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Basic Facts About Mold

Mold and Homes
Mold has become a big issue, mainly for homeowner's insurance. Because of some large judgments against insurance companies and the potential for huge liability, the mold topic has received a lot of attention. Stachybotrys chartarum is the mold known for causing bad problems for people.

What does it mean?
There is a "Mold Disclosure" that buyers must now sign prior to closing that states that the buyer understands that molds can be present in a home. This means that it is a buyer's duty to determine if the home is suitable for them to buy. Many homes have had a leaky faucet or shower problem, and it is water-related damage that usually causes the greatest concern. If a home shows no evidence of any water damage or leaks and has no funny or odd odors, there probably isn't too much to worry about, but that's not an official opinion, we're not mold inpsectors, and you'll have to sign the mold disclosure that says that you know that there are risks and that you assume them. If there have been water problems in the past, then we will want to find out as much as we can about what was done and then you will have to make a decision about whether or not you want to have a mold inspection. For example, a one-time leak that was promptly repaired is quite different than an ongoing dampness problem. If the home inpsection discovers actual mold, then WE RECOMMEND, for no other reason than your peace of mind, that you pay for a mold inspection as well to determine if the mold is hazardous.

Inspecting for Mold/Mold Remediation If you have allergies or are concerned about the mold issue, there are specially trained inspectors who will conduct mold inspections. Part of that inspection involves overnight air sampling with the sample sent off to a lab. If mold is discovered, then there are mold remediators who are trained in the removal and disposal of mold-contaminated materials. If mold is discovered or if this is a concern for you, we will be glad to assist in getting a mold inspector.

Buyers and Sellers
It is usually the buyer's responsibility to inspect the property. Even where a seller has disclosed a water leak, many sellers do not proactively have a mold test run. If, during the course of inspections, mold is discovered, then it is COMPLETELY REASONABLE for the buyer to ask that the seller pay for mold remediation and post-inspection so that an all-clear can be provided. Most sellers do not have a problem doing this because once mold is discovered, they are going to have problems selling the property if they refuse to remediate the problem. If you are a buyer and a mold inspection discovers a hazardous mold, then we recommend that you select a different home to buy because you are likely to encounter SERIOUS issues when you try to sell the home and you may have problems obtaining homeowner's insurance.

A Note About Mold-Sniffing Dogs Some dog trainers have gotten involved in mold testing. Their animals will supposedly flag on the presence of mold the same way that narcotics dogs flag on the presence of drugs. Given that dogs may soon be used to indentify cancer in people, it is completely believable that the dogs can and do smell different molds. HOWEVER, we do not recommend that such dogs be used for a home inspection for several reasons: First, it adds cost. Second, the dog handlers provide a long list of molds that the dog will respond to, and many of them are nontoxic mold varieties. This nearly guarantees that the dog is going to flag on SOMETHING in the house, but you won't know whether it is a harmful mold. (In fact, there is an incentive for the dog handler to ALWAYS say that the dog has flagged the home so that the dog handler does not get sued six months later if mold is discovered.) Last, sellers are NOT going to accept the dog inspection as valid, and this means that a buyer will have to hire the traditional inpsector with lab work anyway. (If you think this is unfair, ask yourself if you would be satisfied if the seller brought in his/her own mold dog which indicated that there was no mold.) Please Note: We are BIG dog fans and John has even done tracking training with one of our dogs, so please understand that our recommendation reflects only a pragmatic approach.

The following FAQ was published by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) at http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/airpollution/mold/stachy.htm and was republished on this site on 05/19/2008.

Q: I heard about "toxic molds" that grow in homes and other buildings. Should I be concerned about a serious health risk to me and my family?
A: The term "toxic mold" is not accurate. While certain molds are toxigenic, meaning they can produce toxins (specifically mycotoxins), the molds themselves are not toxic, or poisonous. Hazards presented by molds that may produce mycotoxins should be considered the same as other common molds which can grow in your house. There is always a little mold everywhere - in the air and on many surfaces. There are very few reports that toxigenic molds found inside homes can cause unique or rare health conditions such as pulmonary hemorrhage or memory loss. These case reports are rare, and a causal link between the presence of the toxigenic mold and these conditions has not been proven. A common-sense approach should be used for any mold contamination existing inside buildings and homes. The common health concerns from molds include hay fever-like allergic symptoms. Certain individuals with chronic respiratory disease (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, asthma) may experience difficulty breathing. Individuals with immune suppression may be at increased risk for infection from molds. If you or your family members have these conditions, a qualified medical clinician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment. For the most part, one should take routine measures to prevent mold growth in the home.

