But I didn’t want to go that route.
It would have been easy to become distracted by the ongoing multi-million dollar, headline-grabbing lawsuits involving celebrities that we, the general public, love to read about. But the goal of The News always has been and always will be to stick to the important issues that have a direct impact on the bottom line of our readers — to help them succeed in business by providing them with superior information.
In our mold series, which concludes this week, we concentrated on the factors that affect mold growth, ways to test for IAQ problems and remediate mold, and suggestions on how contractors can add mold testing and remediation services to their stable of current offerings.
I don’t say this to lessen the importance of the liability side of the mold issue. It is certainly extremely important to anyone who designs and installs indoor comfort systems, because a knowledgeable (or lawsuit-inclined) consumer who has read about large settlements could find one small flaw in his or her HVAC equipment and use that as a reason for filing suit. Last year in Texas alone, lawsuits involving mold litigation averaged $50,000 per settlement.
We’ve reported on some of these completed settlements in previous issues of The News, and we will continue to strive to provide complete, accurate accounts of legal cases and legislation that affect contractors.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I was criticized by several IAQ experts for limiting my discussions to Stachybotrys chartarum. They said that this form of toxic mold is but one of several that affects the health of building occupants.
I graciously accept the criticism, but I felt it necessary to focus on one mold that has been responsible for documented short-term and long-term health problems. Some molds, like Stachybotrys, produce toxins that can have severe effects on human health, requiring hospitalization. Others appear to have very subtle effects, slowly contributing to allergic reactions and asthma. Still other molds may not pose any health risks at all. Science does not yet have all the answers.
The goal of this series was to point out how those in our trade, and HVACR contractors in particular, can become involved in addressing a growing IAQ “crisis” and how they can profit from solutions they offer to their customers. Is this profiting from another person’s misfortunes? No, it’s just smart business.
IAQ-RELATED HEALTH PROBLEMSAccording to a recent report on the CBS Evening News, the rate of asthma has doubled in our nation’s school classrooms in the last decade. The report used the example of the McKinley Elementary School in Fairfield, CT.
A number of students and teachers were suffering from unexplained symptoms. A local allergist had the school tested for mold. He concluded that mold “was not a problem, but a huge problem.”
The school had some late summer flooding in 2001 which contributed to the mold growth. Forty to 60 students and staff members got sick, and some of them required hospitalization.
But mold growth is not only related to catastrophic events like flooding. It can also start with incidents of high humidity and poor ventilation in buildings. I think the biggest contributor to mold growth is human ignorance. And I’ll be the first to raise my hand and be counted.
I admit that after repairing a leaky pipe and having new windows installed a couple of years ago, the last thing I thought about was the aftereffects of each incident.
For example, did I look to see if water damage from the leaky pipe had affected the surrounding drywall or insulation? No. After my windows were installed, did I inspect them to see if the window drip cap flashing was installed correctly and that water runoff would be diverted away from the window frame? No. I didn’t even think about mold and its possible health consequences.
Educating people about mold can be the key to counteracting these consequences. If we don’t get the word out, people will continue to become ill and develop long-lasting health problems. One teacher in the CBS report, herself stricken by mold-related health problems, summed up her feelings this way:
“How many more teachers have to get sick before people realize this is a serious public issue? Children should not have to attend school where they are going to acquire a lifelong illness.”
If your local school district isn’t conducting mold testing, you might want to make a few calls.
SOMETHING TO CHEW ONA few issues back, I wrote about a home inspector, Jeffrey C. May, who wrote a book entitled My House is Killing Me! The Home Guide for Families with Allergies and Asthma. May’s opinions of forced-air systems garnered substantial feedback from News’ readers. The topic got people talking — and thinking. It got many of us to think about what affects IAQ and, particularly, how poor IAQ can lead to unchecked mold spore growth.
I have to thank May for his many e-mails and photos that he generously shared and for the advice he imparted to our readers. He took some criticism for his opinions on forced-air systems, but he helped us understand the mold issue a little better.
May pointed out the dangers that HVACR service techs and installers face when exposed to mold toxins. “Duct cleaners are at particular risk, but I believe that exposures to moldy dust are an enormous risk in many trades, particularly HVAC installers and plumbers,” he said. “I think that you would be quite surprised if you put out a survey and inquired how many of your readers became sensitized to mold over the years while working in the trade.
“HVAC installers are often at risk when working in moldy crawl spaces and basements. Even moving seemingly clean fiberglass can result in severe exposures to mold and mite allergens, as damp basements incubate these organisms in the house and sawdust trapped in the insulation. In my opinion, it is vitally important for installers to use appropriate respiratory protection (minimum NIOSH N95) when in dusty or moldy environments.”
Thus, not only are homeowners and building occupants — your customers — at risk when exposed to mold toxins, but so are your employees.
A HAPPY ENDINGDave Shagott of Abatement Technologies also provided some valuable input for the mold series. He related a story which had a happy ending for the homeowner, contractor, and manufacturer. I think this example could be a benchmark for how HVACR contractors can add mold testing and remediation — whether they perform the work or subcontract it out — to their existing services.
“One recent case study that specifically comes to mind is a home in Atlanta that had a variety of IAQ problems,” said Shagott. “These problems were exacerbated by mold infestation following a flood. The residents, who were already being treated by a local allergist for severe allergy and asthma problems, actually had to abandon the home once the mold problem was discovered and the family’s health worsened.
“The insurance company involved became desperate because it appeared that the home might possibly become a total loss unless the causes of the IAQ problems could be eliminated. They contacted a contractor who ultimately solved the problems using a variety of IAQ-remediation techniques, including source removal air duct cleaning (using our equipment), duct sealing, air balancing, the introduction of fresh air, and Abatement Technologies’ CAP1200 Central Air Purification systems, which incorporate 99.97% efficiency HEPA filtration and germicidal UV to ‘kill or capture’ mold and other allergens.”
I believe Shagott has some good information on mold, and I invite readers to visit www.moldabatementproducts.com to learn more.
By the end of 2002, some estimate that all 50 states will have some type of ceiling on insurance claims involving mold litigation. It would follow that mold testing and remediation will become very important to insurance companies, not to mention their policyholders.
Does this mean more homes and buildings will be subjected to testing and remediation? And will public concern turn homeowners and building owners into watchdogs for mold problems? I believe the answer to both questions is yes, and I also believe that our trade can lead the way in offering solutions to the mold problem.
Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 734-542-6214; 734-542-6215 (fax); firstname.lastname@example.org (e-mail).
Publication date: 07/08/2002