Topics Covered

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What is Mold?

Molds are a member of the fungi family, which also includes mushrooms and yeasts.  Molds are simple microscopic organisms that occur in the natural environment and are found virtually everywhere.

There are over a hundred thousand different species of molds.   Molds are a part of nature’s recycling system, and play an important role in breaking down plants, leaves, wood, and other organic matter.

In order to grow, molds require food (organic materials), suitable temperatures, and moisture.  As mold colonies mature, they reproduce by creating spores which are released into the air.  The spores then drift to find new locations to colonize.  Since molds grow in nature virtually throughout our world, there is always a background level of mold spores present in the air, indoors and out.

When moisture intrusion occurs in human habitations, mold growth can start to occur within 3 to 5 days.  Often mold is not immediately noticeable, and can be hidden inside walls and ceilings, under carpeting, or in other hard to view places.  An experienced inspector, familiar with mold fact, building construction, and moisture intrusion is often required to locate and diagnose the extent of the mold problem.

Mildew is essentially the same as mold.  We like to call mold that appears due to excessive humidity (such as in bathrooms) “mildew”.  Mildew usually does not make a significant impact on indoor air quality.  Small amounts of mildew can usually be taken care of through routine housekeeping.  However, if mildew becomes severe (more than 1 square foot), professional help should be obtained.

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Is the Presence of Mold in My Environment Unhealthy?

When mold growth occurs in human habitations, sometimes it can cause ill affects to occupants.  As mold is actively growing, often emitting a characteristic musty odor, volatile organic chemicals (known as Mold VOCs) are released into the environment which may cause health symptoms in some individuals.  This problem usually stops once the mold dries out.

As mold matures its spores are released.  Elevated concentrations of spores indoors may cause some persons to experience a variety of health affects, usually involving the respiratory system.  These include allergy symptoms, asthma, sore throat, and coughing.  Symptoms that may occur less frequently include headaches, nausea, skin rashes, and more.

Because people react differently to airborne mold spores and Mold VOCs, there is no way to predict if mold is truly a health hazard for any given individual.  However generally speaking, it is best for everyone – and especially the elderly, children, and people with certain health conditions (such as asthma, immune deficiencies, or respiratory problems) to avoid exposure to airborne mold above normal background amounts.

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What About Toxic Mold?

Of the over one hundred thousand of species of mold found in the environment, some molds are well known to produce compounds known as “mycotoxins”.  Some mycotoxins, such as penicillin, are useful to mankind.  Not all strains of a particular species of a mold may form mycotoxins, and molds may not form mycotoxins under all growth conditions (differing temperature, moisture levels, and food sources).  Also the color of mold (i.e., black mold) is not reliable as there are many species that are the same color, some of which do not develop mycotoxins.

However, others are well known to be hazardous to animals and humans when a significant dose occurs.  There are many case histories of humans and animals becoming seriously ill after eating mold infested grains.

In regards to mold toxins and their impact on indoor air quality, published peer-reviewed studies by reputable science-based research groups, including the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences have concluded that in indoor air quality settings, mold toxin exposure levels are not significant and are highly unlikely to reach levels that would cause a toxic effect on building occupants.  Because science indicates this is the case, lawsuits claiming damage to individuals due to “toxic mold” effects are now generally unsuccessful.

Still, there seems to be a ongoing disconnect from what sometimes exposed individuals report as their experience from being exposed to mold fact and what is generally agreed by medical professionals to be “typical” symptoms of mold exposure.

Regardless if molds cause a “toxic” hazard or not, it has been long established (and accepted by scientists and the courts) that the presence of nearly any mold and building dampness can cause a variety of respiratory effects and asthma.  As such, any mold problem is potentially a health threat and therefore needs to be assessed and dealt with quickly and effectively.

Gold Health and Safety’s response to the “toxic mold” question is simple.  Significant mold growth does not belong indoors regardless of the species.  Since all types of mold growth are remediated using the same method, under most circumstances it is more important to help our clients to focus on locating and eliminating mold problems than it is to identify the particular type of mold species present.

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Mold, Property Values, and Liability

In California, the knowledge that mold growth and/or water damage is or was present in a structure requires property sellers to disclose its presence to buyers.  Because of the impact on property values and the potential for lawsuits, prompt remediation of mold problems is usually the best course of action.

Many home buyers have a mold inspection done prior to buying new real estate, especially when the property has had a history of moisture intrusion or other warning signs are present.  Mold can definitely affect the value and saleability of property.

Landlords also can have substantial liability when mold is found in a tenant’s unit.  Lawsuits for tenant exposure to mold are relatively common.  We recommend that landlords react quickly whenever mold is suspected, and to make sure that only well-qualified mold inspectors are used, and with no conflicts of interest (i.e., unrelated to remediation firms).  Also, it is best to be open with your tenants about the existence of the problem, and what steps you are going to take to deal with it.  Tenants tend to become more distrustful and seek legal assistance when they believe that the landlord is trying to hide something from them.

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I Have Water Damage.  Will Mold Grow Immediately?

Microbiologists believe that growth begins in about 24 to 48 hours after mold spores contact moisture.  The prompt removal of excess moisture is essential to minimize the chance that mold will grow.  Therefore, if a leak or spill wets a structure’s interior, it’s critical to obtain drying services from an experienced disaster restoration firm immediately.

