There is a lot of information circulating about mold. Unfortunately, when it is incorrect, it may cause homeowners to spend money for the wrong reasons or on the wrong solutions. RTK Environmental has created a list of common misconceptions and the top questions on mold. To find out whether or not you’ve been getting good advice about mold problems, read on.
Robert Weitz, an environmental testing expert, answers your questions. He’s a certified microbial investigator and principal at RTK Environmental Group, a leader in the field of testing and consulting in mold, lead, asbestos, water, soil, radon, and indoor air quality. What sets him apart is his passion for working with his clients, with whom he shares his 30+ years of knowledge and expertise on a daily basis. Mr. Weitz helps homeowners and commercial property owners by assessing their environmental situations, identifying root causes of mold, and explaining the best methods to address the issues.
Q: What is mold?
A: Mold is a fungus that devours other natural components. It can consume fruit on your kitchen table, damp wallboard, or fabric that is neither dry nor aired. Mold can look like discoloration, and appear like fuzz or a black smudge as it consumes whatever it has latched onto.
Mold is spread by spores, which are usually airborne. When they land on a wet or damp surface they start to grow. Mold multiplies at an extraordinary rate and will consume whatever component it adheres to.
For example, Sheetrock, or wallboard, is nothing more than paper with gypsum on the inside. When these materials get wet, the mold attaches itself to the paper and grows. If left alone, the paper will deteriorate over time. When the mold works its way inward, it will attach to that inner surface and eventually to the wood structure beneath. If left untreated, the degradation will develop into large-scale rot.
Mold Inspection and Testing
Q: I think I see mold growing in my home. Do I really need an inspection before fixing the problem?
A: Mold detection can be tricky. It is impossible to see every area where it may be present unless you have the right technology. And do-it-yourself mold testing kits can be unreliable. The best way to determine the full scope of your mold problem is when comprehensive samplings are taken during professional testing by a certified and trained mold inspector. At RTK, that’s what we do.
Q: When should I test for mold?
A: You should test for mold when you see it, or when you suspect it’s present—if people or pets are experiencing allergy-like symptoms, if there’s a foul or musty odor in the air, or if a basement or other area is perpetually damp. You should also test if you’ve had a flood, leak or sewage back-up, if an ice dam has formed on your roof, or if you plan to purchase or sell your home. An RTK inspection will ensure reliable results.
Q: Do I need to test only before I renovate and remediate a mold issue, and not after?
A: Wrong! While you should test before a remediation to pinpoint exactly where the mold issue is and have a blueprint for removal, testing after the remediation and renovation is just as important. By testing after the job is done, you can be assured that remediation was done properly. This can help avoid future problems.
Q: What should I expect during a mold inspection?
A: Relax—a mold inspection is a fairly easy process. Reputable mold testing companies often provide specific instructions to prepare you for the inspection. You need to close all outside doors and windows, and leave internal ones open. During the mold inspection, you’ll discuss with your inspector your concerns and symptoms, and discuss anything else that may be pertinent for the inspector to know. A thorough investigation and visual assessment of the area will follow. Next, the inspector will take air and tape lift surface samples, which will be sent to an independent laboratory for analysis. Once the results are in, you should get a thorough report in clear language with the findings and recommendations for remediation.
Home Mold Test Kits
Q: Is a home mold test kit reliable?
A: No. Mold is naturally occurring and present in almost every environment. Home mold test kits that use ‘settle plate applications’ (set the dish out for 24 – 48 hours and spores are supposed to fall into the dish) generally do not measure airborne particles accurately. Since most environments contain mold, it is difficult to determine whether the mold spores you collect are from a dangerous indoor colony or just part of the normal outside environment.
Do-it-yourself mold test kits often cause people to make uninformed decisions. The levels of spores that are analyzed by the lab are not accurate. They also cannot detect hidden mold with the result that those who rely on these kits, do either too little or too much based on the results. When professional inspectors take a spore sample, they forcefully draw air into a spore trap. On the contrary, home mold test kits only rely on air currents in a room over a period of time. So, the results are not accurate.
