Mold found in your home or business can seem scary. Is it safe, harmful? How do I treat and prevent this from occurring again? Below are some of our top asked questions regarding mold and it's effects.
Molds are single (yeasts) or multicellular organisms that belong to the fungi kingdom. Molds can be viewed microscopically (spores, hyphal fragments) or macroscopically (mushrooms, slime molds). They are ubiquitous to most of our environments, meaning they can grow pretty much anywhere. They require two things to grow; water and a food source (building materials, decaying plants). Molds use water to soften the food source so that they can release an enzyme that will break down the material to allow it to be absorbed. Molds play a crucial part in decomposition, without them forests would be filled with piles of dead trees and leaves. You can think of it as a worldwide cleaning crew. Molds are also used in pharmaceuticals and other medical research.
Molds reproduce using a cycle similar to trees. In this cycle they produce spores that are dispersed into the air. These spores randomly fall back to surfaces and if the right conditions (weather, dampness, turbulence) exist a new colony will be formed from the spores. Once a new colony starts mold develops root like structures called Hyphal Fragments or Hyphae. These structure burrow deep down into surfaces to release the enzyme molds use to breakdown their food. The Hyphae also collect the nutrients from the food and they produce the spores using something called a fruiting structure. They are like roots of a tree except they grow below and above the surface.
Since molds help with the decomposition of plants and cellulose based material (walls, floors) this means that they literally eat the substance that they are growing on. They use the material to complete a metabolic process and at the end of this process is waste.
Unfortunately for us our homes cannot dissipate the toxic waste. Our homes have evolved over the years to be more energy efficient through the use of insulation in an attempt to make homes more “air tight”. This means that our homes literally trap all of the toxins inside with us. Homes need to have the air exchanged from the inside to outside regularly in order to keep the air from becoming stale or too damp. Closing a house up will create excess moisture that will allow mold growth.
This waste is sometimes referred to as mycotoxins. These toxins can be harmful if there is enough exposure. Molds also cause problems all by themselves. There are many genre that are classified as allergens. They can cause: headaches, nose bleeds, asthma, and skin/eye irritation. In severe exposure certain species can also lead to infection. Special consideration should also be given to individuals with weak or compromised immune systems. For example: children, elderly, and persons with HIV and/or other immune disorders. This group of people are more susceptible to being harmed by mold exposure. Without a healthy immune system these individuals have greater reactions to mold and develop high level of sensitivity. This sensitivity can carry on to even after the individual has moved out of the “moldy” home. That is why it is important to protect your family from mold.
Molds can grow in almost any environment provided that they have water and a food source, both of which are abundant in Greenville SC and Spartanburg SC. Most commonly they will be found growing in soil, dead plants, and on wet building materials. Molds grow using a unique root/seed like system called hyphae (root) and spores (seeds). Spores are spread out like seeds looking for a source of nutrients. Once it finds an acceptable surface to grow on the hyphae branches out like roots and begin decaying that material. It will consume all of the material until either the material is gone or the material becomes dry. At this point, if the conditions are right, it will begin to sporulate. You can think of this process as a tree releasing seeds. These Spores are designed to be released into the air where they will float through the air in hopes of finding another suitable home. The process continues like this in a loop.
Black mold is a taboo word in the industry of indoor air quality. It was tabbed by the media and commonly refers to stachybotrys chatarum. The term is used to describe the darkish black characteristic that stachybotrys has. This is not a scientific term because many molds can be black depending on what type of material they are consuming. In the late 90’s stachybotrys was initially linked to the death of an infant in Cleveland and the term black mold took off. Later, medical experts have stated they don’t believe stachybotrys was the cause of the infant’s death. The stigma surrounding the term didn’t go away. This term is mostly used as a scare tactic to incite fear. Some companies use this fear to help them sell services. Be wary of websites or companies that promote black mold testing.
The most common complaint that will lead to a positive mold finding is smell. When molds produce all of that waste and toxin an abnormal and pungent odor is created. This odor has been described as musky and stale. If you notice any new or unknown odors it is best to investigate this immediately. Another way to know that you may have a mold problem is discovering a plumbing or roof leak that was hidden. Whenever your home has any type of leak there will be a chance that mold has started growing. Mold only needs moisture and a food source to grow and normally wet wood is a very good food source for mold. If anyone in your home has had a recurring illness with no known causes like sore throats and or sinus infections, it would be a good idea to have someone come and investigate for mold. Many times people will continue to go to the doctor over and over with the same illness. They are prescribed drugs to treat the symptoms but the root cause is never found. Without finding and solving the root cause many illnesses will simply come back given time. You can also visually see areas that may have mold. Commonly ceiling stains will have some type of mold growing there and these situations require professional help.
