all the fuss? If you watch the news or read the newspaper, you have probably
seen articles dealing with mold and/or toxic mold. Mold issues are nothing
new as mold has been around for centuries. What is new are the problems
and health related affects associated mold that have garnered the public's
attention. Mold jumped back into the public's eye in 1998 when a
Texas court awarded the Ballard family $32 million dollars in their case
against Farmer's Insurance group for mishandling their claim for
mold damage to their home. Since then there have been numerous property
damage claims in states all across the nation. In addition to property
damage claims, claims seeking reimbursement for costs associated with
the health effects of mold are also on the rise.
What's all this have
to do with you? Whether or not you have a home infected with mold or have
health effects related to mold, you are impacted by all of these mold-related
problems. To combat the rising number of claims, insurance companies are
increasing home owner's and health insurance premiums. Some insurance
companies are now instituting riders putting a cap on the amount of damages
that can be recovered in the event of a mold infestation.
Things You Should Know About Mold
- Potential health effects and symptoms associated with
mold exposures include allergic reactions, asthma, and
other respiratory complaints.
- There is no practical way to eliminate all mold and
mold spores in the indoor environment; the way to control
indoor mold growth is to control moisture.
- If mold is a problem in your home or school, you must
clean up the mold and eliminate sources of moisture.
- Fix the source of the water problem or leak to prevent
- Reduce indoor humidity (to 30-60% ) to decrease mold
growth by: venting bathrooms, dryers, and other moisture-generating
sources to the outside; using air conditioners and de-humidifiers;
increasing ventilation; and using exhaust fans whenever
cooking, dishwashing, and cleaning.
- Clean and dry any damp or wet building materials and
furnishings within 24-48 hours to prevent mold growth.
- Clean mold off hard surfaces with water and detergent,
and dry completely. Absorbent materials such as ceiling
tiles, that are moldy, may need to be replaced.
- Prevent condensation: Reduce the potential for condensation
on cold surfaces (i.e., windows, piping, exterior walls,
roof, or floors) by adding insulation.
- In areas where there is a perpetual moisture problem,
do not install carpeting (i.e., by drinking fountains,
by classroom sinks, or on concrete floors with leaks or
- Molds can be found almost anywhere; they can grow on
virtually any substance, providing moisture is present.
There are molds that can grow on wood, paper, carpet,
What is Mold?
Are there different types of mold?
Are all types of mold harmful?
What is Toxic Mold?
What are the health effects associated with mold and
How am I exposed to mold?
Is anyone at a greater risk to mold exposure?
How do I know if I have mold in my home?
Should I test for mold?
What if I find mold in my HVAC system?
How do I get rid of mold in my home? (mini
How can I find someone to help me with my mold problem?
What is Mold?
and mildew are types of fungi. Fungi are organisms with rigid cell walls
but contain no chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is the molecule essential to photosynthesis:
the process that takes energy from the sun and converts it into food.
Since fungi lack chlorophyll, they must find their food sources elsewhere.
Water and a source of organic nutrition provide the food fungi need to
Mold will grow indoors if there
is sufficient moisture. Sufficient moisture is generally a relative humidity
of at least 60%. Moisture from an intrusion such as a flood or leaking
roof or water pipe will also be a sufficient source for mold to grow and
thrive. Many common building materials such as wallboard, carpet, ceiling
tiles, and wood consist of cellulose materials that are particularly suitable
for mold growth when they are wet.
It's also important to
understand how molds reproduce in order to understand how they may affect
your health. Molds produce tiny spores of about 1 micron in size. Just
how small is this? About 250,000 mold spores could fit on the head of
a pin. These spores are released into the air and alight on surfaces within
the home. If the needed moisture and food are present where the spores
land, then mold will begin to grow. [Back
Are there different
types of mold?
There are an estimated 100,000 plus species of mold with 1,000 or more
species commonly found in the U.S. In general, molds are an important
part of the nutrient cycle because they break down dead materials in soil,
food, plant materials, and other organic matter making it available for
plants and other organisms.
Common Types of Indoor Mold
Are all types of mold
Some molds have beneficial commercial uses and are used to create cheese
and drugs such as Penicillin and Cyclosporine (an immune suppressant used
in organ transplants). According to the CDC, all molds have the potential
to cause health effects. [Back to top]
What is Toxic
Toxic molds are molds that emit or contain mycotoxins. Mycotoxins are
chemicals that can be toxic to humans and animals. They are found in the
mold spores, within the mold itself and in the materials where the mold
is growing. Approximately 15-20 types of mold are known to produce mycotoxins.
