Learning of the violent and sudden demise of a loved one at the hands of another is deplorable. But for some of us, that anguish doubles because the murder occurred within our own homes or private businesses. Our shock intensifies. So does our panic. We want the chaos cleaned up yesterday if possible!
Like many issues related to homicide, we often have little to no experience vetting “biohazard remediation” companies. Neither do our friends or neighbors. We’re as vulnerable and ripe for the taking as a stranded vacationer on a holiday weekend with a broken transmission.
Biohazard remediation companies have only been around since the 1990s. Before then friends, neighbors and coworkers helped the family tackle the grim task.
Since then, the public has become aware of the many dangers and obstacles of DIY. We now appreciate the risk of contracting nasty illnesses, especially if we have pre-existing health problems or tapped the breaks in getting vaccinations. All it takes to become bedridden is inhaling airborne particles from the careless use of a fan, flushing a toilet, or opening windows without proper personal protection.
And most of us lack the proper training, time, physical strength, and tools to restore the structure. (How many of us have ripped out and installed carpeting? Replaced damaged drywall? Know why 6% hydrogen peroxide is needed? Have used a hydroxyl machine?)
Then there’s the possibility of overlooked evidence. Can we distinguish a pet hair from a human one? Will we be alert to a missed wad of gum hastily spit out behind a shoe rack in the garage? Might we ignore a foreign fiber trapped around a plug that investigators overlooked?
Important also is the legal matter of obtaining necessary permits to discard medical-grade waste and where to take it. (States differ on disposal.)
Besides, homeowner’s insurance won’t pay a penny unless the renovations are done by a professional company. That’s often a deal breaker right there.
Realistically speaking, is a crash course in biohazard remediation the kind of endeavor we should focus on? With everything else underway it can push the most tolerant griever over the edge. We’re preoccupied with funeral planning, meeting with investigators and out-of-town relatives, wrestling with insomnia, restraining journalists, caring for our kids, and balancing work demands.
And that doesn’t even begin to address the emotional response to the graphic and highly personal nature of the bedlam we will see. Who can ever be prepared for that? It’s something we will never forget.
What Often Happens
In our alarm, we might ask the detective, or victim advocate for their crime scene cleaner recommendation and just go with it. Or we may take a hasty dive into the rabbit hole of splashy online websites and click on the first one that “looks decent.” We might get lucky.
But could we also regret this? Yes – if we aren’t sure what to ask.
Red Flags of Trouble
Social Media as “Crime Porn”
Did you know that some biohazard remediation companies supplement their earnings by releasing videos of their work on social media? TikTok “influencers” earn between 2 – 4 cents per 1,000 views in addition to viewers who donate “coins” during live-streamed posts. Creators also make money through brand partnerships, by selling their own services, and offering merchandise like T-shirts. Many of these posts are sponsored. And it’s de-facto-free advertising on an international scale.
There’s a German biohazard worker on TikTok by the name of Marcell Engel, for example, who received 3.6 million views with nearly 5,000 comments for his 2021 post entitled “Cleaning Hard Work.” The video shows him surrounded by blood-spattered walls and floor. TikTok lets these kinds of posts slide on past their Community Guidelines because it’s pegged “educational.” (Ah, sure it is, wink wink.)
And YouTube is also overstocked with these intrusive, repulsive images
It’s rare for the customer to even know this has happened. And I’d submit that even if they give their consent curbside it’s invalid due to the enormous fatigue and pressure they’re under. And let’s not get into the revolting comments the public freely contributes to these posts.
Two Cases In Point. Back in 2020, Michelle Syers’ spouse (U.S. Army Maj. Thomas Syers) took his own life in their Florida residence. Michelle hired Spaulding Decon for the cleanup job, which they completed. But afterward, they posted the grim visuals on TikTok without asking permission. Michelle wasn’t even aware of this transgression until her young sons came across them online.
She filed a lawsuit in 2022 in Hillsborough County alleging violation of privacy among other charges. It’s set to go to trial in December of 2023.
