John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Robert Weitz, owner of RTK Environmental, an environmental testing and consulting firm. Robert is a certified microbial investigator. Today, we’ll be talking about mold and black mold. Welcome, Robert.
Robert Weitz: Thank you.
John Maher: Robert, let’s start with the basics. What is mold?
Robert Weitz: Mold is basically a fungus. What it does is it consumes other natural components such as the orange on your table in the kitchen. When you start to see that fuzzy material on it, that’s a mold, and the mold is basically deteriorating that surface.
So when we talk about mold in structures, be it a dwelling or industrial commercial space, we’re referring to molds that will attach themselves to wet or damp surfaces. They’ll attach themselves to wet or damp surfaces and they will prey on them. Mold spores are naturally occurring in the air. When they find a wet surface, they land there and they start to grow. They multiply and they will consume whatever they are on.
As an example, take sheetrock or wallboard, which is nothing more than paper with gypsum on the inside. The mold will attach itself to that paper, when it gets wet, and will grow on it. This will deteriorate the material if it’s left for a long enough period of time.
On the inside of that wall board or wood floor or whatever the component may be, you have the internal structure. And typically, that structure will be wood which is a cellulose material as well. So when the mold works its way inward or outward, depending upon the water exposure, the mold will attach itself to that wood structure as well. If left for a long period of time, that’s where rot comes from.
Mold will deteriorate the structure to a point it will begin to disintegrate or rot. That’s where you start to lose structural integrity. Mold is—without question—a culprit that destroys components, particularly, in and outside our homes, which is what we’ll be referring to mostly today.
John Maher: Right. So this is why it’s really important to get tested for mold if you’ve had water damage in your house or your business. Is that right?
Robert Weitz: Exactly, because molds grow so quickly. Once mold spores have landed on a wet surface, it can grow within 24 to 48 hours. So, if you didn’t get the water condition taken care of very quickly and get the components that got wet out – particularly, wall board – mold starts to grow right away. The spores then become airborne. That’s when you can begin to have a problem, and testing becomes a factor.
John Maher: Okay. I’ve heard a lot about black mold. What is black mold?
Robert Weitz: Black mold is just one particular color of mold. Mold comes in many different colors and black mold has gotten a lot of media attention and a lot of people speak specifically of black mold. But really, it’s just one color.
There are all different colors of mold from grey and white to yellow, blue, and orange. So black mold is certainly a ‘bad mold’, because it can be toxic, but it’s not the only type of mold.
John Maher: Okay. What are the symptoms of black mold or other mold exposure? When I get sick from that, what are the symptoms that I’m looking for?
Robert Weitz: One of the most common symptoms with mold is going to be respiratory issues – coughing, sneezing, anything like that. Very often, we’ll go in to a home and people will report, “Well, I have a runny nose. I can’t stop coughing.” These are the most common symptoms.
Now, some people will also have headaches. Other people will have stomach aches. There are many types of symptoms and more importantly these symptoms are not the only problems that mold can cause. It’s now been found that mold can actually cause asthma. So, someone can actually get asthma as a result of being exposed to mold. And certainly, asthma will definitely be exacerbated by exposure as well.
John Maher: Okay. How do you test for black mold or other types of mold?
Robert Weitz: Black mold and other types of mold are all tested in the same way. We want to do, first, an initial investigation. What that is basically, is we’re looking for visual mold. Do we see it anywhere?
That would be identified by this fuzzy material. Not always fuzzy but very often it has that appearance. It can be in definitive pattern where you will see spotting. But other times, it can look very solid, so you really have to know what you’re looking for. That’s where experience comes in to the picture.
At RTK Environmental, we’ve been doing this for 20 years, so our experience is far greater than other companies which have been in business only a year or two.
So, after the visual inspection, we would then move forward to the next stage. We could take moisture readings from components and that would give us the actual level of moisture in different components, which would determine where the wet areas are: very often, you can’t see moisture in a staining issue at all.
And then, we would take humidity readings of the actual humidity levels in different rooms. That can also help us to determine whether or not there is a moisture issue. And then, we would do sampling. The sampling would be based upon the visual inspection: What did we see? What were the moisture levels?
We also have thermal image cameras that we can use, which help us to identify temperature variations in a wall or a surface to identify how far the moisture goes. A lot of people think that a thermal image camera identifies water. It doesn’t really identify water. It identifies difference in temperature. So when the surface is wet, that’s when the temperature of that surface will be lower than in adjacent area that’s dry.
After all that is done, the air samples are taken, usually, in several rooms. If the mold is isolated to one room, for example, and a small pipe break in a bathroom or a kitchen, the mold is then isolated. So we would take samples, not only in that area but we would take samples in other areas as well that may not be directly affected by the water, but may be affected by the potential mold spores generated from the mold source that have moved to other rooms. It’d become an issue there that would be part of our recommendation for cleaning.
Instead of just cleaning the mold or getting rid of the component that the mold has grown on, we would also recommend the cleaning with the HEPA vacuuming and damp wiping process, along with the use of air cleaners. That process would help to reduce the mold spores back down to a normal level.
I think it’s important here to note that mold is naturally occurring in the environment. Everytime we take care of samples, it’s an industry standard to take an air sample outside. The exterior sample serves as a baseline sample because mold is naturally occurring. We want to know how many mold spores are in the air outside, and we then compare the samples that we take inside to that baseline sample.
Not only do we compare it to the outside sample, but then, we will also compare the indoor samples to each other. That also helps to determine where the mold spores may have gone outside of the initial contamination area. When mold spores do that, it’s called either migration of spores or cross-contamination.
So we do air samples. Those are brief samples, anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes. And then also, if there is visible mold, we would take samples of that. We can either do that as a bulk sample – actually taking a sample of the mold itself – or we can do that on a microscope slide that has a sticky surface on one side that we press into the mold. It’s important to know the different types of mold spores because there are two types of spores, one is toxic which is poisonous to the human body and the other type is called allergens.
Of the thousands and thousands of different spore types that there are, it’s important to know what we’re working with. Is this a toxic spore type and/or is it just allergens? Now, they’re both important to get rid of on a surface, but it’s important to know that because it can help to determine the extent of the cleaning that may need to be done by the remediation company who would come in after our testing.
Also, it is important to note that RTK Environmental only does testing. We only handle the mold investigation. This ensures we have no bias whatsoever. We have no conflict of interest. Our only desire is to provide a good investigation, good sampling, and then, a complete report that will indicate our findings as well as a solid plan of remediation.
John Maher: So then, you would take that information and you would give that back to the home owner or business owner, and then, they would go out and find a mold remediation company that comes in and removes the mold, is that right?
Robert Weitz: That’s correct. Yes. They could take our report with our solid and detailed recommendations. And then, they’d be able to give that to a remediation company. So, it’s not left up to the remediation contractor to decide what needs to be done. It’s dictated by the report so that if you get two or three remediation contractors in you can pick the one that you like the most: whether the price might be right or you just have a good gut feeling. It provides for an apples-to-apples approach because they’re all bidding on the same report and the same recommendations.
John Maher: Okay, great. Well, that’s really a lot of great information, Robert. Thanks very much for speaking with me today.
Robert Weitz: You’re very welcome; it was a pleasure speaking with you.
John Maher: For more information on mold investigations you can visit the RTK website, at rtkenvironmental.com or call 800.392.6468.