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Having grown up in a Right-to-Work
state, I have for most of my life been at
best ambivalent about labor unions. I
was basically in agreement with the
notion that the unions served a purpose
100 to perhaps 50 years ago—in their
efforts to ensure that the working guy
was not exploited by big business but
now that there are countless federal laws
that protect the worker, their purpose is
quickly nearing its end.

Recently, however, I have developed a
new respect for unions. Just as I am now
willing to pay more for better quality
products, I have come to appreciate the
fact that quality work is performed by
well trained and experienced workers.
And from what I’ve seen lately, the
unions are serious about providing well
trained and experienced workers.

I recently had the great fortune to attend
a four-day training session on mold
remediation conducted by the International
Union of Painters and Allied
Trades. Having once been a corporate
trainer, and believing I was already thoroughly
versed on the topic of mold, I
was unprepared for how professional
and comprehensive this course would
prove to be. As it turned out, this particular
session was a train-the-trainer session
where union trainers from Honolulu to Boston, Dallas to Chicago sifted
through a mountain of material to
decide what level of material was useful
for which audience. The potential target
audiences included the actual remediation
worker, the job supervisor and the

The session was facilitated by IUPAT
Master Trainer Bob Potvin, who by his
own admission has no life outside of
pulling this course together and presenting
it. Potvin continually amazed
me with his familiarity with the material,
which he spent no less than three
years collecting, much of it from the
Internet. He continually demonstrated
the ability to cough up a fairly complex
quote, dig through several stacks of documents
to verify the correctness of that
quote, find the document and the passage
in moments, and direct the class to
the passage, which he, almost without
failure, had recited within a few words
of the original.

Besides Potvin’s mastery of the topic,
what most impressed me was the experience
level of the attendees. Most of
these were union veterans who had done
their time in the trades, then moved on
to learn and then teach, among other
things, lead and/or asbestos abatement.
Several of these attendees had also had
their share of encounters with mold
along the way, and their firsthand experience,
good and bad (but particularly
the bad) moved the discussion from the
abstract very quickly to the real world.

After a reasonably thorough overview by
Potvin of each module, our mission was
to read the text (a choked 3-inch binder
put together by the staff of West Virginia’s
Marshall University, under
Potvin’s direction) a module at a time,
compare it to additional documents
Potvin had collected, and then decide
which material best suited each of the
three target audiences. To do this efficiently,
the class broke up into groups of
five or so, and each of the five would
read and then report on a fifth of the
material, comparing the text to the additional
literature. Those articles that
seemed particularly valuable were then
reviewed by the rest of the group. Not
so surprisingly, when the groups reconvened
and reported their findings, there
was usually consensus about which parts
of the text were suitable and which outside
articles were deemed worthy of
inclusion in the course, and which parts
of the text and articles were suitable for
what audience.

The genius of this approach, I thought,
was that it forced us to evaluate the value or importance of the material from the trainer’s perspective,
but at three different levels. At the worker level, each trainer
knew he had to tailor the material so that the guy doing the
remediation had all the information he would need to safely and
effectively do his job, without getting bogged down with all the
administrative, legal and insurance considerations. However,
because the worker clearly needs to be aware that legal and insurance
consequences exist, and his poor execution of the job could
trigger them, enough of that information needed to be factored
in at the worker level as well.

Likewise, we had to decide which material was appropriate for
the supervisor and contractor levels. Selecting supervisor’s proved
the most challenging, because he needs to know what the worker
knows well enough to ensure it’s done correctly, and he has to
know the administrative, legal and insurance aspects well enough
to ensure that the work is compliant, all without necessarily
becoming an expert in any of it.

The contactor is clearly most concerned with the administrative
aspects and fulfilling the legal and insurance considerations, but
needs enough familiarity with the hands-on aspects so that he
bids and schedules the work appropri-ately;
consequently that material had to
be selected from that perspective.

One of the original reasons I was approached
to attend this session was that
among the many documents used for
source material are the Foundation of
the Wall and Ceiling Industry’s publications
on mold, particularly the first
document, Mold: Cause, Effect and
Response, which, as a result of its availability
on AWCI’s Web site, I’ve had
many conversations about and have
become fairly familiar with. I was
pleased to discover during the process of
evaluating the seemingly endless supply
of documents on the subject, that the
Foundations document is as informative
and comprehensive as any of the others
we examined.

The two other source documents that
most of the documents cite, including
the Foundations document, are the
New York City Department of Healths
Guidelines on Assessment and Remediation of Fungi in Indoor Environments,
and the US Environmental Protection
Agency’s Mold Remediation in
Schools and Commercial Buildings.

