By Eduard Mirzoian
Mold can be a persistent challenge for facilities operators and management. Despite the significant health risks associated with mold, it can be difficult to detect—and, unfortunately, easy to ignore.
Visitors, guests, and staff all face increased risk of respiratory irritation, and existing respiratory conditions may be severely exacerbated, in buildings where mold remains untreated. Besides the responsibility operators owe their visitors, the long-term financial consequences can be dire for a facility where guests encounter severe discomfort or increased risk of illness. Untreated mold can also result in structural damage that compromises a building’s effectiveness and safety—even creating conditions that contribute to further development of mold.
Facilities managers must always be aware of the dangers presented by mold. However, while facilities maintenance teams can play a role in preventing the growth of mold and identifying its presence, professional remediation is the most efficient and effective long-term solution in the case of infestation.
The negative effects of mold can start before you’ve even noticed the presence of an infestation. Harmful mold often grows in places that are hard to inspect without proper training or professional equipment, such as crawlspaces, ducts, basements, attics, and even behind walls, under the floor, or in the ceiling. To an untrained observer, even visible mold growth may simply appear to simply be minor water damage or mildew.
Complicating the situation, the negative effects of mold can spread far beyond the site of visible growth. Invisible mold spores can be distributed throughout a large building by modern heating and cooling systems, leading to potential irritation in all corners of a facility. As spores settle, they can create further growth in new locations.
Even after its detected, mold can be hard to eliminate. In general, quick, superficial treatment that focuses on visible mold in easy to reach locations won’t have a lasting impact. Effective treatment almost always requires professional intervention.
Some of the most common warning signs of mold in buildings include:
- Spots and discoloration: Look for spots, especially in areas where moisture may collect. Mold spots are often black but may also be green, white or blue.
- Musty odors: Mold spores remain invisible as they circulate through the air, but they produce an unpleasant and easily recognizable musty odor. Modern heating and cooling systems may carry spores far away from the mold source, so it can be hard to detect the specific location of an infestation. But musty odors can be useful in alerting homeowners to mold growth in hidden or unseen places.
- Respiratory irritation: Mold spores can aggravate common respiratory conditions such as asthma and allergies as well as more serious issues like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or emphysema. If you and your team experience frequent irritation or congestion, or guests and visitors report irritation, mold may be the culprit. Nausea, fatigue, headaches, and dizziness are other common symptoms of mold exposure.
- Visible moisture or water damage and rot: Watch out for moisture, standing water, or evidence of water damage, especially after a leak or flooding. Dark or discolored drywall, wood, plaster, or carpet may indicate moisture and a potential mold infestation. Prolonged exposure to moisture may lead to rot in the walls, floorboards, or ceiling, requiring immediate attention.
Reacting To Mold Contamination
It’s critical for management and operations teams to react quickly to any suspected contamination. Mold is an entirely natural phenomenon. It is not necessarily the result of poor maintenance or quality control, and it does not reflect a failure on the part of the building management. Delaying action because of anxiety over negative public response to a mold remediation effort does nothing to solve the issue and could lead to lasting reputational damage.
If left untreated, mold contamination can have major negative consequences, ranging from ongoing damage to the structural integrity of the building and compromised performance of heating and cooling equipment to consistent unpleasant odors, reduced air quality throughout the facility, and an increased risk of poor health outcomes. Any of these can have a major impact on the experience of visitors and could result in disrupted customer and vendor relationships, leading to long-term financial challenges.
Because mold contamination can be hidden and the symptoms of exposure are not unique to a mold infestation, diagnosing a mold problem can be a complex process. If you experience any signs of mold contamination or visitors report common symptoms, take immediate steps to address a possible infestation by contacting a reputable firm in your area that specializes in mold treatment to schedule an inspection. An expert team will carefully and efficiently handle the process with discretion. Here’s what to expect (and look for) from a qualified remediation provider:
- Inspection and loss assessment: Consult a professional mold remediation company for a thorough inspection. A qualified project manager can quickly assess the situation, identify the cause and estimate the scope of work necessary to completely remove the mold.
- Containment: Remediation work begins by identifying and isolating and stabilizing any affected areas. Air filtration devices can prevent cross contamination during the early stages of the process.
- Removal: Remediation experts will assess the contained area and remove any items or materials that have been contaminated, including personal property, flooring, walls and any other non-salvageable building materials. The goal is to eliminate all traces of existing mold and prevent it from returning.
- Treatment: When contaminated materials have been removed, the remediation team, armed with the latest technology and guided by industry best practices, can attack the remaining space. They’ll wipe down, sand and vacuum the entire area, removing any remaining traces of mold and clearing conditions that might lead to its return.
- Clearance testing: The remediation team will confirm the results of its work with a mold clearance test, ensuring they’ve left a mold-free environment and eliminated the risk of further contamination.
- Repair: Once the area is clear, the team reconstructs any damaged or removed components of the building, resulting in full restoration of the affected space.
Mold contamination can be a stressful experience for facilities teams. Failing to fully treat the issue, however, will almost certainly lead to greater stress and could result in serious long-term repercussions, from the health of team members and guests to reduced revenue and lasting building damage.
Many buildings are vulnerable to contamination, and an expert response can quickly and effectively eliminate the situation and mitigate the risk of further mold development. While treating an infestation on your own can seem to offer value, the complexity of the issue and the risks of unsuccessful or incomplete results reinforce the importance of professional remediation in almost every case.
Mirzoian is CEO of Restorerz Emergency Services, the an emergency restoration company in Southern California.