Q: How common is mold, including Stachybotrys chartarum (also known by its synonym Stachybotrys atra) in buildings?
A: Molds are very common in buildings and homes and will grow anywhere indoors where there is moisture. The most common indoor molds are Cladosporium, Penicillium, Aspergillus, and Alternaria. We do not have precise information about how often Stachybotrys chartarum is found in buildings and homes. While it is less common than other mold species, it is not rare.

Q: How do molds get in the indoor environment and how do they grow?
A: Mold spores occur in the indoor and outdoor environments. Mold spores may enter your house from the outside through open doorways, windows, and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems with outdoor air intakes. Spores in the air outside also attach themselves to people and animals, making clothing, shoes, bags, and pets convenient vehicles for carrying mold indoors.

When mold spores drop on places where there is excessive moisture, such as where leakage may have occurred in roofs, pipes, walls, plant pots, or where there has been flooding, they will grow. Many building materials provide suitable nutrients that encourage mold to grow. Wet cellulose materials, including paper and paper products, cardboard, ceiling tiles, wood, and wood products, are particularly conducive for the growth of some molds. Other materials such as dust, paints, wallpaper, insulation materials, drywall, carpet, fabric, and upholstery, commonly support mold growth.

Q: What is Stachybotrys chartarum (Stachybotrys atra)?
A: Stachybotrys chartarum (also known by its synonym Stachybotrys atra) is a greenish-black mold. It can grow on material with a high cellulose and low nitrogen content, such as fiberboard, gypsum board, paper, dust, and lint. Growth occurs when there is moisture from water damage, excessive humidity, water leaks, condensation, water infiltration, or flooding. Constant moisture is required for its growth. It is not necessary, however, to determine what type of mold you may have. All molds should be treated the same with respect to potential health risks and removal.

Q: Are there any circumstances where people should vacate a home or other building because of mold?
A: These decisions have to be made individually. If you believe you are ill because of exposure to mold in a building, you should consult your physician to determine the appropriate action to take.

Q: Who are the people who are most at risk for health problems associated with exposure to mold?
A: People with allergies may be more sensitive to molds. People with immune suppression or underlying lung disease are more susceptible to fungal infections.

Q: How do you know if you have a mold problem?
A: Large mold infestations can usually be seen or smelled.

Q: Does Stachybotrys chartarum (Stachybotrys atra) cause acute idiopathic pulmonary hemorrhage among infants?
A: To date, a possible association between acute idiopathic pulmonary hemorrhage among infants and Stachybotrys chartarum (Stachybotrys atra) has not been proved. Further studies are needed to determine what causes acute idiopathic hemorrhage.

Q: What if my child has acute idiopathic pulmonary hemorrhage?
A: Parents should ensure that their children get proper medical treatment.

Q: What are the potential health effects of mold in buildings and homes?
A: Mold exposure does not always present a health problem indoors. However some people are sensitive to molds. These people may experience symptoms such as nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, wheezing, or skin irritation when exposed to molds. Some people may have more severe reactions to molds. Severe reactions may occur among workers exposed to large amounts of molds in occupational settings, such as farmers working around moldy hay. Severe reactions may include fever and shortness of breath. Immunocompromised persons and persons with chronic lung diseases like COPD are at increased risk for opportunistic infections and may develop fungal infections in their lungs.

Q: How do you get the molds out of buildings, including homes, schools, and places of employment?
A: In most cases mold can be removed from hard surfaces by a thorough cleaning with commercial products, soap and water, or a bleach solution of 1 cup of bleach in 1 gallon of water. Absorbent or porous materials like ceiling tiles, drywall, and carpet may have to be thrown away if they become moldy. If you have an extensive amount of mold and you do not think you can manage the cleanup on your own, you may want to contact a professional who has experience in cleaning mold in buildings and homes. It is important to properly clean and dry the area as you can still have an allergic reaction to parts of the dead mold and mold contamination may recur if there is still a source of moisture.

