For many years now, mold has been a hot topic. Barely a week goes by that you can’t find something in the media about water damage or mold. Trying to find out more information can be a daunting task, with many half-truths, biased stories and outright lies propagating on the internet. Our goal here is to simplify the subject and discuss the five basic things you need to know about mold and mold assessment, particularly as it pertains to commercial real estate.
1. Mold is everywhere and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing!
From pharmaceuticals to beer, wine and cheese, we use and benefit from molds every day. There are literally over 100,000 different types of mold known today. Some are harmless, some bring great benefit, but some also bring problems. Even the “problem” molds can be no big deal in a normal environment. Mold levels fluctuate constantly indoors and outdoors and are influenced by factors such as seasonal variation and weather effects. Even the biggest offenders are found everywhere inside and out at background levels every day, but when the perfect conditions arise and mold growth develops in an indoor environment, the results can be catastrophic. Everyone has different levels of sensitivity to mold and the health effects vary from individual to individual, and for that reason there are currently no government standards for mold in buildings. In order to protect the health and safety of your employees or other building occupants, it is critical that any moisture intrusion event, humidity problem or any mold growth be corrected as quickly as possible!
2. How does mold growth develop?
Molds reproduce by creating tiny spores that usually cannot be seen without a microscope. Mold spores continually float through the indoor and outdoor air and are not usually a problem unless the spores land on a damp spot and begin to grow. When excessive moisture or water accumulates indoors, mold growth will often occur, particularly if the moisture problem remains uncorrected. While it is impossible to eliminate all molds and mold spores, controlling moisture can control indoor mold growth. Molds can grow on virtually any substance, as long as moisture or water, oxygen, and a food source are present. In a water intrusion situation, a mold problem in a building can develop in as little as a day or two, potentially leading to very costly repairs and health effects in the building occupants. Prevention is always better than a cure, but on occasion, mold growth will develop and it is important to know what to do in that eventuality.
3. What is “black” or “toxic” mold?
I am sure you have all seen and heard the media reports about “black mold” or “toxic mold.” The mold that the media outlets are referring to is Stachybotrys chartarum (Stachybotrys). Stachybotrys is black in color, typically indicates a long-term problem and can cause severe health implications, particularly in the elderly, children or immune-compromised people. It’s a particularly nasty mold, but not the only one to be concerned about. Unfortunately, there are other molds that can cause issues in buildings and health effects in sensitive individuals, such as Aspergillus, Penicillium and Cladosporium, to name a few, and these molds should also not be overlooked. As individual sensitivities vary from person to person any mold growth in a building should be taken seriously.
4. If you think you have a problem, what should you do?
Some of you may have seen the Mold Test Kits available at many home improvement stores and are asking yourself if that is a viable solution. The simple answer: No. The test kits allow the user to test the air in a building and require you to send your sample to a laboratory for analysis to tell you what the sample contained. So where is the problem with that? As we mentioned earlier, mold is found everywhere, even in a normal environment, so what does that lab report tell you? Nothing useful if relied upon alone. The sample will always come back showing that mold is present, but that means nothing without a full assessment and interpretation by a trained professional. Mold assessment is a very complex process consisting of various steps, which may or may not include air and surface sampling, depending if it is deemed necessary. The first and most important step is the visual assessment. This is combined with various surveying techniques, moisture measurements and, when warranted, air and surface sampling to create a careful evaluation of conditions within the building or space. The assessment can identify the source(s) of the moisture intrusion, characterize the indoor air quality conditions and concerns, and delineate the extent of damage, often including damage that may be hidden in wall cavities or other areas that are not readily accessible.
5. So you have a problem. What happens next?
The professional mold assessor can use the data gathered to create a mold remediation plan to provide to a mold remediation contractor to correct the problems within the building. The scope of work developed should not only include specifics on how to remediate the damaged building materials, but should also provide guidance on correcting the moisture intrusion BEFORE the remediation work is conducted to prevent the damage from returning. The plan will include specific information on building material removal, how containment and engineering controls should be set up, what can be salvaged and how, and details how the affected areas should be decontaminated.
Although mold growth can be a complex issue, through a timely response and consulting with experienced mold assessors and remediation contractors, you can ensure that you deal with your problem quickly and cost-effectively, while ensuring a healthy environment for all building occupants.
Contact us if you have concerns about mold or general indoor air quality, or would like to learn more about our additional environmental services.