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How owners and managers can handle the sensitive issue of mold.

Mold has become a high priority topic in construction and real estate. The concerns raised have resulted in articles, seminars and publications by governmental and private organizations. Many of the programs have been circulated by responsible and knowledgeable agencies and professionals, who have properly and accurately addressed the subject. This is good.

Regrettably, there has also been a great deal of misinformation circulated through these same channels. This is bad. Unfortunately, the misinformation has caused the following:

Insurance carriers now eliminate, limit mold coverage and/or to charge high premiums for mold exposure;

Panic has wrongfully placed mold in the same health hazard category as asbestos.

Disappointment among those who believed advertisements for products that contain "mold inhibitors and mold resistance" may be a saving grace in protecting against mold.

Mold does not belong in the "asbestos" category. It affects those who are allergic, have asthma or other respiratory diseases that may cause a predisposition to a physical reaction. Those who do not have such allergens are normally not affected by mold.

There are significant differences between mold and asbestos. Asbestos is brought into buildings; mold is a natural organism. Health problems caused by exposure to heavy doses of asbestos can take 30 to 50 years to be detected. The health effects from mold are detected almost immediately.

Mold is a 'fungus' older than man. It is seen in the form of mushrooms and athlete's foot. Like all fungi, it requires water, air and organic substance to be born and grow. The mold we see in our industry does not occur in arid environments. At present, industry standards for determining as to what is "bad/or safe" mold counts have not yet been developed, e.g. as the coefficient of friction number 0.5.

Mold, once present, is not eliminated by methods other than application of chemicals. To prevent mold from occurring requires appropriate steps be taken to prevent its causes, for example, not permitting conditions where the presence of moisture, air and organic materials combine, allowing the incubation of mold. To my knowledge, the inclusion of presently known products with additives that are intended to provide mold inhibitors have no effect on mold that is already there.

Furthermore, relatively current information I have indicates existing mold inhibitors and additives lose their effectiveness during the 28-day test for incubation in the current ASTM standard. I have found no information to the contrary. Therefore, in my opinion, there are no standards of the industry that can properly assess their effectiveness.

Buildings settle, deflect and undergo thermal movement. Building materials degrade over time and exposure to the elements. Buildings contain cavities and organic substances. These natural and foreseeable conditions will result in buildings that will no longer be water tight.

Therefore, it can be said with reasonable scientific certainty that mold will occur in the construction industry.

The best mold prevention measure is to monitor the building to try to prevent the occurrence of moisture and its combination with organic materials during construction. This is expensive, but doing so can help reduce the hazard of mold.

Another mold prevention measure is to regularly monitor the building after completion for signs of moisture. The monitors should know where to look for evidence. This too is expensive, but it can also help reduce mold.

The Associated General Contractors of America, in concert with other organizations, have promulgated methods to reduce the foreseeable circumstances that allow mold to occur. AGC's publication, "Managing the Risk of Mold in the Construction of Buildings," is an excellent resource for information. Examples of the obvious recommendations made:

Keep areas exposed to the weather covered; keep open elevator shafts covered; enclose open window areas; avoid use of paper backed gypsum materials on exterior walls or other wet areas such as bathrooms, showers, kitchens and the like.

The US Department of Environmental Protection publishes material that is free of charge and readily available. An excellent booklet they offer is "Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings" EPA 402K-01-001, March 2002.

To further prevent misconceptions about products containing mold inhibitors, it is strongly suggested they prominently display the limitations of their effects in making mold manageable. I also suggest that publications submit articles and advertisements to peer review prior to publication.
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Author:Zakim, Gerald
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Aug 31, 2005
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