Stachybotrys chartarum, which
you may also see referred to as just Stachybotrys, is the most well-known
or notorious toxic mold. It is also referred to as "Black Mold"
due to its color being black or very dark. Black or dark coloring is common
for many molds, therefore, just because you find black mold in your home
doesn't mean that it's Stachybotrys. Also, Stachybotrys does
not grow on plastic, vinyl, concrete products, or ceramic tiles and is
not found in the green mold on bread. [Back
What are the health
effects associated with mold and toxic mold?
Mold and toxic mold share many of the same effects. Your reaction to mold
exposure is directly related to your sensitivity to mold. The more sensitive
or allergic you are to mold, the more severe your reaction when exposed.
Reactions to mold can be instantaneous, occurring after a single exposure
(acute) or occur only after repeated, long-term exposure (chronic)
The most common effect from
mold is an allergic reaction. People with mold allergies or sensitivity
to mold may experience typical allergy-like symptoms including: nasal
stuffiness, runny nose, watery eyes, eye irritation, sneezing, wheezing,
itching, dizziness, skin irritation, and fatigue.
People with serious mold allergies,
approximately 10% of the population, or those who are exposed to large,
concentrated doses of mold, such as directly handling a moldy material,
can have severe reactions that may include fever, shortness of breath,
or more severe cases of any of the common allergy symptoms.
In addition to all the common
allergy-like symptoms noted, toxic molds are claimed to have caused pulmonary
hemorrhage, memory loss, extreme lethargy, suppression of the immune system,
and cancer. There is no study that has proven a causal link between toxic
mold and these associated health effects. The US EPA, Centers for Disease
Control (CDC), and various state environmental/health departments, and
scientists continue to study the problem and searching for a definitive
link. Since mycotoxins may present greater hazards than that of common
molds, you should minimize your exposure whenever possible.
One fact that all health agencies
and scientists do agree on is the fact that prolonged exposure to mold
is not healthy. If mold is present in your home you should take measures
to eliminate it as soon as possible. If you have any persistent symptoms
you should see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment. [Back
How am I exposed
The most common routes of exposure to mold are through inhalation, ingestion,
and direct contact. Mold spores enter your respiratory system by breathing
in the mold spores that are in the air. Direct contact with mold may cause
immediate skin irritation or you might accidentally transport mold spores
from your hand to your food or mouth causing you to ingest the spores.
Almost all the information related to diseases caused by mycotoxins (toxic
mold) concern eating contaminated food. Ingesting moldy foodstuffs could
cause both immediate and long-lasting damage to the liver, kidneys, gastrointestinal
tract, heart, central nervous system, and the immune system. [Back
Is anyone at a greater
risk to mold exposure?
Infants and children, elderly persons, people with allergies and asthma,
and people with suppressed immune systems (HIV, chemotherapy, organ transplants)
are most affected by mold exposure. [Back
How do I know if I
have mold in my home?
The most obvious way to tell if you have mold in your home is to see it.
However, problem causing mold may not always grow in places that are easy
to see so you may need to use other clues to alert you to the fact that
you need to look for the mold. Clues indicating you may have mold growth
· the presence of an earthy or musty smell
· signs of excessive moisture in the home
· worsening of any allergy-like symptoms.
Molds may be cottony, velvety,
granular, or leathery in appearance and have be white, gray, brown, black,
yellow or green in color. Visible mold will often appear as a discoloration,
staining (speckled), or fuzzy growth on the surface of building materials
(such as baseboard trim or drywall) or furnishings.
If you do notice an odor in
your home, follow the odor to the area where you believe the odor is strongest.
Perform a thorough search of the area. First, look for any sign of excess
moisture or water damage including water leaks, standing water, water
stains, or condensation on walls or windows. Moisture is a key requirement
for mold growth. Be sure to check areas above eye level including ceilings
If no sign of moisture or water
damage is present, search behind and underneath carpet and pads, wallpaper,
vinyl flooring, sink cabinets, furniture, stored boxes especially if they
are near an outside wall or on a cold floor. If you don't find mold
in any of these places then it may be located in the spaces behind the
walls, under floors and in ceilings especially if any of these areas have
ever suffered water damage. To find out if you have mold in these types
of spaces, you will need to tear out a portion in order to investigate.
This can be expensive and you before going to these extremes you may want
to get some professional help or advice to help you devise a plan to cause
a minimum of damage to your home while searching for the mold.
