Environmental Labs and IEPs

April 11, 2006
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As the remediation industry becomes more sophisticated and is subjected to more and more litigation in the mold and sewage remediation fields, there is an increasing need to have the best resources available. Some of those resources include Indoor Environmental Professionals (IEPs) and environmental laboratories.

Many laboratories are now offering a wide variety of services that aid the restoration industry due to increased demands placed on the restoration contractor for verification of mold and sewage jobs. Many contractors are looking to laboratories and independent IEPs to investigate buildings and provide written recommendations to aid them in effective remediation of buildings and homes in an effort to reduce their liability. In some cases the IEP may be part of the hygiene department of the laboratory while some are independent.

Environmental laboratories and IEPs offer a variety of services, including project consulting and oversight to aid remediation contractors in identifying all affected areas in a building or home, as well as providing recommendations for proper remediation steps. This may include being present on the project during all phases of the remediation, providing a written scope for the specific remediation steps as well as verification sampling at the completion of the project to ensure the remediation was effective.

Many remediation professionals want to have a third-party IEP involved in most, if not all, of their projects to not only add clarity and guidance, but to reduce liability exposure. Although many jobs may not require the services of an IEP or laboratory, they are resources that can bring some of most challenging projects to successful completion.

When hiring an IEP, what are some of the qualifications to look for? Although proper education is important, that is not the only criteria to evaluate. Some clients may only want to hire Certified Industrial Hygienists (CIHs), but the CIH designation doesn't always qualify the level of expertise a consultant may have in a particular area. It is important for an IEP to have a good understanding in several subjects such as indoor air quality issues, building science, structural drying, sampling techniques and data interpretation. Most IEPs are members of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH). These associations provide guidance on sampling techniques, data interpretation and many other aspects of industrial hygiene including indoor air quality.

The protocols written for remediation contractors to follow should be clear and specific to that project, instead of boilerplate language that makes it so general and nonspecific that it could apply to the last 40 projects that they consulted on. When challenges arise on a project, they will make themselves available to the remediation contractor and actually evaluate the jobsite to solve issues with containment, pressure differentials and additional areas of contamination that may not have been identified in the original inspection or scope. When changes are made to the job scope by the consultant or at the request of the remediation technician, all changes should be put in writing as an addendum so that there are no misunderstandings of what is expected.

In some projects, the remediation contractor may work directly with a laboratory on mold or sewage remediation projects. Environmental laboratories will generally offer a wide variety of sample analysis, including: spore trap; culturable; volatile organic compounds/microbial volatile organic compounds; and surface sample analysis, just to name a few. Additional services that may be offered by an environmental laboratory may be on-site analysis and data interpretation in addition to sample analysis.

Onsite analysis is a valuable service that is not offered by many laboratories but can make a significant impact on the overall remediation project. This service provides a qualified microbiologist at the job site to evaluate samples and provide immediate feedback. This can be very important when analyzing verification samples because the contractor will know immediately if the remediation was successful or if additional steps need to be completed. This can drastically shorten the time of the project as well as reduce the overall cost by eliminating equipment rental and allowing for faster re-occupancy of the building.

Data interpretation is usually a specific service that must be requested, as some laboratories will not interpret data from samples collected by third parties. This is generally due to potential liability of data interpretation from samples that were not collected according to AIHA guidelines. Since many laboratory reports may be confusing to read and interpret, it is a service that is invaluable if available.

Many laboratories offer sampling equipment rentals that remediation companies and other professionals may use for those instances when a third party cannot be brought into a remediation project. Although it is not recommended that remediation technicians collect samples for their jobs, it may be unavoidable due to geographical limitations and financial or time constraints. Most laboratories will provide educational courses to teach proper sampling techniques to ensure the results are accurate.

Environmental microbiology laboratories have changed their focus in an effort to better serve an increased need of field support and education. There are many excellent educational programs that are designed to train remediation professionals in the proper procedures for sample collection, data interpretation and building investigations. Some of these courses also offer a comprehensive exam at the completion of the course that may be an open or closed book exam. Typically, in cases of litigation, closed book exams are considered the optimum for of testing because it more accurately reflects the student's proficiency in the course material.

Many laboratories have mastered the electronic challenges and time constraints of the remediation industry by allowing their clients to access online tracking of project results. Many restoration companies can find results for remediation projects from the laboratory's online program given the proper authorization. This makes it easy for remediation contractors to monitor the progress of the project at a time convenient for them.

Just as remediation professionals are not encouraged to collect verification samples for their projects, environmental laboratories should not conduct remediation procedures of the projects that they are collecting samples on. This is viewed as a conflict of interest and will likely be challenged if the remediation project is drawn into litigation.

Many remediation contractors as well as other professionals often ask questions regarding how to choose a qualified laboratory. A program administered by AIHA provides a measurement of proficiency for laboratories conducting many different environmental analyses. This program is the Environmental Proficiency Analytical Testing / Environmental Microbiology Laboratory Accreditation Program (EMPAT/EMLAP).

The program allows a laboratory to receive unknown, blind samples several times throughout the year for analysis. The laboratory analyzes the samples and submits their results to AIHA for a score. A score of 85 percent or higher is deemed proficient for that analysis. There are several analyses that are part of this program, such as fungi, bacteria, asbestos and lead, to name a few. Although participation is not mandatory, it is a good way to evaluate a laboratory's performance in the fields of testing that they may specialize in. Some laboratories are participating in the program, working toward accreditation, while others have met all of the requirements and are accredited in specific areas of testing. The program will also ensure that the laboratory has qualified professionals on staff and that the Quality Assurance/Quality Control (QA/QC) procedures are in place and being followed.

There are additional accreditations that many laboratories may hold such as A2LA and ISO. When choosing any laboratory, request a statement of qualifications, which will include at a minimum accreditations held, resumes of key employees, licenses, insurance and analysis offered.

As the gap between the remediation industry and the environmental laboratory becomes less, the resources available to both sides increases. Remediation contractors are relying more and more on the expertise of the laboratory and IEP, resulting in the successful completion of remediation projects. The bottom line is that both professionals are on the same team with the ultimate goal of satisfying the client while reducing liability.

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