Recent Posts

Does My Business Need Flood Insurance

12/29/2018 (Permalink)

Natural disasters can be devastating to businesses. While damage caused by some types of natural events—such as lightning or wind—will usually be covered by commercial property insurance, you need a special policy if you want protection from flood damage. This Q&A will help you understand this type of coverage and determine if your business needs it.

Frequently asked questions about flood insurance

Q. Does my commercial property insurance include flood coverage?

A. No. Damage from flooding, including flooding generated by hurricane-generated storm surge, typically is not covered under a standard commercial policy, including a Commercial Package Policy (CPP) or a Business Owners Policy (BOP). Flood insurance is available from the federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

Q. What does flood insurance cover?

A.Flood insurance covers damage to your building and contents caused by flood. This includes losses resulting from water overflowing rivers or streams, heavy or prolonged rain, storm surge, snow melt, blocked storm drainage systems, broken dams or levees, or other similar causes. To be considered a flood, waters must cover at least two acres or affect two properties. Generally if water comes from above—for instance from rain or melting snow overflowing gutters and leaking onto your inventory—you’ll be covered by your standard commercial property insurance.

Q. What isn’t covered by flood insurance?

A. Property outside your building generally will not be covered. For instance, landscaping and septic systems will not be covered. In addition, flood insurance will not cover damage to your business vehicles, but this can be included in the optional “comprehensive” portion of your business vehicle insurance. Financial losses caused by business interruption or loss of use of insured property are also not covered.

Q. Do I have to purchase flood insurance?

A. If your commercial property is located in a high-risk flood area and you have a mortgage from a federally regulated or insured lender, you are required to purchase a flood insurance policy.

Q. How do I determine my risk for flood damage?

A. Location is the most important factor for weighing your risk for flood damage. Is your business located in or near a flood zone? (Flood map search tools can be found online.) In what part of the building is your businesses equipment and inventory located? Anything housed on a lower floor, for instance, will be at greater risk.

Q. Where can I purchase flood insurance?

A. Flood insurance is available from the NFIP and some private insurers. However, NFIP coverage can only be purchased through an insurance professional; you cannot buy it directly from the federal government. To find a local insurance professional who is familiar with the National Flood Insurance Program, contact the NFIP at 888-379-9531 for an agent referral.

Q. How long does it take to get flood coverage?

A. Typically, there’s a 30-day waiting period from date of purchase before your policy goes into effect.

Q. Does my flood policy cover mold?

A. Damage from mold and/or mildew resulting from the after-effects of a flood is covered, but each case is evaluated on an individual basis. Mold/mildew conditions that existed prior to a flooding event are not covered, and after a flood, the policyholder is responsible for taking reasonable and appropriate mitigation actions to eliminate mold and mildew.

Q. How much flood coverage can I get?

A. Commercial flood insurance provides up to $500,000 of coverage for your building and up to $500,000 for its contents.

Q. What if I need more coverage?

A. You can purchase what’s called excess insurance coverage to rebuild properties valued above National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) limits. Excess coverage includes protection against business interruption.

What Should I Know and do Before, During and After a Flood?

12/27/2018 (Permalink)

You have flood insurance and flooding is expected; what do you do now?

Protecting yourself today means preparing your home or workplace, collecting sources of information, developing an emergency communications plan and knowing what to do when a flood is approaching your home or business.

FEMA’s Flood Loss Avoidance fact sheet is a valuable resource, or visit the NFIP publications page (see "During the Flood") for more information about what to do before and during a flood.

Things to know and do now:

  • STAY INFORMED: Learn things you can do now to stay safe from flooding due to large storms like hurricanes. It's important to stay informed about what is happening with the storm as it approaches and always follow the instructions of local emergency management officials.
  • TAKE PHOTOS: If you have contents coverage on your flood insurance policy and you haven't already done so, take photos of clothing, flooring, light fixtures, appliances, furniture, etc.--anything that could be damaged by the flood. Having this can help if you end up filing a flood insurance claim later. If you're not sure what your flood insurance policy covers, call your insurance agent.
  • REDUCE FLOODING:
    • Make sure your sump pump is working. Then, install a battery-operated backup in case of power failure.
    • Instal a water alarm will also let you know if water is accumulating in your basement.
    • Clear debris from gutters and downspouts.
    • Anchor any fuel tanks.
    • Move furniture, valuables and important documents to a safe place.
  • PROTECT VALUABLE DOCUMENTS: Store copies of irreplaceable documents (such as birth certificates, passports, insurance documents, deeds, etc.) in a safe, dry place. It can also be a good idea to photograph these documents and store the images in a safe place, too.
  • PREPARE YOUR FAMILY: Visit Ready.gov for a complete disaster supply checklist, and to find out how to prepare for and what to do during a power outage.  
  • BE READY TO EVACUATE: Plan and practice a flood evacuation route. Ask someone out of state to be your “family contact” in an emergency, and make sure everyone knows the contact’s address and phone number.
  • PLAN FOR PETS AND ANIMALS: Make a pet and animal plan. Many shelters do not allow pets. Make plans now on what to do with your pets if you are required to evacuate your residence.

