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Certified Inspector: Mr. John Dexter

After a heavy rain storm or hurricane, a family may come home to this! With so much rain and humidity in Florida, ceiling mold isn't unusual, but this amount is! Mold is easy to find in homes, and most molds are easily treatable, nontoxic, and require minimal effort to keep them in check. However, there are molds that are health risks and we are trained and certified Pro-Lab laboratories mold inspectors; able to recognize the difference. We offer mold inspection and air quality for mold with your home inspection and can tell you if your mold needs removing or just cleaning.
Mold

Defining Mold - The presence of mold, water damage, or musty odors should be addressed immediately. In all instances, any source(s) of water must be stopped and the extent of water damage determined. Water damaged materials should be dried and repaired. Sampling is then recommended to determine the type and extent of the existing mold. Mold is a structural, health and environmental problem. Some mold defects can't be seen and will only be detected through sampling.

Stachybotrys
This mold is a slow growing fungus. It grows well on high cellulose materials like straw, grass, saw dust, lumber and drywall plaster board or ceiling tiles. Like a fungi, it requires a moisture source. About 15 species of Stachybotrys can be found worldwide, but it is most common in the Western U. S. Generally, this mold grows where the relative humidity is above 55 percent or the material is water-saturated. In studies conducted in North America, Stachybotrys was found in 2 to 3 percent of home environments sampled.

Mold Disease - Stachybotrys atra spores are breathed into the lungs. Persons with chronic exposure to the toxin report cold or flu-like symptoms with sore throat, diarrhea, headaches, fatigue, dermatitis, intermittent local hair loss and general malaise. The toxins may also suppress the immune system. Infants may be particularly susceptible to the effects of these inhaled mycotoxins because their lungs are growing very rapidly. Mycotoxins are lipid-soluble and are readily absorbed by the intestinal lining, airways, and skin.

How to Control Stachybotrys - Homes and buildings with water damage should be repaired, the source of moisture eliminated, and all moldy material should be removed. Reduce humidity in the home with adequate venting of appliances such as dryer vents, bathroom and kitchen cooking vents, etc. Even "excessively sealed" homes with inadequate air exchange can cause high humidity inside from showers, cooking, laundry, etc. Although some molds can be killed by cleaning the moldy surface with chlorine. Stachybotrys often has a germ, mycelium, that is buried inside the water damaged surface that may be inaccessible to chlorine. It is best to remove all of the water damaged material.

Aspergillus
A group of molds which is found everywhere world-wide, especially in the autumn and winter in the Northern hemisphere. Only a few of these molds can cause illness in humans and animals. Most people are naturally immune and do not develop disease caused by Aspergillus. However, when disease does occur, it takes several forms.

Mold Disease - The type of diseases caused by Aspergillus are varied, ranging from an allergy-type illness to life-threatening generalised infections. Diseases caused by Aspergillus are called aspergillosis. The severity of aspergillosis is determined by various factors, but one of the most important is the state of the immune system of the person.

Allergic Bronchopulmonary Aspergillosis (ABPA) - This is a condition which produces an allergy to the spores of the Aspergillus molds. It is quite common in asthmatics; up to 20% of asthmatics might get this at some time during their lives.

Aspergilloma - The type of diseases caused by Aspergillus are varied, ranging from an allergy-type illness to life-threatening generalised infections. Diseases caused by Aspergillus are called aspergillosis. The severity of aspergillosis is determined by various factors, but one of the most important is the state of the immune system of the person.

Aspergillus Sinusitis - The type of diseases caused by Aspergillus are varied, ranging from an allergy-type illness to life-threatening generalised infections. Diseases caused by Aspergillus are called aspergillosis. The severity of aspergillosis is determined by various factors, but one of the most important is the state of the immune system of the person.

Invasive Aspergillosis - The type of diseases caused by Aspergillus are varied, ranging from an allergy-type illness to life-threatening generalised infections. Diseases caused by Aspergillus are called aspergillosis. The severity of aspergillosis is determined by various factors, but one of the most important is the state of the immune system of the person.

