By John Gura Home Safe Environmental
For years mold has been accepted by most of us as Mother Nature's way of warning us away from spoiled food. Then, a few years ago, mold must have gotten a press agent.
Headlines about toxic mold and TV news reports on sensational lawsuits became common. On one national broadcast a homeowner was quoted as saying her house was so contaminated by toxic stachybotrys that it, "cannot be cleaned" so she was going to let her local fire department burn it for practice! Programs like 48 Hours, Primetime and even Oprah have jumped on the "toxic mold" story.
All of the hype has a lot of people who can't even pronounce stachybotrys; positive it's lurking under their kitchen sink. Mold is fast becoming public health enemy number one.
A complex combination of good intentions and natural phenomena - each relatively harmless by themselves - have collided to create today's situation.
Over the past 30 years and in response to energy concerns, the building industry developed new techniques and materials that resulted in more energy efficient buildings. These "tighter" buildings may save fossil fuel, but they can also create havoc with the human respiratory system. Buildings that can't "breathe" can't dilute indoor pollutants. So, guess who ends up breathing all that invisible stuff?
In fact, there is a direct correlation between tighter buildings and reports of health problems due to indoor air pollution. Medical researchers have found that mold exposure can have of a variety of health effects, including allergic reactions.
That is a very basic explanation of what happened. The main thing to know is that mold should be respected, not feared.
The words mold and fungi are often used interchangeably, but fungi is actually the correct term to use for mold, mildew, mushrooms, rusts, smuts and yeast.
Molds - or fungi - can be found almost everywhere; they can grow on virtually any organic substance, as long as moisture and oxygen are present. There are estimated to be thousands of different mold types. They all reproduce by making nearly invisible spores that can become airborne. There are molds that can grow on wood, paper, carpet, foods, and insulation.
Molds produce allergens, irritants, and in some cases, toxins. People can experience a variety of health problems, such as headaches, breathing difficulties, skin irritation, allergic reactions, and aggravation of asthma symptoms. The type and severity of symptoms depend, in part, on the types of mold present, the extent of an individual's exposure, the age of the individual, and they’re existing sensitivities or allergies. Some of us don't seem to be bothered. While others can have an allergic reaction from just inhaling or touching mold or mold spores.
Infants and children are among those most susceptible, as are the elderly and immune-compromised patients, such as undergoing chemotherapy. If you suspect you are being exposed to high mold levels and you are concerned about your health, get way from the contaminated environment and consult a qualified physician who is a respiratory specialist.
The health effects mentioned above are well documented. There may be others yet to confirmed. For now, while many molds have the potential to be hazardous, only a physician can decide if mold is the cause of your particular symptom or if mold exposure might have any long term effects on your health.
I've Got Mold, What Should I Do? The prudent thing to do is call in a professional, especially if you or someone in your family is sensitive to mold, has respiratory problems or if you are concerned about how much or what type(s) of mold growth you have.
The next decision is whether or not to have a mold inspection. Depending on the situation, it may require multiple visits and the taking of both air and bulk samples from a number of locations. With lab and labor charges, a professional mold inspection/assessment can cost hundreds of dollars.
The good news is you'll know exactly what you are up against. A report prepared by a trained mold assessment professional will tell you the types of mold you have, where it is, what you need to do to prevent future infestations and, most important, the steps you must take to safely clean it up. Another benefit is that a test taken before remediation provides a "baseline" to compare with subsequent tests. This is especially important if there are legal issues involved. On the other hand, if you have visible mold and all you want to do is get rid of it, you could simply hire a professional mold remediation contractor. There are no Federal or state certifications for mold workers, so anyone can claim they are an expert. A few professional organizations - like the Environmental Assessment Association (EAA) - have developed certification programs for their members. Be sure to ask each potential contractor for references and find out what kind of training and experience they have.
It's also a good idea to ask for a detailed explanation of how they intend to "attack" the problem. If you don't hear words like "containment" and "sealed HVAC system" and "negative air" and "HEPA" coupled with plans for workers to wear respirators and protective clothing, find another contractor. Once you are satisfied, get a detailed written estimate and be sure you completely understand the statement of work.