https://www.fema.gov/national-flood-insurance-program

Understanding The Three Categories Of Water

12/17/2018 (Permalink)

When dealing with water damage in your home or business, there are three different types or classifications of water that we use: Clean, Gray, and Black water.

Clean Water: This is water that does not contain contaminants. It includes broken water lines, malfunctioning appliances, toilets holding tanks, snow melt and rainwater. Overtime however, clean water can progress and become gray water within 48 hours, if left untreated.

Gray Water: Gray water does contain slight chemical or biological contaminants, and may pose a health risk. Gray water can discharge from dishwashers, washing machines, sinks, showers, aquariums and waterbeds, or come from a clean water source that leaked through a ceiling. It can also be clean water that was left untreated (and became gray water). Gray water can also progress to the next stage (Black Water) if left untreated within 48 hours.

Black Water: This water is a positive health risk as it is highly contaminated. Black water is presumed to contain multiple potentially harmful contaminants including fungi, bacteria, chemicals, viruses, and more. Black Water is typically caused by sewage damage, flooding, or any type of natural disaster. Black water should always be treated by a trained and certified professional.

For any type of water damage, it is always best to treat it quickly so as to avoid further contamination and risk mold growth. Call SERVPRO of Skagit County if you need services in your home!

Available 24/7 

360 873 3431

SERVPRO of Skagit County is an IICRC certified firm.

Content Restoration

12/15/2018 (Permalink)

CONTENTS RESTORATION

From furniture to antiques to artwork and appliances, we'll treat your treasures with the care they deserve. While some items can be cleaned on-site, in many cases we'll need to inventory, pack out and transport the contents of your property to our state-of-the-art facility to ensure the best care possible.

Key Issues

  • Contents may need to be cleaned off-site
  • Contents inventory
  • Determine replacement and restoration
  • Pack
  • Ozone treatment
  • Cleaning
  • Odor removal
  • Secure
  • Return

Contents Inventory

  • We arrive on-site and inventory all of your personal belongings.
  • We carefully pack all salvable items to transport to our secure warehouse and cleaning facility.
  • Unsalvageable contents are inventoried and discarded.

Contents Valuation

We have trained professionals to help you establish replacement values versus restoration costs. We are also available for pricing of non-salvable inventory items.

Restoration

  • Thorough cleaning
  • Proper handling of all electronics
  • Photographs and artwork
  • Fabrics
  • Clothes
  • Memorabilia
  • Antiques
  • Soft goods
  • Dry Cleaning
  • Appliances
  • Surfaces
  • Odor Removal

How To Survive Severe Storms

12/14/2018 (Permalink)

What to do during a severe storms

  • If you are indoors, stay away from windows, doors and fireplaces.
  • You may want to go to the sheltered area that you and your family chose for your emergency plan.
  • If you are advised by officials to evacuate, do so. Take your emergency kit with you.
  • You can use a cellular telephone during a severe storm, but it's not safe to use a land-line telephone.
  • Never go out in a boat during a storm. If you are on the water and you see bad weather approaching, head for shore immediately. Always check the marine forecast before leaving for a day of boating and listen to weather reports during your cruise.
  • If you are in a car, stop the car away from trees or power lines that might fall on you). Stay there.

What to do during

Blizzards

  • When a winter storm hits, stay indoors. If you must go outside, dress for the weather. Outer clothing should be tightly woven and water-repellent. The jacket should have a hood. Wear mittens - they are warmer than gloves - and a hat, as large portion of body heat is lost through the head.
  • In wide-open areas, visibility can be virtually zero during heavy blowing snow or a blizzard. You can easily lose your way. If a blizzard strikes, do not try to walk to another building unless there is a rope to guide you or something you can follow.
  • If you must travel during a winter storm, do so during the day and let someone know your route and arrival time.
  • If your car gets stuck in a blizzard or snowstorm, remain calm and stay in your car. Allow fresh air in your car by opening the window slightly on the sheltered side - away from the wind. You can run the car engine about 10 minutes every half-hour if the exhaust system is working well. Beware of exhaust fumes and check the exhaust pipe periodically to make sure it is not blocked with snow. Remember: you can't smell potentially fatal carbon monoxide fumes.
  • To keep your hands and feet warm, exercise them periodically. In general, it is a good idea to keep moving to avoid falling asleep. If you do try to shovel the snow from around your car, avoid overexerting yourself.
  • Overexertion in the bitter cold can cause death as a result of sweating or a heart attack.
  • Keep watch for traffic or searchers.

