Banding Together To Fight Mold

July 18, 2003
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The newly formed mold and moisture task force includes (from left, clockwise) Ray Patenaude, Mark Menzer, John Saucier, Don Colliver, Mark Kerney, Jack Desmond, and Andy Nolfo.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Perhaps the title of the seminar held at the 2003 Annual Meeting of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) should have been “Mold And The HVACR Industry,” rather than “Mold In The HVACR Industry.”

With the major contractor and manufacturer associations actually looking to the federal government for standards and regulations, the thinking was anything but moldy.

Why the interest in regulation? John Saucier, chairman of the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), confirmed that there are hopes that if industry associations can show that their members have established rules and regulations to follow, perhaps professional coverage will be available again someday.

Members of six industry associations — ACCA, Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI), ASHRAE, Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA), National Environmental Balancing Bureau (NEBB), and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA) — gave position statements in which they offered support for regulatory activities in general; the five guest groups offered specific support for ASHRAE activities.

At the end of the session, the groups pulled their proverbial wagons in a circle. An industry task force was born comprising the six groups, with possible membership from other associations.

At table (from left): John Saucier (ACCA), Mark Menzer (ARI), Mark Kerney (MCAA), Andy Nolfo (NEBB), Jack Desmond (SMACNA), and Don Colliver (ASHRAE).

High Stakes

There is a lot at stake, even more than there was this time last year. Ray Patenaude, P.E., with The Holmes Agency in St. Petersburg, Fla., reported that in 2001, mold insurance claims totaled $600,000. Claims rose to $1 billion in 2002. This year, he said, one case alone is estimated at $1.5 billion. The insurance industry said it expects total 2003 claims to be in excess of $3 billion, according to Patenaude.

Saucier noted that there is nothing new to report on mold. “However,” he said, “attitudes about mold are new.” It is no surprise, he added, that the insurance industry has stepped aside.

ACCA’s platform focuses on:

  • Educating consumers — Particularly, teaching customers the importance of proper sizing. Consumers and building owners “are not without responsibility,” Saucier said. Consumers need to know about:

    — Proper sizing, selection, installation, and maintenance;

    — Proper maintenance and cleaning, not just the system but the entire building;

    — How to recognize the signs of mold; and

    — What to do when mold is encountered.

    “Years ago, if you had a problem, you fixed it,” Saucier said. “Now you are a victim and spend time and energy looking to place blame. When consumers get to looking for the lowest price, they need to be reminded of the adage, ‘You can’t have it both ways.’”

  • Getting federal government involved —Encouraging and sponsoring research to identify molds and concentrations, establish methods to control mold, and develop minimum standards and benchmarks for moisture and mold.

  • Raising the performance of remediators — Identifying what is expected of them, creating standards for their performance and education, and certifying mold identifiers and remediators.

  • Upgrading construction practices — Correctly applying technologies (envelopes, vapor barriers, sizing/selection), acknowledging the impact of ventilation, as well as the need for proper, ongoing maintenance and cleaning.

  • Promoting sound contractor practices — Properly sizing, selecting, installing, and maintaining equipment, and determining and controlling humidity levels, including during the unoccupied mode.

  • Providing affordable property and medical insurance — Covering building occupants and HVAC technicians, and providing liability coverage “for well-trained professionals.”

    Saucier concluded: “Owners and consumers need to know that what we are doing is being done properly.”

    ACCA chairman John Saucier noted that there is nothing new to report on mold. “However,” he said, “attitudes about mold are new.”

    Parallel Views

    “I am very pleased to see that the position of those who install the equipment is very parallel to those who manufacture it,” said Mark Menzer, vice president of Engineering and Research for ARI.

    The institute’s position is that “A properly designed, operated, and maintained HVAC system can have a beneficial influence beyond maintaining a high quality of indoor environment,” Menzer stated. Poor systems, on the other hand, can reduce productivity and increase lost time due to illness.

    In order to quantify the quality of IAQ, many variables must be considered, he said. “We need more research and specifications.” There currently are no top limits for pollutants, Menzer pointed out. That’s why ARI supports the development of research.

    He cited past and current research, including the study, “Defining the Effectiveness of UV Lamps Installed in Circulating Air Ductwork,” from the Air-Conditioning & Refrigeration Technology Institute (ARTI) and 21-CR research. A portable mold detector study is now in the works, he said, as is a program for humidity control with ASHRAE. And an ongoing residential survey “will give tools for supporting guidelines,” Menzer said.

