Mold remediation expert Tom Peter, a Certified Industrial Hygienist and Vice President of Insurance Restorations Specialists, Inc. (IRS) in Monroe, New Jersey, recently spent some time talking with Blog Talk Radio host Ray Pinny about mold in schools. Peter is in a unique position to advise on school mold. His company has been selected to provide disaster recovery services to members of the Educational Services Commission of NJ (ESCNJ), the largest co-op in the state service school districts, colleges, universities, housing authorities, and other county and state agencies throughout New Jersey. The following is an edited and condensed version of that interview. For the full interview, click the link at the bottom of the transcript.
What causes mold to grow in schools and other buildings?
It’s really about moisture and moisture control, if there’s no moisture then there’s no mold. Having high humidity in a room will allow mold to grow on surfaces and certain levels of moisture will grow different types of mold. There are always mold spores around looking for someplace to grow. They also need a food source which could be a wood surface or even dust.
Does it seem like there was an increase in school mold this year?
There was absolutely an increase. This year we’re seeing a 10-fold increase in the amount of claims and clean up jobs. It is due to the humidity and the amount of rain we had all summer, it’s definitely weather related.
Are there different types of mold and are they all remediated the same way?
There are thousands of types of mold out there but the remediation is the same for all of them. When we see mold we treat it, we don’t care what color it is or what species it is. Especially in a school or public building if you see mold, it has to be cleaned up regardless of what kind it is.
Is mold always airborne and what is airborne mold?
It’s not always airborne. When mold grows it releases microscopic spores, even a small patch can release thousands of spores. If you find airborne mold, it’s an indication that something is going on in that room. If you have stagnant air those spores can settle to the surface so you may not have an airborne count. Air sampling is important but we don’t rely on air counts alone, if you see mold then there’s mold but air samples might not always pick it up. You also might have airborne mold and not be able to see the source of it, so airborne samples are only part of the investigation.
When You get a call that someone sees mold in a school, what’s the process to clean it up?
First we do a visual inspection, things like looking under tables and behind cabinets. We find most of the mold conditions on things like chairs and desks, primarily wood surfaces although you can find it on plastic surfaces. Then you’re looking at the details of what needs to be cleaned, is it books, cabinets, drawers?
The cleaning process itself involves controlling the environment. We install HEPA air filtration systems to make sure mold isn’t being spread during the cleaning process. We use HEPA filtered vacuums to remove as much of the dust and mold spores as possible, then hand wiping with disinfectants and detergents.
What does HEPA stand For?
It stands for High Efficiency Particulate Air filter. It’s the only filter that can capture fine particles such as mold spores, so you really need to use a high efficiency vacuum or filtration device.
After cleaning is completed what tests are done to ensure there is no mold left?
We don’t do the testing, an independent company hired by the school district will come in to do a visual inspection and conduct air testing. Some of them also do surface sampling as well. They compare the mold counts and look for a reduction to where it’s less than the mold count present in the outdoor environment. After the final round of testing we can say it’s safe for students and staff to re-enter that part of the building.
What are some measures districts can take to prevent mold?
For schools especially, who clean with water and then close up for the summer, proper ventilation and drying after the cleaning process. During the summer there should be frequent ventilation but not necessarily air conditioning. I’ve noticed the rooms that have the most air conditioning or are the coldest have the most mold. Some rooms are over-chilled which creates condensation on desks and other surfaces. We feel a more moderate temperature and some air movement are the best conditions to prevent mold growth.
Since the wet weather has continued this fall should districts look into things like dehumidifiers?
I just had a conversation this morning with a school looking to rent dehumidifiers to control the moisture. Dehumidifiers are helping, I’ve seen many schools purchase or rent them to control the humidity. You want a relative humidity in the range of 30-60%, but definitely below 60%, 50% is great. A relative humidity monitor will tell you what the humidity is at, if you keep it in that range you won’t have a problem.
How long does a clean-up take?
There are so many variables when it comes to school mold clean-up. It depends on the size of the area with the mold, the contents needing to be cleaned and if HVAC systems need to be cleaned. A single classroom can take about a day to do, a whole wing can take several days. If it’s the whole school it can take over a week.
About Insurance Restoration Specialists, Inc.
Insurance Restoration Specialists, Inc. (IRS) is a premier provider of disaster recovery mitigation, environmental remediation, biohazard emergency response and HVAC inspection and cleaning in the New Jersey-Philadelphia-New York City area. IRS is certified by NADCA and have Certified Air Systems Cleaning Technicians and a Certified Ventilation System Inspector on staff.
Insurance Restoration Specialists has been selected to provide disaster recovery services to members of the Educational Services Commission of NJ (ESCNJ), the largest co-op in the state service school districts, colleges, universities, housing authorities, and other county and state agencies throughout New Jersey.
New Jersey State approved Co-op # 65MCESCCPS
RFP # ESCNJ 17/18-34
Contract Dates: 11/16/17-11/15/20