Molds are tiny organisms that exist everywhere in, at the very least, microscopic levels. There are over 200,000 different strains of mold that have been identified, and virtually everyone is exposed to some type of mold every day. Whether we like it or not, mold is in our homes, our workplaces, and outdoors.
As with humans, mold requires a food source (such as drywall, paper, wood, or any other cellulose material), along with a source of moisture to grow. Mold can grow almost anywhere in a house, including behind walls, in carpeting, and also in air conditioning ducts. By simply living in our homes we spread mold from place to place. For example, sitting in our favorite easy chair, vacuuming a carpet, walking on a carpet, or air blowing through an air conditioning system can be responsible for spreading mold throughout a house.
Mold spores may spread throughout an indoor environment, but they will not grow without a source of moisture.
Some people are very sensitive to molds. For these people, exposure to molds can cause symptoms such as nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, wheezing, or skin reactions. Severe reactions may occur among workers exposed to large amounts of molds in occupational settings, such as farmers working around moldy hay. Severe reactions may include fever and shortness of breath. Some people with chronic lung illnesses, such as obstructive lung disease, may develop mold infections in their lungs.
In 2004 the Institute of Medicine (IOM) found there was sufficient evidence to link indoor exposure to mold with upper respiratory tract symptoms, coughs, and wheezing in otherwise healthy people; with asthma symptoms in people with asthma; and with hypersensitivity pneumonitis in individuals susceptible to that immune-mediated condition. The IOM also found limited or suggestive evidence linking indoor mold exposure and respiratory illness in otherwise healthy children. In 2009, the World Health Organization issued additional guidance, the WHO Guidelines for Indoor Air Quality: Dampness and Mould. Other recent studies have suggested a potential link of early mold exposure to development of asthma in some children, particularly among children who may be genetically susceptible to asthma development, and that selected interventions that improve housing conditions can reduce morbidity from asthma and respiratory allergies, but more research is needed in this regard.
There is no scientific number that defines either safe or unsafe mold exposure. Some experts proposed airborne mold guidelines, but none of these have been adopted by regulatory agencies. Outdoor mold concentrations vary greatly with respect to time, species, and amount. Exposure to airborne mold outdoors, where levels often exceed thousands of spores per cubic meter, is considered safe for the general public. Except in buildings with extensive mold growth, the amount of mold found in indoor air is usually much less than what is found outdoors. For people with allergies to mold, however, there may be no practical level of exposure, either indoors or outdoors, that would not create discomfort or harm. It is therefore wise to remove and prevent indoor mold growth.
The old adage “the best defense is a good offense” certainly rings true in the case of indoor air quality. You can minimize mold levels and inhibit future mold growth by correcting the deficiencies that make your property vulnerable. Maintaining your HVAC system, controlling humidity and temperature levels, and proactive general maintenance are crucial steps to maintaining a higher level of indoor air quality and protecting your investment.
The first step is to identify and repair the moisture problem. Mold will not grow when there is a low availability of moisture. Small amounts of mold growing on non-porous surfaces can usually be cleaned by the homeowner. Care must be taken to control mold spore diffusion during the cleaning and repair efforts. Larger amounts of mold (greater than 10 square feet) require professional evaluation by a licensed mold assessor and remediation conducted by a licensed mold remediator. You can review the Florida Mold-Related Services Statutes regarding licensing requirements.
Mold spore testing can be useful for conducting health-related research, investigating fungal species-specific health effects, or determining contamination levels of structures. However, mold contamination should be based primarily on a visual assessment, knowledge of the building structure, and the history of water damage in the building. There are many methods of assessing mold exposures but all of them have limitations. Furthermore, mold levels within a structure are highly variable and a large sample number is required to obtain meaningful data. Some research suggests that there may be less variability in data for components of microbiological cell walls than for entire organisms, but questions regarding how well such data corresponds to true exposure still remain.
Once mold has been detected, it must be safely removed by a mold remediator. Mold remediation is the process of isolating, removing, and cleaning any materials found to have fungal contamination. It is also critical for a remediation contractor to identify and remedy the source of the moisture intrusion that caused the mold in the first place.
The source of moisture responsible for the mold growth must have been corrected. No visible mold or related odors should remain in the work area, and there should not be any debris present. For projects where extensive mold growth was identified, work should have been done under containment conditions (a plastic enclosure under negative pressure, evident by the inward movement of plastic walls). The work area should have been thoroughly cleaned using wet methods such as wet wiping with a detergent solution and by vacuuming with a HEPA vacuum.
For additional information on cleaning your HVAC system, please visit:Should You Have the Air Ducts in Your Home Cleaned? - EPA.gov
When porous items such as drywall and carpet get wet, they should be dried within 48 hours or discarded. Porous items or surfaces are those that can soak up water easily, like drywall, clothing textiles, upholstered furniture, leather, paper goods, and many types of artwork or decorative items. Many soft materials can be a food source for mold. When these materials soak up water, moisture can be retained for extended periods and increase the potential mold growth. Foam carpet pads can retain moisture long enough to support mold growth.
Extended periods of high interior relative humidity can lead to mold growth on household contents and building materials, which is indicated by a musty odor. If sewage or dirty water is involved, the materials should be discarded. For assistance on household content restoration or structural restoration from water damage, call AirSpec.
If your landlord will not take responsibility for your mold contamination, review Florida Statute Title VI, Chapter 83, "Landlord and Tenant", Section 201, "Notice to landlord of failure to maintain or repair, rendering premises wholly untentantable; right to withhold rent."
If you feel your builder has not been responsive to your concerns, you should review the building contract and then contact the Better Business Bureau, building code officials, or an attorney.
AirSpec can provide a mold assessment and documentation to prove the existence of mold amplification in your residence.