Spaulding thrives on serving up voyeuristic mayhem. In 2019, for example, her company posted a YouTube video entitled “Tub with chunks of flesh” that received 3.6 million views. That’s a whole lot of “educating” goin on….
What this means to us, the consumers, is that we need to know what the company’s policy is for videotaping or photographing the crime scene before signing on the dotted line. Does their website address this? What does the work contract say? (Be aware of the exception that insurance companies often want photos.)
Second Case. Back in 2018, YouTube released a video entitled Man’s Work – E5 Crime Scene Cleaner featuring Neil Smither, owner of Crime Scene Inc. in San Francisco. In the video, Neil is being interviewed by Ashley Hames about his work. A few minutes into the video Neil is showing Ashley graphic photos after he offered Ashley some chips and dip.
Their exchange goes like this:
Ashley: Does it make you feel sad watching this?
Neil: No. I’m just wondering what we charged on it. Cha-ching! [laughs]
Ashley: Is that what you see when you look into this place?
Neil: [still laughing] Hell, yeah!
Ashley: I’m thinking ‘Oh my god – the horror that must’ve been in this room…’
Neil: I could strip that in an hour. Cha-ching! [smiling]
Ashley: I just look at this scene and think ‘Oh, that’s disgusting.’
Neil: No! Not disgusting! I think ‘Fuck! I’m gonna be here all night. Disgusting is dollars! We want disgusting!
If Neil Smithers would say this on camera, imagine what he’d say behind closed doors…
Does the company you plan to hire state in writing they’ll return in a reasonable amount of time to correct a situation still in need of decontamination – free of charge?
Here’s what can happen. A family in South Carolina decided to clean up what appeared to be a small pool of bodily fluids on their linoleum-tiled floor. It looked okay but the odor grew quickly. They hired Diligent Decon who found a pin-size hole in one of the tiles near the damage. The hidden breeding ground for trouble was much more extensive than first appeared. Ultimately it led to removing and replacing a large section of tile. We don’t know what we don’t know.
All for-profit businesses are in business to make money. Bio-remediation is no exception. Of course, they should be paid a fair wage for their hard work, supplies and other overhead. It’s a tough job. However, some exploit us financially knowing we are vulnerable and in a panic. Understand that if the insurance company proceeds do not cover the full amount of the invoice, they will pay the bill then put a lien on the house for the unpaid balance and collect when the house sells. Get more than one bid. The divergence of fees can be astounding.
Magnifying Your Woes
Have you considered what will happen if the name of the biohazard remediation business is prominently blasted on the side of their cleanup vans? Once parked in your driveway the neighborhood kids on their bikes will pause, point, and loudly comment “Cool!” Then neighbors will “coincidentally” walk past and gossip amongst themselves. And, before you know it, the local news reporter gets wind of the exhibition, and you end up hoping it’s not a slow news day.
Company vans that do not scream We’re here! We clean up crime scenes! show discretion and respect for their customers. They understand that the residents will live there long after their vans vanish over the horizon. People who spot them may assume they’re part of law enforcement and keep their distance. (By the way, Diligent Decon uses plain vans and declines news interviews.)
I doubt homicide detectives and even crime victim advocates have thought these issues through. So, do your due diligence and pick wisely – or take a shortcut.
If all this sounds overwhelming, it is. Fortunately, there’s a subgroup of dedicated professionals in the biohazard remediation business a step ahead of us. They want what we want.
The American Bio-Recovery Association (ABRA) does the vetting for you. They were established in 1996. They screen, train, educate, and certify contractors based on their ethics, thoroughness, and ability to work with insurance companies. They are a volunteer professional association that works to increase standards and consumer rights.
In their words, their mission is to “achieve and maintain the highest levels of competence among members in the performance of their profession. to teach, instill, and require the highest technical and educational standards.”
I can personally vouch for them. I attended one of their national conferences in 2023 when I gave a presentation on the industry from the consumer point of view.
ABRA can be reached 24/7 across the US, Canada, Europe, and Australia by calling 1-888-979-2272 or going online to www.americanbiorecovery.org