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Tackling a serious health and safety issue

Home mould free clean air

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Once mould begins to grow within a condo unit, things can only get worse from there. This problem of contamination is of mounting concern for industry leaders like Les Woods, president of Certified Clear Air Services, a division of The Certified Group, who points out a main catalyst for mould occurs from fan coil units in HVAC systems. The recent release of a "white paper" from the University of Toronto, which includes academic research and industry input, examines mould identification and remediation specifically related to this largely unrecognized, but problematic source of mould. As a result, the 44-year-old Mississauga-based company, a multi-unit residential service provider, is now part of an organized committee dedicated to addressing a more open and practical approach to this issue.

How does mould grow in fan coil units?

Mould growth within fan coil units is an issue that has been largely unrecognized because it's less visible. Fan coil units are individual heating and cooling systems widely installed in high-rise multi-residential buildings.

They draw in air from around a room and then it is cooled or heated before being supplied back into a suite. Mould growth occurs at and above relative humidity (RH) levels of 60%. The RH levels in fan coil units are between 75 and 97%.

"If the manager fails to disclose or inform of mould conditions that they knew of, or ought to have known existed, this may put the Management Company outside the indemnity provisions of their Management Contract. If fan coil units within a building have been inspected and there is knowledge by the Board that mould contamination is present, regardless of who owns the unit, it is required by the Directors to disclose this information in the status certificate."

Insulation contains glass fibres, and when they become wet from condensation or splashing, they hold moisture in, providing an ideal environment for spores to grow and multiply. The inside of these units are out of sight and, therefore, out of mind, until a problem occurs.

What are the human health impacts?

Both Health Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Labour consider mould a risk factor for health problems. Mould triggers allergic effects which become a significant concern when mould growth occurs in a HVAC system. As the air from the fan blows over the mould, some of it becomes airborne, releasing particles into the suite.

When inhaled, the particles scratch the esophagus, leading to symptoms such as, asthma, chronic sinusitis, coughing and more serious problems. People with weak immune systems, the elderly, pregnant and those with existing conditions are most at risk.

How do you effectively remediate mould?

First and foremost, property managers and board members should be proactive in dealing with this issue. While creating a clear action plan can be confusing because of all the sales pitches and product claims, it's important to first obtain the services of a Certified Environmental Inspector who can identify if mould contamination needs to be removed and its underlying causes remedied.

Finding qualified contractors is key because they will ensure proper containment of negative air in the work area and background cleaning of surrounding air with HEPA air cleaners. Currently, there is one fan coil unit replacement option if mould is found: a CSA-approved CAFC system. After full remediation, follow-up maintenance is recommended.

What damages will occur if the problem is ignored?

Cost and liability are huge factors. Property and liability insurance rarely covers the remediation of contaminated fan coil units because they are usually deemed a maintenance or repair item.

Building owners, managers and directors often have no coverage against civil lawsuits, damage awards or to defend against lawsuits related to mould.

"Since the 1990's, health scientists and building industry leaders have recognized that mould growth in indoor environments can negatively impact human health. One of the common sources of indoor mould can be found within fan coil units."

They can be targeted for litigation for allegedly providing an unsafe environment, whether the claim is framed as nuisance, negligence or breach of contract.

The Condominium Act, the Residential Tenancies Act, Human Rights Act and related legislation, along with the Occupational Health and Safety Act, all impose statutory and affirmative obligations to disclose and maintain property and equipment in a safe condition to protect occupants and employees from mould exposure.

When complaints are received, investigation should follow. Communicate any adverse findings to stakeholders and remediate mould growth as soon as possible.