For this R&R Roundtable, we asked four mold remediation professionals the same seven questions:

  1. What do you enjoy most about mold remediation?
  2. What are the top tools mold remediation professionals should have in their toolbox?
  3. What are the most common missteps or misconceptions you see related to mold remediation?
  4. What key steps should mold remediation contractors take to keep themselves safe during projects?
  5. Can you highlight your most memorable mold removal project and why it stands out?
  6. What are your top predictions and/or hopes for the near future of mold remediation?
  7. What key resources do you turn to for continued education in mold remediation?

Click on their photos below for their responses.
 

Rachel Adams

Project Director, J.S. Held

Q: What do you enjoy most about mold remediation? 

A: Every job is unique in the challenges it presents, which I find incredibly interesting. It is also very rewarding knowing that I am helping to restore people's lives and even, in some circumstances, their health.

Q: What are the top tools mold remediation professionals should have in their toolbox?

A: Great inspection tools such as moisture meters, boroscopes and particle counters to name a few!

Q: What are the most common missteps or misconceptions you see related to mold remediation?

A: The biggest issue I see across the board from remediators to IEPs to homeowners, is the misconception that killing mold is how remediation projects should be done. That includes those who spray bleach and those who use fog chemicals in buildings. Mold is unlike most other microbes that we remediate for. Viable and nonviable fungal growth contains the same allergenic and toxigenic properties that can make people sick. It is not about killing mold, but rather performing source removal through the removal of porous materials supporting mold growth, HEPA air filtration, and vacuuming and detailed cleaning with products that contain surfactants/detergents.  

The other misstep I see is contractors who apply paints and sealants and coatings to structural materials following mold remediation. If the source of water has been corrected, and everything is clean and dry, mold will not return, so what is the point for applying these products? Plus, it can have a negative impact for the resale of a home or building when these pigmented products are applied because it indicates that "something" was covered up.

Q: What key steps should mold remediation contractors take to keep themselves safe during projects?

A: Definitely wear protective gear such a respirators. Once an individual becomes sensitized to something that triggers the allergic response, that cannot be undone. The only way to prevent health issues from exposure to all types of microbial contamination is to protect yourself.  

Q: Can you highlight your most memorable mold removal project and why it stands out? 

I have had so many over the last 30 years. One of the most compelling was in a residential setting where a homeowner contacted me late on a Sunday night because his son had been rushed to the emergency room due to respiratory arrest from exposure to mold. A company had installed a new HVAC system and did not connect the condensate line. Eventually, they discovered this because there were mushrooms growing out of the carpet. They had the company repair the HVAC unit and then hired a family friend who owned a large mitigation franchise in Indianapolis, and they basically put air movers on all of the visible mold growth, which resulted in aerosolizing it through the home. 

When the son returned home from college and became exposed, he began having difficulty breathing and eventually went into respiratory arrest. I was brought in to perform the assessment and oversee the proper remediation was done. To this day, although they have had their home successfully remediated, they still have long-term effects from their exposure to mold. This case happened 10 years ago and is now just going into litigation. Moral of the story is: What restoration contractors do on jobs has a bigger impact on the occupants than they realize, and doing a job poorly is worse than not doing anything.

Q: What are your top predictions and/or hopes for the near future of mold remediation? 

A: I am hopeful that we can educate the public as well as the government sector, and provide them the information that is in the IICRC S500 and S520 for proper mitigation and remediation processes. I would like to see the IICRC as a household name and utilized as a resource to bring consistency to the restoration and remediation industries.   

Q: What key resources do you turn to for continued education in mold remediation? 

A: I look to current research as well as actively participate in the development of our standards. I learn a tremendous amount from my peers and colleagues.

About Rachel

Rachel Adams has been involved in the water damage and environmental health industries for more than 27 years. She holds a Master Restorer designation from the IICRC and is a project director for J.S. Held. Adams was founder and president of Indoor Environmental Management, Inc. (IEM) in 1994, where she conducted inspections of residential and commercial buildings throughout the country. She served on the board of directors for the IICRC and was appointed to serve as the technical advisory committee chair for the development of the IICRC Applied Microbial Remediation Technician (AMRT). Adams serves on the committee to write and establish guidelines and updates for the S520, Standard and Reference Guide for Professional Mold Remediation, and currently teaches AMRT, WRT, ASD, HST, OSHA and other classes. She is an honorary board member for the Society of Cleaning and Restoration Technicians (SCRT), and an associate member of the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) and the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA). 

