The mold information contained in this website represents professional opinions offered by Indoor Environmental Testing Inc. (IET). The information contained herein is for educational purposes only.
The materials contained herein are not intended to be used for the diagnosis or treatment of a health problem nor as a substitute for consulting a licensed medical professional. Health information should always be carefully reviewed with your healthcare provider. IET will not be held responsible for misuse of information nor any adverse effects of recommendations stated in these resources.
While it endeavors to keep the information up-to-date and correct, IET makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, about the completeness, accuracy, reliability or suitability with respect to the website or the information, products, services or related graphics contained on the website for any purpose. Any reliance you place on such information is therefore strictly at your own risk.
“Can one determine the species of mold based on color?”
Often clients will ask, “What type of mold is it if it’s white?” Or, “The mold is black, so it must be the toxic kind, right?”
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple, and there is no way to identify fungal species strictly based on visual observation or by color. Some species can have several colors, depending on the stage of growth. For example, a fungi could start out white, then turn green.
Also, just because mold is black does not mean that it’s Stachybotrys, the mold often characterized in the press as “toxic black mold.” Often, the “black mold” that people find on window sills or in corners of the basement is Cladosporium, the most common outdoor mold. One of the most toxic molds is often purplish pink (Chaetomium) which is easy to spot but it’s not always that color, it may start out as yellow! It doesn’t even look like mold and yet it can make occupants quite ill.
The least visible mold is white, usually Aspergillus or Penicillium. It often covers furniture, leather goods and luggage in damp basements. It appears as a white “dust” until a well-positioned flashlight makes it clear that mold colonies are present.
Sometimes molds are the same color as the substrate on which they grow; this makes the mold invisible. For example, Aspergillus growing on the back of drywall often starts out white and is mistaken for drywall dust. A microscope is needed to identify it. This is the most commonly missed mold by homeowners and inspectors alike.
Scopulariopsis, a common crawlspace mold, can be the very same color as wood, so it’s not visible on a floor joist unless the flashlight is held parallel to the surface to reveal the fuzzy growth, which home inspectors often mistake for dust or dirt.
“What kind of testing is available to find hidden mold?”
The world of mold testing is moving slowly – there is no CSI for mold yet – but we are making some progress, especially in the type of testing available directly to the homeowner. Of course, nothing can replace a really good mold inspector, but if you do not have access to one, there are some tests available to homeowners that previously were only available to professionals. All of the tests described below are available to you as Do-It-Yourself kits from us. Simply call 1-800-MY-AIR-TEST to order.
Spore Trap Testing: This type of testing is limited in its value but can sometimes help uncover mold problems. Typically, several indoor locations are tested as well as the outdoors. A lab report is provided that gives guidance on how to interpret the results. Interpreting test results is best done by a pro, but in a nutshell, what you want is an indoor ecology similar to the outdoors with close-to-equal or lesser quantities and similar ratios. In other words, the types of molds inside should be the same as found outdoors and in similar numbers. There are many ways to misinterpret lab results so beware.
This test also gives you additional data like mold fragments, pollen count, skin-cell/dander count, etc.
The most valuable use of spore traps is to detect mold in hidden places like wall & ceiling cavities, underneath vanities and kitchen base cabinets, inside ductwork, and to test mattresses and carpeting.
Many things can cause a false negative, and a few can cause a false positive; that’s where a professional can help, but at least if one room shows 50 times the outdoor mold levels and the other rooms are similar to outside levels, then you have gained some valuable information and have narrowed down the area being affected. A few companies offer rentals of professional equipment to collect air samples. You get all you need in one package, collect the air samples following instructions and then return everything to the company.
This test is also valuable after a remodeling job, or mold-remediation work conducted by a professional or mold cleanup performed by the homeowner to get an idea of how much airborne mold is present. If mold counts inside are substantially higher than those outdoors, air flushing or air washing may be needed.
