General contractors witness the aftermath of all kinds of severe weather and disasters. Damage sustained from hurricanes, tornados and fires cost billions of dollars in reparation annually. While each type of natural disaster presents its own hazards for work crews, perhaps none create more health and safety challenges than eradicating black water. “Black water contamination usually results from standing water from storm flooding – or in the case of Woodside Apartments in Kissimmee, Fla., – a sewage leak,” explained Scott McCurdy, President of Business Relations for Coastal Reconstruction Group, a Florida-based disaster remediation general contractor and contractor of record for Woodside.
Submission for Modern Contractor Solutions
By Scott McCurdy
Contamination Elimination: Black Water
General contractors witness the aftermath of all kinds of severe weather and disasters. Damage sustained from hurricanes, tornados and fires cost billions of dollars in reparation annually. While each type of natural disaster presents its own hazards for work crews, perhaps none create more health and safety challenges than eradicating black water.
“Black water contamination usually results from standing water from storm flooding – or in the case of Woodside Apartments in Kissimmee, Fla., – a sewage leak,” explained Scott McCurdy, President of Business Relations for Coastal Reconstruction Group, a Florida-based disaster remediation general contractor and contractor of record for Woodside.
At Woodside, a total of 55 units experienced water damage from the public sewer, causing more than $1 million of destruction. The apartment community had a category 3, level 3 black water contamination – which is the most severe, and has the highest potential to cause diseases (like hepatitis A) and to produce mold spores. Because of the unsanitary conditions, the health and safety of the building’s occupants and clean-up and construction crews was the first priority. All affected units were evacuated, and all workers were required to receive hepatitis shots before clean-up could begin.
An environmental consultant was brought in to determine the level of contamination and to create protocol for the construction crews to follow. Before entering the buildings, all workers were outfitted with respirators and gloves, plus protective shoe covers and suits.
“One of the biggest challenges with black water intrusion is making sure no one gets sick in the bacteria-infested environment,” said McCurdy. In addition, all workers were required to take classes to become certified in black water treatment.
The first step was to remove all the waste water from the building. Coastal Reconstruction worked closely with Service Master, a restoration and cleaning service company, during the elimination process. Once the flood waters receded, vacuums were used to pump water from the units. This process took crews four hours and all the contaminated refuge was dumped back into the sewer. When the water was sufficiently eradicated, all affected interior flooring and drywall had to be safely discarded. In this case, the flood saturated the units – everything from the ground up to four feet had to be removed.
“It was crucial to begin purging the water immediately to reduce the opportunity for mold spores to multiply and cause further loss to the building’s structure,” said McCurdy. “We had to use extra caution when disposing of the contaminated items. Everything we removed from the apartments had to be properly bagged and then dumped.”
After all of the ruined flooring and interior materials were disposed of, the work crew focused on cleaning the air inside the units. This was done using a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter. The filter purified the contaminated air, and then pushed clean air outside. HEPA filters, in particular, are the sole filter recognized by the Center for Disease Control as an effective tool to capture microscopic disease-causing particles and mold spores.
To transfer the air outdoors, Coastal removed a window in each apartment and then covered it with plywood. A hole was cut in the makeshift window to allow the tubing from the machine to tunnel the decontaminated air outside. In addition, Coastal utilized dehumidifiers to reduce the risk of mold.
However, the decontamination process did not stop with air purification. Everything had to pass a sanitation test, down to the studs and base flooring, and had to undergo treatment to cleanse any residual bacteria from the home. To determine if the apartments were safe, a strip test was performed by an environmental consultant to gauge bacteria levels. The strip was then sent for lab testing and when the results proved that the black water damage had been successfully eliminated, reconstruction was allowed to proceed.
Coastal was given only three months to complete repairs and the company worked on all 55 units simultaneously. In each unit, new drywall was hung, primed and painted, and new cabinets were installed. In addition, new flooring, hot water heaters, doors, baseboards, window coverings and appliances were added.
During the reconstruction, Coastal also had to repair any electrical issues that arose from the flooding and sanitize all air handlers and duct work.
“All of the units were moving along at some stage in the elimination or remediation process at- month parameter,” added McCurdy. At press time, Coastal was completing interior construction on the last remaining units and tenants were moving back in.
Scott McCurdy is the co-owner of Coastal Reconstruction Group. Coastal Reconstruction’s Rapid Response services provide post-disaster reconstruction to residential and commercial structures throughout the South and Eastern United States. For more information, visit www.coastalreconstruction.com.