, especially in buildings constructed after 1970 that lack adequate ventilation. Combined with more frequent hurricane activity and increasingly hot or humid climates, mold is becoming more pervasive every year. Current data indicates at least 45 million buildings in the U.S. have unhealthy levels of mold, including offices, schools, hospitals, and homes.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), any amount of mold in a building is dangerous. Scientific evidence has repeatedly confirmed the health risks of inhaling mold spores, which ranges from allergic reactions to chronic respiratory infections, and prolonged exposure may even lead to neurological issues. Beyond the serious health hazards associated with infected buildings, mold is also responsible for the destruction of more raw material every year than all fires and termites combined.

Insidious And Invasive

With mold, the clock starts ticking the minute water infiltrates a facility. Within 24 hours, it has taken root, 48 hours later spores have begun to spread and by the 72-hour mark, the damage is likely irrevocable. Flooding from tropical storms leaves behind immense devastation and mold damage. However, sick building syndrome represents an even bigger threat. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 40% of buildings in North America are sick, largely due to unidentified mold from high humidity or water leaks.

Mold is insidious and often invisible. Once it takes hold, mold can spread everywhere as microscopic spores travel through the air to other parts of a facility. Virtually any surface can be a potential host for unseen spores to form colonies and multiply. As mold feeds, it decomposes and breaks down materials including drywall, carpets, stucco, and wood. Even after a hurricane, it is often hidden under floors, behind walls, in crawl spaces, or basements. Not only does undetected mold pose a health threat to occupants, but it also threatens the structural integrity of the building.

Remediation Risks

Mold is a classification of fungi that encompasses thousands of varieties, including mildew. Mold can be dangerous for anyone, particularly those with compromised immune systems. Cleanup requires extreme care and larger infestations over 10 square feet should be handled by professional remediators. In environments where mold is present, it is recommended that building owners and occupants follow these key safety guidelines:
• Always wear personal protective equipment, including gloves and mask
• Clean up small mold problems before they become bigger issues
• Remove mold damaged materials from the premises
• Contain mold infested areas to prevent cross-contamination and further exposure
• Check HVAC systems before restarting to avoid spreading spores throughout the building

When mold becomes established, it can be difficult to contain let alone eliminate. Moreover, after flooding bacteria may also be an issue that can cause dangerous gastrointestinal infections. Often, removing mold with cleaning alone will not solve the entire problem and requires abatement using a disinfectant with a broad-spectrum of EPA registered kill claims against fungi and bacteria, such as aspergillus, salmonella, E. coli, listeria, and other pathogens.

Safe remediation also applies to the products being used to clean and disinfect. Many chemicals can be harmful to humans and corrosive to surfaces. For example, bleach is typically not recommended for mold clean up due its hazardous nature, which can cause adverse health effects. There is also the danger that bleach may be inadvertently mixed with ammonia cleaners and create toxic fumes. Thus, it is imperative that the chemical used have the optimal safety profile as non-toxic and non-corrosive with a neutral pH and 0/0/0 HMIS rating. Ideally, it should also be NSF D2 Certified as food contact surface safe for dining or food prep areas, as well as biodegradable and non-hazardous to the environment.

From an efficiency standpoint, best practices suggest cleaning and killing mold in one-step with a product that does both. Additionally, there are now a handful of chemistries that are EPA registered for application with electrostatic sprayers. The advent of electrostatic technologies has significantly enhanced mold remediation processes by allowing faster more effective disinfection of more surface area. However, sprayers must be equipped with a 60-micron nozzle that evenly disperses charged particles directly to surfaces without causing spores to become airborne and spread.

Prepare And Protect

stormwater damage
Damage from Hurricane Katrina. (Photo: Pixabay)

When disaster strikes, remediation specialists are in extremely high demand, and it may take several days before they get to a facility. By then, it could be too late and extensive mold damage has already been done. The best time to prepare for events is before they occur by applying a protectant in areas most likely to harbor mold. Though there are polymer coatings on the market that claim to protect against mold growth, many are inactivated by water and humidity, or can entrap moisture and cause the material beneath to decompose. In recent years, more advanced polymer technologies have arisen that are proven to actively inhibit mold reproduction even in wet conditions and continue protecting surfaces over the long-term.

However, just like cleaning and disinfecting products, the safety of mold protectants is also a consideration. Using toxic chemicals to reduce the risk of mold is a contradiction in terms as it simply replaces one risk with another. The ideal mold protectant is both effective and safe for people, as well as for all types of surfaces. In addition, because mold spores can also enter a facility from the outside, the protectant should be applicable for both indoor and outdoor use.

Preventative preparation and vigilance are crucial to maintaining a health building. Facilities should be regularly inspected for dampness as mold thrives on moisture. Areas with high humidity levels (e.g. bathrooms, locker rooms, etc.) should be well ventilated. Before storm season arrives, a non-toxic mold protectant should be applied to indoor and outdoor areas to mitigate mold growth and prevent risks of damage and exposure.

Wilson took on the leadership position as CEO of EarthSafe Chemical Alternatives and EvaClean Infection Prevention Solutions in 2020. He has extensive expertise in the cleaning industry and a proven track record of building high growth success for private equity owned companies in hospitality and entertainment. Wilson plays a major role in every aspect of the business from developing new product innovations and more effective customer service programs, to assembling and motivating high caliber management teams.

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