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Wallpaper and Hidden Black Mold Treatment

In 2013, I ran into a serious environmental problem on a hospitality property. Black mold lined the wallpaper and covered the drywall in a busy front office. An office whose primary occupant suffered from chronic asthma. The budget did not include the services of a certified mold mitigation and remediation specialist. So, the job came my way.  

What led to the initial investigation for black mold and mildew?

A musty odor filled the room, and filtered into the hallway. The air seemed stuffy. The occupant reported constant irritation, and severe difficulties with breathing, chest tightness, itching and burning eyes, fatigue, etc.

How was the black and green mold discovered?

I pulled back a corner of one panel of wallpaper on every wall in the room. Dense black mold covered the back of each panel. Similar black and slimy green mold and mildew covered over 80 percent of the drywall itself.

What needed to happen as soon as possible?

The wallpaper had to be removed in an environmentally-safe manner. The black mold on all surfaces needed to be stopped (mitigated) from growing further. Then, the spores had to be removed completely (remediated.

Prior to treatment, what was done?

1. All small items were removed from the room.                                                                                2. The office furniture and equipment were moved into the center of the room, and covered with plastic sheeting, then old cotton sheets.                                                                                            3. The floor was covered with 2-5 ply plastic sheeting, then more old cotton sheeting.

The main objectives were (1) to protect everything else in the room from additional exposure and damage, and (2) to prevent seepage of the chlorine bleach and water solution, also rinse water, onto the surfaces.

How did you protect yourself?

I “suited-up” before performing each step. The protective gear included the following: disposable hooded paper suit, shoe booties, and particle mask; disposable plastic gloves; also eye goggles, breathing respirator with an organic filter.

How was the contaminated wallpaper removed?

First, the infested area was confined from the other areas,  and from other persons in the office complex. Next, each sheet of wallpaper was pulled off, carefully, from the drywall. Then, each sheet was rolled up, and placed on the floor out of the way.

Key considerations included (a) the toxic conditions; (b) density of toxic black mold;(c) amount of moisture on the paper’s back and drywall surfaces; and (d) time, budget and exposure limits.

How was the infested and contaminated wallpaper disposed of?

The paper was wrapped into 3-4 roll bundles, using masking tape. Then, per supervisory instructions, the bundles were placed into large heavy-duty trash bags. And, they were placed in the commercial solid waste dumpster at the back of the property.

How was the black mold killed (mitigated)?

1. The management-approved solution of 3 parts chlorine bleach to 1 part clean warm water was mixed in a 2-gallon garden sprayer.                                                                                                   2. The chlorine bleach-water solution was sprayed lightly onto one small at a time. And, it was allowed to set 8 to 10 minutes.                                                                                                          3. To keep the job running smoothly, the solution was applied promptly to adjacent areas.             4. Steps 1 through 3 were repeated until all wall, ceiling, woodwork, door, and trim surfaces in the room had been treated.

How was the black mold removed (remediated) from the drywall panels and other areas?

1.  The black mold residue, that hadn’t evaporated, was wiped from the area, with a moist sponge. 2.  On many areas, the application of the chlorine bleach and water solution had to be repeated two to three times.                                                                                                                              3. The walls, ceiling, woodwork, door, and frame were washed thoroughly with clear, warm water, using a fresh sponge. This prevented re-infestation and re-contamination.                                       4. The drywall had to be inspected for left over wallpaper adhesive. Any remaining residue needed to be removed completely before proceeding.                                                                                    5. All furniture, equipment, fixtures, etc. were checked carefully for any sign of black mold and mildew. None was found.

How were used supplies, materials and tools disposed of?

The plastic sheeting, cotton sheeting, heavily-used sponges, cleaning rags, etc. were placed together in large, thick-ply plastic trash bags and tightly tied closed. The disposable hooded paper suits, shoe booties and masks, also plastic gloves were placed into a separate thick plastic trash bag. Then, per instruction, all bags were placed in the commercial dumpster at the back of the property.

How were salvageable supplies, tools and equipment cleaned and dried?

Salvageable items included buckets, lightly-used sponges, eye goggles, respirator, etc. All items were washed thoroughly with strong detergent and water. Then, they were rinsed at least twice with clean warm water. And, everything was air-dried, overnight (24 hours).

How were the drywall and other surfaces dried?

A large fan was placed in the room. The door closed.  And, the room was allowed to dry overnight (24 hours).

How were the drywall panels and other areas prepped for refinishing?

1. For prep sanding, I covered my mouth with a dust/particle mask. And, I wore eye goggles.        2. Products and materials used included sandpaper, joint compound, caulking, etc.                       3. Tools and equipment included paint rollers, covers, frames, roller pole, and roller screen; also, brushes, buckets, ladders, etc.                                                                                                          4. Before proceeding, the floor, and the grouping of office furniture, were covered with clean plastic dropcloths.                                                                                                                                         5. Then, the walls, woodwork, molding, and door were sanded. Cracks were caulked and filled. Drywall irregularities were patched. Some areas were re-sanded, as needed.          

Ordinarily, the removal of wallcovering is relatively easy and fast, as well as very safe. The removal of contaminated wallcovering from an environmentally-compromised area requires more time and care.

Special recommendations: Difficult-to-remove wallcovering requires special techniques and expertise. Depending on the complexity of the area’s layout and the quantity of infested wallcovering, calling a wallcovering removal specialist, with mold remediation experience, may be a wise and safer choice.