An alternative that bears mention
in the search for mold in your home is that there are several companies
throughout the US who are using dogs to pinpoint mold in homes. While
using dogs to find mold in homes is a new concept in the US, they have
been used in Europe for this purpose for many years. The dogs are trained
and certified to detect and pinpoint at least eighteen different kinds
of the most common toxic molds. Since dogs have a very sensitive sense
of smell, they can detect mold odors at concentrations undetectable by
humans. Some companies claim that the dogs are 90% effective in finding
the source of mold in a home which can save considerable costs in remediation
if the source of mold is not visible. [Back
Should I test
Most government and health related agencies agree that you should NOT
test for mold as an initial step. Testing for mold contamination is generally
not recommend as there are few available standards for judging what is
an acceptable quantity of mold. There are no standards set by the EPA,
CDC, and other federal or state agencies that specify what is a "safe"
mold level. This means if you do have the testing performed and mold is
detected, you have no idea if the level of mold found in your home is
acceptable or unacceptable.
In lieu of testing, your first
step should be visual inspection following the procedures outlined in
"How do I know if I have mold in my home?" above. If you see
mold or smell mold odors, you should assume you have a problem.
If you are convinced that you
still want or need testing performed, there are two reasons why you might
want to test for mold. One reason is to see what levels of mold are in
the air inside your home. The other reason is to identify the type of
mold you have present. All analytical laboratory testing can be quite
expensive and require the use of an analytical laboratory to conduct the
To determine the level of mold
in the air in your home, you will need to contract an environmental professional
to collect the air samples. There is always some level of airborne mold
present outdoors. Therefore, it is necessary to collect an outdoor sample
at the same time you collect an indoor sample to provide a comparison.
The outdoor sample provides a baseline measurement for the amount of mold
that is normal for your area. A mold spore count of your indoor air without
the corresponding outdoor mold spore count is meaningless.
If you have mold in your home
and want to know what kind of mold it is, you can hire an environmental
professional to conduct the sampling. There are some relatively inexpensive
test kits available from various testing laboratories that you can use
to conduct the sampling yourself. Make sure the kits come from an American
Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) accredited laboratory. These
kits are often used during initial investigations, building walkthrough
and source identification, before more involved work involving greater
expense begins. Bear in mind that these kits offer limited details regarding
the extent of any mold contamination.
The kits will come with step-by-step
instructions for the sampling. Sample collection methods include bulk
sampling and the "tape lift" or "sticky tape"
method. Bulk sampling involves scraping some of the mold into a petri
dish the lab has provided or submitting a small section of the material
that contains mold. The tape lift or sticky tape method involves taking
a piece of clear Scotch tape, rubbing it over the moldy area or area suspected
to contain mold, lifting, and putting the sample in a plastic Ziploc bag.
Note that you should never attempt to conduct mold sampling without taking
the appropriate measure to protect yourself from the mold. [Back
What if I find mold
in my HVAC system?
If you find mold or suspect that you have mold in your HVAC (heating/ventilation/air
conditioning) system you should have the system cleaned by a reputable
HVAC service provider. It is important that you do no not run the system
if you think it is contaminated with mold as this will cause the mold
to spread throughout your home. [Back to
do I get rid of mold in my home?
The EPA has guidelines on the removal of mold in your home. You should
first determine the size of the mold problem. In general, the EPA says
you can attempt to remove the mold yourself if the moldy area is less
than approximately 10 square feet (a 3 foot by 3 foot area). The EPA notes
the following cases as examples when you should seek the assistance of
an environmental professional with the cleanup.
- if there has been a lot
of water damage, and/or mold growth covers more than 10 square feet
- if the water and/or mold
damage was caused by sewage or other contaminated water
- if you have health concerns.
If you hire an environmental
professional or other contractor to do the cleanup, make sure they have
experience with mold cleanup. Check their references. The EPA recommends
you ask them to follow the procedures outlined in their guidance, Mold
Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings, the guidelines of
the American Conference of Governmental
Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), or other guidelines from professional
or government organizations.
If you are going to tackle
the job yourself, these are the recommended general steps.
1. Identify and fix your
2. Gather appropriate personal protective equipment.
3. Dry all wet materials.
4. Remove and dispose of mold-contaminated materials.
5. Clean mold-contaminated surfaces.
6. Disinfect mold-contaminated surfaces.
7. Remain alert for any recurrence of mold.
Identify and fix
your moisture problem
You will accomplish nothing if you proceed with the cleanup without first
identifying the source of your moisture problem and fixing it. The mold
will return if the moisture source is not removed.
personal protective equipment
Before you even touch any material or surface that you think contains
mold, you should gather the appropriate equipment to protect yourself
from exposure. During the cleaning process, you may be exposed to mold,
strong detergents, and disinfectants. Mold counts may be 10 to 1000 times
higher than background levels when mold contaminated materials are disturbed
so it is important to protect yourself.