Abatement costs depend on how extensive the contamination is. It might cost a few hundred dollars to treat a section of the concrete slab and replace a rug. Or it could cost thousands to take a room "down to the studs" to replace Sheetrock on walls and ceiling, plus carpeting and clean personal belongings.
But, unless there are a lot of "other" issues, you'll never have to let your local fire department burn your house for practice. Not because of mold.
If you are determined to take care of your mold problem without professional help, it's imperative that you understand the potential pitfalls.
Your battle plan should feature a two-pronged attack. First, figure out why there is a problem and fix it, and then clean up the mess. Since mold requires water to grow, if you eliminate the moisture source you've won the first skirmish. Finding that moisture source can take a little detective work. Sources can include roof leaks, landscaping or gutters (or sprinklers) that direct water into or under a building, hidden plumbing leaks, and excessive vapor emissions from a concrete slab. As we said earlier, some moisture problems have been linked to changes in construction practices during the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. Some of these changes resulted in tightly sealed buildings that may lack adequate ventilation. That can lead to moisture buildup. To be fair, it's often not the builder's fault. Delayed or insufficient maintenance on the part of building owners is probably the major cause of moisture problems.
The second part of the battle - cleaning up - is a little trickier. Which means it's time for a word of caution.
If you see mold growing on walls or carpets or floors or baseboards, etc., DO NOT leap in and start tearing away at it. A haphazard or ill-advised attempt to remediate mold can create a bigger problem than you started with!
The rule of thumb is that if you have a one square foot section of visible mold on a wall, there's likely to be 10 square feet of mold on the other side! So, if you tear into that wall without sealing up the doors and HVAC vents, without venting room air to the outside through a HEPA filter, without covering the floor, walls and even the ceiling with plastic, and without wearing a powered respirator, you might ... ... release millions of invisible spores into your ventilation system ... be exposed to a huge dose of potentially toxic fungi ... contaminate unprotected furniture and personal belongings ... put your family at risk.
The point is, be careful. If you want to do it yourself, take a class, do research on the Internet, talk to professionals, and learn the right and wrong way before you start.
Bad mold remediation is worse than no remediation at all.
I don't have a mold problem ... how do I keep it that way? Mold will begin to grow in wet organic material within 24 to 48 hours. So, any kind of leak or water intrusion should be stopped as soon as it is spotted. If you find an area that has been wet for longer than 48 hours, it's best to assume mold is present. If it's been wet for over a week, you can almost count on it and you should proceed accordingly.
I hope this gives you a better understanding of why mold can be a "big deal." And why, seemingly all of a sudden, some people think it is public health enemy number one.
For more information, visit these websites:
Environmental Protection Agency: www.epa.gov/iaq/pubs/moldresources.html Information on a wide variety of indoor air contaminants, including biological (such as molds and dust mites) and chemical (such as environmental tobacco smoke, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde and others) Centers for Disease Control: www.cdc.gov/nceh/asthma/factsheets/molds/molds.htm provides concise information on mold types, possible human health effects, where molds are found and recommendations for decreasing indoor mold exposure at California Indoor Air Quality Program: www.cal-iaq.org This site contains fact sheets on several indoor air quality problems including molds, asbestos, radon, ozone-generating air cleaners, and guidance for hiring an indoor air quality consultant.
- Fix leaks as soon as possible.
- Perform regular building/HVAC inspections and maintenance.
- Watch for condensation and wet spots.
- Dry damp spots within 48 hours.
- Keep HVAC drip pans clean and unobstructed.
- Vent moisture-generating appliances, such as dryers, to the outside.
- Maintain low indoor humidity, below 60% and ideally 30-50%.
- Provide drainage and slope the ground away from foundations.
- Prevent condensation with insulation or increased air circulation.
- To reduce moisture, increase ventilation (if outside air is cold and dry), or dehumidify (if outdoor air is warm and humid)
- Save on Your Utility Bill
- Make the Most of Your Tax Refund
- Selling a Home - Disclosure Requirements
- Mold - What's the Risk?
- Lead Poisoning In Your Home
- Home Buyers Checklist
- Pervious Concrete: An Eco-Friendly Solution to your Pavement Needs
- Cut Down on Junk Mail and Spam
- Home Energy “Myths”
- Money Matters
- Remodeling Tips