Surface Testing, also called Tape Lift or Swab: With this type of test, a piece of scotch tape or a swab is used to touch a surface and collect the particles on that surface. The tape/swab is analyzed by a microbiologist, who will report the mold species found on the surface and the quantities for each. You would use this type of test if you see mold on a surface and want to know what kind of mold it is or if you see a suspicious-looking substance on a surface and want to know whether it is mold or not.
TIP: When collecting mold onto a piece of tape, apply only enough pressure to pick up the mold, but do not press hard and crush it. Applying too much pressure can break up the spores, which would make the sample more difficult for the lab to read. This is similar to trying to identify a flower with a fraction of a petal vs being able to see the petals, leaves and stem attached.
Mold Culture: This type of test can be accomplished using a swab or an air sample collected on a petri dish lined with agar. We like the swabs for testing suspicious surfaces like the A-Coil inside the furnace, the drip pan underneath the A-coil, air conditioner coils, humidifier membranes or any uneven surface to which applying a tape is difficult.
Microbial VOC Test: This test detects the VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) produced by active molds. Molds emit a gas as a by-product of digestion. This gas is a VOC and can be measured in the air similar to formaldehyde or others. It can also be smelled by occupants. It’s the well-known “musty” odor that tells us mold is likely present. This test also has its limitations. A very musty basement, for example, may get a “negative” test result because the molds were just not emitting their gas at the time of the test, which collects air for about two hours. This test is available to homeowners, and all equipment is provided to collect the air sample.
Mycotoxins Test: This test detects the chemical substance produced by molds (some mycotoxins, such as Trichocethenes, produced by Stachybotrys mold among others, are known carcinogens and can be toxic to the brain, liver, kidney’s, etc.). These toxins are not volatile on their own but they attach to mold spores, dust, and cling to surfaces. Collection of dust for this test is easily accomplished by the homeowner by collecting a piece of the furnace filter, collecting some dust from the vacuum bag, using a Q-tip to collect dust from surfaces throughout the home, or sending in a portion of an air-purifier filter. While this test is expensive, it is invaluable in determining whether the occupants are being exposed to mold toxins and can explain an unexplained illness including cancer. It is limited, however, in that it only confirms that mold was or is present but does not give a location for the mold. For this you need a professional to investigate.
This test can be positive even if mold was found and then removed professionally. Improper or incomplete mold removal can spread large quantities of mycotoxins, so this test is very useful after mold remediation to determine the level of cleanliness and the extent of leftover contamination.
Important recent research seems to point to mycotoxins as a component of biotoxin illness and this test is the ultimate test for health practitioners, especially if a urine test is also available to compare the types of mycotoxins found in the environment and those found in the occupants’ urine. This test is controversial however and its validity not widely accepted. The presence of mycotoxins can explain why someone is ill but it doesn’t shed any light on the cause/source or location of the mold.
The presence of mycotoxins in the interior dust is not necessarily an indication that mold is present however mycotoxins should be removed since they are poisonous.There are a lot of fraudulent and/or ignorant claims on the internet about what does and doesn’t remove mycotoxins.
ERMI Test: This type of testing uses DNA technology to identify the DNA of the most common molds in household dust. It provides a historical picture of how much mold is in the household dust and very accurately identifies the types of molds present in the dust. It does not however assist in finding the location or the source or the cause of the mold and the results do not always give an accurate representation of what and how much mold is present. For example, a house could have substantial mold contamination in a wall or under a vanity and yet the ERMI test may show nothing abnormal.
“We had a professional company dry out our basement after IT FLOODED. All was well for a while, but now our basement smells “musty.”
This is an all-too-common scenario. What often happens is that wall cavities or the back of the baseboards were not adequately dried. Some water-restoration companies cut costs by simply pulling up the carpeting and running blowers and heaters. This works some of the time, but often, the wall cavities stay damp and grow mold. Six to eight weeks later, a musty odor develops as the quantity of mold behind the walls becomes substantial. Wall cavity testing will help to determine which walls are contaminated with mold.
TIP: If your insurance company hires a water restoration firm after a basement flood, insist that, at the very least, workers remove the baseboard from all walls affected by the water intrusion. If there is a good amount of space between the concrete floor and the drywall/paneling, then the wall cavities have a chance to dry. If not, then holes can be drilled or the drywall cut out a few inches to allow drying and air circulation.
