Posts filed under ‘Mold Inspections’
Fungal Data Interpretation – Part II – Effects of Tossing a Moldy Apple Pie into the Trash Before Mold Air Sampling
This post is the second blog posting in a series based on information presented in a webinar by Dave Gallup, co-founder of EMLab P&K. The topic of the webinar was Fungal Data Interpretation. The two-hour presentation covered many interesting topics that are relevant to mold inspection and testing companies as well as the general public that are facing mold problems in their home or business.
One of the first points that Mr. Gallup made is the interpretation of the sample data that EMLab P&K provides must be combined with the on site mold inspection information. Trying to interpret fungal sample data from a mold inspection and testing project without also having field inspection information from a qualified mold inspector is highly problematic. In this blog entry I will focus on the second of several normal household scenarios that can drastically impact fungal sample data and could lead to incorrect interpretation of that data.
Scenario – “Effects of Tossing a Moldy Apple Pie into the Trash”
A group of EMLab P&K scientists studied the impact on fungal distribution in a normal home after the occupants tossed a mold apple pie into the kitchen trash. Here is the data set:
- The first air sample was collected in the home before tossing the moldy pie.
- The air sample contained numerous types of mold spores. I will focus on just one type, Penicillium/Aspergillus types (Pen/Asp).
- The spore counts of Pen/Asp found in this first air sample were within “normal tolerances” — they were lower than the corresponding spore counts found in the outdoor baseline sample.
- The second air sample was collected during the act of tossing the moldy pie
- The spore counts of Pen/Asp were significantly elevated compared to both the outdoor control sample and the first sample collected before the toss.
- This is how the data looked:
- Pen/Asp types: before tossing ~13 spores/cubic meter | during tossing ~ 1,000,000 spores/cubic meter!
If the on site inspector did not notice that there was moldy food in the trashcan (apple pie in this case) or had not asked the homeowner if they had recently performed any housekeeping activities such as cleaning out the refrigerator of moldy food, incorrect conclusions could have been made with respect to this project. For example the airborne Pen/Asp types prior to tossing were ~13 spores/cubic meter. After tossing the moldy pie into the trash, the spore counts of Pen/Asp were drastically elevated (over one million spores/cubic meter!). If the inspector did not know about the moldy food, these air sample results would be cause for real concern and unnecessary steps would likely follow (more testing, invasive exploration for mold, and the like). Armed with the knowledge that the client recently threw away moldy food, the inspector could either take that into consideration when analyzing the sample data or, better, not collect the sample for several hours after.
Many people place too much emphasis on the mold sampling aspect of our business. It is a useful tool, but it is only truly valuable in conjunction with the on site, visual inspection data.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of “Scare Tactics” used within the microbial investigation and mold remediation industry. As with any industry, there are always going to be people out there who try and scare people into using their services. They may do so by embellishing facts, giving misinformation or by simply telling you things that are completely untrue. I want to give you, the consumer, a couple tips for what to watch out for if you are ever in a situation of having to enlist services within the microbial and mold remediation industry.
1) Pay close attention to each company’s website. Most companies have a website nowadays, and that can give you a good insight as to what type of company you will end up dealing with. Some companies websites are littered with misinformation and pictures geared towards scaring you into using their services. I have seen websites with embellished pictures of microscopic mold spores, but in reality just about anything looks scary when you magnify it 500 times. Also, if anywhere on their website you see the terms “Black Mold” or “Toxic Mold”, consider that a big red flag. Those terms were created by the media, and it wasn’t for their feel-good story of the evening if you know what I mean. It was to create interest as a result of fear. After all, who isn’t afraid of the term “toxic”? You don’t hear many stories that start with toxic and end with a smile. You may also want to avoid companies that over emphasize the potential health effects of mold on people. Although it is good to be informed of potential signs of mold exposure and basic information regarding health, if a company’s main content of their website is to make you believe that you are definitely going to get sick after being around mold, it is probably another thing to be cautious of. And lastly, if somehow you have come across a company that does not even have a website, approach them with caution. If a company is not willing to provide basic information about them including their contact info, certification and affiliation information and a basic company profile it may be for good reason. They may be attempting to fly under the radar, or be quite new to the industry and have not yet put any effort into a website. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I would trust a mold problem to the new guys on the block.
