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Beware the fly-by-night contractor

Professional mold remediation vital after flooding

Dealing with mold contamination after Hurricane Katrina is particularly important for commercial buildings such as hospitals and other healthcare facilities. Not only is healthy air quality especially important in hospitals, but healthcare facilities that provide vital care need to reopen quickly to meet the needs of the community.

The Hancock Medical Center in Bay St. Louis had several feet of water on the first floor with Katrina. A month afterward, the emergency room was open. And operating rooms were taking patients for minor surgery by the middle of December.

“The hospital is recovering quite well in contrast with some of the other stories we are reading about with difficulties getting back up and going,” said Joe Drapala, director of industrial hygiene and indoor air quality services, HAZCLEAN Environmental Consultants Inc., Jackson, which started working with the hospital September 3, 2005, to provide mold remediation services. Guidelines from the Center for Disease Control and the Mississippi Department of Health were used to assure high cleanup standards.

Drying out a commercial building and preventing mold contamination can potentially be very expensive depending on the scope of the work. Drapala said that it why it is important to hire a seasoned professional who can do a full survey of the building including a visual inspection and sampling. He also recommends — especially for large contracts — hiring an independent professional to do a post inspection to make sure all the work has been completed satisfactorily.
It is also important to hire a reputable contractor with the correct professional certification.

“Check references and particularly check on their insurance to make sure they are covered for doing mold remediation work, which is a special insurance rider for most companies,” Drapala said. “If you don’t check them out, they might be fly-by-night contractors who don’t even have insurance to cover the work they are doing. Make sure the people doing the work have some type of industry recognized credential. Although this isn’t currently required to do this type of work in Mississippi, it is a good idea.”

The Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC) provides specific certifications for remediators. Another recognized certification board is the American Indoor Air Quality Council.

Before even starting with mold remediation it is important to identify all materials in the building. If asbestos materials are present, they must be removed prior to mold remediation work. Asbestos removal work must be done by a Mississippi-certified asbestos abatement contractor.

It is also advised, particularly on large commercial contracts, to have a third party professional develop specifications for remediation to guide the contractor, and to inspect and test after the job is complete.

Many of the older, high-rise buildings along the coastline are gone now. So, much of the work that has been done is demolition rather than remediation. For commercial buildings that flooded but haven’t yet had repairs done due to slow or no insurance or other issues, mold can be of particular concern.

“For any building with water damage in it for any length of time that has had no remediation work for months, you would definitely be looking at a mold issue,” Drapala said. “If a building owner was diligent to dry the building out right after the hurricane, if done correctly the mold issue shouldn’t be any different than before the hurricane. But if they have left it and it hasn’t been touched, the amount of remediation depends on the amount of growth of mold and bacteria. Lack of air conditioning can amplify the problem.”

Drapala said if commercial building owners have a question about whether their structure is contaminated, that is when using an expert experienced in mold and water damage is important. The expert can give advice about what it would cost to get the building back in service, or whether it might be better to demolish the building.

Craig Herrmann, owner of Mold Eliminators in Gulfport, said most people who try to do the work themselves don’t use the proper chemicals.

“A lot of people use bleach,” Herrmann said. “It will not effectively kill the mold that grows on lumber. Bleach is good on hard surfaces like bathtubs and toilets, but it is not effective for wood. Use an EPA registered fungicide that will penetrate into the wood, not an over-the-counter product.”

Mold Eliminators services average in cost from $2 to $4 per square foot, and an independent environmental company comes in behind them to test the effectiveness of the mold abatement. Owners get a certificate that shows they have eliminated the mold, which helps maintain the value of the building.

Workers for Mold Eliminators wear respirators, protective suits and gloves, and the process takes about 10 days. The goal is to get the building sterile.

“During that 10-day period while we are accomplishing our goal, we don’t want contractors or other people coming in installing tile, etc.,” Herrmann said. “We want freedom to do our work. We can’t have more dust or dirt brought in. Our goal is to get rid of all the dust.”

Some people on the Coast have hurried repairs, and sometimes have regretted that. Herrmann knows of one building where the dust sat on new sheetrock in an un-air conditioned environment. Mold started growing on the painted walls.

“You have to be careful to control humidity levels,” he said. “Air conditioners are an effective means of removing moisture, as well as dehumidifiers.”

In addition to cleaning up the surface of the building where mold may be growing, Herrmann said it is also important to clean the building’s air duct system and air conditioning coils because mold spores are light and buoyant.

Although sometimes mold contamination is obvious, at other times you can’t see it with the naked eye but it is present and has the potential to affect sinuses and mucus membranes. That is why it is important to have environmental testing afterwards not done by the company who does removal or cleanup.

“You want an independent company to come in and do air samples to validate the cleanliness of your air,” Herrmann said.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

About Becky Gillette

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