Water and Mold Damage – When to Call an Expert
by Matt A. Fragala, MS, CIH and William Wade, Jr., C.I.H.
A quick and thorough response to moisture problems is the best way to prevent incurring expensive mold-related problems. Preparing an emergency response plan in advance will ensure a minimum of disruption and expense in the event of a flood or other moisture event. The emergency response plan should include providers of drying equipment, contractor contacts, and business contingency plans. With proper training in the demolition and removal of mold-contaminated materials, many contractors can now perform an effective remediation of relatively large projects.
So when does the building owner or property manager “call in the experts”? And what value can the consultant add on a moisture/mold recovery or remediation project? There are five common situations in which an environmental expert like EH&E adds considerable value to a project.
A common scenario is when the building owner is faced with both a significant remediation project and a hard business deadline that makes disruption unacceptable. When there is no room for mistakes or delays, an experienced consultant can play an invaluable role in project oversight. They can assure an accurate assessment of the project scope, help to pre-qualify the necessary contractors, and provide project oversight to ensure the job is completed correctly, and on schedule.
Loss Mitigation for Larger Projects
Large projects involve large expenses, and we found numerous cases in which EH&E was able to save clients tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars through creative solutions that saved equipment and/or disruptive work. We worked with a client seemingly faced with the daunting prospect of replacing two $2.5M air handling units that were grossly contaminated with mold and water damage. Through a detailed cleaning and drying process, we were able to save both units for a fraction of the replacement price, and greatly reduced the recovery process for the client.
Another often-overlooked factor is the potential conflict of interest when obtaining a damage assessment from the same company providing the remediation services. The consultant can add value in their role as the owner’s advocate. They’ll provide an unbiased assessment of the remediation required, along with any options or alternatives, so the owner can make a more informed decision on the project scope and costs.
Reduction of Liability
This is probably the number one reason to call an expert. A competent environmental expert can greatly reduce a building owner’s future liability by providing third party documentation of the extent of the problem, document that proper procedures were followed during remediation, and provide post-remediation sampling of the building or space. This can become especially important in multi-tenant buildings or during property transfer. For hundreds of projects EH&E has provided this critical oversight/documentation service.
In some instances, even relatively small projects involving mold can quickly magnify due in large part to media reports concerning the health effects from “toxic mold”. Any existing rifts between occupants and building management can quickly elevate a simple situation to a complex one in which employees lose faith in management’s desire to look after their interests. These somewhat rare situations can nevertheless cause huge losses through lost time and productivity if not addressed properly. Experienced consultants can often quickly diffuse these situations through a combination of communication, mediation, and good science.
Proper Interpretation of Building Data
While the collection and analysis of mold samples (surface and air) has become more standardized over the years, the interpretation of what those results mean (and even their significance) is still being debated among the experts. There are still no guideline concentrations or standards regarding mold exposures. Overall, the only solid agreement among experts is that sampling data should never be used alone to diagnose a building condition. To a lesser extent, the same case can be made for moisture sampling information. The astute consultant will use their experience to properly rate the importance of the sampling results in relation to the many other important site indicators to help building owners make the best and most practical decisions.
No building owner can afford to call in experts for every water intrusion or mold clean-up problem they face – nor should they. Many consultants offer training to teach owners how to prepare for, assess, and repair the damage caused by moisture and mold in their buildings. But just as importantly, the training helps owners identify those situations in which a qualified consultant can help them avoid excessive cost, delay or liability. It’s always a good idea to know when to pick up the phone.
Matt Fragala is Practice Director of the Education and Commercial Division at EH&E and has been involved in hundreds of indoor environmental quality investigations. Matt has designed and implemented sampling programs for assessment of various indoor air quality parameters. He is a specialist in designing remediation programs for environmental contaminants such as water damage, mold, and hazardous materials such as PCBs. Matt can be reached at MFragala@eheinc.com or at 1-800-825-5343.
William Wade is a Senior Scientist at EH&E and has managed numerous environmental risk management projects, focusing on indoor environmental quality and industrial hygiene in workplaces. Will has served as project manager for many large-scale mold and water damage prevention programs, assessments, and remediation projects in buildings and construction sites. Will can be reached at WWade@eheinc.com or at 1-800-825-5343.