If you choose to use bleach to clean up mold:
Never mix bleach with ammonia. Mixing bleach and ammonia can produce dangerous, toxic fumes.
Open windows and doors to provide fresh air.
Wear non-porous gloves and protective eye wear.
If the area to be cleaned is more than 10 square feet, consult the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guide titled Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings. Although focused on schools and commercial buildings, this document also applies to other building types. You can get it free by calling the EPA Indoor Air Quality Information Clearinghouse at (800) 438-4318, or by going to the EPA web site at http://www.epa.gov/mold/mold_remediation.html.
Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using bleach or any other cleaning product.

Q: What should people to do if they determine they have Stachybotrys chartarum (Stachybotrys atra) in their buildings or homes?
A: Mold growing in homes and buildings, whether it is Stachybotrys chartarum (Stachybotrys atra) or other molds, indicates that there is a problem with water or moisture. This is the first problem that needs to be addressed. Mold growth can be removed from hard surfaces with commercial products, soap and water, or a bleach solution of 1 cup of bleach in 1 gallon of water. Mold in or under carpets typically requires that the carpets be removed. Once mold starts to grow in insulation or wallboard, the only way to deal with the problem is by removal and replacement. We do not believe that one needs to take any different precautions with Stachybotrys chartarum (Stachybotrys atra), than with other molds. In areas where flooding has occurred, prompt drying out of materials and cleaning of walls and other flood-damaged items with commercial products, soap and water, or a bleach solution of 1 cup of bleach in 1 gallon of water is necessary to prevent mold growth. Never mix bleach with ammonia. If a home has been flooded, it also may be contaminated with sewage. (See: After a Hurricane or Flood: Cleanup of Flood Water.) Moldy items should be removed from living areas.

Q: How do you keep mold out of buildings and homes?
A: As part of routine building maintenance, buildings should be inspected for evidence of water damage and visible mold. The conditions causing mold (such as water leaks, condensation, infiltration, or flooding) should be corrected to prevent mold from growing.

Specific Recommendations:
Keep humidity level in house between 40% and 60%.
Use air conditioner or a dehumidifier during humid months.
Be sure the home has adequate ventilation, including exhaust fans in kitchen and bathrooms.
Use mold inhibitors which can be added to paints.
Clean bathroom with mold-killing products.
Do not carpet bathrooms.
Remove and replace flooded carpets.

Q: I found mold growing in my home; how do I test the mold?
A: Generally, it is not necessary to identify the species of mold growing in a residence, and CDC does not recommend routine sampling for molds. Current evidence indicates that allergies are the type of diseases most often associated with molds. Since the reaction of individuals can vary greatly either because of the person’s susceptibility or type and amount of mold present, sampling and culturing are not reliable in determining your health risk. If you are susceptible to mold and mold is seen or smelled, there is a potential health risk; therefore, no matter what type of mold is present, you should arrange for its removal. Furthermore, reliable sampling for mold can be expensive, and standards for judging what is and what is not an acceptable or tolerable quantity of mold have not been established.

Q: A qualified environmental lab took samples of the mold in my home and gave me the results. Can CDC interpret these results?
A: Standards for judging what is an acceptable, tolerable or normal quantity of mold have not been established. If you do decide to pay for environmental sampling for molds, before the work starts, you should ask the consultants who will do the work to establish criteria for interpreting the test results. They should tell you in advance what they will do or what recommendations they will make based on the sampling results. The results of samples taken in your unique situation cannot be interpreted without physical inspection of the contaminated area or without considering the building’s characteristics and the factors that led to the present condition.

In summary, Stachybotrys chartarum (Stachybotrys atra) and other molds may cause health symptoms that are nonspecific. At present there is no test that proves an association between Stachybotrys chartarum (Stachybotrys atra) and particular health symptoms. Individuals with persistent symptoms should see their physician. However, if Stachybotrys chartarum (Stachybotrys atra) or other molds are found in a building, prudent practice recommends that they be removed.

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