Why Insurers Should Approve the Use of Portable Air Scrubbers on Every Water Damage Remediation Job
Insurance adjusters who do not authorize and approve the use of HEPA-filtered Portable Air Scrubbers (PAS) on all water loss jobs may want to rethink their position. Any water loss poses a significant opportunity for particle contamination and for microscopic bio-pollutants such as fungi (molds) and bacteria that thrive in wet indoor environments to proliferate. Even smaller water leaks or overflows of sanitary water can ultimately trigger fungal growth if wet materials are not promptly identified and thoroughly dried.
It is very important to note that the very activities undertaken to remediate the problem can increase the risks of air contamination. For example, as forced-air drying evaporates water from surfaces, carpet and other materials, contaminants such as fungal spores and ultra-fine dirt and dust particles are likely to be released into the air. Once aerosolized (suspended in air), workers exposed to these pollutants can inhale them. Particles stirred up during remediation also create housekeeping and cleanup issues that can increase the cost of the cleanup.
ANSI/IICRC Standard S500
The Clean Trust (formerly IICRC) has developed an ANSI-approved standard for water damage remediation. Now in its third edition, ANSI/IICRC S500-2006 Standard and Reference Guide for Professional Water Damage Restoration places water hazards into one of three contamination categories based on the quality of the water after it comes in contact with building materials:
- Category I – Water that originates from a sanitary source and does not pose substantial risk from dermal, ingestion or inhalation exposure.
- Category II – Water with a significant amount of contamination and the potential to cause discomfort or sickness if ingested by humans.
- Category III – Grossly contaminated water that can contain pathogenic, toxigenic or other harmful agents.
Types Of Indoor Air Pollutants
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) places air pollutants into three general categories: particulates, bio-aerosols, and volatile organic compounds (VOC), all of which may be released into the air during or following a water loss event.
Particulates from building materials are primarily released into the indoor air after the event or during the remediation process as opposed to during the water loss event itself.
These commonly include dirt, drywall, VCT and concrete dust, fiberglass, carpet and asbestos fibers, sawdust, smoke particles, and metal fumes.
Larger, visible particles and smaller particles that agglomerate (clump together) will likely settle onto surfaces within minutes and remain there until physically removed by cleaning or vacuuming. These particles are not generally a respiratory health issue, because they are too heavy to remain aerosolized for very long.
Studies have shown, however, that more than 99% of the particles suspended in air are ten microns (0.0004 inches) or less in size. That’s five to 10 times smaller than a human hair and smaller than we can see with the naked eye. Particles and allergens this tiny are typically light enough to remain aerosolized for long periods of time and can readily spread through a building or home on air currents, and they are easily re-aerosolized when they do settle onto surfaces. They also pose the greatest potential health threat:
"While larger particles (those greater than 10 microns in diameter) get caught in the nose and throat, and are cleared naturally by coughing or swallowing, particles smaller than 10 microns in diameter are easily inhaled into the lungs. Of these, the smallest particles are most likely to reach the alveoli, where they can remain embedded for years, or in the case of soluble particles, be absorbed into the bloodstream. For this reason industrial hygienists often refer to them as ‘lung damaging particles’. -American Lung Association