Mold is most commonly tested using an air pump and cassettes. The air pump pulls in air at a predetermined rate like 5 Litres of air per minute. This air is forced onto a cassette, inside the cassette there is a small glass slide that has a gel like substance similar to clear glue. This glue traps anything in the air. Another method is called surface sampling. Surface sampling employs either clear tape or the use of a sterile swab. Material is collected by physically touching the sampling media to the suspect area. The most important part of testing for mold is the visual inspection. Testing has many flaws and can sometimes show false positives or negatives. But our eyes and nose almost never fail. Your home should be checked from top to bottom for signs of water damage and mold. Without a proper visual inspection the test results will not give you much useful information.
Air testing will give you a measurable result that can be compared to a control sample that we take outside your home. Air tests should be taken in areas of concern and also areas that you spend the most of amount of your time. The results will tell you the amount of mold spores per square meter of air. Once we have a few inside tests we can measure them against the outside test to see if there are any spikes in the data. The tests are taken using calibrated pumps that collect air from your home into small air canisters or cassettes. These samples are sent to the lab where they physically mount the samples onto slides and count the mold spores under the microscope.
Unlike Air samples, surface samples will not produce measurable results. Surface samples will only tell us if the sample is mold or not and what type. These tests are good for rapidly identifying unknown stains or discolored surfaces. The lab will provide some quantification but there will be no control sample to compare it to.
Just like with every service there are limits to what we can accomplish with testing. It is not an exact science because there are so many changing variables that can affect testing such as: weather, time of day, activity in room, humidity, placement of equipment, and contamination. All these variables will affect the accuracy of your tests. We will take all of this information into consideration while testing and use this data to help us interpret the results. Sampling cannot be used as the “end all be all” when it comes to determining issues in your home or office. It is simply a tool to aid the visual inspection.
Since the testing is only one of the tools we use, we rely heavily on the visual inspection. There are some situations where testing simply cannot detect mold. If a colony of mold is very damp the spores will be too dense (heavy) to float in the air. This colony would not show up at all on an air test. However, a visual inspection would find it and allow us to do a surface sample. The visual inspection also helps us find the source of the mold like roof leaks, water damage etc. Finding the source will allow us to help you form a plan to remediate the mold.
Mold is simple enough to clean. But unless you stop the source the mold will almost always return. It is very important to understand why mold is growing in your home. The mold growth needs to be traced back to an event like a roof leak or a plumbing failure. The event needs to be corrected before any cleaning takes place. Once the source has been stopped you can now remove the damaged material and wipe down the area with a disinfectant. New material should be used in place of the damaged material. This work should be performed by a professional mold remediation contractor. All workers performing this work should use personal protective equipment like masks and respirators. Also most times during remediation a complete containment needs to be properly maintained. Containments are the process of physically constructing a barrier between the damaged and healthy parts of the building. They are necessary because you don’t want to contaminate the rest of your home during remediation. Cleaning and removing materials will cause more mold spores than normal to enter the air. This makes wearing the proper protective equipment and building a sound containment very important. Make sure whomever does your remediation is educated in how to use these tools properly. Contractors not using containment or in some cases not even knowing what it means is a sign that you are dealing with an inexperienced mold remediation company. It would be best to try to educate yourself on the many facets of mold remediation before trying to hire a company to come out. After your home has been cleaned it would be vital at this point to have clearance testing performed to ensure that the remediation crew did their job and that your home has acceptable levels or airborne mold spores. Clearance samples should be performed by a third party that does not have any interest in the results. Remediation companies have a conflict of interest when they take samples to clear their own work. It’s best to use someone who is not invested in how the results come out.
This would be a case by case scenario. Your home would need to be tested to see how severe the issue is. There is however a scenario where it would be in your best interest to leave your home until the mold problem has been solved. An example of this would be an immune compromised individual living in a home that has severe water damage that has since the damage dried out. The drying out process will cause mold to produce more spores and release them into the air. A healthy person might be ok to stay in the house while the problem is being corrected, but someone with a weakened immune system would be setting themselves up to get a serious infection if they remain in the home. Some molds are opportunistic meaning they will literally exploit a compromised individual’s weak immune system. While most molds that can cause infection are able to infect even healthy individuals in certain circumstances, most infections occur in those who are already sick and weakened. It’s important to remember than almost no one conducting mold tests or doing consulting for mold is a doctor. You should consult a medical doctor with any personal health concerns. Mold inspectors are not trained to match symptoms with exposure and etc. Any mold “guru” claiming to know what type of mold you have based on your health is simply being dishonest. Consult mold inspectors for your home’s health and consult medical doctors for your own health.