Mark Cornelius

President, Emergency Mitigation Technician Academy (EMTA); Disaster Recovery Industries, Inc.

Q: What do you enjoy most about mold remediation? 

A: What I enjoy the most about mold remediation is the investigative side of issues. I must utilize my knowledge from multiple areas. Often the source is not as obvious as walking into a room and seeing or smelling the mold. Sometimes it hides. This can include something as simple as a leaking supply line in a bathroom vanity, or that the landscaping is sloped the wrong direction shunting water back against the structure. Once the source of moisture is determined, then the rest of the investigation can take place. Once the process is done, the client can return to a safer and healthier property. I also enjoy educating the customer on how the situation happened and what to look for, so they do not have to call me again.

Q: What are the top tools mold remediation professionals should have in their toolbox?

A: Even though most people think of a tool being a hammer, the most important tool is education. This is followed by keeping up with the current version of the ANSI/IICRC S520 and S500. For the inspection process, one will want a moisture meter, thermal hygrometer and thermal camera. Air scrubbers (AFDs) are needed typically in negative pressure mode. Once containment has been established with negative air, a manometer is needed to determine if proper pressure differentials are established prior to demolition. A proper respirator is needed by all in the work area, along with other personal protective equipment (PPE). HEPA rated vacuums – not shop vacuums with “HEPA” filters – should be used. Instead of making your AFD have to clean the air as much, how about using a Kett saw attached to your HEPA vacuum? Not having to chase dust at the end of the project will increase profit margins. Using peroxide-based cleaning products will also assist in the removal of mold on framing items. These are just some of the items you will find on my projects.

Q: What are the most common missteps or misconceptions you see related to mold remediation?

A: There are no magic bullets! Products that take color away do only that. Many products claim all you need to do is spray and wipe the surface. Some products state they are stain removal only. People don’t read directions, then many manufacturers make no corrections to misleading social media boasts of the incorrect use of their products. Like watching a Lysol TV commercial. *Use as directed… not.

People don’t understand they need specific training to properly remediate mold. People want to buy a product/system that is so simple that anyone can get in on the max profit train with minimum effort.

Some believe they must seal or encapsulate all mold jobs to pass clearance. They also want to kill mold. A remediator’s job is to remove mold, not kill mold. If a person/company is worried, they should do a better job cleaning.

The mistake is doing a service that costs $1,000 to do for a $250 budget. Do what’s right! You can’t compete with a person who will have a $200 magic solution. The ANSI/IICRC S520 is the standard for a reason. Not every job requires demolition, but most require more than spray and wipe!

Q: What key steps should mold remediation contractors take to keep themselves safe during projects?

A: One major step in safety is stop letting men get away with wearing beards using a negative pressure fit respirator! I know many people are not going to like that comment. You can grow a beard back; you cannot repair your damaged lungs. Then, perform a site-specific hazard assessment for every job. Discuss the hazards for the jobsite at the beginning of each workday. The hazards change often depending on the tasks for that day.

Implement a competency-based training program for PPE and wear the proper PPE at all times. Learn how to properly doff the PPE that is worn. Do not reuse PPE that is supposed to be thrown away. Slow down, think things through, allow time to accomplish a task properly and safely. Use proper engineering controls to reduce airborne contaminants. Keep walking and working surfaces cleaned up.

Everyone is a safety officer and should look out not only for themselves, but coworkers. If someone is about to trip over a power cord, don’t just stand there and watch it happen.

Q: Can you highlight your most memorable mold removal project and why it stands out? 

A: I have done numerous mold remediation projects. The one that stands out the most is from about two years ago in my own home. Three and a half years ago my mother passed. She had a fully furnished apartment in the basement. After she passed, I never went down there much. I noticed that my family, including the cat, was progressively having more allergy like symptoms. When I came home off the road, I would have to start medicating within a couple of hours for my allergies.

One day I noticed something on the AC vent. Every vent in the house had the same little black and green round specks. The HVAC system had malfunctioned in the basement. The damper system that was supposed to share AC with the apartment side of the basement closed. The humidity was over 80% in the basement. Visible mold was growing on the remaining furniture. The HVAC system spread it upstairs.

With the problem solved and the impacted areas and items cleaned, the house had much less noise from all the sneezing. Even the cat who is 14 years old started acting like a kitten again.

Q: What are your top predictions and/or hopes for the near future of mold remediation? 

