With all of the rain in our region this year, it is helpful to learn about mold and what to do when you discover it.
Mold and fungi can be found virtually everywhere and can grow on virtually anything, and not always be visible to the naked eye. Not all strains of mold and fungus are harmful, and outside of clean-room settings, it is not possible to attain a mold/fungal count of zero. By some estimates, roughly 25% of the general population is genetically prone and susceptible to mold and fungi, reacting with severe symptoms like chronic respiratory problems, neurological issues, muscle/joint and arthritis, etc. Mold generates spores as well as biotoxic compounds called mycotoxins that can be equally or more harmful to one’s health than the mold itself. An example of this is penicillin. Consider how little exposure is necessary to experience its effects as an antibiotic medication.
In normal homes and office settings, people typically do not experience symptoms without extensive contamination. Once mold becomes a problem in a building, it must be cleaned up properly, and moisture sources must be eliminated. Absorbent materials like drywall, insulation, or ceiling tiles may need to be replaced. HVAC also needs to be considered as a source or mode of distribution throughout the building.
What To Do If You Discover Mold
There are several important steps to take to address a possible mold exposure:
- Test to determine the level of exposure and causes
Since not all types of mold are harmful, identifying the strain and degree of growth could influence the extent of remediation efforts and cost associated. Look for and address root causes for moisture if not apparent: water leaks between interior/exterior of the building, condensation points, and kitchen equipment are good places to investigate.
- Identify and remove the source and affected areas/items
If exposure happened very recently, it may be possible to dry out materials before they can harbor growth. If the flood or leak happened more than a few days prior, follow the instructions below to prevent conditions that will allow mold to flourish. Furniture, ceiling tiles, drywall, insulation, carpeting, and even paper documents may need to be removed to prevent re-exposure.
- Replace/reconstruct with appropriate building materials
Reduce mold growth potential by prevention through design. Plan for building materials that don’t hold moisture or provide fuel for growth. For example, tile and stone floors have less potential than wood or carpet (which can also become a matrix for spores). Or, avoid installing carpet near wet places like drinking fountains.
- Prevent conditions that allow mold growth
To grow well, mold needs food, moisture, and stagnant air. Avoid using porous construction materials. Moisture levels until 60% are sufficient enough to be comfortable and still reduce the chances of mold growth. Good air handling includes a sealed/closed system and well-functioning air filters.
- Retest & maintain documentation
Good documentation and record-keeping of testing and remediation efforts may help to defend against claims.
Additional details on how to address each of these steps can be found in Mold Guidelines for Contractors and Facility Owners and this Fact Sheet on Cleaning Flooded Buildings.