TIP: When installing new drywall in a basement, it’s prudent (and it’s in the building code in some states) to leave a 2 to 3″ gap between the floor and the drywall, so if a water event occurs, the drywall is less likely to wick up water, and the wall cavities are then accessible for drying as needed.
Wall-cavity testing is available to determine whether your basement walls are contaminated.
The musty smell can also be from carpeting. Once carpeting has gotten saturated with water, the odds are low that it will be dried fast enough to avoid mold growth. Mold growth starts within 48 hours. Any dampness remaining in the carpeting after that encourages mold growth. Carpeting can also be lab tested to determine the level of mold present. This is accomplished by collecting dust from the carpeting and having the lab analyze it. One client had a basement flood which was attended to by water restoration professionals within 48 hours. The crew decided that the carpet could be saved so they only discarded the padding and thoroughly dried the carpeting. All looked good and no odor was ever detected. Three years later, one of the homeowners called to get the basement checked because he didn’t feel good whenever he spent time in the basement. Air samples showed practically no mold in the air. Wall cavities were tested and those tests came back negative for mold contamination. The carpet dust was also tested. The lab reported 13 species of mold in the carpeting! The carpet was dry so the mold was not actively growing but these molds were still allergenic, possibly toxigenic, and causing symptoms for sensitive individuals.
Sometimes the musty odor comes from fungal growth on content, i.e., wood surfaces, cabinets, doors, upholstered furniture, exercise equipment, etc. Basements are not always well lit, and the air is often stagnant; two encouraging factors for mold growth.
TIP: Mold growth on furniture is not obvious. Use a flashlight held parallel to the surface to make the invisible visible.
“I bought a mold-testing kit at the hardware store, and it grew all sorts of molds.”
There are numerous issues with these types of kits and mold testing in general. The field of mold testing is slowly evolving, but many aspects are still not well understood by mold professionals, by the public or by medical professionals.
Mold-testing kits purchased at a hardware store use a type of testing that can be useful when used by professionals in a controlled setting with air sampling pumps. In a DIY setting however, they rely on natural airflow indoors to deposit mold spores onto a petri dish that has been coated with agar (a moist, sticky substance) to encourage captured mold spores to grow and reproduce.
You pay $10 to $20 for the kit; then you can optionally send the petri dish to a lab and pay an additional $40 to $60 for the lab to tell you what species of molds were found on the petri dish and how many colonies were found.
Depending on how much has elapsed, the ambient temperature and the quality and age of the agar, a number of mold colonies will grow on this petri dish.
This test falls short for several reason, a few of which are listed below:
1. It only identifies the presence of “viable” molds (molds capable of reproducing or capable of active growth). A major factor is missing here: nonviable mold spores, those spores that cannot reproduce or grow on a petri dish, and mold fragments. Both of these can be highly allergenic and toxigenic. While these spores are capable of causing severe symptoms, they would never be detected with a home-test kit.
2. It does not quantify the mold present, which is a key component of mold testing. Why is quantity a key factor? Molds exist in every home, but quantity and ratio could be the difference between occupants feeling ill or not.
Any environment, including hospital operating rooms, contain mold spores, and a petri dish left sitting in ANY environment will grow mold. Professional tests are measured and compared to outdoor-air counts and ratios under strict guidelines using calibrated equipment.
A mold problem is discovered by testing outdoors and indoors and comparing the mold counts “apple to apple” – for example 75 liters of outside air containing 200 spores per cubic meter of air vs. 75 liters of inside air containing 70,000 spores per cubic meter of air. The quantity of mold on a petri dish left to sit in a room has little meaning since there was no measurement of the airflow, the test was not timed, and the volume of air collected is unknown.