    The organization would like to see the development of exposure guidelines for occupants of commercial buildings, he continued. ARI “agrees to work with government, especially for the establishment of exposure guidelines,” he said. In order to get to that point, “certainly, more research needs to be done.”

    Mark Kerney, who represented MCAA and is also president of Hill York Services in Florida, noted, “Like most associations, we have some members who would like to keep their heads firmly planted in the ground on the issue of microbiological contamination. Fortunately, we have others who are taking a proactive approach and educating themselves, their employees, and their customers.

    “The consequences of inaction are serious,” he continued. “Unfortunately, some attorneys are aggressively seeking to earn a living off the indiscretions of ignorant contractors.”

    He then described the current influx of home test kits for mold, quipping that “It’s only a matter of time before they come out with a ‘one-size-fits-all’ home test kit that covers mold, radon, lead, asbestos, alcohol, narcotics, and pregnancy testing.”

    He admitted that some work practices have contributed to mold cross-contamination, but went unnoticed. The challenge today is to change procedures “to accommodate the heightened awareness of our customers and employees.”

    MCAA, he said, will introduce its “Micro-biological Management Plan” this fall, offering offensive and defensive tools to address “the opportunities and liabilities inherent with this issue. This includes a basic understanding of microbiology, health concerns related to mold, habitats for mold growth, and relevant study guidelines and standards in use today.

    “The plan emphasizes the need for a microbiological plan manager,” Kerney continued. “This person will be responsible for keeping up to date with current standards, updating the plan regularly, overseeing the education of employees, developing a work practice doctrine, and educating customers.”

    The plan also includes the development of a team of professional partners, including an attorney familiar with indoor environmental issues.

    Andy Nolfo, technical director of NEBB, pointed out that asbestos fears and the energy crisis of the 70s eventually led to IAQ problems and Sick Building Syndrome. “Out of IAQ came mold,” he said. “Out in the forest, mold is beneficial. In homes, it is not.”

    NEBB, he continued, would like to see a consensus standard from ASHRAE. Mold issues, he said, should not be resolved by people with “J.D.” or “Esq.” after their names — that is, lawyers.

    “Education is the key,” Nolfo stressed.

    Training on building operation is critical. Improper operations can lead to high humidity and mold if unattended. Poor controls functions and poor system operation are prime reasons for high humidity and mold growth, he added. Old buildings need recommissioning or retrocommissioning.

    “We applaud and stand by ASHRAE,” he stated.

    Jack Desmond, president of SMACNA, also agreed that commissioning and recommissioning are essential.

    “As a service contractor, we get involved in servicing existing buildings,” he said. Some are “absolutely atrocious.”

    ASHRAE should be the certifying agency for consensus building, he stated on behalf of his association. He agreed with the information presented by the other speakers.

    ASHRAE Speaks

    Even though Richard Rooley eventually replaced Donald Colliver, Ph.D., as the 2003-04 ASHRAE president, Colliver was present for this session and spoke as ASHRAE’s president. He questioned what were the policy issues regarding mold relative to ASHRAE.

    “I disagree that mold is entirely a bad issue,” said Colliver. “How about cheese?”

    In locations where mold does cause problems, it is critical to make sure it is handled properly when it is encountered, he said.

    He continued that ASHRAE and the other HVAC associations can best address mold and moisture issues as building science problems, not health or epidemiological problems. “Those are not ASHRAE’s areas of expertise,” he said of the latter.

    He offered ASHRAE’s mold policy issues:

  • ASHRAE has direct interest and concern in this subject.

  • HVAC systems do affect humidity and air movement.

  • ASHRAE standards impact building codes.

  • HVAC system and building envelope interaction affect the amount of moisture collected.

  • Public policy can contribute to avoiding or creating mold. (“The laws of nature and thermodynamics take precedence over the laws of man.”)

  • Resources should be consulted before policies are developed on state, federal, and even world levels. “We need education of policymakers,” Colliver said.

    “Many mold problems lie outside of ASHRAE’s expertise,” he added. “Some are within our scope.”

    The use of principles and practices in ASHRAE’s handbooks and standards should reduce the risk of having problems, he said. “We need to … do things the way we know they should be done.”

    Preventing mold problems is a shared responsibility among all groups, he said. Problems in attacking the issues do not come from individual groups, but rather from areas in which several associations overlap. For that reason, each group should review its current practices and standards.

    Moisture accumulation must be removed quickly; first try to prevent it, Colliver said, but if it comes in, remove it. Moisture control is the key to mold control.

    As far as establishing limits and health guidelines, “We need to rely on health professionals,” he said.

    Publication date: 07/21/2003

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