Penicillium
Some Penicillium species are fairly common indoor fungi, even in clean environments. This particular specie of fungi can proliferate in abundance in indoor environments. P. species can be found at the sub-basement levels offices and rooms, in libraries, auditorium, storage room of paper materials and also in ventilation systems. Some P. species can produce small, nondescript conidia and complex mixtures of metabolites that are more or less toxic.

Like other molds, spores have the highest concentrations of mycotoxin, although the vegetative portion of the mold, the mycelium, can also contain the poison.

Disease - Exposure to the various penicillium toxin can result in the following ill health effects:

  • Patulin, a toxin from P. expansum: cytotoxic and/or carcinogenic
  • Citrinin, a toxin from P. citrinum, -expansum & -viridicatum:nephrotoxic
  • Ochratoxin, a toxin from P. cyclopium & -viridicatum: nephrotoxic

Poria
Two major differences between poria and ordinary decay fungi are that ordinary decay fungi require the structure to provide the water (green wood, rain and plumbing leaks, condensation), while poria provides its own water through rhizomorphs connected to moist soil outside the structure, and poria dies quickly when deprived of water, while ordinary decay fungi usually just go dormant. These differences make both the detection and control of poria very different from those of ordinary decay fungi. An inspector who does not accurately diagnose poria infection can make a company responsible for repairing extensive decay, including that already repaired, within less than a year; or, in the extreme, razing and rebuilding the entire structure.

Mold Overview

Even though it's been around for thousand's of years, mold is a relatively new issue of concern in residential housing. Mold contamination has led to numerous lawsuits across the country, and its attention has catapulted to the top of popular media such as Dateline NBC, Newsweek, Time magazine and The Wall Street Journal. It has even been referred to as the asbestos of the new millennium, inferring that mold is an issue of paramount concern among the real estate community. Moisture from roof leaks, hidden plumbing leaks and basement water penetrations are the most obvious potential contributors to an interior mold problem.

Because the issue of mold has entered the mainstream so quickly, science has yet to catch up. Guidelines for mold measurement and exposure have not yet been established, but one thing is clear. As the financial toll of mold continues to increase dramatically, measures need to be implemented in order to minimize your financial risk and liability exposure.

What Is Mold?

Molds are simple, microscopic organisms whose purpose in the ecosystem is to break down organic materials. They can be found wherever there are organic materials and moisture, which are the necessary ingredients for mold growth. Molds are found both indoors and outdoors, and in any area of the country. Some are visible, some are not.

Except in structures where all of the incoming air is cleaned, there is never going to be a mold-free condition. Therefore, when checking a house for mold, the intent is to have the indoor mold condition equal to or lesser than the outdoor condition. Mold screening of the indoor and outdoor conditions determine if an outdoor mold problem exists and what types of molds are growing indoors.

Mold spores generally enter a home on air currents, clothing, shoes and house pets. They thrive particularly well on cellulose materials such as wood, drywall, ceiling tiles and carpet. When a mold spore comes into contact with a suitable surface, it germinates and begins to grow. Each mold colony (mycelium) then produces millions of microscopic spores within a few days, and continues to grow as long as sufficient moisture is present.

A small portion of mold may be visible on the surface of a material. However, it is this part of the mold that usually releases the largest amounts of reproductive spores. These spores facilitate further germination and present the potential health threat we hear so much about today. According to the New York City Department of Health's Facts about Mold, (February 28, 2001), mold spores can be released into the air when mold material becomes damaged or disturbed. Homeowners are exposed to mold when they inhale spores, handle moldy materials or accidentally ingest mold. Molds can also produce mycotoxins, which, according to the EPA, can produce serious health effects.

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Health Effects Of Mold Exposure

The health effects from mold exposure may be:

  • Respiratory failure/asthma

  • Flu symptoms/headaches

  • Nose bleeds/bleeding lungs

  • Neurological disorders

  • Memory loss

  • Dizziness

  • Learning disabilities

  • Death

Note: The more serious health effects listed above are most commonly found in people who already have compromised systems.

