August Mack Newsletter | October, 2018

Mold, Lead, and Asbestos...Oh My!
by Ashley Bring

Mold. Lead. Asbestos. To those unfamiliar with these common environmental building concerns these words can be alarming, and for good reason. Any single one of the issues can be a huge nuisance, and when not managed properly may be a serious threat to human health. These issues have plagued buildings for decades but fortunately protocol has been developed to address and remediate the issues when necessary, thus limiting the health risks associated with them.

Undoubtedly, one of the most common building issues, and perhaps the most misunderstood, is that of mold. Mold is naturally occurring and it can be found almost anywhere with high moisture or humidity. Following a flood, leaking pipe, or other water loss, mold may develop if prompt removal of contaminated materials and reduction of moisture does not occur. Mold can develop in as quickly as twenty-four hours and may not always be readily apparent, though signs of mold may be visible such as wall or ceiling discoloration or the smell of a musty, earthy odor. When airborne mold spores are present in large quantities, allergic reactions, asthma episodes, infections, and other respiratory problems may result. If mold is a concern, an inspection may be done by a professional to determine the presence, extent, and type of mold. Some types of mycotoxins, most notably the Stachybotrys chartarum species, also known as “black mold”, are toxic and should be handled only by an experienced professional. Contrary to popular belief, not all mold that appears black in color is this specific strain of “black mold”, and in fact may not even be toxic. Toxic mold can cause breathing problems, mental impairment, organ damage, cancer, and even death. Steps to address mold include removal, cleaning, thorough drying, and/or restoration of the area. In the case of toxic black mold, the area must be abated under negative pressure to avoid further contamination or spread of mold spores. For this reason, it is important to understand the extent and type of mold prior to treating, and better yet, to avoid conditions for mold growth in the first place.

Another common building concern is that of lead in buildings. Lead has been a common additive to paint for hundreds of years, and is a highly durable, yet highly toxic metal that poses a particular threat to children due to its adverse health effects. Ingesting lead containing products such as lead paint chips is well documented to cause physical or neurological disorders and even death. Popularity of lead based paint in the United States peaked in the 1920’s and was finally banned for residential use in 1971 with the passing of the Lead-Based Paint Poisoning Prevention Act. The majority of buildings built prior to the 1970’s are likely to contain lead paint. The EPA has rules for homes, child care facilities, and kindergartens built before 1978 requiring them to utilize a certified renovator when undergoing renovation to prevent lead contamination. For many non-residential buildings lead paint does not typically pose a concern, provided the walls are in good condition and it is undisturbed. For buildings undergoing renovation, it is important to follow proper guidelines, to make sure waste is disposed of properly and to perform lead dust clearance testing when necessary. To determine the presence of lead based paint, small samples of paint chips may be taken and analyzed in a laboratory and when present, an operation and maintenance (O&M) plan may be developed.

Finally, asbestos is another building concern that is often misunderstood. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral with a myriad of useful properties. Its long, thick fiber-like crystals may be easily braided and the resulting product is strong, a great insulator, and chemically inert. The use of asbestos in building materials rose in popularity throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s and was used in a wide range of products including floor tile, ceiling tile, window caulking, fire stop putty, fire blankets, high temperature gaskets, and more. Unfortunately, not fully realized until the 1980’s, asbestos also can be detrimental to human health. Airborne asbestos can cause lung cancer and mesothelioma. Due to its prevalence in buildings and the grave danger it poses when airborne, it is imperative that buildings undergoing renovation or demolition be knowledgeable about the presence of any and all asbestos-containing materials. Asbestos is regulated by several government agencies including AHERA (Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act), requiring all public and private schools to conduct asbestos surveys and implement O&M plans; NESHAP (National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants), which regulates asbestos as a hazardous air pollutant, particularly with large demolition of buildings; and OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration), which oversees employee safety in general industry and construction.  Building owner responsibilities include identification of asbestos containing material in building, awareness training for employees, notification and labeling, development of asbestos operation and maintenance plans, and conduction of periodic assessments of asbestos containing materials. Like lead products, when in good condition and undisturbed, asbestos in a building is typically not an issue. When it comes time to renovate, demolish, or in case of another disaster, it is always better to know what you are dealing with well in advance and take the proper precautions to protect contractors and tenants.

In another fifty years hopefully the issues related to mold, lead, and asbestos will be greatly lessened, although without a doubt other issues will arise. The key to dealing with building concerns is to be knowledgeable about the issues at hand and to have plans in place well in advance of the next “emergency” situation. 

Please note that this article was run in a previous issue of the August Mack Innovator. 


Ashley Bring is a Business Development Representative for August Mack Environmental, Inc in their Ohio office. She works closely with the environmental due diligence team, with a focus on Phase I and II environmental site assessments, building sciences, and closure services. Ashley can be reached at 740.548.1524 or via email at abring@augustmack.com.


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