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If the Mold is Old or Killed with Disinfectant, Can It Still Affect Occupants?  Can’t I Just Spray Bleach On It?

Mold can cause health affects even when it’s dead.  This is because proteins that are present in the surface of the mold fragments and spores are what causes allergies.

Since this is the case, the process of remediating mold is focused on removing the mold growth reservoirs and spores rather than just killing it.  Adding moisture to moldy areas may worsen the problem.  Minor surface mold growth (mildew) can sometimes be wiped off, but an expert should evaluate whether or not this is the proper course of action.  When the whole wall has been wetted, there is likely to be more mold growth inside the wall cavity than what can be seen on the surface.  You can’t remove mold from inside of wall cavities by wiping off the surface of the wall or by spraying chemicals inside of it.  The only way to remove the mold is by fully opening the wall.

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How Do I Know When I Need A Mold Inspection?

A mold inspection is recommended when any of the following occurs:

  • History of  moisture intrusion in a structure, such as plumbing or roof leaks, flooding, and water damage or stains;
  • Musty or mildew smell; “damp” feeling;
  • Suspect visible mold or moisture damage to interior walls is present;
  • Standing water or chronically damp soil against the structure exterior; or,
  • Occupants have health effects that lessen when they leave the structure (respiratory distress, sore throats, headaches, etc.).

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What about Bathroom Mold and Mildew (like, in my shower)?

Assuming that we are talking only about minor surface mold (i.e., no damaged wall surfaces or moisture intrusion into the walls), you can clean this off with an appropriate household cleaning product.  Making sure the moisture gets out of the bathroom quickly after showering or bathing will help prevent this from happening.  Running the exhaust fan and/or opening the window whenever showering will help greatly.

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Is Mold Testing and Identification Necessary?

As stated above, testing molds to identify the species present is not usually necessary to deal with the problem.  However, determining the mold’s impact on indoor air quality, both before and after remediation, is important.  Air sampling with laboratory analysis helps to determine the amount of airborne mold spores indoors, and what efforts are needed to restore air quality to normal conditions to protect building occupants.  A remediation Scope of Work often cannot be completed without this information.  Therefore, under most circumstances, we recommend that an adequate number of air samples be collected and analyzed prior to and after mold remediation.

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What About Those Test Kits That They Sell at Hardware Stores?

Home tests (settling plates) are largely worthless.  Among other reasons, they don’t  give you a quantification (i.e., amount) of the mold spores present because air flow and collection time is not controlled.  This method also uses viable mold counts as a measurement, which is not a comprehensive measurement of all mold spores present in the air.  Settling plates are not used by professionals.  They are not admissible in court either.  Save your time and money and call a professional if you want an accurate and useful sample.

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How Fast Do I Get the Lab Results Back?

Usually two business days.  Faster lab turnaround is available for additional fees.  Once we receive the information from the lab, we will contact you via telephone as soon as possible to discuss the results, and will follow up with our written report usually within 5 business days.

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What Happens After the Investigation?

Our reports can include a Scope of Work when needed.  This can be given to mold remediation contractors to obtain bids.  Once you’re satisfied that you have adequate bids, select the remediation contractor to perform the work.  Most reputable remediation contractors won’t perform work without an independent consultant’s Scope of Work.

After the remediation contractor is done, and before the area is re-constructed, we return to the site to perform a post-remediation inspection.  This is to assure that the mold has been adequately removed and that air quality conditions have been returned to normal.  Once we determine that the job has been adequately performed, the remediation is considered complete and you can hire a general contractor to re-construct the area as needed.

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Will I Need to Move Out Because of a Mold Problem?

We rarely tell people to move out.  That judgment is best made by the occupants and their doctors.  However, if occupants are feeling ill or have chronic respiratory illnesses or immune system problems, and airborne mold levels are high, it’s a good idea to consider temporarily vacating.  Also, if the remediation project blocks necessary living spaces, moving out during the work might be necessary from a practical standpoint.

Moving out may also be necessary during the remediation phase due to the construction activity blocking access to bathrooms, kitchens, or other areas of the home.  A lot of this depends on where the problem is and how extensive it is.

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Do I Need a Mold Remediator? Can’t I do it Myself or Use a Handyman or General Contractor?

Size and location does count…but generally speaking, it’s a bad idea to use someone who does not have the equipment and training to conduct a mold remediation.  Mold growth reservoirs can contain millions of microscopic spores that can become airborne very easily.  Improper remediation can spread mold spore contamination into the air and make a bigger problem.  We’ve seen it happen several times.

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Why Don’t You Do Remediation? Why Do I Need to Hire Someone Else?

We are health and safety consultants, not contractors.  We also wish to avoid any potential conflict of interest.  We suggest that you avoid remediation contractors that rebuild the remediated areas as this can lead to conflicts of interest.

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What About My Possessions? Will I Need to Throw Them Out?

This depends on the extent of the mold contamination—another reason why sampling is important.  Porous surfaced items with mold growth on it should be disposed.  Porous items (furniture, carpeting, soft toys) that are contaminated by heavy amounts of airborne mold spores may need to be disposed of.  Hard surfaced, non-porous items, and washable items (clothing, linens, dishes, etc.) usually can be cleaned.  The care of contents should be addressed during the remediation process.

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