10 Safety Tips for Mold Cleanup and Remediation Tasks
Mold is a serious hazard, one that can even affect the families of workers involved in cleanup and remediation work.
Molds are a type of fungus capable of producing toxins, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and other metabolites. They grow in colonies and are disseminated in the form of spores by both wind and water. Far from being harmless, exposure to mold can cause various allergic reactions, asthma, and contact dermatitis.
Molds and other fungi are pervasive in outdoor environments, where they are usually found in much higher airborne concentrations than they are indoors. Yet they can still become a significant presence inside workplaces.
Molds typically enter indoor environments through openings (windows, doors, cracks) and on the surface of objects brought indoors (including people). They require moisture and organic substrate matter (such as wood or drywall) to grow and propagate. Some situations, such as extensive flooding after a hurricane, create very suitable conditions for undesirable mold growth.
Since mold spores can be airborne and easily breathed in, and the mold itself can easily adhere to clothing, people performing mold cleanup and remediation need to take sufficient precautions to protect themselves.
(Learn more in Indoor Air Quality: 7 Basic Questions About Mold)
Mold Cleanup: Definitions and Regulations
Depending on the scope of the problem, mold cleanup involves either DIY cleanup, maintenance, or remediation:
- DIY cleanup is feasible if the moldy area is smaller than 10 square feet
- Maintenance is suitable for moderate-sized areas of contamination (less than 30 square feet)
- Remediation is needed for large-scale mold presence and should be handled by a specialized contractor
OSHA has no specific standards concerning mold and fungus exposure in indoor environments. Employers, however, can still be fined under the General Duty Clause if the exposure is deemed particularly hazardous.
The EPA provides guidance to assist homeowners, schools, and commercial building owners in preventing and safely remediating mold contamination. Additionally, many states have or are developing regulations or have passed legislation applicable to fungal growth in indoor environments.
Safety Precautions for Mold Cleanup Activities
The following safety precautions should be taken by those performing mold remediation work:
- Isolate the cleanup area and prevent unprotected individuals from entering it
- Always wear a respirator, gloves, and other appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) when mold-contaminated material is present
- Avoid touching mold with your bare hands, having your skin come into contact with it, or breathing in mold spores
- Take care not to cause mold or mold spores to be dispersed into the air where they can be inhaled by building occupants - be particularly cautious when checking behind wallpaper and other wall coverings to avoid the potential release of spores
- Carefully remove, bag, seal, and dispose of damaged materials, including drywall, carpeting, and furniture
- Don't paint over mold
- Don't dry scrape mold, as this can release the spores and spread the contamination
- When cleaning surfaces, wipe the mold with soap and water or a bleach solution and use a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) vacuum
- Avoid running the HVAC system if you suspect that it has been contaminated with mold
- Don't use an air mover where dry materials can be disseminated
Protective Apparel for Mold Cleanup and Remediation Tasks
Wearing protective clothing is essential when clearing mold from a space. But how much protective gear you'll need will depend on the size of the mold problem:
- For DIY cleanups (of areas less than 10 square feet): work gloves, safety glasses with side shields, protective footwear, and a simple respirator like an N95 mask
- For larger cleanup projects (under 100 square feet): a half-face respirator and protective clothing (Tyvek® 400, 500, or 600 garments are suitable options, unless the user will be handling bleach)
- For severe contaminations (100 square feet or more): a full-face respirator, protective clothing that offers full-body protection (garments like Tyvek® 800 J or taped-seam Tychem® 2000 can be used for these operations)
Mold not only puts remediation and cleanup workers at risk, but can affect their families as well.
Take-home toxins are toxins (including mold spores) that can cling to a worker's clothes, shoes, skin, tools, or vehicle interiors. These are then brought and spread into the worker's home, where they can affect everyone they live with.
There are a few methods for dealing with take-home toxins, including:
- Disposable protective clothing
- Shower and washing facilities
- Donning and doffing policies
When employees may be exposed to mold, take-home toxins are a concern. Employers must take appropriate precautions to protect workers and their families.
If you’d like to learn more, join Certified Industrial Hygienist Damien Hammond for a free webinar on Thursday, August 2nd from 1pm-2pm EST to learn about the sources and risks of take-home-toxins, as well as measures that can be taken to prevent their occurrence.
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