3. They often overlook some of the most toxic molds like Stachybotrys, Chaetomium and Memnoniella. Not growing mold colonies from these species on one of those plates is not indicative that all is well. The mold present in your house might be a species that requires specific conditions to grow, like heavy moisture and wetness not provided by standard petri dish agar. In addition, these highly toxic molds are those that may exist underneath a base plate (stud) in a basement after a sump pump overflow. They will not fly out and land on the petri dish, and probably won’t even become airborne unless disturbed, but can emit strong substances like mycotoxins that can cause severe illness. Finally, if the test kit has been sitting on the store shelf for a long time, the agar on the plate might be old and dried out, preventing mold growth at all.
“I had my house tested for mold by a professional. No mold was found, but I smell it.”
Current mold-testing methods are somewhat limited and often miss the mark. The most common types of testing employed by professionals today involve using “spore traps” or “tape lifts”. These types of tests focus on mold spores only. They completely ignore other substances produced by molds such as mycotoxins, microbial VOCs, beta-glucans, enzymes, and in water-damaged environments bacteria and bacterial endotoxins. Common testing also focuses on ambient air rather than where mold usually hides such as inside walls, ceiling cavities, HVAC systems, under basement stairs, in closets and in carpeting and insulation.
Tape Lift: With this type of test, a piece of scotch tape is used to touch a surface and collect all the particles on that surface. The tape is analyzed by a microbiologist, who will report the types of mold found on the tape and the quantities for each.
Spore Traps: Air samples are collected in several rooms through individual “cassettes” that contain a miniature slide with a sticky substance on it. The particles from the air are trapped onto the sticky substance. The lab identifies and counts the various mold species on the slide. If the mold counts and species are similar enough to the outdoor air, then you might be told that your mold counts are “normal”
But … what if a window leak is causing water to drip inside a wall cavity, and mold is growing on the drywall, studs, and fiberglass insulation? Will the mold spores come out of the wall and float in the air to be captured by this test? Often they don’t, but the other compounds produced by molds might, like the VOCs that produce the unmistakable musty odor. So the ambient air in the room tested “normal”, but when you sniff the electrical outlets in that room, you can smell the mustiness. This is an example where wall-cavity testing (often called a wall check) would be in order.
The same applies to carpeting, especially in basements, where carpeting is installed on concrete. Concrete slabs emit moisture which, over time, may cause mold growth in the carpet. Once mold growth occurs on carpet fibers or in the jute backing, no amount of shampooing will get rid of it. It might even make it worse, depending on the cleaning method and how much dampness it created.
Corners are especially vulnerable. Checking the tack strip for rusted nails and rotted wood in each corner is a good way to find out whether moisture has been building up. So the ambient air test may show normal mold-spore levels, but you can still smell mustiness in the room, in which case the carpeting itself should be tested. Results are difficult to interpret because most carpeting, depending on age, will show a good amount of mold spores in the test. The older the carpet, usually the more mold is found.
“What types of symptoms can be caused by mold?”
Penicillium- and Aspergillus-type molds are usually associated with respiratory issues, such as chest tightness, breathing difficulty or worsening of asthma symptoms, irritation of the nose and eyes, sneezing, sinus infections and the like, while Stachybotrys and Chaetomium have been implicated in episodes of mental fog, nose bleeds, ear bleeding, headaches, depression, memory loss, dizziness, extreme fatigue, liver and kidney damage and skin rashes.
Burning eyes, nasal symptoms, and headaches have been reported with any species. These are general statements, and anyone with these types of symptoms should consult with their healthcare practitioner.
Interestingly, new research is adding to the long list of symptoms suspected to be caused by mold mycotoxins. Mycotoxins are a chemical substance produced by some molds, and they have been associated with a wide range of illnesses and symptoms such as chronic fatigue syndrome or CFS, coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, asthma, sneezing, burning in the throat, burning lungs and chronic sinus infections as well as confusion, cognitive impairment, vision problems, swollen glands, ringing in the ears, hearing loss, dizziness, muscle weakness, joint pain and muscle pain, irregular heartbeat, seizures, depression, anxiety, irritability, psoriasis, skin disorders, sleep disorders, coagulation abnormalities, sudden weight gain and more.
