The Remediators' Dilemma

Q: According to the IICRC Standards, when is pre-remediation sampling necessary?

A: In order to answer that question, you need to make the distinction between mold and sewage damage remediation.

Let’s begin with mold remediation and the need to make a preliminary determination. The IICRC S520 Standard and Reference Guide for Professional Mold Remediation says remediators should make a preliminary determination. There are three possible conclusions that can be drawn from an inspection:

10.5.1 Summary of Possible Preliminary Determinations
  • Enough information is currently available to determine that Condition 1 exists throughout the structure, systems, or area, including contents, and therefore, no remediation activity is required.
  • Enough information is currently available to determine that Condition 2 or 3 exists throughout the affected structure, systems, or area, including contents, and therefore, work plans, protocols and specifications can be developed.
  • There is not enough information available to determine that Condition 2 or 3 exists throughout the affected structure, systems, or area, including contents, and therefore, the remediator should engage or recommend to the customer that they engage an [indoor environmental professional] IEP to assess the affected structure, systems, or area, including contents.

In the second bullet point there is an assumption that Conditions 2 and 3 exist “throughout the affected structure, systems, or area, including contents.” Therefore, the scope of work includes the entire structure, systems, or area, including contents. In the third bullet point, the assumption that Condition 2 and 3 exist “throughout the affected structure, systems, or area, including contents” cannot clearly be made or it might be disputed by one or more of the materially interested parties. The challenge with the third point is that the scope of work cannot be clearly established without pre-remediation sampling or testing.

If work were to proceed without pre-remediation sampling or testing, the scope of work would either be too limited or too extensive. It is unlikely that the scope would be appropriate for the conditions. If the scope is too limited, the remediation would not adequately address all of the contamination. Post-remediation verification, if performed outside the work area, would show that Condition 2 areas still exist. This is also a good argument for performing post-remediation sampling both inside and outside of the contained work area. If the scope of work were too extensive, it would be more expensive and time consuming.

Here is a real-life example of this problem. A restoration firm trained to perform mold remediation services found themselves on a water-damage job that resulted in a severe mold problem. The insurance company had agreed to pay for the remediation services including the post-remediation sampling. However, the insurance company did not want to pay for the additional cost of pre-remediation sampling. Their reasoning may have been that since they couldn’t see the mold, they did not think that there was a need to sample.

The firm went ahead and performed the specified remediation services. Post-remediation sampling was performed in the immediate area of the remediation and the results were unacceptable. Sampling was also performed outside the contained work area, and the remainder of the home was also found to be unacceptable. The resulting dilemma: was the spread of the mold spores a result of the remediation firm failing to adequately contain the remediation work area, or were the elevated mold spore levels there prior to the work being performed?

If pre-remediation sampling had been performed, it would have helped in establishing a more accurate scope of work. If mold spores had been found throughout the home as a result of the proposed initial sampling, it would have either indicated the need to perform additional cleaning of settled spores as part of the original scope of work, or that there was a need for further investigation of the home to determine if there were other areas of water intrusion that might have resulted in mold growth. If the pre-remediation sampling did not show an elevated level of molds outside of the original work area, then the post-remediation sampling might indicate that the responsibility for the spread was the restorer’s.

For the restorer, the situation was complicated by the fact that if he were to submit the additional remediation costs to his liability insurance company, they may not have extended coverage under the pollution exclusion. In this case, the restorer recognized the dilemma and decided bear the cost of cleaning up the settled spores. The additional remediation failed to resolve the problem. The follow-up sampling indicated that the mold spore levels were still unacceptable. Only much later were hidden pockets of mold discovered in various locations in the home. After many years, the house remains unoccupied and the case is in the hands of attorneys. We cannot be sure the proposed pre-remediation sampling would have changed the ultimate outcome, but it would have reduced the delay and the potential liability exposure to the restoration firm.

Sewage Remediation
A different criteria is used to make the decision whether to use an indoor environmental professional (IEP) for pre-remediation sampling or testing in a sewage backflow.

9.8 Developing a Preliminary Determination (S500 3rd Edition)
In most cases pre-remediation assessment by an [indoor environmental professional] IEP on a water damage restoration project is not necessary. However, if the preliminary determination shows that one or more of the following elevated risk situations are present and the damage is Category 3, then restorers should consider using an IEP to make a pre-remediation assessment. Considerations may include:
  • occupants are high-risk individuals; or
  • a public health issue exists; or
  • there is a risk of adverse effects on worker or occupant health; or
  • occupants express a need to determine the identity of a suspected contaminant; or
  • contaminants are believed to have been aerosolized; or
  • there is need to determine, rather than assuming, that the water actually contains microbial contamination.

Risk Management
In these circumstances, if the remediator were to attempt to establish a scope of work without the benefit of sampling, there is an element of risk assumed by the remediation firm. It is a risk management decision. Both the S500 and the S520 addresses these risk management decisions in the Standard section titled “Limitations, Complexities, Complications and Conflicts.”

11.1 Limitations (S520 2nd Edition)
A “limitation” is a restriction placed by others upon a remediator that results in a limit on the scope of work, the remediation activities, or the outcomes that are expected. Before beginning non-emergency work, known or anticipated limitations and their consequences should be understood, discussed and approved in writing by remediators and the owner or owner’s agent.
(Note: There is similar language that can be found in the S500 3rd Edition at 10.1 Limitations)

9.3.4 Documentation of Limitations and Deviations (S520 2nd Edition)
A client or customer may request or refuse some services that prevent a remediator from complying with remediation plans or protocols, or the requirements and recommendations of this Standard (see Chapter 9, Limitations, Complexities, Complications and Conflicts and Chapter 11, Structural Remediation). When proceeding under such circumstances, there is a heightened risk of future conflict with a client or customer, which can create potential liability for a remediator. If a remediator decides to proceed with the project despite limitations on compliance with this Standard, they should adequately document the situation and circumstances, which may include advising the client or customer of the potential consequences of such noncompliance in writing and attempting to obtain a written waiver and release of liability for those potential consequences.
(Note: There is similar language that can be found in the S500 3rd Edition at 8.4.5 Documentation of Limitations and Deviations)

It is becoming increasingly more difficult for restorers and remediators to have pre-remediation sampling or testing performed. My concern is that restorers are faced with the prospect of losing work if they insist on having an IEP perform these services. As a result, restoration firms are accepting more risk.

(Author’s Note: The viewpoints presented in this article are my personal opinions and not an official position of the IICRC, the IICRC S520 Standard Committee or the S520 Edit Committee).

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