Toxic Mold & Black Mold
What is “black mold” or “toxic mold”?
You have probably heard a great deal about black mold or toxic mold. It is usually associated with Stachybotrys, a black mold that is often found after there has been persistent water damage. The known health effects from exposure to Stachybotrys are similar to other common molds and may cause illness in individuals with a sensitivity to “mycotoxins” (chemicals produced by certain molds), to people who are immunocompromised, or to individuals who have become sensitive after prolonged exposure. In fact, many molds are black and it is the amount of mold and level of exposure that are necessary pieces of information to discover.
How do I know if the mold in my home is toxic?
Web sites and media articles will often use the terms “toxic mold” or “toxic black mold”. This is largely a marketing strategy, a scare tactic designed to encourage you to make financial decisions that may not even be necessary. In fact, most molds are toxic to some extent and many are black. There is one variety of particular concern; Stachybotrys. About 30% of the strains of this species produce abundant mycotoxins and are reportedly more potent than other types of mold. A few species/strains of Aspergillus and several others can be nearly as dangerous. Ingesting mold in contaminated foods has been shown to poison people and may even cause cancer. Of further concern is mold contamination found around the home in areas in which children could have access to it. It is important that young children do not put items in their mouths if there is a chance of mold, especially if it is Stachybotrys or Aspergillus. The main thing to remember is that many molds are toxic and once you know you have a mold problem, all molds need to be removed to minimize exposure risk. The type of mold has no bearing on the remediation process. All mold contamination needs to be removed, regardless of the type.
Why should I ask to have an inspection done?
There are many reasons why you may decide to have your home or business inspected for mold:
- You smell mold but do not see it anywhere. An experienced mold inspector will sample for hidden mold sources (i.e. wall/ceiling cavities). This will help determine if and what level of remediation is necessary.
- Before you purchase a house or investment property you will want to identify if mold is a pre-existing issue. Mold remediation can be expensive and if it is required you will want to consider that additional cost before the sale is completed.
- Mold remediation work has been performed and you want to make sure that this process was done correctly. AEL will thoroughly inspect the remediated area(s) preferably while walls and ceilings remain open, before flooring is replaced and prior to new building materials being put in place. Mold may not be visible but still may exist if remediation was not done successfully. “Clearance Testing” will give you piece of mind that your money was well spent and that the mold was cleaned according to industry standards. Most importantly you will know the mold contamination has been removed.
Do I have to have a professional come or can I test for mold myself?
Only professionals who have experience with mold issues and are familiar with current guidelines should test for mold. Since mold is found everywhere, only a professional is trained to identify if the levels in your home or business are “normal” or if professional work is needed to remove a mold contamination problem.
Mold Allergies & Health Affects
In what ways can I be exposed to mold?
When moldy materials becomes damaged or disturbed, spores are released into the air. Exposure can occur if you inhale the spores, directly handle moldy materials, or accidentally ingest the mold. Certain molds produce chemicals called mycotoxins (myco = fungus, toxin = harmful or poisonous substance) and mold volatile organic compounds (irritating chemicals released into the air = “musty odor”). These may cause illnesses in individuals sensitive to the chemicals or who are immunocompromised, or who have become sensitive after long-term exposure to mold.
Can mold affect my health?
Under normal circumstances, most mold types and levels are not harmful to healthy individuals. However, when molds grow indoors, their numbers increase to levels that can become harmful. Long-term exposure to mold may cause or worsen conditions such as asthma, hay fever, or other allergies. The most common symptoms of mold exposure are cough, chest or sinus congestion, runny nose, eye irritations, and aggravation of asthma, chronic respiratory or sinus infections. Depending on the exposure level and your sensitivity to the mold, more serious health effects may result.
What steps do I take if my home or business is contaminated with mold?
The first step is to find the source of moisture that led to the mold growth and have it resolved. Mold contamination should be removed as soon as it is discovered. If visible mold is seen on walls or ceilings, it might be necessary to collect additional samples inside the wall/ceiling cavities to identify the extent of contamination and narrow the scope of remediation work. When surfaces containing mold contamination are disrupted, millions of spores are spread throughout the air. Small patches of mold growth may be carefully and properly removed without professional assistance. Extensive and/or recurring mold growth might be an indication of a pervasive problem. This problem will most likely require a skilled mold remediation company who will use proper containment and removal equipment, depending on the situation.
Different levels of contamination require varying degrees of remediation. Remediation can range from disinfecting a small area affected by mold to “gutting” a room that has had chronic moisture intrusion and severe mold growth. If the mold returns after remediation has been completed, it indicates that a moisture problem still exists or that the contamination was not completely removed.
Should I see a doctor if I am exposed to mold?