Q: Is all black mold toxic?
A: No, but it is still a health hazard. Mold of any color can be classified as either a “toxin” or an “allergen.” While toxic mold can create the most serious health problems, all types of mold and mildew can cause health issues, especially among those who suffer from allergies and asthma. Mold is a leading cause of airborne allergies.
Q: Should I be concerned with mold if it is not black? Does the color of mold matter?
A: The color of mold has no bearing on how dangerous it might be. There are over 100,000 kinds of mold, and the only way to be sure what kind is growing in your home is to have a mold test conducted by an environmental inspector. They can provide you with an unbiased assessment of the situation and recommend safe, effective ways to resolve the problem.
Mold and Your Health
Q: Can mold make you sick?
A: At worst, toxic mold can cause serious health issues; at best, mold and mildew aggravate allergies. Mold causes breathing difficulties, skin rashes, headaches, cough, wheezing, and asthma.
Q: What are the symptoms of mold exposure?
A: Symptoms vary and depend largely on how sensitive your body is to exposure to mold. The most common symptoms include cold and flu-like symptoms like chronic cough, shortness of breath, sinus congestion, chronic fatigue, and weakness. But studies
show that toxic mold exposure can also cause difficulty concentrating, a tingling or numbing sensation on skin, headaches and light sensitivity, joint pain and stiffness, poor memory or difficulty finding words, fibromyalgia, and multiple chemical sensitivity, which causes varying symptoms due to low-level exposures to commonly used chemicals. It’s a long list, for sure.
Q: How is one exposed to mold?
A: There are several ways. Skin contact is the first way. People who are highly allergic to mold may develop a rash where the mold has made contact with the skin. Another way is by inhaling mold spores. Finally, you may ingest food that contains mold. Avoid foods like mushrooms, cheese, dried fruit, and fermented products if you have a mold allergy.
Q: Can you take care of a mold problem by yourself rather than hiring a professional?
A: It depends. There’s only one way to fully understand the extent of your mold problem and that is to have a professional, independent mold inspector conduct a test. Why? Mold spores are lightweight and tiny and spread easily, so it’s very easy for someone not accustomed to working with mold to cross-contaminate “clean” areas of their home with contaminated areas. The EPA provides more information on this subject.
Q: Once mold is remediated, will it come back?
A: It could, especially if a water-damaged site was remediated too quickly and reconstructed and was not allowed to dry thoroughly. In such cases, moisture might have been trapped inside at the time the person conducting the remediation sealed up the walls. Sometimes remediation companies are too eager to move on to their next job, so they remove their equipment and fans prematurely. Mold thrives in damp, warm, dark areas. To fully dry an area, it can take up to a week and often more. That’s why best practice is to conduct post-remediation mold clearance testing to ensure the area was remediated properly.
Q: Isn’t it cheaper to hire a company that does both remediation and testing?
A: That’s a bad idea that can cost you thousands more! Homeowners should hire two separate companies for testing and remediation, according to an article in Angie’s List which states: “Hire one company to do the testing and another to remediate to eliminate any conflict of interest.” Unfortunately, companies that do both may offer cheap or free mold testing and then make up the difference through remediation services. Companies that perform both testing and remediation are known to exaggerate—or even fabricate—a mold problem to profit on a costly remediation job. These companies are banking on homeowners who are not educated. This problem became so widespread that in New York State, a consumer protection law now makes it illegal for the same company to test and remediate the same mold job. Laws vary by state, so be sure to check your local law.
Mold Assessment Certification & Qualification
Q: Do mold companies and inspectors need to be certified?
A: This varies by state. Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, Tennessee, and Texas are currently the only states that require state licensure. To be safe, be sure that your environmental testing company holds the Certified Microbial Investigator (CMI) accreditation from the American Council for Accredited Certification. Choose carefully. To find out if the individual or company you want to hire is certified, search for them on the ACAC site.