Hail

  • Take cover when hail begins to fall. Do not go out to cover plants, cars or garden furniture or to rescue animals. Hail comes down at great speed, especially when accompanied by high winds. Although no one in Canada has ever been killed by hail, people have been seriously injured by it.
  • When a hailstorm hits, stay indoors, and keep yourself and your pets away from windows, glass doors and skylights which can shatter if hit by hailstones. Avoid using the telephone during a storm, and do not touch metal objects like stoves, radiators, metal pipes, and sinks.
  • When a hailstorm hits, find shelter and avoid underpasses or any low lying areas that may flood.

Ice storms

  • Ice from freezing rain accumulates on branches, power lines and buildings. If you must go outside when a significant amount of ice has accumulated, pay attention to branches or wires that could break due to the weight of the ice and fall on you. Ice sheets could also do the same.
  • Never touch power lines. A hanging power line could be charged (live) and you would run the risk of electrocution. Remember also that ice, branches or power lines can continue to break and fall for several hours after the end of the precipitation.
  • When freezing rain is forecast, avoid driving. Even a small amount of freezing rain can make roads extremely slippery. Wait several hours after freezing rain ends so that road maintenance crews have enough time to spread sand or salt on icy roads.
  • Rapid onsets of freezing rain combined with the risks of blizzards increase the chances for extreme hypothermia. If you live on a farm, move livestock promptly to shelter where feed is available. Forage is often temporarily inaccessible during and immediately after ice storms. Animal reactions to ice storms are similar to that of blizzards.

Lightning

  • Always take shelter during a lightning storm.
  • There is no safe place outside during a thunderstorm. Safe shelter can be found either in an enclosed building or a hard-topped vehicle.
  • If you can see lightning or hear thunder, you are in danger of being hit. Seek shelter immediately.
  • Wait 30 minutes after the last lightning strike in a severe storm before venturing outside again.
  • Do not ride bicycles, motorcycles, tractors, or golf carts. These will not protect you from a lightning strike.

Thunderstorms

  • During thunderstorms, you should also stay away from items that conduct electricity, such as corded telephones, appliances, sinks, bathtubs, radiators and metal pipes.

What To Do In A Storm

12/13/2018 (Permalink)

What to do in a storm

There are a number of things that you can do to make sure you and your property stay safe during storms. For life-threatening emergencies call 911.

What to do before the storm

Ensure you do the following before a severe storm arrives:

  • Check that loose items such as outdoor settings, umbrellas and trampolines are safely secured.
  • If it is safe to do so, check gutters, downpipes and drains are not blocked.
  • Park your car undercover and away from trees.

What to do during the storm

Ensure you do the following during a severe storm:

  • Stay indoors and away from windows.
  • If outdoors, shelter away from drains, gutters, creeks and waterways.
  • Be prepared for power outages.
  • Floodwater is dangerous – never drive, walk or ride through floodwater.
  • Floodwater is toxic – never play or swim in floodwater.

What to do after the storm

Ensure you do the following after a severe storm:

  • Check your home and property for damage.
  • Keep clear of damaged buildings, powerlines and trees.
  • Be aware of road hazards such as floodwater, debris and damaged roads or bridges.
  • Do not drive through affected areas unless it is necessary.

Floodwater After A Disaster Or Storm

12/13/2018 (Permalink)

 

Don’t drive in flooded areas — turn around, don’t drown!

Floodwater can pose a drowning risk for everyone— regardless of their ability to swim. Swiftly moving shallow water can be deadly, and even shallow standing water can be dangerous for small children.

  • Always follow warnings about flooded roads.
  • Don’t drive in flooded areas—cars or other vehicles won’t protect you from floodwaters. They can be swept away or may stall in moving water.

Stay out of floodwater.