2) Be wary of remediation companies that do their own testing. Within our industry it is a direct conflict of interest for a remediation company to perform their own testing. A large majority of the public has never dealt with a mold problem, or had to interpret a laboratory analysis of microbial samples. Therefore, it could be somewhat easy for a remediation company to embellish sample results. It is not uncommon to hear about a remediation company coming into a home and pulling some microbial samples, and upon receiving the results inform the client that the home is completely contaminated and they must vacate immediately or pay for expensive remediation. I had a client once tell me that a remediation company told her that she was being a bad mother because she was allowing her family to live in a mold infested home. And that was based on a visual inspection alone. Upon further investigation by an independent third party microbial investigator it was revealed that yes, they had a minimal mold problem but it was far less intense then the remediation company would have had her believe. You have to remember that a remediation company makes money off of cleaning up mold. Therefore, the more they have to clean or the larger the project, the more potential money they will make. So avoid being scared into expensive work that may not be needed and have an independent party look at the situation.
3) If you are ever in the middle of a microbial investigation and the inspector or contractor attempts to tell you what type of mold is present just by looking at it, be very cautious. I have heard multiple stories about contractors or inspectors coming in to look at a mold problem and attempting to identify what type of molds are present just by looking at it. Unfortunately, this is just not possible. There are literally tens of thousands of types of molds, many of them grow to be similar colors and textures and may display consistent growth patterns. The reality of it is, the only way to determine what type of mold is present is to analyze the growth under a high powered microscope, and this should only be done by a mycologist or technician within a laboratory setting. We hear about these tactics not only being used to scare people into remediation work that is not necessary, but also to deter people that really have a problem from realizing it. For example, it is not uncommon for people in rental situations to be informed by maintenance personal that whatever microbial growth they have in their apartment or home is not the “bad kind”, or not toxic. I guess we would call this scenario an “Anti-Scare Tactic”. But again, the only way to know is to have microbial samples collected and properly analyzed. So unless the person you are dealing just so happens to have microscopes for eyes, which actually be pretty cool, watch out for this one.
If you really believe that you may have a mold problem, it is important to know that whomever you turn to for advice has your best interest in mind. The safest way to ensure this is to make sure that you always deal with an independent third party that has nothing to gain from finding a problem. You should also do all you can to research any companies that you may be considering using. Make sure they are a legitimate company, they are properly certified and they should have a positive track record through organizations such as the Better Business Bureau. You may be surprised what you find after doing a little investigation, for better or for worse.
The Basics of Mold Remediation – Part III of III – Final Cleaning of the Containment and Affected Areas
See my posts “The Basics of Mold Remediation – Part I of III – Containment of the Affected Area” as well as “The Basics of Mold Remediation – Part II of III – Gross Removal of Mold Growth and Impacted Materials” for background information important for understanding this part of the mold remediation process. At this point in our process, the mold impacted area has been isolated from all non-affected adjacent living spaces. This was accomplished by establishing containment of the area, which included the installation of HEPA Filtered Negative Air machines and installation of physical barriers which, in turn, would have created a negative pressure environment. Gross removal of all impacted non-structural materials would have occurred as well as the removal and cleaning of mold growth from all of the structural materials. The next step is to perform the final clean of the work area.
Part III of III – Final cleaning of the containment and affected areas.
Now that the nitty gritty portion of the removal has been accomplished, the work area has typically seen a fair share of debris. Not only does the removal of building materials create lots of dust and debris, but the disturbance and removal of the mold source itself typically creates very large quantities of microscopic mold spores. So, how do we make sure we account for all of those spores that we can’t even see with our naked eye? Well, the simple answer is by cleaning everything, and doing it very well. That means every crack, crevice, cavity, ceiling, wall, floor and the air itself must be cleaned.
The first step in the final cleaning is typically a complete HEPA vacuuming of the entire space. Every surface within the containment area will be HEPA vacuumed to gather any dust, debris, and yes, lots and lots of mold spores. The vacuums used are not the typical vacuum you can find at the hardware store, but specialized HEPA vacuums that prevent those microscopic spores that are being sucked up from being re-distributed throughout the space.
Once the area has been HEPA vacuumed, the remediation contractor will typically perform a wet wipe of the area at this time. They will use a cloth that is wetted with some sort of antimicrobial agent or cleaner, and every hard surface will be wiped down. The rags are kept wet not only to aid in the cleaning process, but to help in picking up mold spores and preventing them from becoming airborne.
At this point, some remediation contractors may choose to repeat the previous two steps, and HEPA vacuum the entire space as well as do another wet wipe to ensure that every surface has been accounted for. And after all, it’s better to be safe than to be sorry, or at least that’s what they say.
