Mold Health and Safety
There are several situations when you should be concerned about exposure to mold: you’ve had a water intrusion or leak, you have health symptoms not otherwise explained, or you see visible spots more than a few inches across. You should also pay attention to musty odors and evidence of water damage such as stains and discoloration on ceilings, walls, or flooring.
Health professionals have learned a lot about mold’s effects in the last few decades, and today’s more air-tight homes are more susceptible to mold growth than older construction. So all the talk about mold problems is real, not a fad or scare tactic.
The Health Effects of Mold Growth
Mold is a type of fungus, and people are subject to fungus infections. But that’s not usually the problem. Whether visible or hidden within a crawlspace or behind bathroom tiles, all species release compounds that are irritants and trigger allergies or asthma attacks. Over time these can develop into respiratory problems requiring medical treatment, with infants and children especially susceptible Symptoms to be aware of include the following.
- runny nose
- sinus congestion
- coughing or sneezing
- respiratory problems (wheezing, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath)
- throat irritations
- eye irritations
- fatigue or weakness
- difficulty concentrating, poor memory
- diarrhea, bloating
Wikipedia lists some specific medical conditions that can be caused by or worsened by mold (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mold_health_issues).
- respiratory infections
- chronic rhinosinusitis
- allergic fungal sinusitis
- Specific medical issues include
Certain sub-species of Aspergillus can directly infect lungs or other parts of the body, and some individuals may experience chronic inflammatory response syndrome.
Some species also release toxins, called mycotoxins. They interfere with nerve functions, and can even lead to death. You’ve probably heard horror stories about black mold, yet other than Stachybotrys chartarum most black-colored species aren’t toxic. But many species of other colors are toxic, with effects ranging from headaches to permanent nerve damage.
Mold Remediation Health and Safety
The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is charged with the responsibility of keeping workplaces safe and healthy for employees. That includes indoor air quality, and mold’s contaminants in particular. There’s no set standard for test results such as mold spore counts, but their regulations make it clear that a company is responsible for such hazards. They also specify training and personal protective equipment for those involved in mold removal.
Homeowners should settle for nothing less.
If you have a visible mold problem 3-4 feet across or more, you smell that characteristic musty odor, or a health professional has told you that mold is a likely cause of a health concern then there’s really no need for inspection and mold testing before taking action. You have a problem and it needs to be remedied as soon as possible. An expert assessment by a certified inspector will then determine exactly what needs to be done, including locating hidden moisture that’s likely to be accompanied by mold growth. In some circumstances lab testing samples taken from the air, furniture and building surfaces, and bulk building materials can provide further insight. That’s especially important when there’s been serious health issues.
Mold Removal Protections
You can take care of those small problems yourself but take the proper precautions, as removal activities kick even more allergens, toxins, and spores up into the air. So close your working area off from the rest of your home and ventilate it to the outdoors. You should also seal all the wastes you collect to keep from spreading contamination on their way to disposal. Most importantly you need to protect yourself during the process. Precautions include wearing gloves, eye protection, and a face mask filter covering your nose and mouth.
Chemical cleaning with bleach or mold & mildew removal products are fine for hard surfaces such as glazed tile. But they reach only a tiny bit below the surface of porous materials, leaving plenty ready to grow back. The same goes for for mold and mildew blocking paint primers. Only physical removal really works. That can mean sanding or wire brushing until there’s no more evidence of mold or dampness. It’s critical to be as thorough as possible and it’s a good idea to follow up with vacuuming out duct work and cleaning your carpets. Affected building materials such as acoustic ceiling tiles, drywall (gypsum board, sheet rock, or plaster), and wood should be removed completely.
The above is only a brief outline. The EPA’s webpage https://www.epa.gov/mold/mold-cleanup-your-home includes detailed guidelines on do-it-yourself measures as well as on hiring a professional remediation company.