John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. Today, I’m here with Robert Weitz of RTK Environmental, an environmental testing and consulting firm. Robert is a Certified Microbial Investigator. Today, we’re talking about “Mold Testing in NYC.” Welcome, Robert.
Robert Weitz: Thank you very much, John.
Hurricane Sandy and Other Storms Contribute to Mold
John Maher: So Robert, what storms and other events have hit NYC that might contribute to mold problems requiring mold testing in NYC and the surrounding area?
Robert Weitz: I think our more popular storm, if you want to call it that, in the past few years, has been hurricane Sandy, which was also dubbed “Super Storm Sandy.” The reason that that was so significant and why it’s called a super storm was because at that time, we had astronomically high tides as well as a hurricane coming up the coast.
So, those two things combined together and the biggest thing that occurred with that was what was called the “storm surge.” That was into the NYC area. That’s where it was actually the highest. And the storm surge was upwards of 15 feet above a normal high tide level.
So, that’s a tremendous amount of water that just flooded everything in the NYC area. So obviously, what happens in a case like that is mold loves moisture. It loves a cellulose material, which is basically anything made from a tree.
So, the paper on sheetrock, wood, framing, anything like that is cellulose. Water and that cellulose material are very happy to grow mold on it. So Super Storm Sandy had such a tremendous amount of water that this was a storm that was huge when it came to mold testing, and actually from a few weeks after the storm hit, because it takes a little bit of time for mold to grow. Even up to this day, almost two years later – Super Storm Sandy was in October of 2012 – we are still doing work, in homes primarily, that have never been rebuilt.
So, we still have mold from the storm. The reason for that, primarily, is that insurance companies wouldn’t cover people who were in flood zones. They had issues with FEMA and getting money from FEMA that would take care of the repairs. So, even to this day, mold testing is a big issue with Super Storm Sandy.
There was also another hurricane about two years prior to that, which was called just “Hurricane Irene,” as if that’s not bad enough. Hurricane Irene was in August of 2011. The difference between that storm in NYC and Super Storm Sandy, [in Sandy] rainfall was an issue, but the storm surge was the bigger issue.
In Hurricane Irene, the bigger issue was not the storm surge, but it was just the deluge of heavy, heavy rain throughout the area. So, that caused flooding, not only along the coastline, but also inland as well, where the inundation of this tremendous amount of rainfall caused rivers and streams to all overflow their banks.
So actually, a lot more property was affected in Hurricane Irene from a widespread standpoint then more coastal that was during Super Storm Sandy.
John Maher: Is the wind an issue in that case too, that the driving wind of a hurricane might drive some of that moisture into the little crevices in your house, and get inside the walls?
Robert Weitz: Absolutely, yes. What didn’t flood in, like basement levels and lower levels, the wind is so terrific obviously and a hurricane – upwards of 100 miles an hour and over. That definitely impacts the outside of a dwelling, be it a home, a single-family home, or apartment building — it really drives the rain into any crack or crevice that might be there.
Flooding and Mold Testing in NYC
John Maher: Is flooding though generally the major concern when dealing with mold testing in NYC?
Robert Weitz: Flooding is a major concern, but not necessarily only from a hurricane. Certainly in NYC we have tremendous rainfalls at any given time, particularly in the summer time, where we can get two or three or four inches of rain in a very short period of time.
A lot of times, the ground just can’t absorb that water quickly enough. So that also creates a flooding exposure there. But also, particularly in the city, a lot of people live in apartment buildings. So, the difference there from a single-family dwelling is that a pipe break is a particularly big issue. If there is any small fire or smoke condition, the sprinklers will be activated. And that will create a water issue.
So, the bad thing about this apartment building is that they’re more than one or two or three stories tall, most of them. So, if you have a 25-story building, which is very common, and you get a pipe break on the 21st floor, if it’s a big enough pipe break, then obviously it doesn’t just affect the 21st floor. It affects all of the floors directly below it.