Other noteworthy documents include
the Manitoba Department of Labor’s
Guidelines for the Investigation,
Assessment, and Remediation of
Mould in Workplaces, York University
Department of Occupational Health
and Safety’s Mould Control Program,
and Health Canada’s Fungal Contamination
in Public Buildings: A Guide to
Recognition and Management.

Each of these documents provides basically
the same information, and if you’ve
been following the mold issue at all these
last couple of years, most of it boils
down to a handful of facts:

  • Mold grows anywhere that moisture,
    organic material (food) and the right
    temperature are available.

  • Moisture is the most controllable of
    – these variables.

  • Until the source of moisture is eliminated,
    the mold problem will persist.

  • Porous materials contaminated with
    mold need to be removed.

  • Non-porous materials can very likely
    be cleaned.

Each of the above mentioned documents
offers a protocol, with four to six
levels of intensity, depending on the
severity of the mold infestation. These
levels are progressive, from less than 10
square feet of mold, through areas of
100 square feet infested, and/or the
degree to which the HVAC system is
contaminated. As the severity of the
contamination increases, so does the
degree of isolation of the affected area,
and the personal protection equipment.
There is some variation on how much
sampling is necessary, how to collect and
evaluate the samples and when to
declare the area free of mold.

The sampling/investigation issue revealed
a real conundrum for me. One
cannot determine what the level of necessary personal protection is until investigating
the extent of the contamination,
and only after the investigation and sampling
can it be determined whether there
are “toxic” molds present in sufficient
quantity to warrant the highest level of
protection. In other words, do you need
to put on a moon suit before checking
out the mold?

Another topic that tied in with the sampling/
investigating/PPE was the actually
biology of the various species of mold.
Again, for anyone following the topic
this is not news: there are countless (millions
even) species of mold, and there is
at least one that will grow on any given
organic substance. All but a handful of
these are non-toxic; some are irritants,
some will trigger allergic reactions, some
will trigger asthma and respiratory problems,
but very few are actually so toxic
that the average healthy person is threatened,
and even those must be in a certain
phase of their life-cycle to produce “pathogenic
mycotoxins” or deadly poisons.

This is where having veteran remediators
in the room brought this message
home for me. Many of these guys had
done their share of lead and asbestos
abatement—that’s one reason this particular
trade union decided to get into
mold remediation: Their members
already know the procedures and equipment
from their lead and asbestos experience
several of these highly trained,
veteran remediators had been hospitalized
for mold exposure. Clearly, they
had seen firsthand what happens if you
attempt mold remediation without
proper PPE, had paid the consequences
and were in a perhaps unique position
to make that very point to their trainees.

Having heard these stories helped me
focus on the hazards that attend mold
remediation. Basically, there are two life-threatening
circumstances the mold
remediator faces: “Organic Dust Toxic
Syndrome” and “Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis.”

Organic Dust Toxic Syndrome is what
happens to the person who gets a face full
of moldy dust, often while pulling back a
panel or pulling apart a window frame,
and inhales or swallows or absorbs it
through the eyes or skin—more mold
than his system can handle. Often the
victim suffers flu-like symptoms that
linger for weeks or months if not treated
properly, and that’s if the mold is relatively
benign. If the mold happens to be one of
the nastier varieties, in the proper stage,
the victim may wind up on the nearest
Intensive Care Unit.

Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis is a more
insidious malady that occurs after prolonged
exposure to mold (or some other
irritant). Hypersensitivity occurs
when some people’s immune systems,
when exposed to an irritant, will produce
antibodies or “histamines” to ward
off the unwanted intruder. With each
exposure their immune system produces
more antibodies or histamines, until
finally, with even the slightest exposure
to that irritant, the immune system produces
so much antibody/histamine that
the reaction incapacitates the victim. In
some cases, this condition affects the
lungs, and the victim often has a progressive,
chronic cough, that worsens
with each exposure.

Not everyone has the same sensitivity to
mold, so it is impossible to predict who
will be affected how badly by which variety
of mold. In each of the above mentioned
documents that offers a remediation
protocol, there is a recommended
level of PPE. These may include HEPA
filter respirators, eye protection, gloves,
etc. In areas that are sealed off during the
remediation, there may be an area where
the PPE is put on and removed before
and after the work day. With this particular
audience having experience with
lead and asbestos abatement, the discussions
on PPE demonstrated both familiarity
and seriousness. These guys had
seen the results of not doing it right
before, and, their main mission being to
protect the worker from these hazards,
gave me a new respect for how professional
and concerned they were about
doing their job.

About the Author

Lee G. Jones is AWCI’s director of technical

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