Anecdotal evidence is plentiful that mold affects many people; some seriously. In our work, we interact with thousands of people each year who believe they have been affected by indoor mold. Lab analysis of air samples often confirms and validates their complaints, but we also see numerous cases of “mistaken identity,” in which a homeowner is reacting to other substances in the home or to substances from other locations. For example, a teacher was convinced her house was full of mold because her lungs would get tight and she would wheeze while at home but felt fine elsewhere. An investigation revealed that she had plug-in air fresheners in every outlet and was burning several candles each evening, all in a very small space where she spent most of her time. She also frequently used a leaky, air-polluting vacuum cleaner. Her symptoms improved almost immediately after eliminating these items. Mold testing and a thorough visual inspection revealed a normal mold ecology in the home.
Sometimes people will avoid opening windows and introducing fresh air in their homes due to seasonal allergies from outdoor molds and pollens when, in reality, the symptoms might be caused by indoor substances like VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) and formaldehyde off-gassing from new furniture, carpeting and fragrances. In that case, fresh air is what is needed since it would dilute these chemical vapors.
“I have black mold on my walls, so it must be the toxic kind, right ?”
Due to extensive media coverage of the poisonous black mold Stachybotrys, many people assume that all black molds are Stachybotrys. This mold was implicated in the deaths of several infants in the Cleveland, OH, area many years ago and has since received a lot of press. The Centers for Disease Control later retracted the story, citing tobacco smoke as a possible additional factor.
It’s not uncommon for people who live with this mold in their environment to report nose bleeds and bleeding of the ear. This is a “potent” mold. One of our clients goes into a seizure-like state whenever she is exposed to it, and some mold professionals report being plagued with violent diarrhea each time they enter a building with large quantities of this mold.
It’s important to note that color has nothing to do with potency or toxicity. Chaetomium, for example, is considered by some scientists to be even more toxic than Stachybotrys, and yet it grows white or peach when cultured.
Many mold species are toxic. Actually most molds have the potential to be toxic, and the majority of molds are allergenic, so it has no place in an indoor environment, but just because mold is black, it does not mean that it is producing toxins or that it will cause symptoms. Therefore, mold species cannot be identified based on color or by visual inspection; a microscope is needed to discern each species.
“If I had mold, I would smell it.”
While some molds emit a strong musty odor (called Microbial Volatile Organic Compounds or MVOCs) some do not emit any odor at all. In fact, Stachybotrys, a mold capable of emitting potent poisons called mycotoxins, often releases no smell. The musty odor is also a product of digestion. If the mold are not feeding, they are not digesting, therefore there is no smell.
There have been many cases in which a residence was so contaminated that the occupants could not stay in it, and yet, no odor was ever perceived in the home, nor was there any visible mold. Examples of this would be where large quantities of molds were present inside the furnace on the A-coil, inside the ducts connected to the air-exchange box (Heat Recovery Ventilator), on the humidifier water panel evaporator, or inside a wall cavity.
Additionally, some molds emit various odors based on the substrate that feeds them (wallpaper glue, vinyl, plaster). These odors can be sweet, pungent, acrid, etc … and sometimes can simulate other odors not associated with molds, such as sewer gas, dirty diapers, vomit or even formaldehyde.
Interestingly, a musty odor can be present even if no mold is present, as with certain plastic encasements of computers, computer monitors, exercise equipment, etc … that’s because certain combinations of chemicals can emit a mold-like odor.
“I just want the mold in my home tested to find out whether it’s the “toxic kind.”
When it comes to indoor mold, quantity is just as important and relevant, if not more so, than the type of mold present. Focusing on the TYPE of mold rather than its presence is potentially harmful. Large quantities of mold have no place indoors, regardless of species.
Most molds have the ability to produce mycotoxins and microbial volatiles. The effects of these substances are not well understood yet, but it is generally believed that they are capable of affecting health. Molds produce other by-products such as VOCs, beta-glucans and bacteria-associated endotoxins, all of which have the potential to cause allergic reactions and make people and pets ill.