- Use rubber gloves and eye
- Wear clothing (long pants
and long-sleeved shirts are preferable) that can be easily removed in
the work area and easily cleaned or discarded.
- Use a N-95 or equivalent
respirator that can typically be purchased from a safety equipment supplier,
hardware store, or home repair store. The N-95 respirator usually has
a removable cartridge that captures mold spores. Make sure to follow
the instructions provided with the respirator as it will not function
effectively if it does not fit properly. While these respirators are
very effective at capturing dust and mold spores, these respirators
will not protect you from fumes emanating from bleach or other disinfectants
used in the cleanup.
It is important that you use
all of the protective equipment noted each and every time that you are
working with mold-contaminated materials or in the mold-contaminated area.
Dry all wet materials
You should dry any wet material as soon as possible. Use fans and dehumidifiers
if necessary. Move wet items off the floor and away from walls. Remember
that mold can begin to grow in a wet area within 24-48 hours.
Remove and dispose
of mold-contaminated materials
materials that are typically found in the home such as sheet rock, insulation,
plaster, carpet/carpet pads, ceiling tiles, wood products, and paper products
will absorb moisture and can become easily contaminated with mold. Any
items that have absorbed moisture and have mold growing on them need to
be removed, bagged, and discarded. Plan your work to minimize the amount
of dust generated as spores are more easily released when materials dry
out. Recommended guidelines are to:
- Enclose all moldy materials
in plastic bags or sheeting before carrying them through uncontaminated
areas of the home.
- Hang plastic sheeting to
separate the work area from the rest of your home to contain the spread
- Remove your outer layer
of work clothing in the work area. Put it in a plastic bag for disposal
or to take immediately to the laundry.
- Damp clean the entire work
area to pick up the settled dust.
Non-porous materials, such as hard plastic, concrete, glass, metal, and
solid wood, do not absorb water and can usually be cleaned and not discarded.
The cleaning process must thoroughly remove the mold contamination since
dead mold spores can still cause health problems. Recommended guidelines
- Scrub all contaminated
surfaces with hot water and a non-ammonia soap/detergent or commercial
- Use a stiff brush or cleaning
pad on rough, or uneven surfaces.
- Collect excess cleaning
solution with a wet/dry vacuum. Mops and sponges can be used, however,
they are porous materials and can trap mold spores. If you use a mop
or sponge, you should have one to use for "dirty" areas
and one to use for "clean" areas.
- Rinse cleaned items with
water, collecting the excess rinse water, and dry thoroughly using a
disinfecting agents are toxic to humans so you need to be careful when
using them. Disinfectants are applied to surfaces that have been thoroughly
cleaned to ensure that you have killed all remaining mold spores. Recommended
guidelines are to:
- Mix ¼ to 1½
cups of bleach per gallon of water (no greater than a 10% bleach solution)
and apply the solution to surfaces where mold growth was visible prior
to cleaning. You can apply the solution use a spray bottle, sponge,
or other method.
- Using bleach straight from
the bottle is LESS effective than using the diluted solution!
- Never mix bleach with ammonia,
hence the use of a non-ammonia soap or detergent for cleaning, as toxic
chlorine gas may be produced.
- Keep the disinfectant on
the surface for the recommended amount of time before rinsing or drying.
This is typically 10 minutes for a bleach solution.
- Collect any run-off solution
with a wet/dry vacuum.
Bleach can irritate your eyes,
nose, throat, and skin. Make sure that your work area is well-ventilated
via an open window, door or some other method. Protect your skin and eyes
from contact with bleach. Remember that bleach is very corrosive and can
permanently discolor and damage materials and fabrics so you may want
to test the solution on a small area before your treat the entire surface.
Remain alert for
any recurrence of mold
Once you've finished the cleanup, you need to remain alert and look
for signs of moisture problems or the return of any mold growth especially
in areas where you had previous growth. If mold does return, you should
repeat the cleanup steps bearing in mind that you may not have removed
all mold from your previous cleanup attempt or that you still have not
yet found your source of moisture. [Back
How can I find someone
to help me with my mold problem?
Dealing with all the complexities associated with mold may seem like an
impossible task. That's where we can help. We're project integrators
and that means we specialize in helping people complete projects on time
and within specified budgets. We work with AIHA-certified laboratories
that can perform the analyses for mold or supply you with a do-it-yourself
mold detection kit. We work with professionals that can do mold remediation
work or help you devise a remediation plan. We carry equipment needed
to collect air samples and all associated personal protective equipment.
From start to finish, we can help you with your entire project.
us today and let us help you solve your mold problems! [Back
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