Floodwaters contain many things that may harm health. We don’t know exactly what is in floodwater at any given point in time. Floodwater can contain:

  • Downed power lines
  • Human and livestock waste
  • Household, medical, and industrial hazardous waste (chemical, biological, and radiological)
  • Coal ash waste that can contain carcinogenic compounds such as arsenic, chromium, and mercury
  • Other contaminants that can lead to illness
  • Physical objects such as lumber, vehicles, and debris
  • Wild or stray animals such as rodents and snakes

Exposure to contaminated floodwater can cause:

  • Wound infections
  • Skin rash
  • Gastrointestinal illness
  • Tetanus
  • Leptospirosis (not common)

It is important to protect yourself from exposure to floodwater regardless of the source of contamination. The best way to protect yourself is to stay out of the water.

If you come in contact with floodwater:

  • Wash the area with soap and clean water as soon as possible. If you don’t have soap or water, use alcohol-based wipes or sanitizer.
  • Take care of wounds and seek medical attention if necessary.
  • Wash clothes contaminated with flood or sewage water in hot water and detergent before reusing them.

If you must enter floodwater, wear rubber boots, rubber gloves, and goggles.

Prevent injuries.

Floodwater may contain sharp objects, such as glass or metal fragments, that can cause injury and lead to infection. Prompt first aid can help heal small wounds and prevent infection.

If you receive a puncture wound or a wound contaminated with feces, soil, or saliva, have a health care professional determine whether a tetanus booster is necessary based on individual records.

For more information, visit: Emergency Wound Care After a Natural Disaster

Prevent infection of open wounds and rashes.

Open wounds and rashes exposed to floodwater can become infected. Vibrios, for example, are naturally occurring bacteria that live in certain coastal waters and can cause skin infections when an open wound is exposed to them. This can happen during floods. To protect yourself and your family:

  • Avoid exposure to floodwater if you have an open wound.
  • Cover clean, open wounds with a waterproof bandage to reduce chance of infection.
  • Keep open wounds as clean as possible by washing well with soap and clean water.
  • If a wound develops redness, swelling, or oozing, seek immediate medical attention.

Seek medical attention as soon as possible if:

  • There is a foreign object (soil, wood, metal, or other objects) embedded in the wound;
  • The wound is at special risk of infection (such as a dog bite or a puncture by a dirty object);
  • An old wound shows signs of becoming infected (increased pain and soreness, swelling, redness, draining, or you develop a fever).

For more information, visit: Emergency Wound Care After a Natural Disaster

Protect yourself and your loved ones from diarrheal diseases.

Be aware that floodwater may contain sewage, and eating or drinking anything contaminated by floodwater can cause diarrheal disease (such as E. coli or Salmonella infection). To protect yourself and your family:

  • Wash your hands after contact with floodwater. Also be sure to wash children’s hands with soap and water often and always before meals.
  • Do not allow children to play in floodwater areas.
  • Do not allow children to play with toys that have been contaminated by floodwater and have not been disinfected.
  • Do not bathe in water that may be contaminated with sewage or toxic chemicals. This includes rivers, streams, or lakes that are contaminated by floodwater.

For more information, visit:

Protect yourself from animal and insect bites.

Floodwater can displace animals, insects, and reptiles. To protect yourself and your family, be alert and avoid contact.

For more information, visit: Protect Yourself from Animal- and Insect-Related Hazards After a Disaster

Be aware of possible chemicals in floodwater.

Floods can cause containers of chemicals to move from their normal storage spots.

  • Don’t attempt to move propane tanks you might find— they’re dangerous and can cause a fire or explosion. If you find any, contact the police, fire department, or your State Fire Marshal’s office immediately.
  • Be extremely careful when removing car batteries. Even if they are in floodwater, car batteries may still have an electrical charge. Use insulated gloves and avoid coming in contact with any acid that may have spilled from the damaged car battery.

For more information, visit:

Avoid electrical hazards inside or outside your home.

After a hurricane, flood or other natural disaster you need to be careful to avoid electrical hazards both in your home and elsewhere.

  • Shut off electrical power and natural gas or propane tanks in your home to avoid fire, electrocution, or explosions.
  • NEVER touch a fallen power line. Call the power company to report fallen power lines. Avoid contact with overhead power lines during cleanup and other activities.
  • Do not drive through standing water if downed power lines are in the water.
  • If you believe someone has been electrocuted, call or have someone else call 911 or emergency medical help.

For more information, visit: Protect Yourself and Others From Electrical Hazards After a Disaster

https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/floods/floodsafety.html

How To Prepare For The Next Big Storm

12/12/2018 (Permalink)

Protect people and property

Damage from a neighbor’s tree is usually covered by your insurer, not your neighbor’s.

