Mold Scam # 1: Free Post-Remediation Verification Testing
The final step in the mold removal process is a post-remediation survey which is conducted to verify and document that the remediation was in fact successful. The survey should be done before any re-construction work begins so the inspector can visually see that there is no mold left on the remediated materials. Some mold remediation contractors offer “FREE” post-remediation clearance testing. Clearance testing is vital to the mold remediation process. Insurance companies, mortgage lenders and prospective buyers of your property in the future will want to see written confirmation that the mold issue was resolved. Post-remediation clearance testing should never be performed by a mold removal contractor waiting to get paid for their work. With thousands of dollars on the line, it is highly unlikely that a contractor will fail his own work.
How To Avoid It:
The way to avoid this scam is to have your post-remediation survey and clearance test performed by a Certified Mold Inspector who does not work for your remediation contractor, and have the laboratory data reviewed by an independent, 3rd party analytical data review analyst/coordinator.
Mold Scam # 2: Encapsulating Fungal Growth
Encapsulation is a trade term used by remediation contractors. Although encapsulation is acceptable for asbestos remediation (asbestos is not a living organism) it is not the recommended first choice for mold remediation. The goal of encapsulation is to essentially glue any remaining mold in place to prevent the release of spores. This is possible to do and may even be the only realistic or economic method of choice is some cases. However, if you have fixed the water problem, dried the remediated materials and removed all of the mold growth, encapsulation should not be necessary. As a rule, encapsulation is not an acceptable stand-alone solution for a successful remediation project.
Deciding To Encapsulate:
In the remediation process, contractors will scrape, sand, grind, and wire brush as much mold as they can from salvageable construction materials such as studs, ceiling and floor joists. At some point they determine that they have removed as much mold growth as possible for the amount of money they are charging you. At that point, if your contractor is confident in his work, he will inform you that your project is ready for a post-remediation survey and clearance testing. If they are not completely confident that the job will pass a post-remediation air testing, often times they will spray a sealant (or encapsulate) over the construction materials inside the containment area. There are four reasons why contractors decide to encapsulate:
The Legitimate Reasons:
The remediator suspects that there may still be traces of mold left in areas that cannot be accessed without major demolition and encapsulating those areas will inhibit spore release.
The remediator suspects there is a possibility that moisture is still a factor in or around the remediated area and, as a precautionary measure, he wants to apply a water seal treatment to the salvaged materials to protect them from that moisture.
There are remediators who process their work to exemplary levels and then apply ‘shields’ for future prevention purposes – these contractors will allow for testing at the client’s discretion as they normally pass whether at the end of remediation or after applying their final step products.
The Scam Reason:
The contractor’s work is sub-standard. He simply did a bad job of remediating the mold and needs to hide his poor workmanship so he uses encapsulation (usually a solid color) to “paint over” it.
How To Tell the Difference:
When encapsulation is done properly by a responsible remediation contractor, the encapsulant product should always be clear so that a third-party inspector can visually see the remediated materials in this post-remediation survey and confirm that no mold growth remains. When encapsulation is done to cover up a bad job, the contractor will use a solid color encapsulant product (typically red or white) to hide whatever mold they left behind, making it impossible for the Inspector to verify that all mold has been removed.
How To Avoid It:
Before your remediation contractor begins, ask him if he intends to use an encapsulant and, if so, insist that whatever product he uses must dry clear. No solid color encapsulates. Secondly, before your contractor applies an encapsulant, ask him to take you into the containment area (the work area) and explain to you why he believes encapsulation is necessary. This is different than a professional contractor who has performed the necessary remediation and then applies a preventive shield – ask about their warranty coverage to uncover any suspect disclaimers or restrictive limits of liability.
Tips on Encapsulation:
Before encapsulation can be considered:
Whatever water problem that occurred which led to mold growth must be corrected and unlikely to occur again. Mold will grow on encapsulating materials if they get wet.
All mold growth has been removed from surfaces where it is possible to remove it. Encapsulating is not an alternative to mold removal.
The substrate or surfaces to be encapsulated must be completely dry. Oherwise mold may grow right through the encapsulant.
