Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone in Houston and other parts of Texas who are going through horrendous flooding due to Hurricane Harvey. With so much rain and flooding going on we wanted to share some thoughts on how to handle documents that get wet. It happens more than you think!
Do you know if you have moldy, wet document sitting in a basement or warehouse? It could be a big problem. Paper records get wet. It happens more than you might think. Sometimes, file boxes that are stored in the lowest rent portions of the building, usually dank and dark, get wet. Maybe there was a plumbing leak. Maybe there was a flood, hurricane, or leaky roof. And, when office and storage buildings catch fire, sprinklers and firemen with water hoses often target records storage areas since they represent the most fuel. Even a dank old basement can make stored records wet to a degree. The point is that paper records have many occasions to get wet in a number of ways. Deep inside any stack of wet paper, boxed or not, it is dark and warm, which creates optimal conditions for the growth of mold. In the last few years, mold has become one of the most feared and least understood health hazards out there. It has caused people to level perfectly good homes. It has spawned personal injury lawsuits. And, it has caused insurance underwriters to exclude damage from mold and mold-remediation from home insurance policies. So it is a quite logical that when document destruction companies are faced with the destruction of paper that is or was recently wet, they are concerned about the welfare of employees, health code violations, and future personal injury claims or regulatory penalties. Companies should also be concerned with the welfare of their employees.
What’s the big deal?
Mold is part of the natural environment. It is a type of fungi found everywhere – inside and outside – throughout the year. There are about 1,000 species of mold found in the United States and 100,000 known species worldwide. Mold grows on almost any substance, as long as moisture, oxygen, and an organic source are present. Mold affects everything around it because when mold produces tiny spores (i.e., viable seeds) that usually cannot be seen without magnification. Mold spores continually float in the air, both indoors and outdoors. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) website, “Currently, there are no federal standards or recommendations (e.g., OSHA, NIOSH, and EPA) for airborne concentrations of mold or mold spores.” Typically, most indoor air exposures to mold do not present an adverse risk to a person’s health; however, some can produce allergens, which are substances that cause allergic reactions.
Handling wet records
In the life of every secure destruction company, the call to remove wet records will come. The first question should be: How wet? The second question is: How long have they been wet? The reason for knowing how wet they are is pretty obvious. If they are dripping wet, there are probably have more logistical issues than health issues. Moving and destroying soaking wet paper presents many challenges that would make a great subject of discussion on its own. But, as to the issue at hand, namely destroying mold-laden paper, the duration is more relevant. Soaking wet paper most likely got that way in a recent event where mold has not had the opportunity to take hold. On the other hand, damp paper that was exposed to damp conditions over a long period of time or was dried out is more likely to have mold issues. A notable exception to this rule is when records are soaking wet because they were exposed to flood waters or sewage overflows. Those records would have extremely rough logistical and health issues. To be clear, if the records were ever wet, it is pretty much the same risk as if they are currently wet. According to OSHA, the risk is virtually the same “since the chemicals and proteins, which can cause a reaction in humans, are present even in dead mold.”
Do you need wet documents handled? If so, please contact Chesapeak Shredding for a free evaluation. We will come onsite to survey the situation and to provide recommendations on removing the documents. We are prepared to address the situation with the right safety equipment.