Cover windows properly. Experts used to recommend taping windows to limit breakage to a few large pieces, rather than many smaller ones. But small and large pieces can be equally deadly. A safer bet: Keep windows shut and close blinds, shades, and drapes. Longer-term, consider impact-resistant windows or hurricane shutters (about $40 per square foot), which might also net you an insurance discount.

Secure outdoor items. High winds can turn lawn chairs, potted plants, trash cans, and other outdoor items into deadly projectiles. Move whatever you can into a garage, a shed, or a basement.

Park cars on high ground. Two feet of floodwater can carry a car away. What’s more, driving in water just 8 inches deep can ruin the engine if the water seeps in through the air intake. Park at a high elevation or on a hill—but not beneath trees.

Protect your valuables. Move what you can to higher floors if you expect flooding. Also think ahead by documenting and photographing items you’d include in an insurance claim if lost or ruined.

Stock up on essentials

Build an emergency kit. It should have a whistle to attract help, dust masks, duct tape, a wrench or pliers to turn off water if needed, flashlights and batteries, and local maps. Plan on 1 gallon of water per person per day for at least three days. Include moist towelettes, garbage bags, and plastic ties for personal sanitation. Also consider changes of clothing and sleeping bags or blankets.

Be prepared for injuries. A first-aid kit should be stocked with bandages in various sizes, sterile dressings and gloves, hand sanitizer and antibiotic towelettes, a thermometer, pain medicines, tweezers, and scissors.

Fuel up. Fill all of your vehicles’ tanks, because gas stations could lose power. ­Remember that most gas generators ­require roughly 12 to 20 gallons of gas per day. Also figure on at least a gallon of gas for extensive chainsawing. Store all fuel away from the house.

Have the right phones. Keep at least one corded phone because cordless phones require AC power. Our post-Sandy survey also found that cell phones were more reliable than landline phones, though we lack data on differences for fiber and cable vs.older copper-wire systems. Be sure cell phones are charged. And have an out-of-town contact you can call, because long-distance phone service can be more reliable than local service during and after a storm.

Get the right foods. Frozen food may last two days without power, but refrigerated items can spoil after 4 hours. Keep at least a three-day supply of nonperishable foods such as crackers, whole-grain cereals, and canned foods. And don’t forget the manual can opener.

Check your fire extinguishers. You should have one with a minimum classification of “2-A:10-B:C” on each floor. Check the dial or pop-up pin for adequate pressure each month. Professionally repressurize extinguishers older than six years, and replace any older than 12 years.

Prepare for special needs. Tell your utility and local fire department before a storm if someone in your home uses an oxygen concentrator, ventilator, or medical bed; your power could be restored sooner. And keep a one-month supply of medication during hurricane season.

Tune in. A battery-powered or hand-cranked radio will keep you connected if your computer or the Internet is down. NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) weather radios are also handy for emergency information.

Have some ready cash. Banks and ATMs could be out of service, assuming you can get to them.

Stay safe during the storm

Find the safest place. Stay in a central room without windows. Have kids? Ease the fear factor with books, a toy or two, and if you have power or a generator, some movies and video games.

Avoid electrocution risks. Don’t use any plug-in device if flooding or wetness is nearby. Landline phones can also be a shock hazard in an electrical storm. If you must make a call during a storm, use a cell or cordless phone if possible—or use a land­line phone’s speaker mode to reduce contact with the handset. Avoid baths and showers until the storm passes. And watch out for downed power lines and live wires.

Use cars safely. Obey emergency crews and follow designated routes. If your vehicle stalls in water, shut off the ignition and seek higher ground; the leading cause of Sandy-related deaths was drowning.

Mold: What To Look For

12/11/2018 (Permalink)

Winter is here and temperatures are fluctuating, moisture is making its way into our homes in the most unexpected areas. As moisture sits and humidity rises within the home, mold begins to find its place to grow. According to Houselogic.com, the 5 most unexpected places for mold to hide in your home are chimneys, refrigerator drip pans, front-loading washing machines, dishes, and windows sashes and seals.

1. Chimneys

As rain and snow collect down in the chimney, they combine with the dirt and other particles within the brick to create a breeding ground for mold to grow. 

2.  Refrigerator drip pans

The drip pan collects moisture and food spills over time and goes unnoticed from being located under the refrigerator where most people don’t think to clean or even look.

3.  Front-loading washing machines

The seal around the door of the front-loading washing machines often stay wet from being closed when not being used, which creates a great environment for mold growth.