A: Hopes:

  • People will start understanding that mold remediation is more than quick, easy money. The quality of their work has a direct impact on the health and lives of the client. The quality of the service they do or do not perform will have a lasting impact on the people occupying the structure they worked on.
  • Contractors will get educated more on what needs to be done versus what they think they can charge for a piece of equipment. A person who knows how to use a shovel to the best of its ability will make more profits than a person who doesn’t. If contractors focus on the quality of the work, the money takes care of itself. 

Predictions:

  • More and more states are implementing licensing requirements. I predict that it is just a matter of time before the federal government gets into it. Unfortunately, the majority of this is self-inflicted due to poor quality of work and disservice to the client.
  • More people will continue to buy into this industry because of many of the misconceptions listed previously. Most of the students I teach are shocked about what they did not know about proper remediation techniques.

Q: What key resources do you turn to for continued education in mold remediation? 

A: To stay current in education and practices in the mold remediation industry, I tend to read industry related papers and articles. I engage distributors and manufactures of products in conversations about what they are selling and why. I also serve on industry related committees and seek the input of other instructors in my field. Just like I tell my students, I do my own research. I do not just take the word of a salesperson who only has a product or process to sell. Sales people only tell you the good stuff; you need to look for both the negatives and positives, be honest with yourself then you can figure out what works.

About Mark

Mark Cornelius has been in the cleaning and restoration industry for 38-plus years. He started at 13 cleaning carpet in class A office buildings. Since then, Cornelius has worked in every facet in the restoration industry. He also has 14.5 years as a volunteer firefighter and EMT-I, as well as NPQ fire instructor 1. Cornelius has been the president of Disaster Recovery Industries, Inc. since 2001, dealing with all things restoration. He is also an IICRC triple master, owning Emergency Mitigation Technician Academy (EMTA) with five instructors. Cornelius has traveled the world teaching IICRC-approved classes in AMRT, WRT, FSRT, TCST just to name a few. He also serves on the ANSI/IICRC S540, AMRT, MRS, FSRT, and co-chairs the OCT committee. Cornelius was one of the first to hold the IICRC MRS certification. He was also elected to the board of directors for the IICRC.

Cliff Grost

Owner, Multi-Maintenance Cleaning and Restoration, Inc.

Q: What do you enjoy most about mold remediation? 

A: I really love the science of mold, the different species, and how and where mold grows. It’s fascinating to investigate and try to predict where it would be. In addition, I think helping people recover from a disaster or mold growth, and the impact we have on the quality of our clients lives. I try to live by Barry Costa’s daughter Kim’s life lessons; especially number five: “touch as many lives as you can.”

Q: What are the top tools mold remediation professionals should have in their toolbox?

A: Education is number one, which should include an understanding of our standards ANSI/IICRC S520- S500, building and construction science. Be creative and able to improvise. By this, I mean modify your technique or procedures at the job demands. Additionally, a well-written contract, detailed record keeping and a very detailed final report describing what you did, including photos, are important tools.  

Q: What are the most common missteps or misconceptions you see related to mold remediation?

A: Many remediators miss hidden mold growth because they don’t do a thorough inspection during the remediation process and before submitting to the post-remediation verification. Using a powerful spotlight is important to focus the attention of the inspector and will light up hidden or dark areas. If there is dust or debris, the remediation process is not complete.  

I also see very poor documentation. Many remediators submit an Xactimate price sheet as their final report and all that does is show how much they charged. It is important to describe in detail where the mold was and how you remediated it.

I see a lot of “mold remediators” spray juice and call it remediation. While solutions do have a place in the remediation process, source removal is still the best way to remediate mold. Bank-owned properties get remediated by spraying a white paint all over the place and they call it discoloration restoration. Many unsuspecting buyers purchase these properties and are left with a big mess and bill to remediate the “discoloration” mold properly. I felt so bad for a young pregnant couple who purchased their dream home only to have me come in and tell them how much to remediate the mold; I don’t know what they eventually did but I did not get the job.

Q: What key steps should mold remediation contractors take to keep themselves safe during projects?

A: That is a very interesting question in this time of a global pandemic. The notion of being safe has many facets – safe in business practices, safe from the hazards of remediating mold, safe a from construction accidents, safe from legal action and safe from COVID.  

A good contract, continuing education, keeping up on the changes in the industry standards, sound business practices, insurance coverage written for mold remediation contractors, sending all workers to mold remediation class and appropriate pricing are ways to protect the business. Sometimes you have to walk away from projects that make the hair on the back of your head stand up. Always listen to your gut. 