Mold Types

There are approximately 100,000 genera of mold species known today, with approximately 80 genera suspected of causing some form of illness. Only a fraction of the 80 genera are considered toxic. Molds are organized into three groups according to human responses: Allergenic, Pathogenic and Toxigenic.

Allergenic Molds
Allergenic molds do not usually produce life-threatening health effects, and are most likely to affect those who are already allergic or asthmatic. The human system responses to allergenic molds tend to be relatively mild, typically producing only scratchy throats and rashes.

Pathogenic Molds
Pathogenic molds usually produce some type of infection. They can cause serious health effects in persons with suppressed immune systems, although a normal, healthy individual can probably resist infection by these organisms regardless of dose. In some cases, high exposure may cause hypersensitivity pneumonitis (an acute response to exposure to an organism).

Toxigenic Molds
Mycotoxins can cause serious health effects in almost anybody. These agents have toxic effects in ranging from short-term irritation to immuno-suppression and possibly cancer. Therefore, when toxigenic molds are found further evaluation is recommended.

Conducive Conditions For Mold Growth

  • Moisture. When looking for the source of a mold growth, look for moisture. Spores can survive in as little as 65% humidity.

  • Food Source. Food sources for mold are the organic materials in a structure, such as wood, drywall, insulation, and natural fibers, which may have been exposed to moisture.

  • Raw Materials. Even before a new home is built, it's raw materials can collect moisture and mold. Especially if it is exposed to the weather.

  • Minimal Air Circulation. An example of minimal air circulation is two pieces of wood coming together, such as where a floor joist meets a band joist.

  • HVAC Systems. HVAC systems and ductwork often contains porous materials, moisture, and dirt.

Mold Exposure Standards

No scientific exposure standards currently exist for mold. Some believe that the development of exposure standards could be years away. According to the EPA's report on Indoor Air Quality, the EPA has not established uniform air quality standards covering airborne biological substances such as fungal spores. This is due to a lack of convincing epidemiological evidence.

Even with the EPA's statement of health concern, there are still no EPA regulations or standards today for mold contamination and exposure. The reason for this, according to the New York City Department of Health's Guidelines of Assessments and Remediation of Fungi in Indoor Environments is susceptibility varies with the genetic predisposition, age, state of health and concurrent exposures. For these reasons, and because measurements of exposure are not standardized it is not possible to determine precise "safe" or "unsafe" levels of exposure for people in general. One can drawn analogy between mold and cigarette smoking. The exact number of cigarettes per day that lead to cancer has never been defined, yet it is generally recognized within the epidemiological and medical communities that smoking is a clear health threat. Nevertheless, the growing mountain of anecdotal medical evidence leads many experts with whom we have spoken to speculate that some standard of safe and unsafe exposure will eventually be developed for mold, just as they were with radon in the late 1980's.

In 1994, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reviewed a case control study in the Cleveland, Ohio area of the first 10 cases of pulmonary hemosiderosis, which results from bleeding of the lungs. In a subsequent report, Pulmonary Hemorrhage Among Infants, the CDC concluded that pulmonary hemosiderosis was associated directly with increased levels of household fungi, including the toxin-producing mold Stachybotrys. But in a recent update on that study, the CDC reversed its initial conclusions and now believes that an association was not adequately proven and that more CDC research is necessary.

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Mold Screening and Testing

Although there are no defined standards or exposure limits, it is possible to identify houses with mold contamination by comparing the indoor and outdoor levels of mold spores using the air sampling method. A review of the recommendations by the nation's leading testing laboratories shows air sampling to be the method of choice for residential mold screening.

When properties are found to have higher levels of mold indoors than outdoors, further investigation is recommended. It is assumed that a higher ratio of indoor mold is indicative of an internal mold growth, which, if confirmed, should be corrected. It is generally believed by the scientific community that elevated levels of mold would be inevitably lead to the discovery of some form of moisture penetration such as a leaky roof, hidden plumbing leak or other water infiltration problem.

The following are two common methods of screening for mold: air sampling and sterile swab sampling.

