July 17, 2003
Check out properties with microbial surveys
By SHAWN WOLFE
Clayton Group Services
Because of lawsuits, large insurance losses, lost real estate deals, property-related stigmas, scare stories, and growing public and regulatory recognition.
As these have raised the general consciousness about health effects related to mold, many banks, lending institutions and law firms are now requesting microbial surveys along with Phase I environmental site assessments (ESAs).
ESA studies determine if a particular property is subject to recognized environmental conditions.
Still, few know what a microbial survey entails and there are currently no laws or regulations governing the process as of May 2003 — though several organizations offer guidance, such as the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists and American Industrial Hygiene Association.
Microbial surveys are often requested in response to concerns about liability. They should provide an appropriate level of inquiry, address the concerns that prompt them, and distinguish real concerns from hype.
Types of assessment
The most common request is for a visual inspection of selected areas. This is simply a screen and not a comprehensive survey.
While screening may find large and significant issues in a cost-effective way, not all issues will always be identified, which is why clients need to understand and weigh cost versus risk. The additional costs of a more thorough assessment can provide greater assurance that significant issues are not missed. This choice will likely be driven by the type of transaction and site-specific issues.
When a more comprehensive survey is warranted, it is advisable to define a specific scope of work and associated costs. Some options are more suitable for inclusion in a standard Phase I ESA, and others are more complex, requiring more experienced consultants at greater cost. The range of indoor air quality related assessments includes:
Visual assessment. Generally considered the primary method for assessing water damage and suspect visible fungal amplification, a limited visual assessment is very appropriate and can be cost-effective in conjunction with a Phase I ESA.
The real question is scope (i.e., how much of the building is actually inspected and at what level of detail), which affects project duration and costs.
A limited visual evaluation typically involves inspecting areas normally encountered during a Phase I ESA. Add-ons may include, for example, a review of building water damage history, and interviews with site operators to determine if there were leaks, floods or other events. Visual assessment is not destructive and does not include sampling.
Visual assessment with limited sampling. Includes the above activities, plus moisture checks of interior finishes with bulk sampling for microbial contaminants. Sampling may be called for when mold has been observed.
This exceeds what would normally be requested with a Phase I ESA, but may be triggered by findings of a visual assessment.
Visual assessment with limited sampling and HVAC evaluation. The above activities, plus evaluation of the HVAC system (i.e., collecting data related to air changes, temperature, humidity and system maintenance).
Indoor air quality (IAQ) assessment. A full scope of work: considering past building use, odor sources, chemicals, special use areas, building pressurization and other potential air contaminants in a building.
A full-blown IAQ assessment includes comprehensive evaluation of HVAC system design, operation and maintenance, as well as current needs as they relate to potential air quality issues. This option may be most attractive to building purchasers.
A comprehensive survey for IAQ and microbial issues can easily be just as large a project (or larger in terms of dollars) than a Phase I ESA by itself, and is normally performed by an experienced senior IAQ professional.
Several questions should be addressed to ensure that all needs are met:
The distinction should be clear between fixing immediate problems versus addressing their causes.
Should the consultant provide cost estimates for both microbial abatement and building reconstruction following abatement? The consultant who performs an extensive microbial survey (typically outside the scope of a Phase I ESA) is in a good position to discuss any necessary short-term microbial remediation costs, while another consultant (e.g., architect/structural engineer) would be necessary to address the cause (e.g., water incursion).
Clients benefit from knowing the costs of both, with the distinctions between them made clear.
The generally recommended sequence is to stop water incursion first, if that is the issue, and then perform microbial remediation. However, many factors influence this sequencing.
During a Phase I ESA, a consultant will try to develop a body of information about a building, usually by contacting building management. A building manager’s failure to disclose issues may reduce the liability of other parties later. If a manager does disclose issues, the consultant can address these in the field.
Important information includes:
A good report explains:
Clayton Group Services has created and prepared these materials to assist in the decision-making process with regard to microbial assessment. Because regulations are likely to change over time, it is always a good idea to consult a certified professional who can take into account specific facts of each situation.
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