4. Window sashes and seals

This is the time of year when the chill of the cold weather combine with the warmth of the inside to create condensation along windows and walls. The dirt and dust particles left on these surfaces mixed with the moisture create the perfect surface area for mold to grow.

5.  Air conditioners

The air conditioning units hold the dust, pollen and moisture from the air. With the AC sitting throughout the winter, it gives mold the chance to grow and still be hidden away.

Source: http://www.houselogic.com/home-advice/air-quality/unexpected-places-mold-can-hide/

The Growing Problem Of Mold

12/10/2018 (Permalink)

Mold is prominent in the news. But why now? This article summarizes some salient issues involving mold, including: (a) the current status of mold “science” and regulations; (b) what causes mold within indoor environments; (c) how the presence of mold is evaluated, and its implications for exposure; and (d) basic considerations in mold remediation projects.

Media attention and the public’s perception or fear of “toxic mold exposure” hit a peak in 2001 when a Texas couple was awarded $32 million in a lawsuit {(Ballard v. Farmers Insurance Exchange, No. 99- 05252 (Travis Co., Texas, Dist. Ct)]. A December 19, 2002 Appeals Court verdict disallowed $17 million for mental anguish and punitive damages; however, the Court still awarded $4 million plus interest as well as lawyers’ fees. An appeal is expected.

Mold is prominent in the news. But why now? This article summarizes some salient issues involving mold, including: (a) the current status of mold “science” and regulations; (b) what causes mold within indoor environments; (c) how the presence of mold is evaluated, and its implications for exposure; and (d) basic considerations in mold remediation projects.

Mold: Why Now?

Actually, “mold” is a general, conversational term for visible fungal growth. It is roughly equivalent to a gardener’s use of the term “weed” for a plant growing where it is unwanted. The term “fungi” includes molds, bacteria, and viruses. Molds are the largest component of the fungal classification, so the two terms are often used interchangeably and indiscriminately. The earliest reference to mold contamination and remediation can be found in the Old Testament (Leviticus 14:33-47]). Mold is ubiquitous in the environment, and is commonly due to construction defects that cause water intrusion in buildings. Fueling media attention and the public’s concerns is the relatively poor understanding of health effects by general medical practitioners, and the lack of comprehensive regulations or standards concerning allowable exposure criteria for the numerous, known genera of fungi that are known. Add this factor to the various known species of fungi, and the research that needs to be done is staggering.

The Basics

The very presence of mold spores is normal in the environment. However, the presence of mold growth indoors is not normal and may pose health and/or comfort risks to some exposed occupants. Mold growth requires spores (“seeds”), favorable temperatures, a food supply, and moisture. Like plants, mold grows by spreading, and the release of spores. Mold easily spreads outward under favorable conditions. However, if conditions are unfavorable for growth, mold will go dormant and release spores into the air so they can find a suitable environment for survival.

Moisture, nutrients, and favorable temperatures can lead to mold growth in water-damaged materials in 24 to 48 hours. Affected materials should be dried promptly to prevent germination and subsequent mold growth. Relative humidity levels less than 30% yield little growth. Humidity levels greater than 70% yield optimal growth. Nutrients include dust, dirt, soiled surfaces, and organic building materials (e.g., wood, latex paint, drywall, and carpet). Ideal temperatures for mold growth range from 40° F to 100° F. Since this range encompasses comfort temperatures for occupied spaces with ordinary nutrients already available, it is no wonder that mold has many opportunities to propagate. This growth can result from inadequate design, installation, operation, and/or maintenance of the site, building envelope, HVAC system, and/or building. In fact, we can only really control moisture.

Status Of “Mold Science” And Regulations

Unlike workplace exposure levels for physical and chemical agents, no regulations, comprehensive standards, or guidelines currently exist for determining safe levels of mold. There is a lack of information on specific human responses to mold contaminants. Current exposure assessments are based on the judgment of an experienced industrial hygienist, or other qualified indoor air quality professional, using indoor and outdoor comparisons of fungal counts and types.

This may change shortly as a number of possible organizations emerge to shape the science of mold. They include the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), guidelines such as the “Guidelines on Assessment and Remediation of Fungi in Indoor Environments” published in April 2000 by the New York City Department Of Health, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission/Americans with Disabilities Act, and the American Industrial Hygiene Association’s (AIHA) May, 2001 “Report by the Microbial Growth Task Force.”

