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State of Virginia pulls back from oversight role

SoVaNow.com / September 05, 2013

At least two Southside Virginia school buildings — Halifax County High School and Bluestone High School in Mecklenburg County — experienced mold outbreaks over the summer. Aside from the school divisions themselves, who is responsible for dealing with the problem?

The answer, beginning in mid-2012, is essentially “no one.” In July 2012, the state of Virginia deregulated mold remediation and inspections, lifting licensure requirements for firms that check for mold and ending the state’s oversight role in seeing that mold outbreaks are promptly dealt with.

In doing so, Virginia pointed to the absence of a clear standard for determining when mold poses an indoor air hazard. As Kathleen Parrott, a PhD. with Virginia Extension Services notes, “There are no governmental standards for mold levels. Therefore, mold testing cannot be used to tell whether a building is in compliance with any standards for mold control.”

The state’s oversight role changed with the advent of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s Commission On Government Reform & Restructuring, which tasked agencies with conducting a comprehensive review of regulations and identifying those that were “unnecessary or overly burdensome.” Among the Commission’s recommendations: deregulate mold inspectors and remediators.

Legislation to implement the Commission’s recommendations sailed through the General Assembly last year, although the bill met some resistance in the State Senate. The House of Delegates overwhelmingly backed reform legislation, with the “yes” votes including that of Del. James Edmunds, who toured Halifax County High School this week to get a first-hand look at the mold situation there.

In touting his government reform commission, McDonnell said its recommendations would help Virginia deal with “unprecedented budgetary challenges” and make state government “more effective and efficient.” The governor also noted that Virginia’s regulatory regime for mold inspectors was more than federal environmental rules called for: “In light of the absence of national oversight and standards [for mold remediators and inspectors], Virginia’s regulatory program is unnecessary.”

In the same vein, there are no state or local government agencies tasked with monitoring the health of public buildings that are potentially affected by mold. Calls to the local health department, Virginia Department of Health and Department of Environmental Quality met with the same response: “It’s not our area of responsibility.”

Prior to General Assembly repeal in 2012, firms that inspect and remediate for mold had to be licensed by the Department of Professional and Occupation Regulation. Licensure requirements began in 2011 with the establishment of a licensure program by the 2009 General Assembly. With abandonment of the program, mold remediation and inspection has gone back to being an unregulated profession.

Robin Liebal of HDH Technical, a Christiansburg-based firm that checked for mold this week at HCHS at the School Board’s request, noted that she has been in the mold inspection business since 1988, and a principal at the firm has trained mold inspectors for some 25 years. She said she did not know the state’s reasons for ending the licensure requirements but said it has had no bearing on the services that HDH Technical provides. She acknowledged that mold can be an ambiguous problem: “There’s no standard out there that says this amount of fungus is okay and this amount is not.

“It’s not like asbestos, which is pretty much black or white” in terms of the health impacts, she said.

With the 2012 change in the law, the name of the state oversight board for companies and individuals in the indoor air business reverted to the Board for Asbestos, Lead, and Home Inspectors, with a reference to mold dropped from the title.

Notwithstanding the regulatory changes, the Virginia Department of Health over the years has issued several public pronouncements on the subject of mold, noting that exposure can cause coughing, wheezing, difficulty with breathing, lung infections, or watery, itchy, burning, or red eyes, runny or stuffy nose or sinuses, nose or throat irritation, and in some cases, hives or welts, or skin rash. A state toxicologist especially cautions people with asthma and other breathing problems to avoid exposure. “If you find mold, remove it,” the toxicologist advises.

As for clean-up, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Virginia Department of Health warn against the use of bleach: “Bleach may kill the mold spores, but it does not remove the mold hyphae. Using bleach to clean mold may not be adequate to stop mold growth or prevent health effects from mold byproducts.”

While EPA indoor air quality rules do not regulate for the presence of mold, the agency has set forth best-practices guidelines for mold remediation in schools and commercial buildings. An oft-repeated recommendation is to “hire a professional” to either clear the mold or oversee its remediation if the mold contamination area is greater than 100 square feet. The EPA also recommends that any professional hired to remediate mold have “experience cleaning up mold” while those doing the hiring should “check the credentials” of the remediators.

The document containing those standards can be accessed through the Virginia Department of Health website at http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/epidemiology/DEE/otherzoonosis/documents/Mold/moldremediation.pdf.

Following the discovery of mold at Bluestone High School, Mecklenburg County opted to assign the clean-up task to janitors employed by Service Solutions, the outside janitorial services company that the school division brought in to maintain its buildings. The county has not retained a firm that specializes in mold remediation to inspect Bluestone, which opened in 1955.

HDH Technical, Inc., the firm hired by the Halifax County School Board to inspect the local high school, has been in business since 1988 providing “environmental health and safety services” and “specializing in asbestos/lead survey, abatement design and project monitoring and indoor air quality assessments.” While the company website makes no mention of mold, Liebal said mold issues come under the company’s indoor air quality assessments.





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Don't use bleach because it may kill mold spores. Thank goodness for the federal government. And remember, Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, DHS is ordering billions of rounds of ammo for target practice, and the NSA is not violating the 4th amendment.


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