Mold has become a major source of concern related to health in the indoor environment. Molds are an important part of the natural environment and have been around for a long time. They are classified as part of the kingdom fungi being neither plant nor animal but a little of both and their role is to decompose dead organic matter such as fallen trees and dead leaves. There are approximately 150,000 types of molds and they are present everywhere in the indoor and outdoor environment. Molds reproduce by means of tiny spores, which will grow where there is sufficient moisture and food (organic materials such as paper, wood, cellulose, etc.). In the indoor environment, mold growth is a symptom of a water problem. It can cause structural damage by decomposing wood, drywall, carpeting and other porous building materials.
The mere presence of mold does not present a health risk in most cases. Airborne mold spores are a common allergen. Individuals with allergies to certain types of mold may exhibit allergic symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, upper respiratory irritation, cough and eye irritation. Exposure to excessive amounts of mold can also cause an increase in the frequency or severity of asthma symptoms. If you suspect you or someone in your family may be experiencing health symptoms because of exposure to mold, you should contact your health care provider to receive diagnosis and treatment.
In most cases, if visible mold growth is present, sampling is unnecessary and the money spent on testing could be better spent on clean-up. Remember, there are no federal or state regulations regarding indoor mold growth or individual exposure limits for homes or offices.
- Sampling for mold does not assess health risk.
- Mold testing is not standardized.
- There are no Missouri or Federal laws that set limits or standards as to what types or levels of mold exposure or of mold presence are healthy or unhealthy.
- Neither Missouri nor the Federal Government "certifies" any individual or firm claiming such designation of mold tester. In Missouri, mold testers may receive a business license; however, since it is not a regulated industry, no standards or levels of training are required to become “licensed.”
- Mold will always be found in testing. It is everywhere and there will always be some level of mold.
- Cleanup methods are the same regardless of the type of mold.
What about Black Mold or Stachybotrys?
Recently, there has been heightened concern regarding exposure to a specific type of mold commonly referred to as black or toxic mold. The Internet abounds with individual reports of illness attributed to “toxic black mold.” However, currently there is no conclusive scientific evidence linking the inhalation of black mold spores or any type of mold in the indoor environment to any illness other than the previously described allergy symptoms. The term “toxic” is an inaccurate description of this mold. There are many common molds that are black in color.
If you see mold growing in your home, the most important thing to remember is not to panic. You do not have to leave your home or belongings behind or destroy everything in the house. Instead, seek the help of someone who is knowledgeable and experienced in dealing with situations such as this. Your local public health agency or state health department can offer accurate, up-to-date information on the proper way to clean up mold, and discuss health effects that you feel might be caused by the mold in your home.
Tips and Techniques for Mold Cleanup
Professional cleaners or remediators may use methods not covered in this publication. Please note that mold may cause staining and cosmetic damage. It may not be possible to clean an item so that its original appearance is restored.
While much has been written about mold cleanup, the simplest advice is still the best; Control the Moisture, Control the Mold. Without moisture, mold will not grow. With sufficient moisture, mold will keep coming back no matter how many times it is cleaned up. Take the following steps when mold is spotted or suspected:
- Stop the mold growth by finding and repairing the source of the excess moisture. Fix the plumbing leaks, roof leak, flooding, a large spill or high relative humidity.
- Dry all items within 24-48 hours.
- Porous items such as drywall, ceiling tiles, carpeting, padding, books, clothing and other paper or cloth materials soak up moisture. Items that are not dried quickly should be discarded if they show signs of mold or water damage.
- If the water was from a sewage backup or flood, the items should probably be discarded. For more information, please see: Red Cross: Repairing Your Flooded Home.
- Scrub mold off hard surfaces with detergent and water, then dry. If the water was due to a sewer backup or flood, use a diluted household bleach solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water. Avoid breathing the fumes, getting on skin, or in eyes. Note: Do not mix bleach with other cleaners!
- Do not paint or caulk moldy surfaces; clean up the mold and dry the surfaces before painting. Paint applied over moldy surfaces is likely to peel.
- If the moldy area is localized to one room or an area of a room, you may choose to isolate the area by placing heavy plastic sheeting over the door to help keep airborne spores from circulating through the entire house.
- Placing discarded items in plastic trash bags before moving them will help prevent spreading mold spores throughout the house.
- Use of HEPA filters in your furnace will help eliminate many mold spores that have become airborne due to the cleaning process.
Consult "A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture, and Your Home" or, for more detailed information, "Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings."
If you are unsure about how to clean an item, or if the item is expensive or of sentimental value, you may wish to consult a specialist. Specialists in furniture repair, restoration, painting, art restoration and conservation, carpet and rug cleaning, water damage, and fire or water restoration are commonly listed in Yellow Page directories. Be sure to ask for and check references. Look for specialists who are affiliated with professional organizations.
How to Protect Yourself
- Avoid breathing in mold or mold spores. In order to limit your exposure to airborne mold spores, you may want to wear an N-95 respirator, available at many hardware stores and from companies that advertise on the Internet (they cost about $12 to $25). Some N-95 respirators resemble a paper dust mask with a nozzle on the front; others are made primarily of plastic or rubber and have removable cartridges that trap most of the mold spores from entering. In order to be effective, the respirator or mask must fit properly, so carefully follow the instructions supplied with the respirator. Look for the label of N-95 and NIOSH to assure the respirator will provide the protection needed.
- Wear gloves. Long gloves that extend to the middle of the forearm are recommended. When working with water and a mild detergent, household rubber gloves may be used. If you are using a disinfectant, chlorine bleach or a strong cleaning solution, you should select gloves made from natural rubber, neoprene, nitrile, polyurethane or PVC.
- Wear goggles. Goggles that do not have ventilation holes are recommended. Avoid getting mold or mold spores in your eyes.
Complaint Guidelines in Rental Situations
- See a doctor about any health problems you feel are a result of the exposure to the indoor pollutants. Be sure to tell the doctor about your suspected unhealthy environment.
- Fix the problem if possible. See the above Tips and Techniques for Mold Cleanup for recommendations.
- If the problem is something that has to be fixed by the landlord, send a letter in writing to your landlord describing the nature of your complaint and keep a copy of the letter. If the rental is managed by an agency such as Housing and Urban Development or the Rural Housing Administration, be sure to contact that agency. Sometimes they have requirements for sanitation in homes. If your doctor made specific recommendations regarding your living environment, be sure to include those statements.
- If the landlord refuses to address the issue, you may find some assistance through local building codes, nuisance ordinances, or tenant codes. The codes will vary across Missouri from city to city and county to county. Some effort and detective work may be needed to track down the right code and appointed authority. Remember as well that many of these codes were written years ago and addressed issues from those times. You may have to do some research before meeting with city and county officials and speak in terms they will understand when approaching the issue. For example, when discussing mold, the codes are probably not specific to mold or the health effects from mold. It may be more helpful to discuss the violations existing to allow mold growth, such as faulty plumbing, shoddy construction and ventilation, leaky roofs, groundwater infiltration due to improper site placement, improper lumber selection, etc. You might start by contacting your local city hall or local housing authority or your local public health agency.
- If no assistance is available locally you may consider contacting an attorney.
- In some situations, moving may be the final option to protect the health of you and your family.
- Consult with an attorney to consider placing language in your next rental contract guaranteeing the quality of your indoor environment.