The lack of well accepted regulations, standards, and guidelines is the largest reason why mold litigation has faltered. Daubert/Frye challenges have been successfully used to prevent fungal testing and medical testimony from being admitted into many court cases (the Ballard case was ultimately based on insurance bad faith issues).

However, recent developments may change the information and facts that we use. The US Toxic Mold Safety & Protection Act of 2002 (HR 5040), a/k/a the “Melina Bill”, was sponsored by J. Conyers, Jr., (DMich.). The bill was introduced into Congress on June 27, 2002, and addresses mold in residential homes and government buildings. The full text is available at www.house.gov/conyers/Mold_Bill.pdf. The bill’s basic provisions include (a) establishing guidelines and defining acceptable mold levels; (b) establishing minimum training levels and requirements for the licensing of environmental inspectors and environmental laboratories; (c) providing funds to the CDC and NIH to conduct extensive research and testing to determine the range and magnitude of the black mold infestation problems; (d) providing a 50% tax credit to home owners who pay for a mold inspection, and the creation of a national database of homes found to be infested with toxic mold; (e) requiring the EPA to establish construction standards and techniques; (f) establishing mold remediation criteria; and (g) establishing a national toxic mold insurance program to protect homeowners who are victimized by toxic mold.

Various states have introduced regulatory initiatives regarding mold or indoor air quality in general. With the exception of California’s Senate Bill 732, which became effective in January 2002, these initiatives have largely stalled.

Also lacking are comprehensive standards for mold testing. In April 2002, the “Standards of Practice for the Assessment of Indoor Environmental Quality” was published by the Indoor Environmental Standards Organization (IESO). The first five standards in this document reflect commonly accepted guidelines for sampling mold on surfaces, in air, and within carpets. The last two sections, however, contain new criteria for evaluating mold colonization on surfaces, and for inspecting residential structures for mold contamination. These documents are the first of what may become a family of standards for mold investigations. ASTM International has recently announced plans to develop a “Standard Practice for Transactional Screening of Readily Observable Mold in Commercial Buildings” through its E50 Committee. The goal is to define standards of care that will: (a) establish the indicated industry standard practice; (b) improve the quality and consistency of mold screening reports; and (c) ensure that the practice of mold screening is appropriate, reasonable, and reflective of good industry practice. The E50 Committee is just forming. Their first meeting is scheduled for April, 2003, so it is unlikely that a new standard will emerge soon.

A standard exists for mold remediation. Published by the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC), their “IICRC S500, Standard and Reference Guide for Professional Water Damage Restoration, 2nd Edition (1999)” serves as the written body of knowledge in the water damage restoration industry.

Causes of Interior Mold Growth

Building defects leading to moisture intrusion include non-continuous vapor retarder installation; substandard flashing, roofing, waterproofing, or window installation; poor wall waterproofing; storage and handling of construction materials that contributes to their exposure to rain; the presence of construction debris; and the formation of ice dams. These defects cause moisture inside the structure which then contributes to mold growth.

A number of potentially responsible parties may be involved in building defect claims involving mold. For example, construction managers, project architects, mechanical engineers, and subcontractors may be responsible for improper design or maintenance of buildings and heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems; specifying improper materials or methods; and poor workmanship. Product manufacturers may be responsible for the design and operation of equipment or building materials. Landlords, and property management companies may be responsible for failing to properly maintain the building or its systems, allowing tenant actions that lead to mold growth, or failing to disclose facts relating to water events that caused mold growth. Tenants that fail to maintain their HVAC systems properly, or engage in activities that foster mold growth are also potential parties. Water extraction (“remediation”) companies may not completely remove all moisture or mold, resulting in additional growth and contamination. Property inspection companies may fail to discover mold propagating conditions.

What Are The Potential Health Effects From Mold Exposure?

Health effects of fungal exposure are reported to include sensitization, infection, irritating effects (rashes, etc.), Organic Dust Toxic Syndrome (ODTS). Other reported toxic health effects include headaches, respiratory ailments, inhibition of the immune system, lung disease, cognitive memory loss, and brain damage. The lack of dose-response data, as well as time variability of exposure, makes it difficult to establish exposure limits such as those that currently exist for workplace chemicals. However, the Mayo Clinic and others have published studies associating dampness with cough, wheeze, asthma, and respiratory infection. Exposure may be due to spores, or the mycotoxins that fungi emit. Mold’s characteristic “musty odor” is due to these microbial volatile organic compounds (mVOCs) released by fungi.

Why Test?