Even if and when a mold is dead, dormant or doesn’t produce toxins, it can still be allergenic. This is why people can get ill even after their home was remediated for mold, if the remediation was not done properly, i.e., spraying fungicides or antimicrobials but not removing the mold or by inadvertently dispersing the mold through the ventilation system or by other improper procedures.
If an environment is ideal for mold to grow, it is more than likely that bacteria are growing right along with it. Bacteria can produce harmful endotoxins that can severely exacerbate asthma and other conditions because they are highly inflammatory.
Mold thrives in damp, humid conditions. Numerous studies have shown a direct link between damp buildings and respiratory illness. Also, if there is chronic dampness or wetness, it’s very likely that building materials are decaying. The source of moisture should be identified and resolved or repaired.
Mold should not be ignored or assumed to be harmless. At a minimum it is harmful to the structure, the building materials, etc … not to mention the negative effects on air quality.
Experts disagree on the amount of mold that can be safely handled by a homeowner, so if in doubt, call a professional to assess your specific situation and guide you.
“If I suspect that I might have mold inside a wall cavity, can I just cut a hole in the wall and look with a mirror and a flashlight?”
Yes, but there are several caveats with this method. The first one is the potential health hazard. While it’s uncommon, a wall CAN contain large amounts of harmful mold, which will be seriously disturbed by the cutting and will likely become aerosolized as soon as the drywall is removed. Once the opening is made, the exposure is much higher. Mold spores are now free to transfer into occupied spaces – this could cause the entire structure to become contaminated, especially if the furnace or air conditioning is operating.
Secondly, mold is not always obvious. For example it could be underneath the base plate (bottom stud) and not visible from above, or it could be white and not visible against the white drywall, giving the homeowner a false sense of security. Sometimes the majority of the mold is in the insulation that got wet, and this is not visible.
A more accurate way to check would be to hire a professional who will use moisture meters to measure the moisture content of the substrate and collect some air samples from the wall cavity for lab analysis. This method is not foolproof but has a good track record for identifying contaminated walls.
Tip: It’s important that your mold-remediation professional use the lab test results to guide the mold removal efforts. Again, mold is not always going to be visible if it’s under the base plate or in the fiberglass insulation. If test results show a high mold count inside a wall, all necessary precautions should be taken, even if the mold cannot be seen.
“We had a professional company spray the mold in our basement, but the house still has a musty odor.”
This is a very common situation, and there are several potential scenarios. Maybe the mold was only sprayed instead of removed. Maybe the mold was removed from one area but missed in other areas such as under basement stairs, on floor joists in crawlspaces, behind insulation in sill boxes or inside wall cavities. Sometimes the mold is in the ducts, behind a shower or bathtub, or some other hidden location.
Typical scenario: A homeowner discovers mold, usually in the basement or in a closet, calls a mold remediator, who comes in and promises to “eradicate” or “kill” or “encapsulate” the mold with a spray, pesticide, antimicrobial or antifungal, etc … The contractor is hired, and all is well … except that the odor never went away, or if it did, it was very short-lived. The homeowner has spent thousands of dollars with zero results. What went wrong?
Promises of a quick fix are really tempting and attractive. Homeowners don’t like to hear that all their drywall has to be ripped out; that their house has to be subjected to noisy air-scrubbing machines, large vacuums and plastic containment, so when someone comes in with the promise of a much easier solution, like a spray, enzyme or encapsulant, it’s tempting. The only caveat is that when it comes to mold, no spraying method has consistently been proven to work. Worse, many homeowners were made ill by sprays. Even enzyme formulas can cause allergies/reactions in occupants, in the same manner as some people may react to enzymes in laundry soap.
Ask yourself this: If you had a cancerous tumor inside of your body, would you prefer to have it cut out and removed or just sprayed with something and left there? REMOVAL is the word when it comes to mold.
There are several facts about mold that should help you when selecting a method for mold remediation.
1. Dead mold is still toxic and allergenic.
Dead mold is quite capable of producing and emitting mycotoxins and numerous other allergenic and poisonous vapors and by-products. A case in point is the ancient Egyptian tombs, in which scientists recovered deadly molds dating back thousands of years.
