Best known by its association with Sick Building Syndrome (SBS), microbial contamination is a serious health problem that opens a very substantial, new market for Laborers and remediation contractors.

The Laborers-Employers Cooperative and Educational Trust (LECET) conducted research to identify potential customers. Because of the threat to children and the accountability of school boards, public schools are at the top of the list. LECET suggests that business managers establish relationships with local school administrations to make them aware of the training and job qualifications of LIUNA members and signatory employers.

“Initial estimates indicate that the field has grown by 300 percent since 1999 and will continue to grow in the future,” wrote LIUNA General President Terrence M. O’Sullivan in a letter to regional managers, signatory employers, LECET directors, Laborers-AGC training centers and Tri-Fund field coordinators.

Much of the work has been initiated because of litigation or the threat of litigation. Ed McMahon and Erin Brockovich are two high-profile celebrities who have resorted to legal action to address faulty work on their premises. “Increasingly, insurance companies are searching for qualified contractors and workers to deal with the environmental issues,” wrote O’Sullivan.

Although 16 states are considering legislation to regulate the industry, currently, only guidelines exist. Nor are there any approved programs to certify microbial remediation contractors or workers.

However, the vast majority of job specifications call for workers previously trained in asbestos or lead abatement, two hazards that require a similar clean-up process. Because LIUNA signatory contractors and Laborers are the nation’s leaders in asbestos and lead abatement, the inside track is open to this new market niche. According to Angie King, Director of the Midwest Regional Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund, “Laborers-AGC’s training program is light years ahead of everyone else.”

King has assisted in several microbial remediation trainings for Laborers in her region. In condensed fashion, she presented her program to the nurses and other medical personnel attending the annual Medical Conference organized jointly by the Laborers-AGC and the Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America (LHSFNA) last month in Illinois.

Slowly, over recent years, she reported, health professionals have become aware of a growing variety of microbes that can be killers in the wrong situation. Mold, bird and bat droppings, bacteria and viruses are examples of potentially dangerous microbes.

Currently, the most common weapon against microbial infestation is bleach solution. Other chemicals are sometimes used, but, frequently, with undesirable or ineffective results. The Canadian Tri-Fund’s Innovation Council has identified a number of new additives that show promise in encapsulating and preventing molds typically associated with SBS, and those products are being monitored to determine their effectiveness in remediation and prevention.

According to the World Health Organization, as many as 20 percent of all people suffer from poor indoor air quality, and as many as 40 percent of all buildings are “sick.” Typically, remediation involves the clean-up or demolition of contaminated building components such as the HVAC system, carpet, drywall and even structural elements.

[Steve Clark]