During all of the previous cleaning efforts, the HEPA filtered negative air machines have been running the entire time. As a result, airborne mold spores have been pulled out of the air and into the filtration device. As the cleaning has become more and more detailed, the airborne mold spore quantities should have been continually getting smaller. Unfortunately though, the quantities of airborne mold spores at this time will typically still be in excess of actual clearance standards. So, at this time the negative air machines are swapped out for HEPA filtered air scrubbers. Instead of air continually being drawn out of the space and as result unconditioned air being drawn into it, the air within the space will now be recycled through the HEPA filtered air scrubbers. As the air is continually pulled through the HEPA filters over and over again, it will become “cleaner” as more and more of those microscopic mold spores are trapped within the HEPA filter. This process is usually continued for a minimum of 24 hrs, and depending on the amount of contamination in the space may go on for multiple days.
At this point, the remediation project has come a long way. We have gone from a mold contaminated area, to what we hope is considered to be a “normal” living space. But, to truly verify whether the space has been returned to normal a Post Remediation Verification Inspection should be performed. This should be performed by an independent mold inspector who has no financial ties with the remediation contractor. They will perform a visual inspection of the space to ensure that all of the impacted materials have been removed and/or cleaned, test the moisture content of the building materials to ensure that everything has been adequately dried, and ensure that the area has been properly cleaned. If the visual inspection is adequate, then they will perform ambient air sampling of the work space. This will test for the presence, types and quantities of mold spores within the space and will be compared to an outdoor sample taken at the same place and time. If the sample is within clearance standards, the project will be considered successful, and the mold remediation project complete. All that is left at this point is reconstruction of the space to return it to a normal living space. After all that we have gone through, that should be a walk in the park…
Mold in attic areas can be challenging at times in regards to determining the exact cause and source of mold growth. However, there are some common conditions that we routinely find during our Mold Investigations that contribute to mold growth in attics.
Penetrations in roof systems are common sources of water intrusion into attic spaces. Improper flashing, deteriorated rubber boot flashing, missing or improperly installed flashing around chimneys or other penetration points, and inadequate roof repairs are common causes of roof leaks. Also, water seepage occurs when the roof is beyond the end of its life span and failing. Water damage and mold growth is a common result of roof leaking conditions. Annual inspection of your roof by a roofing specialist and routine maintenance can prevent leaks in the roof system, reducing the likelihood of mold growth in your attic.
Inadequate Roof Ventilation
The lack of proper roof ventilation is a conducive condition to mold growth in attics. Without adequate ventilation, moisture laden air remains in the attic area, often times causing elevated moisture conditions at the roof framing and roof sheathing. During cold winter months, condensation can occur on the cold roof sheathing, creating elevated moisture conditions.
Another common cause of inadequate ventilation is when insulation is blown into the attic and care is not taken to prevent the insulation from blocking the soffit vents. Soffit vents are critical in a passive ventilation system in order to move the air from the lower portion of the attic (intake soffit vents) to the upper roof vents (exhaust vents). Adding additional ventilation ports or a powered roof vent can oftentimes improve and correct inadequate roof ventilation conditions.
Bath & Kitchen Exhaust fans vented into the attic
Exhaust fans should be vented directly to the exterior of the home. However, this often is not the case. When the exhaust fan is missing its exhaust duct or the duct has become separated, that exhaust air is vented directly into the attic space, oftentimes contributing to microbial growth.
Missing or inadequate attic insulation
Attic insulation not only is important in energy conservation, but proper insulation levels can also reduce the chance of mold growth in attics. As air travels up through the structure, insulation provides a barrier to slow the rate of conditioned air loss into the attic area. When an attic has missing insulation, the air movement increases significantly and that warm air can cause condensation conditions on cold roof sheathing. The moisture conditions resulting from such condensation is a catalyst for mold growth. Check your insulation and make sure that you have good and even coverage throughout the entire attic, especially at the lower North side areas.
Gaps or openings in ceilings
Unsealed openings in ceilings, around exhaust fans, can lights, speakers, etc. allow warm conditioned air to escape into the attic area. Sealing all penetrations in the ceiling can be an important preventative step in reducing mold growth in attics.
Finally, we frequently get asked, why is mold in an attic a big deal? While it is true that attic areas are not generally considered living spaces and air communication from upper attic areas to the living space below is relatively uncommon (in most normal situations), attic mold should still be a concern. Why? Because it is possible that if negative pressure conditions exist or occur in the home, air containing mold spores could potentially be drawn from that attic area into the living space. In addition, attic mold is usually an indication of other defects or conditions that could lead to costly repairs down the road. Such as water damage, Mold contamination in the finished living areas, wood destroying organisms and other moisture related conditions. Now go check your attic and if you see unusual staining or mold-like conditions, call a mold professional for a full assessment and appropriate testing.
