It is incorrect if any professional in the mold remediation industry makes a blatant statement about contents not being impacted in a mold contamination case without having some support for such a declaration. The advice provided in the Standard and Reference Guide for Professional Mold Remediation (document S-520 written by the Institute for Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification [the IICRC]) discusses three conditions associated with mold remediation projects:
Condition 1: Normal fungal ecology
Condition 2: Areas that do not have evidence of visible fungal growth but are impacted by airborne spore deposition
Condition 3: Areas with visible fungal growth
Obviously, it is critical to determine if contents that are in areas defined as Condition 3 or Condition 2 have been negatively impacted by the deposition of airborne spores.
Typically, the fallback position is to assume that contents in Condition 3 areas are contaminated unless proven otherwise. Contents in an area designated as Condition 2 are also frequently assumed to be contaminated unless testing is conducted, although this guess is not acted on with the same frequency as it is with items in an area with visible mold.
Therefore, a remediation company that patently denies responsibility for cleaning household belonging because they were “not affected by the mold” is clearly not operating within the existing standard of care.
The Problem with Narrow Scopes
While it is true that many hygienists and contractors limit the scope of work, based on cost factors and deal only with visible fungal growth, this tactic does not resolve the problem. Every mold contamination situation in a building has three distinct components that must be managed:
1. Sources of fungal contamination (both visible and hidden)
2. Transport mechanisms that allow spores to migrate from one area to another (with HVAC systems being the most important)
3. Reservoirs of fungal spores and fragments (carpets, contents, and many other surfaces)
Unless all three of these aspects of the fungal contamination issue are addressed, relief of symptoms by the occupants will often remain elusive.
A Simple Solution
Sampling to determine if contents have been negatively impacted by mold sources can easily be conducted and is relatively inexpensive. A number of methods are straightforward enough that a layperson can collect a good sample. There are two popular techniques for determining if contamination is present outside an area with visible fungal contamination.
ERMI (Environmental Relative Moldiness Index) samples involve vacuuming a measured section of carpet and having the samples analyzed using a DNA identification system. Less expensive are simple surface samples utilizing tape, which are analyzed by optical microscopy for the presence of fungal spores and fragments. If the more cost-effective tape samples are used, a number of collection techniques are possible as long as the tape that is used is clear rather than frosted so that the captured material can be viewed through the tape. The simplest method for collecting such a sample is to use flexible plastic microscope slides that have a section of adhesive built in—such as a product called Bio-Tape. Bio-Tapes are easy to use and can be analyzed for the presence of fungal materials.
Criteria to determine if contents and HVAC components are contaminated
There are not very published standards, or even recommendations, regarding the interpretation of surface sample analysis data. If the laboratory provides analysis results as percentage of the surface area of the sample, then the following criteria can be used to interpret the results.
This straightforward three-step interpretation process was developed by Wonder Makers in 2004 and was subsequently published in a number of industry trade journals.
Usual Indication = 1%
Normal fungal ecology (Condition 1) Between 1% and 3%
Indoor environment contaminated with settled spores that were dispersed directly or indirectly (Condition 2) = 3%
Indoor environment contaminated with the presence of actual mold growth and associated spores (Condition 3)
The presence of target spore types (Chaetomium, Fusarium, Memnoniella, Stachybotrys, and Trichoderma) at any concentration is an indication of fungal contamination.
With more and more scientific research pointing toward a verifiable connection between exposure to water-damaged buildings (both fungal and bacterial components) and health problems, the courts have started to take a second look at whether personal injury claims related to mold are justified. In such cases the individual or organization that presents itself as a professional in the industry but does not evaluate and address all three components of mold contamination situations can quickly become the object of a lawsuit.