by Clark “Sparky” Beardslee
Mold spores are everywhere and cannot be avoided. They float in through your open windows and doors, or come inside by riding on your clothing or your pets. Real problems in homes and buildings rarely occur unless there has been intense flooding, usually in basements, sometimes from leaky roofs, or where there has been an extensive plumbing problem.
If spores land on a moist or damp surface, usually in a poorly lit area — they can grow.
So the key to mold control is moisture control. Water-damaged areas must be dried within twenty-four to forty-eight hours to prevent mold and mildew growth.
Most people have a natural immunity to antigens present in mold, but some are more sensitive than others – and a moldy home is not a healthy home. At-risk individuals are mostly infants, the aged and asthmatics being treated with steroids. The highest level of danger is for those with pre-existing respiratory diseases such as tuberculosis or cystic fibrosis and those undergoing chemotherapy or other treatments that adversely affect the immune system.
The most common health concerns include symptoms similar to hay fever. Others may experience respiratory difficulties or skin and eye irritations. There are some reported extreme reactions, too.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, determining the level of health risk is mostly a factor of looking at the individual and assessing whether they fall into one of the risk groups. However, exposure to mold is not a desirable living condition and it should be removed, just like you would also throw away moldy bread without eating it.
The Cleveland Incident & the CDC
There has been a widely reported case regarding the deaths of some Cleveland infants between 1993 and 1994. Some articles say eight infants died. Other articles say ten died. One article even says that forty-five died.
The cause of death, according to these articles, is that the babies died of acute idiopathic pulmonary hemorrhage that was traced back to water damage in their homes and the subsequent infestation by the mold species Stachybotrys ChartarumIn.
The articles also say that the cause of death was determined in a study done by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) web site says something different. They say that “this remains to be proved” and that no one really knows what causes acute idiopathic pulmonary hemorrhage.
The cause of death may have been the mold, as the articles claim. However, the claim that the CDC identified that as the cause of death is not true. So, to paraphrase Fox Mulder of the X-Files, “the truth is still out there.”
Differing Opinions and Lawyers
There is some disagreement on the seriousness of the mold issue. Some say it is an expanding problem because modern homes — with air conditioning, heating, and energy-saving insulation – are much more airtight and susceptible to infestation than homes of the past.
Others say the problem has always existed and the current frenzy is an invention by attorneys so they can mine this latest “pot of gold” with expensive lawsuits. It has become a major profit center for attorneys, inspectors, laboratories, and test-kit developers.
As one lawyer states in a recent Time magazine article, “For science to prove something, it has to be 100% certain. In a civil lawsuit, it only has to be proved 51%.”
Some molds can be identified by their growth patterns, but that requires an expert. Even experts make errors based on a visual inspection, because growth patterns of different molds can appear similar to one another. To correctly identify a mold species requires a sample that can be examined in a laboratory by an experienced technician using a microscope.
The most important thing is to remove the mold.
However, if someone has a health problem that may be caused by the mold, you may want to identify it. Wearing rubber gloves, take a piece of scotch tape, lift some spore samples from the mold, and seal it in a Ziploc bag. Then you have something you can take to your doctor or a laboratory.
There are lots of mold-testing laboratories available on the web. It’s become a “hot” industry in the last couple of years.
The most common indoor molds are Cladosporium, Penicillium, Aspergillus, and Alternaria. Some rarer molds, such as Stachybotrys, may be more dangerous but its spores are only found in two to five percent of homes and only a small percentage of those homes provide an environment for growth.
Mold Growth and Cleanup
Mold flourishes in dark, damp places that are poorly ventilated and in areas where water collects. This provides an environment for ever-present dormant mold spores to collect and grow. The first step in mold clean-up is to eliminate the source of moisture.
No one should attempt to clean mold or mildew without wearing rubber gloves. Sensitive people should wear a dust-resistant facemask or carbon filter respirator.
If the mold patch is less than a foot square, it can be removed with a chlorine bleach solution (one cup of bleach in one gallon of water). Never mix bleach with other cleaning materials, period. It is difficult to tell what cleaning materials contain ammonia, and bleach mixed with ammonia creates a toxic gas.
The mold should come off with simple gentle scrubbing. Do not scrape a mold that has dried because this could release mold spores into the air, where they can circulate through your air-conditioning or heating system and land elsewhere.
Once you have washed away the mold, the area should be dried completely. Make sure to remove or repair any sources of excess water, such as leaky plumbing or a faulty roof.
Absorbent materials (such as ceiling tiles and carpet) that become moldy may have to be replaced.
If the moldy area is larger than two feet square, you should seek professional assistance or call your local government health agency for guidance.
Conclusions & Homeowners Insurance
Once a mold appears, all it generally takes to prevent health problems is a little bit of bleach and water – and maybe a blow dryer. There are exceptions, however – and those exceptions should be treated seriously.
When mold growth is massive or hidden behind walls, professional help is required. Clean-up costs can range between $10,000 and $50,000 for a moderately sized home.
One result of the recent trends toward lawsuits involving black mold is increased homeowner’s insurance premiums. Another effect is that insurance providers are asking states to allow them to exclude mold coverage in policies.