Mold: a silent but rapidly growing environmental exposure

Mold: a silent but rapidly growing environmental exposure

At first glance, mold may seem unassuming but for commercial property owners, mold can be a highly problematic hazard that presents significant environmental risk.

Although frequently associated with the aftermath of natural disasters, mold is much more likely to result from routine maintenance issues such as leaky pipes or HVAC malfunctions. Taking a proactive approach to address mold is critical to help reduce the risk of property damage, guard against personal health effects, and avoid potentially costly future claims.

The health risks of mold

Concern about indoor exposure to mold has been increasing as the general public becomes aware of health risks and symptoms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, potential adverse health risks can include a stuffy nose, sore throat, coughing or wheezing, burning eyes, or skin rash–with increased concerns for those with asthma or immuno-compromised individuals. Given these potential issues, commercial owners should prioritize mold as part of risk-management planning.

Industry-specific factors driving mold claims

While any business can be at risk for mold, certain sectors have experienced a significant uptick in the frequency and severity of costly environmental claims due to mold and indoor air quality issues. Here’s a look at the factors driving this trend in these sectors.

Heat and humidity create fertile breeding grounds for mold in schools.

Elementary and high schools (K-12) are vulnerable to mold growth for several reasons, including:

  • increased moisture due to painting or carpet cleaning
  • high humidity with reduced air conditioning or outdated heating systems
  • Especially during the summer, a lack of ventilation combined with heat and humidity creates a perfect mold incubator.  

Without regular maintenance, a school can rapidly experience significant mold growth. To mitigate the risk of mold outbreaks, schools should perform regularly scheduled inspections for signs of mold, moisture, and leaks, including during long breaks. The Environmental Protection Agency’s  Mold in Schools fact sheet provides additional guidance on how schools can mitigate this risk.

Renovations can lead to contamination surprises for hospitals and hotels.

Deferred maintenance can lead to delayed problems for healthcare and hospitality sectors, especially when it comes to larger projects such as roof or room renovations:

  • As a roof comes closer to the end of its useful life, the likelihood of leaking increases exponentially, as does the risk of mold growth.
  • Mold thrives where there is plenty of organic material, such as wood, paper, paint, drywall, and insulation—frequently uncovered behind walls, under carpet and ceiling tiles, and surrounding corroded pipes during routine maintenance or renovation projects.

Not having a plan to address this risk can be very costly. In addition to the costs to address structural damage, hospitals and hotels may also experience lost revenue if facilities need to cease operations or are held liable for mold-related exposures of individuals.

Putting risk mitigation plans to work

Unlike other environmental risks such as lead and asbestos, there are no federal laws or regulations for meeting required safety health levels with mold. By being proactive, a business could avoid costly and disruptive professional mold removal and remediation efforts. There are actions a risk manager can take to help protect operations:

  • Review the EPA’s resources on commercial operation mold cleanup and remediation.
  • Develop a comprehensive water intrusion protocol and mold maintenance plan that includes detailed checklists for monitoring and responding to mold issues.
  • Prioritize regular inspection of common areas where mold tends to arise, including windows, plumbing, ice machines, and HVAC systems.
  • Set a clear threshold—such as mold square footage—that triggers assistance from outside professionals with expertise in mold remediation.
  • Consider environmental insurance coverage, which can help cover the adverse financial impact of mold and other pollutants.  

Mitigating mold risk through partnership

Brokers and insurance carriers with expertise in managing environmental risks can be important allies in the fight against mold—Ironshore offers specialized environmental coverage and risk-management expertise that can help businesses mitigate environmental risk.

Learn more about our comprehensive environmental solutions as well as IronResponse™, our environmental claims mobile app, that provide customers with real-time access to claims professionals and resources in the event of an environmental incident.

This website is general in nature, and is provided as a courtesy to you. Information is accurate to the best of Liberty Mutual’s knowledge, but companies and individuals should not rely on it to prevent and mitigate all risks as an explanation of coverage or benefits under an insurance policy. Consult your professional advisor regarding your particular facts and circumstance. By citing external authorities or linking to other websites, Liberty Mutual is not endorsing them.