It’s not everyday that people have to deal with a potential mold problem. For most people, the thought of a mold problem in the home or workplace is scary and confusing. There is so much information on the Internet, much of it is conflicting and lots of it is wrong. Questions that come to people’s mind’s when they believe they may have a mold problem:
- Will the mold make me and my family sick?
- Do I actually have a mold problem, or is it just “mildew”?
- If I have a mold problem, will it be expensive to diagnose or remedy?
- Is all mold toxic?
- Is all mold dangerous?
- What type of company should I use to inspect and test my home?
- How do I know who I can trust?
- Who is qualified to inspect and test my home?
- If I am a renter, who should pay for the mold inspection and testing?
Most of the questions above can be answered by a qualified, mold inspection and testing professional. One of the first and the most important steps is to find a qualified mold inspection and testing company. Here is what I suggest if you believe you may have a mold problem.
- If you see visible mold-like growth or believe a room has a mold problem, avoid that room if you can.
- Find a qualified company to inspect and test your home or workplace.*
- Follow the recommendations of the company as stated in their inspection report and perform any mold remediation work that they recommend.
*How do you find a “qualified” company?
- Ask friends and colleagues for recommendations.
- Search the Internet. Look for quality company websites that are informative and don’t use scare tactics.
- A qualified company will a) have a good record with the Better Business Bureau, b) carry quality certifications from organizations like the American Council for Accredited Certification (ACAC), c) carry General Liability Insurance and Professional Liability Insurance (also known as Errors and Omissions insurance). The latter is the most important and differentiates the true professional companies from “fly by night” organizations., d) have good reviews and testimonials from past clients, and e) utilize an independent, accredited lab for their sample analysis.
- Ask to see a sample mold inspection report. Does the company do good work? Is the sample report complete, easy to read, and contain color photographs?
- Look for referrals from The Indoor Air Quality Association (IAQA) or The Amercian Council for Accredited Certification (ACAC)
- Does the company answer their phone? Do they respond to web and email inquiries in a timely manner?
- Is the person you speak to on the phone professional? Are they patient and do they spend time to answer your questions?
Try not to feel overwhelmed. Take it one step at a time. The key is finding the right company to help you.
Here are a few places to go to perform research for mold related issues:
Choosing a mold consulting company can be a difficult process; especially when you have health concerns regarding your indoor environment. You may be thinking to yourself…can I trust this company? Will they follow through with what they promise on their website or over the phone? Are they qualified to determine if I have a mold problem in my home or business? Are they going to use scare tactics to try to sell me something I don’t need?
When selecting a mold inspection company, be sure to ask, at minimum, the following questions:
1. Do you also provide mold remediation or cleaning services?
In my opinion, it is a conflict of interest to perform both the initial investigation/testing AND profit from the cleaning/remediation of mold. It is in your best interest to use an unbiased and neutral third-party for your initial investigation and testing. The bottom line is: your mold inspector should not profit from the discovery of mold.
2. Can you provide me with a past client referral list or client testimonials?
Quality companies value hearing back from their clients and they should have a long list of satisfied customers. Many even obtain personal statements from past clients who endorse their services. If the company you are considering cannot or will not provide you with past client testimonials, then consider continuing your search.
3. Are you a member in good standing with the BBB (Better Business Bureau)?
The BBB can be a great resource to locate quality, ethical and honest mold companies. Look for companies that have no complaints and a solid rating.
4. Are You Certified?
Most states do not require any formal certification or licensing to perform mold investigations and testing. However, there are organizations that provide independent certifications for mold investigation and sampling. The ACAC is the best of those organizations. The ACAC requires a minimum number of years of field experience, successfully passing a stringent certification exam, and obtaining continuing education credits annually. Make sure your mold professional is certified by a credible organization.
5. And finally, do you carry Professional Liability Insurance (Errors and Omissions insurance, commonly called E&O insurance)?
Most quality companies carry general liability (GL) insurance. However, E&O insurance is expensive and cost prohibitive for most mold inspection firms. The vast majority of mold inspectors do not carry this form of insurance that provides you with a higher level of protection.
Best of luck with your search for a quality mold inspection company. I hope these questions help.