“Killing the mold” is a precaution one might take to make the mold less infectious, but it does not eliminate the allergenic and toxic substances emitted by the mold.
2. Sprays rarely kill the underlayer and roots.
When mold is sprayed, only the top layer is affected. More layers and roots underneath are unaffected and will continue to thrive, given the proper ambient temperature and humidity. As a matter of fact, given an adequate amount of moisture and food such as wood, mold will grow right through paints and other encapsulants.
3. Most fungicide sprays are toxic.
Finally, unless the agent being sprayed is botanical, there is a likelihood the spray itself is toxic and can make occupants ill. Several homeowners in the Madison area were forced to evacuate their home after a mold-remediation product was used to spray either in their duc work or in their basement.
“What if mold is found; then what?”
Molds are present in outdoor air at all times, and finding some mold spores in your home or office is not necessarily a cause for alarm. High quantities of mold can cause symptoms, as can small amounts of very toxic mold species. They can affect the occupants, depending on the individual’s immune system and sensitivity. It is suspected that chronic exposure to large amounts of mold or to toxic molds like Stachybotrys and Aspergillus are detrimental to health and will eventually affect the occupants, whether they experience symptoms or not. Field observation also seems to indicate that prolonged exposure to a certain mold can cause the occupants to develop an intolerance or allergy to that mold.
New evidence seems to point to fungal by-products as the possible culprits in adverse health effects. Known by-products of mold are Microbial Volatile Organic Compounds, also called MVOCs, mycotoxins, endotoxins (from accompanying bacteria), glucans, etc … Research is ongoing, but since mycotoxin testing has recently become available, they are suspected of being the culprit in many illnesses including cancer. More research is needed in regard to endotoxins, which have not been on the radar but maybe should be.
If the amount and type of mold found are greater than typical or expected levels, we will advise you on remediation procedures to remove the mold. If the damage is extensive and you choose to hire a mold-remediation company, we will work with the remediators to develop a protocol (detailed instructions) following generally accepted standards and procedures for mold removal. This protocol will specify where we found the mold, how it is to be removed and what precautions should be taken in order to not contaminate the structure.
“Can I clean the mold myself?”
Before cleaning up mold, obtain a copy of the EPA publication entitled Mold, Moisture and Your Home or go to the New York City Health Dept. website and read the Mold Remediation guidelines. They both offer detailed mold cleanup guidelines.
Visit www.epa.gov/iaq/molds/moldguide.html to print a copy of the guidelines. The phone number for the EPA Indoor Air Quality Clearinghouse is 800-438-4318.
We recommend do-it-yourself cleanup only for small and contained areas.
You must first find and eliminate the cause of damp conditions (leaks, condensation, lack of ventilation, etc.).
Fungi are normally microscopic. If you can see the growth, the infestation is advanced. It may be behind a wall and be more extensive than you think.
While we do NOT recommend application of sprays,. chemicals, etc … people continue to use this method so … remember to ventilate the area when using any cleaning solution and remember that the only party who will benefit from this application is the party who sold the product to you.
When working with mold, always use appropriate protective equipment (N-95 respirator, disposable coveralls, gloves and goggles).
If the mold growth is on a hard, nonporous surface, remove the mold (by wire-brushing, scraping) and discard it in an outside trash can. Mold is not a regulated substance and be disposed of in the same manner as any household refuse.
Keep in mind that as you disturb the mold, it is likely becoming airborne and riding on dust particles that will later deposit on surfaces, so keep the movement to a minimum, or bring the area under plastic containment or negative air pressure to force the air out. Once the mold is removed, any of the following products can be used to clean and sanitize the affected area:
• strong detergent
• hydrogen peroxide
• Borax and water
• Benefect, an EPA-registered fungicide
TIP: One benefit of Borax is that it may retard or prevent future growth. Preliminary research has shown that mold is less likely to grow back on a surface that was previously treated with Borax.
