In this blog we take a look at a common yet underappreciated construction and building demolition hazard: Mold. Deafening noise, falling hazards and sharp power tools are more obvious dangers, but mold provides unique and serious threats for the construction and demolition contractor. Oregon, our home state, is notorious for its wet, mold-friendly weather, so we’re familiar with the very real dangers that mold presents. This blog will help demolition companies implement mold remediation strategies.
About Mold. Technically, mold is part of the fungi kingdom, but it lacks the features we associate with fungi, such as stems and caps. Fungi (including mold) consume organic materials, just like animals do. Fungi and mold cannot make their own food, and they cannot travel like animals to find their food. They must rely on nature to carry them in the wind, or to bring them nutrients. Molds live almost everywhere that there is water, oxygen and enough nutrients to survive. They are present on every continent, and they are so prodigious that it’s nearly impossible NOT to inhale mold spores with every breath.
The Dangers of Mold. As a part of its metabolic process, mold creates compounds called mycotoxins. When exposed to these airborne toxins over long periods of time, some individuals will develop allergies, asthma and other immune response diseases. Mold may grow behind wall coverings, and therefore be difficult to detect. The variability in how different mold levels affect different individuals is another challenging factor in safe construction. Construction professionals have another reason to avoid mold growth: It weakens structural supports and sullies finishing materials.
What is Mold Remediation? Mold is a growing problem in the construction industry. After multiple expensive lawsuits, it has gotten to the point where most insurance companies no longer provide coverage for mold damage. By isolating mold-ridden areas and outfitting workers with protective gear such as respirators, demolition contractors can avoid health problems. These and other mold remediation techniques can help contractors avoid mold claims and litigation. The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) has published a 35-page booklet that discusses mold science, its health effects, and why it grows in buildings, as well as information on building design, potential risks, and operation/maintenance; we recommend all contractors digest this booklet for a thorough understanding of mold and how to avoid litigation.
OSHA is another excellent source of information on how to minimize mold danger. Here are a few recommendations that OSHA provides on this topic:
- Discard all wet or water damaged materials, as well as materials with visible mold damage. Also discard materials that cannot be cleaned.
- Wrap and seal the above discard items, to prevent the spread of spores.
- Keep dust disturbance to a minimum to reduce the spread of fungal spores.
- No eating, drinking, or smoking in work places.
- Regularly clean hard and non-porous materials with a cleaning solution. You can use bleach as a disinfectant, but don’t mix bleach with products that contain ammonia.
- HEPA vacuums are strongly recommended once the work space is clean and clear of debris
Ultimately, the ubiquity of mold makes it nearly impossible for contractors and to entirely eliminate. However, demolition and construction firms can and should take steps to mitigate and control mold’s impact. In particular, the AGC stresses that owners, contractors, and design personnel must work together to select materials and design plans that will regulate the conditions that favor mold. Contractors must be sure that subcontractors and suppliers keep materials and workspaces dry and clean. Property owners are advised to have a written plan for maintenance and operations that will control and mitigate mold growth. Demolition firms, like property owners, should have a plan in place to minimize mold growth throughout deconstruction. Without the proper precautions, demolition firms put themselves at risk of costly litigation.
[photo by: carlpenergy on Flickr via CC License]