How should one approach a mold situation to determine its impact on the health of these exposed occupants? If mold is visible, some investigators suggest that sampling is not necessary, and remediation should begin as soon as possible to correct health, structural, or aesthetic concerns. Testing during fungal investigations may be expensive. However, not performing environmental sampling leaves unanswered questions of what types (genera and species) and levels of mold were present. This information may be especially important if adverse health effects to occupants are known or suspected.

Therefore, a simple visual inspection should not be equated with a competent investigation. Mold sampling attempts to characterize typical and worst-case exposure assessments to develop a building baseline. Sampling may also be useful to maintain acceptable levels while a remediation project is on hold, or to challenge the effectiveness of a remediation project.

At best, sampling involves acquiring random grab samples. Practical considerations for environmental sampling involve: (a) making sure that the sampling actions are repeatable; (b) the availability of time, people, and appropriate sampling equipment; (c) whether the investigation should test for viable or nonviable organisms and, if viable organisms are important, whether data at the genus or species level is important; and (d) expenses.

Using an accredited laboratory services is key. Over 120 laboratories participate in the AIHA’s Environmental Microbiology Proficiency Analytical Testing Program (EMPAT). However, currently only 14 laboratories (12 in the US and two in Canada) have successfully achieved accreditation under the AIHA’s Environmental Microbiology Laboratory Accreditation Program (EMLAP). A list of EMLAP laboratories is available at http://www.aiha.org/LaboratoryServices/html/emlap.htm.

A basic sampling protocol generally involves at least one air sampling location outdoors, indoors in an anticipated high exposure (“complaint”) area, and indoors in an anticipated low exposure (“noncomplaint”) area. Air samples may be complemented by surface samples, carpet dust samples, and wall cavity samples (as appropriate) to adequately characterize mold presence. Surface sampling is a nondestructive technique that allows for the determination of possible surface contamination on walls, and content items such as furniture. Carpet dust samples help determine if poor carpet maintenance and water incursions provide organisms with moisture and a nutritional substrate to proliferate to problematic levels. Wall cavity sampling is a minimally intrusive method for determining if mold growth has occurred within walls, even though mold may not be visible.

Interpreting the Test Data

The generally accepted guidelines for interpreting mold sampling data are: (a) indoor levels should not be significantly greater than outdoor levels; (b) non-complaint areas should be less than complaint areas; and (c) in complaint areas, mold types should be consistently present. Relative levels and their relative orders of magnitude are also important. The analysis should consider the rank order assessment of mold found (e.g., those with health effects versus those that are relatively common and benign), and the presence of dominant species. Data interpretation should be performed by an industrial hygienist or other qualified indoor air quality professional.

Mold Remediation

Mold spores can be easily dispersed. Correcting significant mold conditions, which is not a job for the home handyman. Renovation is not equivalent to remediation. In addition to the standards for water restoration and remediation, some guidelines exist for mold remediation. Examples include the previously mentioned NYC DOH “Guidelines” and “Fungal Contamination in Public Buildings: a Guide to Recognition and Management” published by the Federal-Provincial Committee on Environmental and Occupational Health, Environmental Health Directorate, Health Canada ( June 1995). However, their guidance is not without controversy.

Mold remediation should only be attempted after the conditions that caused mold growth have been identified and corrected. Porous materials that show extensive mold growth should then be removed. Nonporous materials should have their surfaces cleaned to typical background levels. Moisture levels should be reduced to and maintained at levels that do not promote mold growth. The amount of contamination governs the level of containment (use of critical barriers), work practices (HEPA vacuuming, negative pressurization, wet methods), and personal protective equipment (respirators, fullbody covering) necessary to prevent the release of mold spores into unaffected areas and protect human health. Mold contaminated materials are not considered as hazardous waste.

Post-remediation validation (a/k/a “clearance”) testing should be performed after remediation activities have ceased, but before critical barriers have been removed. The first step in testing is a visual inspection to ensure that no visible dust or fungal growth exists. If it does not meet this and other qualitative criteria, the job “fails” and recleaning is required. Only if all visible mold and dust ahs been removed should environmental sampling be performed. Typically, more extensive testing is done than in pre-remediation mold testing to ensure that building occupants will have a healthy environment in which to live.

Summary

Molds are complex and can form large colonies indoors under appropriate conditions. Human exposure data causally linking health effects to molds is currently unavailable. Is the fear of “toxic mold” being overblown? Only additional scientific studies will answer that question. But one must not ignore the significance of properly managed building environments to prevent the aesthetic, structural, and potential health effects of mold growth, and the need to promptly and properly evaluate and remediate conditions where mold growth is suspected or known.

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