Special caution: At all times, the conditions in the area must be respected. And, the health and safety of any person that comes in contact with that area must be protected.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *                                                                                                                          For a technical explanation, read:  (your state) “Florida – Indoor Air,” Environmental Protection Agency (epa.gov),  or call 1-404-562-9143                                

A Painter’s View of Mold and Mildew: Part II

In many parts of the Southeastern region of the U. S., the long high-temperature and high-humidity season brings much more than natural disasters such as tornadoes and hurricanes. Opening in May, the five-to-six month season brings environmental conditions that make it ripe for black mold (Stachybotrys chararum) infestation, and mildew buildup.

Its toxic spores cover surfaces in minutes, and move inside wall spaces within hours. Particularly vulnerable are rooms and areas where moisture collects, air circulates or ventilates improperly, and water fails to drain completely.

The toxic fungi harbors, often hidden, long before you see its black or slimy green signs on surfaces such as walls, ceilings, furniture, cabinetry, carpet, etc. However, one of its earliest signs is an odd musty smell in the air.

Buildings in areas ravaged by very heavy rains, floods, hurricanes, even tornadoes, and earthquakes readily succumb to massive fungi buildups. Often so severe that the structures must be destroyed and every part of it removed. By HAZMAT (hazardous materials) teams trained and certified for the job.

The fungi infiltration can cause property owners and occupants great expense, inconvenience, and damage. It can cause health and safety risks to both humans and animals. It can necessitate the closing down of a business. It can lead to the sealing off of an entire building, even the demolition of a once-valuable piece of property.

In the Hospitality Industry – eg. hotels, motels, it can create special challenges. Especially with buildings and structures that are older, or have environmental issues. Structures designed with poor ventilation, drainage and piping systems. Structures built with extremely porous materials.

One problem occurs with rooms that are equipped with window air conditioners. Guests tend to turn off the units when they leave for the day, or check out. Just like they might at home, to conserve energy. The temperature rises in the sealed, unventilated room. The humidity builds up.

Sometimes, the fungi may have been “residing” already in inconspicuous spots, or inside the walls. And/or, it has built up, over days, when guests have requested reduced maid service during stays. By the time housekeepers are able to drop off fresh towels and remove damp/wet bath linens, tiny black or slimy green spores may have moved into the area. Prompt attention is called for.

Whatever the situation, the mitigation (reduction) and remediation (counteracting, removal) of the black mold and mildew requires vigilance, care and teamwork. It requires housekeeping and maintenance staffs to work together, during the entire, to keep ahead of the build-ups.

Similar scenarios play out in many other structures – eg. office buildings, hospitals, assisted living facilities, schools, restaurants, laundry/dry cleaners, stores, storage units. In buildings and areas occupied by the same persons, repeatedly and for longer periods of time, exposure to mold and mildew can be especially toxic and harmful.

Your home can be just as, if not more, susceptible to mold and mildew contamination. Every surface and area can serve as a host for those black fungal spores. Every person that lives or visits the home can be exposed to the toxic spores, as they emit into the atmosphere, or cling to anything they can. Every person (and animal) has the potential to develop respiratory and lung diseases, certain cancers, skin disease, vision problems, brain disorders, even reproductive damage. In the home, buildups of black mold and mildew tend to be very dangerous.

The length and frequency of human exposure to the fungi tends to be much longer, and repetitive. Infiltration, infestation, or contamination tends to be greater, and the coverage denser. After all, home is where you (and your family members) usually sleep, eat, bathe, study, watch television, work at the computer, launder, etc. It’s where you “house” the clothes you wear, the bed and bath linens that touch your skin, beauty/skin/hygiene products you use, the small appliances, computers and hand-held electronics you operate, the papers and documents you file and store.

Professional painters that work in mold and mildew prone regions of the country pay close attention to this problem. Their first concern is for the persons that live, work, or visit in and around these buildings and areas. Experienced painters know that these persons are at higher risk of developing adverse reactions and both short-term and long-term health and safety challenges. They know that continuous exposure to black mold spores can lead to toxic poisoning.

Their second concern is trade-related. Paint, varnish, wallcovering, texturing, and custom decorating products or materials do not adhere well to contaminated surfaces. Quality results and durability cannot be guaranteed. No guarantees mean no happy customers.

A third concern is compliance. More experienced, journey-level painters possess extensive knowledge of chemicals, toxic contaminants and compounds, hazardous materials, and environmental hazards. Most are certified in two or more of the following areas:

  1. government, health and safety standards (eg. OSHA, EPA, ADA);
  2. manufacturer product handling, storage and disposal standards (MSDS, SSPC);
  3. hazardous materials handling (HAZMAT);
  4. painting trade procedures and standards (IUPAT, HAZWOPR);
  5. construction industry (UBC, asbestos).

Some painters, especially industrial, are getting trained and certified in areas related to the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA), under the EPA. Some are taking the certification program offered through the Society of Chemical Manufacturers (SOCM).

Professional painters accept and understand that thorough mitigation and remediation of toxic black mold and mildew, before prepping surfaces for finishing, is essential. It must be done right. It must be done in a healthy and safe manner.

That’s one reason why many painters turn over the mitigation and remediation of major and/or dense black mold and mildew buildups to professionals. These persons have been trained and licensed as mold mitigation and remediation specialists (MRSP).

Yes, using professional remediators adds to the cost of the painting/finishing project. In the long run, however, it protects everyone from unnecessary exposure and harm. The property occupants, visitors, painters, other craftspersons, etc. An added benefit: the post-treatment inspection – a part of the remediation contract – helps to ensure that the building is safe to use in the future.

Bottom line: Black mold and mildew must be removed. Persons, as well as pets, must be protected from suffering adverse reactions, and developing short-term and long-term medical conditions.

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