Safety
black mold beginning to cover the walls in the corner of a room

Mitigating Mold Exposure in Manufacturing and Multifamily Buildings

Sometimes, the most dangerous threats to a building, its owners and tenants are invisible at first. But once you see them, do you know what to do?
By Laura Champagne
June 25, 2024
Topics
Safety

As hurricanes season and summer storms approach, more apartment complexes, commercial and industrial properties, and public buildings are at risk of leaking and flooding. Water-saturated structures are prime breeding grounds for mold, but there are ways to prevent, detect and remove it before it becomes a serious and costly issue—for buildings and building residents alike. Being proactive limits an owner’s exposure to the liability of debilitating health effects and structural safety concerns.

Mold requires three things to grow: water, food and humidity. Water will stealthily penetrate small porous surfaces of any building material, such as drywall, plaster, wood, concrete or even fabrics. These materials serve as a food source to quickly produce more fungus. Common sources of undetected water flow include foundation problems, poorly installed windows, roof malfunctions, gutter clogs, storm damage, leaky pipes, improper drainage, HVAC issues, faulty appliances, bathroom vent issues and wet building materials. Mold loves humidity and thrives in dark, warm environments, such as attics, basements, lofts, building corners and bathrooms.

Once fully developed, microscopic mold spores are released and travel throughout the air undetected by the human eye. Many property owners do not even realize that they have a mold infestation until it begins to cause compromised health symptoms among building inhabitants. Symptoms can present as headaches, chest tightness, wheezing, sneezing, coughing, difficulty breathing, fever, nose bleeds and skin irritations.

DETECT

It is imperative for construction and maintenance managers to recognize the warning signs of a toxic mold contamination and implement a viable solution for the safety and health of the building’s inhabitants and visitors, as well as avoiding costly abatement processes and potential legal action. Many insurance companies exclude mold-related issues in their policies, thus placing financial burden on the responsible parties: owners or tenants.

What are the warning signs that your building has a mold problem? Obvious indicators are musty smells, black spots or water stains on walls, ceilings and floors, and warped building materials. A thriving mold colony can also rot wood flooring, destroy drywall, generate cosmetic and structural damage, and ruin interior furnishings. If you have had a known water issue, get your property inspected.

It is important to note that sometimes even an innocuous problem like a leaky faucet, overuse of water while cleaning or a window that doesn’t close properly, can cause a mold infestation. Even in new construction, water will find a way into unexpected places. Many historic buildings, which have been unoccupied or abandoned for a significant period of time, are now being repurposed into modern-day retail, restaurant and residential centers. This trend is an important part of civic revitalization, economic growth and historic preservation; however, the maintenance, humidity and water levels of these edifices is often unknown, which can be a prime location for mold growth.

The most reliable way to detect a mold outbreak is through an air quality test, conducted by a professional mold remediation company and analyzed at a third-party laboratory. This independent lab then generates a report with the exact levels and species of mold present.

Once mold contamination is detected, avoid solutions that may cause more damage. Frequently, construction managers use harmful chemicals to clean up the visible mold colonies. The issue with this approach is that the chemicals stop at the surface and evaporate away. Traditional mold removal may also incorporate a destructive strategy that requires tear-down, removal and replacement of contaminated surfaces. This type of drastic action is often labor-intensive, extremely costly and can cause more spore proliferation as the moldy materials are moved around. It also does not address the underlying problem in that if the area becomes wet again, the mold will reappear because it has been secretly living unseen within the wood studs.

Mold is a living organism found in our external environment, so one of the most effective—and sustainable—ways to fight it is with living, natural enzymes. The organic formula acts as a catalyst, breaking down the fungi, eliminating contamination and preventing the release of additional spores. It is not used up in the process and continues working to prevent subsequent mold growth long after the treatment, which means that critical facilities need not suffer extended periods of downtime as they often do when undergoing a traditional chemical treatment or time-consuming construction.

The enzyme solutions are applied using a fogger to easily penetrate surfaces by atomizing the product, allowing it to reach small, difficult-to-reach areas and duct work. They are safe for humans and pets because the enzymes target only the mold contaminants and leave the furniture, furnishings and property undisturbed. Clean-up is quick, safe and permanent, and repairs are minimal to non-existent. The air that is now circulating is clean and safe.

PREVENT

To prevent future mold outbreaks, facility managers may consider following six important strategies:

  1. Routinely inspect the outside of the property for foundation problems, poorly installed windows, clogged gutters, roof concerns, poor drainage and storm damage to avoid water flow.
  2. Keep indoor humidity levels between 30% and 50%. Humidistats are available in bulk on Amazon. Use a portable dehumidifier and an oscillating fan in the opposite corner of an area that is consistently above 60% humidity and consider an HVAC-compatible, whole building dehumidifier.
  3. Install bathroom fans and attic vents to remove moisture.
  4. Use mold-resistant building materials, such as wallboard, paint primer and porcelain, while avoiding carpeting, as fabrics with a high pile are prone to collecting mold and mildew.
  5. Regularly run dehumidifiers and air scrubbers. Dehumidifiers remove the humidity, while air scrubbers eliminate the mold spores from the air.
  6. Conduct yearly mold testing with a professional company to prevent serious problems and avoid costly property repairs.

Equally important, property owners should conduct regular mold education sessions for the building tenants and occupants. Once peers understand how it grows and contaminates their working spaces, causing dangerous consequences, they can assume some of the responsibility for prevention and adverse outcomes.

Mold spores grow rapidly and uncontrollably when they have enough water, warmth and porous surfaces on which to feed and can cause serious harm to a building and its occupants. When property owners fail to fix mold problems in a timely manner, they can become legally responsible for mold-related illnesses or material damage. When in doubt, seek the help of a professional mold-removal company, which will prove due diligence and establish a timeline of resolution. If litigation is pursued, professional testing serves as documented evidence and its management can provide expert testimony to help structure a defense.

The bottom line when it comes to mold in a commercial, industrial or multifamily building is this: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

by Laura Champagne
Laura Champagne is co-owner of Natural Home Solutions, a mold removal company committed to keeping homes and businesses safe from mold contamination through Xspor’s proprietary, organic EnzyCleanseTMsolution. 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. For more information, visit www.naturalhome.solutions.

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