Proper personal protective equipment (PPE) is the main thing to protect your workers, following all regulations and knowing what you don’t know.

Q: Can you highlight your most memorable mold removal project and why it stands out? 

A: I did have one bank-owned property where the village was involved and we were required to remediate properly, as the village was sending an inspector to document our procedures. This job had been vacant for two years and without any electricity. The basement had 4 feet plus of water for much of that time. When we pumped out the basement, we were required by the village to pump the water into the sewer system. It is the correct way to dispose of contaminated water, but the neighbors went to a board meeting to complain about this property.

Walking through for the first time was like walking on an alien planet. The different molds that grew on the varied substrates were fascinating and so was seeing the different species growing on top of others.   The basement was a total gut down to the concrete walls. There was fiberglass and cellulosic two foot-by-four-foot ceiling in most of the basement. Interestingly, very little to no mold grew above the fiberglass tiles on the wood subfloor structure. However, extensive mold grew above the cellulosic tiles. 

Q: What are your top predictions and/or hopes for the near future of mold remediation? 

A: I hope that the science and research into new methods of remediation continue. In the very early days of water damage we just sprayed cherry deodorizer and eventually the mold and bacteria smell went away. Did we leave the building wet? Yes. Did we leave the building moldy? Yes. So we learned to dry better. Now we need to learn to remediate better too. 

I think it is time for the insurance industry to step up and educate their insureds about how to prevent water damage. They did it with fire; they should do it with water too. Back when the Ballard settlement was announced, and the insurance companies panicked and wrote mold out of the policies, I thought it was like writing smoke damage out of a fire claim. If you don’t properly dry out water damage, mold will grow. I think it is also time for big banks to actually remediate the mold in their owned properties. Maybe the banking industry needs a big settlement from a lawsuit to wake up.   

Q: What key resources do you turn to for continued education in mold remediation? 

A: Attending trade shows, retaking classes and reading trade magazines are ways I keep up. But I also talk to local industry colleagues. Being involved in the volunteer work for standards and testing, I have made great friends in the industry who have forgotten more than I will ever know about mold remediation, so I also turn to them.

About Cliff

Cliff Grost started his company, Multi-Maintenance Cleaning and Restoration, Inc., over 30 years ago and continues to work in the field. He has been an IICRC triple master technician for over 20 years. Grost started learning about mold from Rachel Adams before it was even talked about in WRT class. Grost served on the IICRC board of directors for seven years, and as an editor of S100 fourth edition and S520 first and second edition. He was a consensus body member for S520 first edition and vice chair second edition. Grost also served on the TAC committee for CDS, AMRT and the MRS exam. “I have been privileged to learn from and work with the Icons of our industry, Claude Blackburn, Cliff Zlotnik, Mike West, Larry Cooper, Gene Cole, Rachel Adams, Tom Hill, Kenway Mead, Steve Toburen and many, many others,” Grost said. “I am proud of the work we did on the Connections events board of directors. I believe we had an amazing concept, bringing all the associations together.” Grost has been married to his wife for 28 years, is the father to two amazing women, and is a grandfather of three.

Jim Pearson

President and CEO, Mold Inspection Services, Inc.; Co-Owner, Americlean Corporation

Q: What do you enjoy most about mold remediation? 

A: Mold remediation is meaningful, rewarding and exciting work! Not only do we contribute to saving properties by preventing further deterioration; we get the opportunity to help our clients feel better by professionally removing a contaminant that may be making them sick or preventing them from healing.  

Q: What are the top tools mold remediation professionals should have in their toolbox?

A: Adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), job knowledge and the desire to be thorough. Some of the other tools include a thermal IR cam, a good pin plus RF moisture content meter, and HEPA-filtered vacuuming, cutting and sanding tools.

Q: What are the most common missteps or misconceptions you see related to mold remediation?

A: There are several misconceptions about remediating mold properly. A big one is resisting the urge to dry the structure (and even contents) before remediating the mold. Blowing air on mold only serves to spread the contamination. Over the years, our industry has changed its position on water damage versus mold remediation. The new edition of the ANSI/IICRC S500 Standard for Professional Water Damage Restoration prescribes the correct sequence: Remove the mold, then dry the structure and contents.