The majority of our mold and moisture investigations are considered “non-invasive”. This means that our inspectors do not cut open walls and ceilings, we don’t remove bathroom or kitchen fixtures, nor do we lift carpeting or flooring materials. There are two primary reasons for this approach. Number one, if there is hidden mold, we don’t want to cause airborne mold spore contamination by exposing and disturbing the mold. Number two, performing invasive exploration can cause damage (intentional or unintentional) to a home. But, sometimes to fully understand a mold problem, or to be able to fully remedy a mold problem, invasive exploration is necessary. So, who should do it?
The best person to perform invasive exploration for mold is a mold remediation professional. They have the tools and expertise to place a testing area under containment using specific engineering controls. This containment will prevent the spread of airborne mold spores should mold be found during the exploration.
We will make the recommendation for invasive exploration for mold when we believe hidden mold is possible. For example, if during a typical mold inspection at a personal residence, we find an actively wet wall in a bathroom. We will recommend ambient mold air sampling and sometimes a wall cavity sample. If both of those samples are negative, we will recommend that the wall be opened (invasive exploration for mold). Since the wall is wet and sealed from the ambient air in the bathroom, it is possible that there is hidden mold in the wall even though the air sample was normal or negative. Should mold be found in the wall during the exploration, it will need to be professionally removed. If no mold is found, the source of water will need to be repaired, but no professional mold remediation is required.
Invasive exploration is also an integral part of professional mold remediation. If for example, we definitively discover a mold problem under a kitchen sink, we will recommend invasive testing under, beside, behind, and below that cabinet to look for mold that we cannot see in our visual investigation. This invasive exploration will continue to approximately 18 inches beyond the last visible mold growth and water damage.
Invasive exploration for mold is another important tool used in professional mold investigations. It is generally used to collect secondary data and is not always required as part of a professional mold inspection.
There are many misconceptions regarding mold. Here are a few more Common Mold Myths.
Myth # 4: Mold growth cannot be controlled in bathrooms
One of the most common areas to find mold is in bathrooms. The following are a few tips to prevent or significantly reduce mold growth in bathrooms:
- The first and most important preventative measure is to control moisture conditions. Showering and bathing produces high levels of moisture and if not properly vented to the exterior of the home through adequate mechanical ventilation, mold growth will likely occur. Bath fans should be quiet in operation to encourage regular use, properly sized for the dimensions of the room and should be operated for approximately 30 minutes after showering.
- Another preventative measure is to use a small squeegee or towel to remove the water from the enclosure walls and shower door after showering.
- Maintain grout and caulking conditions to prevent moisture intrusion, water damage, and potential microbial growth.
- Consider eliminating carpeting and wallpaper. Mold is commonly found behind wallpaper and under carpeting in bathrooms.
- Inspect areas below sinks and around toilets regularly for leaks. Do not put off repairing plumbing leaks or Mold growth could result.
Myth # 5: If I don’t see mold- then there can’t be a problem
Mold can exist in non-accessible areas of the home such as behind or under cabinets, below flooring, behind base trim, inside wall cavities, behind wallpaper and inside ceiling plenums. Use your nose… If you notice a musty or mold-like odor, it is possible that you have a mold problem. Microbial testing of the ambient air and inner wall cavity testing by a Certified Microbial Investigator is often needed to detect hidden mold conditions.
Myth # 6: If I have Mold- It’s my fault
The truth of the matter is that occupants can and do sometimes contribute to mold growth. For example, mold growth can occur if the indoor humidity levels become excessive. Excessive humidity often occurs due to the lack of proper ventilation when showering, cooking and doing laundry. Aside from that, if the indoor relative humidity (moisture in the air) is maintained between 30%-50% and you still have a mold problem, then the blame can often be placed somewhere else. Many times, a Mold investigation may determine that the cause of the mold problem is actually due to conditions such as, hidden water intrusion, plumbing leaks, roof leaks, and inadequate or nonexistent ventilation conditions. A specially trained Mold Investigator can often times detect those conditions that most commonly cause mold growth. Be proactive and enlist the services of a professional if you suspect a mold problem.
- Respiratory problems; including difficulty breathing, wheezing, shortness of breath;
- Sinus and nasal congestion and irritation;
- Irritation of the eyes — watery, burning, red;
- Sore and/or dry throat;
- Skin rashes and irritations;
- Problems with sense of smell;
- Typical symptoms normally associated with a cold or allergies; and
- Memory problems, odd mood swings, nose bleeds, body aches and pains, and fevers are occasionally reported in mold cases.
Mold exposure can also exacerbate other illnesses and conditions, including asthma. These symptoms are often worse for the young, elderly, or people with compromised immune systems.
If you have any of these symptoms and you believe they may be related to mold, it’s prudent to engage a mold inspection and testing professional to perform an analysis of your home and/or place of work.