So now, we have the potential for a mold issue, not only in the area where the leak occurred, but also down through the remainder of the building of multiple units. The same issue can also occur with a roof leak in a heavy storm, where the water flooding into a basement is potentially an issue. But the water flooding a roof, and then also getting through any leak areas or any breaches in the roof will come down into the building itself, into the apartment building, or into the office building even.
John Maher: Right. So, you mentioned apartment buildings. Are there any other issues that are specific to the types of housing that are available in NYC that relate to mold testing and removal? For example, I was thinking there are a lot of people, as you said, living in apartments in the city. Does that present problems when those people are looking to get a mold inspection?
Robert Weitz: I think the thing that you have to consider, this is where experience comes in of the mold inspector. At RTK, we’ve been doing this for almost 20 years. So, we have a tremendous amount of experience with what to look for in an apartment building in NYC.
You have one of the bigger issues that you can deal with, is what’s called “drafting” or “cross-contamination.” So, you have a lot of dwelling units that are obviously all together – side by side, above you, below you. You have all different apartment dwellings. You obviously can’t control, or many times, even see any mold issue that might be occurring within those units.
Your unit may be perfectly clean and immaculate. But you may have a unit directly below you, or next to you, or above you that may have tremendous mold growth that could be affecting the air in your apartment, in your dwelling.
So, when we go in and we do testing, particularly air testing in a case like this, we’re always looking to see, “Are there any breaches?” There is what are called “steam risers” in a lot of apartment buildings, which is a pipe that it has steam running through it from one floor to the next to the next.
And where it goes through to the next floor above and below, very often, there are gaps in between there. There are gaps in the walls, in sink areas where the plumbing comes through the walls.
There are even electrical outlets, all of these areas or places where this drafting or cross-contamination can occur. And that allows mold spores from other places to come in to what you would consider, otherwise, to be your very clean and immaculate apartment.
NYC Mold Remediation Guidelines
John Maher: Are there mold remediation guidelines specific to NYC that homeowners and renters should be aware of?
Robert Weitz: In NYC, basically in a landlord-tenant situation, the landlord is required to provide a habitable premise. So, what that means is when they rent an apartment to someone, they basically have to make sure that it’s habitable, that it’s some place that doesn’t have a lot of mold issues in it.
So, if the landlord is responsible for that by either a leaky roof, or a pipe break, or anything else that would be regarded as maintenance of that unit, then they’re responsible for that mold growth and to take care of it. If the tenant is creating the mold growth, then that’s different. The landlord may take care of it. But that is more of the tenant’s responsibility.
John Maher: Okay. What’s the cost of a mold inspection in NYC, and what are the factors involved in determining that cost?
Robert Weitz: It really runs the gamut. At RTK, we have no conflict of interest. So, mold inspection can cost anywhere from $200 or $300 upwards of $1,000 or more, depending upon what the client is looking for, how many samples they end up taking based upon our recommendation.
So, the price range can really range dramatically. Now, at RTK, we have no conflict of interest whatsoever because we only do testing. We don’t do any mold remediation at all. So, when we go out and do our inspection, that’s where we make our money by giving that client good advice and an unbiased opinion of what needs to be done in order to take care of a mold problem, if one is there.
We’ve heard of mold inspections that some remediation companies provide, which they call “free inspections.” And usually, that’s a visual inspection that they will offer to do because they want to get into your apartment. They want to sell you a remediation.
So, what they do is they come in. They get in the door by that promise of this “free inspection.” But usually, it ends up not being free at all because a lot of the times, they will find mold – sometimes it’s there, and sometimes it’s not there. And then, very conveniently give you a cost of what it will cost in order to remediate it. So, it’s clearly a conflict of interest there.
John Maher: Right. That’s great advice, Robert. Thanks very much for speaking with me today.
Robert Weitz: You’re very welcome.
John Maher: For more information, you can visit the RTK website at rtkenvironmental.com or call 800.392.6468.