If you believe that you or someone in your family has symptoms that you suspect might be linked to mold exposure, you should consult a physician who has experience with mold exposure illnesses. If mold testing was performed in the house or building, bring a copy of the report, including any accompanying data tables to your doctor. Keep in mind that many symptoms associated with mold exposure can also be associated with other environmental problems. Tell you doctor about the symptoms, when they began, and the period of time you think you were exposed to mold. If you do not get better or symptoms worsen over time, an indoor mold inspection will be important in finding mold contamination sources and suggesting how to solve the problem.
My attic sheathing is black with mold. Do I need a new roof, or what should I do?
It depends on how extensive the mold is, and sometimes on what you are willing to pay for. Often times the mold is just in a few areas, requiring limited material replacement, or just cleaning. Obviously, any roof leaks, shingle flashing or ventilation issues must be fixed to prevent future mold growth. Attic mold can:
1. Worsen and become more expensive to remove if left unchecked
2. Can lower property value
3. Spread to the living areas below if left untreated
4. Contaminate belongings stored in the attic
5. Delay or cause the loss of a house sale
If there is mold growth on roof materials, can the cold weather kill it?
Generally, if conditions are favorable for mold to have grown in the attic and the mold is still alive, cold winter temperatures will slow or stop the mold from growing. However, molds produce spores with resilient outer coatings that allow them to remain alive through harsh conditions including long dry spells and cold temperatures. Thus, when the attic warms up again and sufficient moisture is present mold growth will resume. This cycle will continue until the mold has been removed and favorable growth conditions eliminated. Simply resolving the moisture issue, most often inadequate ventilation, will not kill the mold. The complete process must include two steps:
1. Identify and fix moisture/ventilation problem(s)
2. Remove mold appropriately
After my basement flooded, the carpet was removed, but I still smell a musty odor. Why?
If moisture remained on materials in the basement for a sufficient amount of time, the materials, such as sheetrock, insulation, cardboard boxes, walls studs, paneling, etc., molds will continue to grow and produce the volatile organics or the mold odor. If, in addition to the flood, moisture is entering slowly through the foundation, the condition will be chronic until the moisture sources are resolved.
Why does the mold odor in a basement usually go away in the winter?
This musty odor is produced by actively growing molds that are metabolizing (breaking down) a food source (wallboard, wood, cardboard, etc.) While the molds are feeding on the materials, they produce mold volatile organic compounds or mVOCs, which are simply chemicals that travel easily in the air and therefore disperse throughout a house or building. Because basements dry out in the winter, mold is relatively starved for moisture and grows more slowly or not at all and the odor may lessen in strength. This is not, however, the end of the mold problem.
Wall Cavity Mold
Can mold contamination inside a wall cavity be identified?
Yes. For example, after a basement has flooded and the water is extracted, the carpet should be removed and the floor disinfected. However, a mold odor may still be present and the mold source not easily recognizable. Wallboard, paneling, plaster, wood and insulation that make up the walls in a basement absorbed moisture up into the wall cavity and mold growth resulted. Wall cavity samples are collected through very small, drilled holes, cultured, and analyzed similarly to airborne samples. Collection of a control wall cavity sample in a wall that was not affected by the moisture is recommended for comparison purposes.
Why do airborne mold samples sometimes not show that mold contamination is present, even when there is visible surface mold growth?
Mold growing on a surface is not necessarily producing airborne spores, especially in an area that has little or no activity such as an unfinished basement used primarily for storage. Also, if the surface that the mold is growing on is still damp or wet, the mold spores will not become airborne as easily. AEL has found cases of significant amounts of active mold growth on building materials without the companion air samples showing elevated mold spores. As long as surface mold growth is present, it will need to be removed, regardless of what air samples show.
Homeowners Insurance Coverage For Mold
What should I know about mold and home owners insurance?
Insurers are dropping homeowners and raising rates. During the early ’90s, average premiums were flat at about $420/yr, then rose at the rate of infla¬tion. That changed in 2001 when rates shot up and insurers began scrutinizing credit ratings and houses’ histories. Poor credit or unresolved mold problems may adversely affect your coverage or premiums.
In this new environment you need to:
- Shop Harder – You probably can find a company willing to offer you a policy including mold coverage such as a mold rider, so start comparison shopping. One source to help you could be an Insurance Broker with access to multiple insurance companies.
- Check Prior Claims – Before you buy a new house, ask the sellers for a copy of their Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange (CLUE) report from ChoicePoint . Or call 866-527-2600 and ask, or try http://www.choicetrust.com .
- Check Your Credit – Insurers find that people who pay their bills on time take better care of their homes and file fewer claims. Get your credit score at http://www.myfico.com .
- Raise Your Deductible – Doubling your deductible from $250 to $500 reduces your premium by 15% (typical example), while a $1,000 deductible may save 35%. A high deductible also insures that coverage renewal will not be denied because of multiple small claims.
- Don’t Leap and Lapse – Never let your policy lapse before getting a new one. A new insurer can deny coverage for up to 59 days, so don’t cancel your old policy until then.