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Resolving Environmental Concerns in Military Housing

why mold is a complex contaminant

While there are always concerns in buying and maintaining properties, the issues unseen may pose the greatest threat to both the health of the property and the residents within. Contaminants, such as mold, can remain unseen and undetected by residents, property managers and owners. Remediation of these issues can be costly and, because of the potential risks to human health, property managers and owners can lose the trust of their residents when isolated issues become systemic problems. 

This is the scenario that brought private owners and operators of military housing into the public spotlight as part of Congressional hearings on military housing conditions this past February. The presence of water intrusion and mold in privatized housing at multiple bases throughout the country, utilized by all branches of the military, has necessitated increased awareness of environmental conditions; strategic, transparent implementation of assessment and mitigation efforts; and meaningful, ongoing dialogue between residents, owner/operators, and the DoD about best management practices.

The Complexity of Mold in Military Housing

Moisture intrusion and subsequent mold growth can be particularly problematic issues, as mold spores are not visible to the naked eye and can remain undetected to maintenance teams and residents. While mold can develop alongside obvious sources of water intrusion, such as leaky plumbing, inadequate insulation, or poor ventilation systems, it can also enter residences through seemingly innocuous access points. These include open windows and any spaces in a property where condensation builds up, including in and around pipes throughout a residence, and adjacent floors, carpet, and walls. Additionally, while most molds require moisture or wet conditions to grow, some species have adapted to grow in dryer conditions. In addition to its nuisance in a residence, some species of mold, frequently indistinguishable from other mold strands, may also pose risks to human health, particularly if an individual is highly sensitive. Therefore, enacting effective, proactive protocols to assess and remediate mold is paramount to maintaining human health and property integrity in any building.

A Tiered Action Response Plan Approach

A Tiered Action Response Plan (TARP) addresses existing issues and prevents isolated incidents from becoming larger problems. In acknowledging the multifaceted nature of any existing mold and/or other environmental issues, the TARP functions as a proactive protocol for preventing future issues. This plan also includes uniquely tailored protocols based on region, location, facility architecture, and other external risks for mold management at each unique housing property. Additional protocols are in place for weather events which can facilitate or escalate the rate of moisture intrusion. A functional TARP should address multiple factors that can escalate environmental conditions at a property, including Community Outreach, Accountability, and Procedural Actions to mitigate and/or resolve existing issues. In tandem, TARP components can resolve existing environmental and architectural hazards, build trust and confidence between property owners and residents, and proactively prevent isolated incidents from becoming systemic issues.

Education and Outreach

Education and training equip individuals at residential facilities with tools to better identify and report moisture intrusion and mold issues. Education should be ongoing and include community meetings, tracking of staff training, and resident outreach. Townhalls, attended by residents and property owners, are currently in place at some military housing facilities. They provide residents with a forum to discuss concerns and provide the larger housing community with updates regarding ongoing program elements, including testing and sampling activities.

Establishing and Effectively Implementing Protocols

Protocols for reporting and escalating issues are critical to facilitating communication between residents, property managers, and owners. A Mold and Moisture Operations and Maintenance (O&M) Plan should be in place, and remediation, when necessary, must occur under the supervision of an experienced environmental professional to determine that remediation measures are effective and efficient. Coordination of remediation efforts between residents, contractors, and property managers should be streamlined through an established protocol. This includes both written and verbal correspondence to address moisture intrusion issues and delineation of follow-up actions and schedule. Proactive testing and sampling at a representative number of housing units will help to diagnose minor problems before they become significant issues.

Lines of Accountability.

Perhaps one of the most important factors to consider in resolving environmental issues within the military housing communities is clearly delineated lines of accountability. While this issue is complex, it can and should be addressed in collaboration with an independent environmental consultant who has in-depth experience in environmental health and safety issues. Additionally, qualified environmental consultants should be licensed and/or certified mold assessors knowledgeable in assessment and mitigation best practices and reporting. Accountability should be addressed on multiple platforms, including an Environmental Operation Plan which delineates remediation protocols and identifies responsible parties. The Environmental Operation Plan should be a collaborative effort between all stakeholders, establishing transparent communication between all parties and effectively outlining protocols and procedures for resolution of environmental and/or architectural issues.

Combined, these measures have successfully established common ground between Property Managers, Owners, and residents in private and military housing communities. Although the composition of stakeholders in military housing facilities is more complex, a Tiered Action Response Plan is a critical component of a multifaceted solution which could prevent isolated incidents from becoming systemic ones.