A New and Improved S520: What Does It Mean for You?
January 27, 2009
More than four years in the making, the new IICRC S520 mold standard is now on the street. Before I get into the improvements, enhancements and other official stuff about the standard, I want to share some personal thoughts and give you a bit of the “inside scoop” from my viewpoint as chairman of the consensus body tasked with writing the document.
Few could ever imagine what it is like to be part of a team responsible for developing such an important product for our industry. Incredible efforts were made by the 26-member, all-volunteer consensus body of professionals from across the industry. Many were section/chapter chairs of writing teams, all experts in their respective fields.
Each chapter of the Reference Guide was scrutinized word by word by the entire IICRC Consensus Body Standard Committee. Once approved, it was then integrated into the document as a whole and edited for consistency between Standard sections and Reference Guide chapters.
The tenacity required of the volunteers to see the book through to final publication was amazing. There was much intensive debate, genuine concern, opinion sharing and research involved, but in the end, it was the cooperation and willingness of the participants to listen to each other and the perseverance of leadership that brought the project home.
Then it was on to the public reviews, where we received and processed thousands of comments and suggestions, went under extreme scrutiny by the American National Standards Institute, sat through thorough reviews and approvals from the Standards Committee and Board of Directors of the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification, and even dealt with a couple of formal appeal processes thrown in just to make it interesting.
So what’s the big deal? Why go through all that effort?
Right around the turn of the century, the public’s awareness of mold and air quality in general began to increase. This was followed by a media focus on the issues surrounding the dangers of mold. Very quickly, a proliferation of lawsuits for everything from personal injury to construction defects and negligence coupled with media reports of the killer “toxic black mold” whipped the population into frenzy.
Response by public and private organizations to these mold concerns led to the publication of several documents and guidelines addressing mold remediation. They were written primarily for risk and building managers, occupational safety and health professionals and public health officials.
Along with the increased focus on the health hazards of mold came the legendary fly-by-night contractors. Calling themselves “mold remediators,” they began ripping people off by charging exorbitant fees to disinfect and seal the contaminant without properly removing it.
The IICRC recognized the need for a top-quality standard which would assist individuals in properly remediating mold in structures and contents, and in establishing their professional competence. To this end, the original Standard was conceived, written and published in 2003. As science continued to evolve, it was decided an updated second edition reflecting what we had learned over the past few years would be necessary.
Governments move slowly, and some states have just now started to develop laws and guidelines designed to protect consumers using mold remediation services. In fact, during Florida’s 2008 legislative session, legislators passed a law (effective July 2010) that regulates and licenses providers of home inspection services, mold remediation services and mold assessment services.
Texas now has a mold law, and Kentucky’s Senate is considering a bill to regulate mold remediation using the general principles outlined in the S520 Standard. New York and several other state legislatures are not far behind.
Now that you know a bit about how and why the document was made, here are the results of the effort.
At a beefy 237 pages, the new version contains additional chapters and sections covering “Building and Material Science” and “Equipment, Tools and Materials.” Personally, I feel the document is more remediator-friendly and represents a better real-world look at solutions to today’s mold remediation challenges.
The official title is now “ANSI/IICRC S520-2008 Standard and Reference Guide for Professional Mold Remediation.” On Aug. 7, 2008, the American National Standards Institute notified the IICRC that the document was approved to bear the mark of ANSI. The organization accredits organizations and their principles and practices across all industries to enhance both the global competitiveness of U.S. business and our quality of life.
There are several major differences between the S520 and other industry standards and guidelines. The first and most obvious change is in evaluating the extent of contamination.
Remediators often ask for guidance on amounts of mold that would trigger remediation or confirm remediation success. Quantifying visible levels of mold growth alone is not feasible as an action level because it fails to consider the possibility of hidden mold growth. Further, visible contamination is not a valid indicator of the extent of invisible settled spores that may have come from areas of visible fungal growth.
S520 represents a philosophical shift away from using “size” of visible mold growth to determine the response. Instead, it establishes mold contamination definitions (Chart I) and provides guidance to help determine remediation response or to confirm success.
The new second edition also contains changes to certain “trigger” words (Chart II). Throughout the document, the terms “shall,” “should,” and “recommend(ed)” are used to compare and contrast the different levels of importance attached to certain practices and procedures.
The IICRC S520 Consensus Body Standard Committee interprets the “standard of care” to be: practices that are common to reasonably prudent members of the trade who are recognized in the industry as qualified and competent. Since every mold remediation project is unique, in certain circumstances, common sense, experience and professional judgment may justify a deviation from the Standard and Reference Guide.
The S520 is not an instruction guide or procedural handbook, but is does contain a wealth of solid information. In fact, nearly every chapter in the Reference Guide could be a stand-alone book. For example, the “Health Effects” chapter is one of the best discussions on mold and health impacts ever produced. The “Administrative” chapter provides valid information you need to know to protect yourself while running a profitable remediation business.
It would be a mistake to simply pick one paragraph from the book and quote it just to make a point; the document should be considered in its entirety. Additionally, the Reference Guide is to be used in tandem with the Standard to aid the reader in understanding how the writers reached their conclusions in the Standard section.
The S520 is a living document and subject to further revision as developments occur in technology and procedures. If you have recommendations you would like to see included in a subsequent version, please go to the IICRC Web site (Standards section) to comment.
The IICRC Standards Committee is presenting a series of workshops across North America to provide timely information about the newly revised standard and reference guide. Watch for one of these full day sessions in a city near you or go to www.iicrc.org to register. To purchase a copy of the S520 Standard please go to www.iicrc.org/pdf/buydocs.pdf or call (360) 693-5675.