Encapsulating mold growth may not be safe or an adequate safeguard where immunocompromised people live.
Encapsulating should be considerably less expensive than actually removing all of the mold contaminated materials. Encapsulation is not a permanent fix. Completely removing all of the contaminated material is always best.
Encapsulants are very limited in their effectiveness and should not be confused with anti-microbial bonding agents that work specifically to deny mold spores the ability to grow by separating them from their food sources. Encapsulants, by their nature and design, leave mold spores in place on their food sources and are not effective in inhibiting future growth and damage.
Mold Scam # 3: Off-Site Sampling
Off-site sampling is the most blatant form of deliberate mold fraud. It is a scam often perpetuated by mold inspectors who are either in the remediation business themselves or receive referral fees from remediation contractors. It works like this: The inspector has a private shed where he stores construction materials such as drywall. The materials are periodically sprayed with water and left inside the shed where mold is allowed to grow rampant. Before coming to your property, the inspector collects samples from the shed that are sure to have very high counts of dangerous molds and then passes them off as your samples. After frightening you with the alarming results, he then urges you to take immediate action, which of course includes remediation, either by him or a contractor he is in cahoots with. The result is tens of thousands of dollars in mold remediation that never needed to be done.
How To Avoid It:
The best way to avoid this scam is to avoid using mold inspectors who are also in the remediation business. Another safeguard against off-site sampling is to ask your inspector to show you the sampling media he uses at your property. Air sampling media, such as spore traps, have a unique serial number printed on then by the manufacturer to identify the location from where the sample was collected. The location and the serial number should be written on a Chain of Custody form and sent to an AIHA EMLAP* accredited laboratory for analysis. Ask your inspector to show you the sampling media serial numbers and confirm that the same numbers are written on the chain of custody. When you get your labratory results from the lab, make sure the same serial numbers on the documents match the numbers on the sampling media and the chain of custody. Most inspectors do not supply the client with a copy of the chain of custody, so you may have to write the serial numbers down yourself, but a little bit of writing is worth the peace of mind. Some sampling media, such as tape, swabs and dust collectors, are not marked with serial numbers, which is fine, but make sure your inspector writes an identifying mark on the media and that the same mark is written on the Chain of Custody to identify it’s origin.
*AIHA’s EMLAP accredited laboratories specialize in analysis of microorganisms commonly detected in air, fluids, and bulk samples, as part of IAQ investigations. The AIHA accreditation program is a rigorous, thorough, and lengthy process involving all operations and personnel of the accredited site.
Mold Scam # 4: Using Heat to Remediate Mold
There are contractors who claim that applying heat to a structure is an effective way to remediate mold. It is not. While mold can be killed by heat, as can every other living organism, there is no evidence to support the notion that heat treating a house will kill all the mold, nor will heat destroy all of the allergens and irritants that are associated with mold growth.
Killing Mold Is Not the Same as Remediating Mold:
The goal of remediation is not to “kill” mold, it is to remove it and to eliminate the source of moisture that has caused the problem. If mold is not removed, it has not been remediated – it is still in your house. And if the source of moisture that is causing the mold is not controlled, the removal of the mold will only be a temporary fix. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website states: “The most important action, if mold growth is to be controlled in a building, is to eliminate the source of moisture that caused the mold problem. If moisture is not being controlled, even removing all the mold growing in the building will be only a temporary solution.”
Traditional Drying Methods Are Best:
Heat treatment technologies can help dry out a structure and slow mold growth, provided sufficient ventilation is factored into the process and can remove the water vapor resulting from the heat. However, in the final analysis, traditional methods of drying, such as dehumidifiers and fans, will also dry out a building without subjecting the entire structure to the thermal stress that heat treatments cause.
How To Avoid It:
If you want to avoid exposure to molds that can affect your health, you must physically remove all mold growth (dead or alive) inside your building and eliminate the source of the moisture that caused the mold problem. If mold is not removed, it has not been remediated, and could return if moisture from humidity or water intrusion ever reoccurs. The best way to avoid this scam is to eliminate the source of the moisture that has caused the problem and follow with a standard remediation protocol that involves the actual removal of mold growth.