While spraying bleach on mold seems at first to be effective, it rarely solves the problem, and most people find that the mold eventually returns. The latest scientific research has clearly shown that, not only is bleach not effective in killing mold, but the spores that are dead are still toxigenic and allergenic (capable of producing mycotoxins and causing allergies). Additionally, bleach itself is toxic, environmentally unsound and can be a strong lung and eye irritant.
Mold removal can be dangerous and cause additional damage to a facility if not conducted in the proper fashion. For example, while attempting to remove moldy drywall on one floor, it is possible to contaminate an entire home by releasing millions of mold spores in the surrounding areas and to upper floors. The removal of the drywall could also cause the mold spores to be circulated throughout the entire structure via the ventilation system.
It is generally believed by mold experts and confirmed by the U.S. EPA that fungicides are NOT effective in the removal of mold. Use of fungicides has its place in some remediation cases but only as one part of the remedial process. Removal of the affected substrate (drywall, studs, etc.) and the mold should be the goal.
OSHA (U.S. Dept. of Labor Occupational Safety & Health Administration) states that “As a general rule, simply killing the mold, for example, with biocide is not enough. The mold must be removed, since the chemicals and proteins, which can cause a reaction in humans, are present even in dead mold.” More at http://www.osha.gov/dts/shib/shib101003.html
The U.S. EPA States: “The chemicals in mold and mildew removers can be very caustic. That is, these cleaners can be corrosive to objects and harmful to humans.” http://www.epa.gov/kidshometour/products/mold.htm)
The latest industry standards from the S520 Standard and Reference Guide for Professional Water Damage Restoration strongly discourage the use of chemical sprays of any kind in an occupied building/residence.
“What should I expect from a professional mold remediator?”
The safe removal of large amounts of mold requires specialized apparatus, such as negative air machines, HEPA vacuums, moisture meters, a laser particle counter to monitor HEPA filters and vacuums, micro manometer to monitor containment air pressure, protective gear and masks and more.
With that in mind, we recommend that you hire a professional who has access to this equipment and who will follow standards and procedures as outlined by the following organizations:
• IICRC S520 (Institute for Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification) Standard and Reference Guide for Professional Water Damage Restoration (www.iicrc.com)
• “Control/Remediation/Prevention of Microbial Contamination”, EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) (www.epa.gov)
• “Microbiological Contamination in Buildings – Precautions during Remediation Activities”, P.R. Morey, Ph.D., ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers) www.ashrae.org
• Bioaerosols: Assessment and Control, ACGIH (American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists), Cincinnati, OH, 513-742-6163 www.acgih.org
Should you decide to hire a professional to carry out the remediation efforts, we HIGHLY recommend that you hire someone who is certified by the American IAQ Council or the IICRC (Institute for Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification). These certifications ensure that the mold-restoration professional has received training on proper containment procedures to protect you and your furnishings from further contamination.
Also note that because a firm is certified doesn’t mean that the restorer they send to your location will be certified. Be sure to ask about the certification of the individuals who will be performing the work in your home/office. The majority of the time, we find that the salesperson or estimator is certified, yet all the workers who come to do the work have NO formal training and NO certification whatsoever.
We deal with local remediation companies on a regular and often are hired to check their work. Contact us for recommendations at 1-800-MY-AIR-TEST or (608) 241-9883.
“How do I determine that the mold has been successfully removed?”
Once all remediation efforts are completed, post-remediation verification testing should be conducted. This should be performed by an independent party not associated with the remediation party.
Surface and air samples should be taken again, possibly at different times of the day, to ensure that all contaminants have been removed. The remediation professionals may conduct their own tests during the cleanup process or at the end of the job, at their own expense. However, an independent assessment and evaluation of the remediation work is well worth it for peace of mind. About 60 percent of the mold-remediation jobs we test do not pass clearance, and the contractor must return for further mold removal and cleanup work.
For individuals with Chronic Fatigue, MS, Lyme Disease, Biotoxin Illiness, testing for mycotoxins should also be included.
Mold will return if the source of dampness has not been remedied or if some mold is left behind.