Another myth is believing that all black mold is toxic mold. It is not. Further, after finally realizing that “putting bleach on mold” is not recommended for a number of reasons, the industry has recently seen a proliferation of spray applied products being used as a one-step solution for proper mold remediation. Most of these chemicals are great for appearance enhancement as described in the industry’s Standard of Care. They are designed to be effective when used as directed. This may include HEPA vacuuming, washing, sanding or scrubbing in order to comply with the ANSI/IICRC S520 Standard for Professional Mold Remediation, which calls for physically removing the source (mold).

For years, manufacturers have worked hard to provide an answer to the age-old question from our customer, “Can’t you just spray something on it to kill it?” But even if one could really “kill” mold spores, they remain an allergen, and if they are of the toxic variety, they are still toxigenic because allergens and toxins (poisons) are not alive and, therefore, cannot be killed.

Mold remediation technicians need to understand that mold spores can float in the air for days and are invisible. The number of spores amplifies dramatically when disturbed, even by the air currents caused as they walk by the contamination. They also need to know that mold contamination must be physically removed and the conditions leading to the formation of the mold (water) must be corrected.

Q: What key steps should mold remediation contractors take to keep themselves safe during projects?

A: Determine the risk factors before you start the job. Be alert for the presence of hazardous materials and make a plan to deal with them. Take a history from the client and ask if there have been any recent leaks or floods and see if family members (or employees) have unexplained illnesses or other health issues that could be related to exposure to elevated levels of mold. Don’t try to be a hero. Always err on the side of safety and wear PPE appropriate to the project.

Q: Can you highlight your most memorable mold removal project and why it stands out? 

A:  My most memorable mold removal project was being a large-loss consultant after Hurricane Maria devastated the north coast of Puerto Rico. This project stands out in my memory because it became clear to me that everyone looks at mold contamination from different perspectives depending on what country or region they are from. In this case it was nearly impossible to impress upon the local workers on the island that exposure to mold can be dangerous and the wearing of proper PPE is essential to protecting oneself during remediation. In fact, a common saying when a worker was suffering from an allergic reaction to mold was, “Oh, it’s just a mold cold.”

Q: What are your top predictions and/or hopes for the near future of mold remediation? 

A: I predict there will be a greater emphasis placed on mold and mycotoxins and how they can impact our health and our indoor air quality in general. The impact of mold exposure on our daily lives can be significant. While some people will never be convinced that human exposure to elevated levels of mold is a big deal, others are genuinely concerned that coming into contact with any type or amount of mold can make them very sick or even kill them. I think we will see a wider understanding of the true challenges caused by excessive exposure to mold as more of us become aware of the facts, and the fiction surrounding tomorrow’s mold issues. Doctors certainly should be taking mold contamination more seriously instead of relegating it to naturopaths for solutions. The mold remediation industry would do well to study the S520 standard and take better precautions to avoid harming our clients. 

Q: What key resources do you turn to for continued education in mold remediation? 

A: As the amount of new information, both real and fictitious, continues to increase, we tend to latch onto what sounds right to us, and we apply it to our belief system. With so much more information available to today’s technicians and supervisors, it is easy to get sidetracked by claims of new, improved, cheaper and faster ways to resolve mold issues. I tend to be skeptical about claims of products or methods that “kill” mold forever and your problem is resolved after applying a solution. I like to keep the basics in the forefront of my mind. For example, the five principles of remediation detailed in the ANSI/IICRC S520 Standard for Professional Mold Remediation are the foundation on which the Standard of Care for remediation is built. Other great resources include IICRC and other professional teaching organizations with sanctioned training courses, AIHA’s “Green Book”, New York City’s Department of Health’s Guidelines, OSHA, EPA, and on-line forums and chat groups among many others.

About Jim

Jim Pearson is a Certified Mechanical Hygienist. He is president and CEO of Mold Inspection Services, Inc., and co-owner of Americlean Corporation, a full-service disaster restoration business in Billings, Mont. for 42 years. Pearson has experience as consensus body chairman, revising and publishing the ANSI/IICRC S-520 Standard for Professional Mold Remediation. Pearson is also a standards writer for the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) on mold and moisture assessments. He is a past chairman of the board for IICRCA (Council of Associations), and past officer and director for the Restoration Industry Association (RIA). Pearson is a published author, consultant and is retained as an expert witness in litigation cases. He is a certified instructor on environmental issues for the Montana Board of Realty Regulation, and an EPA-certified Lead-safe Renovator/Trainer.