Air Sampling

Screening by air sampling (one of the most reliable, quick and cost-efficient mold tests available today) is recommended if, during an inspection or otherwise, conducive conditions or evidence of mold is discovered. This sampling method requires that at least two samples be taken, one outside and one inside the property. Air samples should be taken inside in any of the rooms where indications of mold are discovered. Only one sample is taken outdoors, called the reference sample, and it is used for comparison to all the other samples taken inside. Indoor/Outdoor mold ratios are often the primary evidence suggesting the likely presence of mold growth within the property.

The air samples are sent to a laboratory specializing in mold analysis.

Note: Air sampling should be avoided if it is raining or recently rained, if it is windy (30 mph or more), or there is a heavy amount of dust in the air (e.g. nearby construction).

Sterile Swab Sampling

Screening by sterile swab sampling can be performed when there are visible signs of mold growth. An individually packaged, sterile swab is used to wipe and collect a sample from the surface of the mold. A separate swab is used for each kind of mold found in the property.

The sample is then forwarded to the laboratory for analysis.

Mold In The Media: Hype vs. Reality

Even though molds have been in existence for thousands of years, only recently have they been in the spotlight. This is largely attributable to the media, which has generated a significant amount of hype among homeowners and the real estate community.

The New York Times (August 24, 2001) article, Haunted by Mold, reported that one California lawyer, alone, is handling mold complaints for approximately 1,000 clients. No matter where one may draw the line between hype and reality, mold is clearly shaping up to be a very expensive epidemic for the real estate community.

In the July 2, 2001 issue of Time magazine, Beware: Toxic Mold reveals several examples of real estate losses due to mold problems during the last two years. The article reports that homeowners have paid thousands of dollars for repairs to their homes due to mold. In one case, a property owner burned down his home as a last resort since repairs would have exceeded the cost of new construction.

According to No Sold if There's Mold, which appeared in Real Estate News (April 26, 2001), the biggest problem with molds is once they have invaded a home, they can't be killed, particularly if the conditions that fostered the molds aren't changed. When molds get into walls, flooring or roofing structures, the repair costs can be tremendous. Any environmental issue that carries such significant financial exposure should not be ignored.

As reported CBS 48 Hours news story An Insidious Mold, aired on September 28, 2000, the Ballard family of Houston, TX was ordered by the local health department to evacuate their house. They had to move at a moment's notice, leaving dishes in the dishwasher and food in the refrigerator. Mold had infiltrated beneath 2,500 square feet of wooden flooring, rendering their home uninhabitable.

Mold has even extended its reach into the insurance industry. The influx of insurance claims has led one Houston-based insurance claims firm to hire its ninth microbiologist this year alone. Last year this firm did not have one microbiologist on its entire staff, reported The Wall Street Journal in its June 6th, 2001 article Insurers Blanch at Proliferation of Homeowners Mold Claims. It has brought up a sense of hysteria, said Michael Thompson, chief executive officer of Engineering & Fire Investigations, a Houston-based subsidiary of claims specialist GAB Robins North America, which will only wind up costing multiple millions of dollars to homeowners and insurance companies alike. A Dallas newspaper recently confirmed this prediction.

A Dallas Morning News article (August 22, 2001) titled Mold Policy May Delay Home Sales, reported that Farmers Insurance Company had received more than 1,000 new mold-related claims this year. As a result, Farmers Insurance hired Independent actuaries that estimated the insurance companies would pay $128.5 million in mold claims in the Texas market in 2001. With these kinds of losses continuing to build, Farmers, along with Allstate and Progressive Insurance Company, have stopped selling new policies for home insurance in the Texas market. This movement within the insurance industry has presented many challenges for the real estate community. Closings are delayed, and other insurance providers must be pursued.

A blurred line exists between where the science of mold ends and the hype of mold begins. With all the attention being drawn to mold, it is important to dig through the hype to reveal the blatant facts. No matter how you look at it, mold is a reality, and so is the financial nightmare that is riding its coattails and plaguing the real estate community.

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