How to safely remove mold growing in your house

September 10, 2014 17:01 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed: 

There is mold growing in my house. I’m concerned this might be a health hazard.  How do I know whether I can safely remove it myself, and how do I find a professional, if that is required?

Consumer Ed says: 

Molds do have the potential to cause health problems.  They produce allergens, irritants, and in some cases, potentially toxic substances.  Inhaling or touching mold or mold spores may cause allergic reactions (the onset of which can be immediate or delayed), inducing hay fever-like symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes and skin rashes.  Exposure to molds can irritate the eyes, skin, nose, throat and lungs of both mold-allergic and non-allergic people.

A number of factors should be considered when you’re deciding how to approach mold clean-up.  One consideration is the size of the affected area.  In most cases, if the moldy area is less than about 10 square feet, you can likely handle the job yourself.  However, you should consider hiring a professional in the following circumstances:

  • There has been a lot of water damage and/or mold growth covers an area of more than 10 square feet.
  • The mold damage was caused by sewage or other contaminated water.  Contact a professional who has experience cleaning and fixing buildings damaged by contaminated water.
  • You have health concerns, such as asthma or allergic reactions to mold.
  • You’re unsure about how to clean a particular item (especially if it’s expensive or has sentimental value).  There are specialists in furniture repair, restoration, painting, art restoration and conservation, carpet and rug cleaning, water damage, or fire or water restoration, whom you can consult to make sure the cleaning is done properly and without further damage to the item.


Many skilled consultants and contractors provide mold inspections and remediation services. Here are some suggestions on how to find reliable consultants/contractors, and the things you should ask for when deciding whom to choose:

  • Research the mold remediation company: Ask for references, research the company on the Internet, and check for complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau.
  • Ask for proof of insurance:  Reliable remediation companies should have general business liability and pollution insurance to protect you in case of a claim later.
  • Occupants should be protected:  Ask what methods will be used to protect the occupants of the structure.  Often, a containment system will be required to make sure that mold particles are not spread throughout the structure as materials are removed and decontaminated.
  • Ask what kind of training the company provides to its employees:  Ask for information about the training, education, and experience of its owners and employees to perform mold remediation in a professional and workmanlike manner.
  • Get a written inspection report:  Ask for a written inspection report, including a summary of all the areas inspected, the cause of the mold growth, how to take care of the problem, and any follow-up service on warranties.
  • Get all estimates in writing, and always get more than one estimate.  If you need to find a mold remediation company, search on the website of the American Council for Accredited Certification, a certifying body for indoor air quality professionals (including mold remediation companies): www.acac.org/find/database.aspx. You can also search on www.aiha.org, which has a database for certified industrial hygienists.


When in doubt, you should consult a professional.  But if you do decide to remove the mold yourself, there are several important tips to keep in mind:

  • The key to mold control is moisture control.  Mold spores won’t grow if moisture isn’t present.  If you clean up the mold but don't fix the water problem, the mold will most likely come back.
  • Scrub mold off hard surfaces with detergent and water, and dry completely. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not recommend using chlorine bleach for mold cleanup; however, if you do use bleaches, always ventilate the area and use an exhaust fan to shuttle the fumes to the outdoors.  Never mix chlorine bleach solution with other cleaning solutions or detergents that contain ammonia, because the mixture could result in toxic fumes that are dangerous to breathe.
  • Absorbent or porous materials, such as ceiling tiles and carpet, may have to be thrown away if they become moldy.  This is because mold can grow into the empty spaces and crevices of porous materials, and may be difficult or impossible to remove completely.
  • Avoid exposing yourself or others to mold.  Wear an N-95 respirator, which is available at many hardware stores and online.  Wear long gloves that extend to the middle of the forearm, and goggles that do not have ventilation holes (to avoid getting mold or mold spores in your eyes).
  • Don’t paint or caulk moldy surfaces.  Clean up the mold and dry the surfaces before painting or caulking.  Any such materials that are applied over moldy surfaces are likely to peel.

 

For more information about mold remediation, visit the EPA’s website at www.epa.gov/mold/index.html, the CDC’s website at www.cdc.gov/mold/, and the Georgia Department of Public Health’s website at www.dph.georgia.gov/indoor-air-quality.

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Can I get out of my apartment lease due to serious mold problem?

January 6, 2014 20:12 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:

I recently moved to a new apartment from out of state.  I put in a service request with the property manager because the carpet in my son's room was very wet and smelled of mold.  After looking at the apartment, the property manager realized that the mold issue was serious.  I explained that I would be out of town for four days.  She said when I returned I would have to move out immediately and that she would show me another unit.  The problem is that they began the work the day before I returned home by knocking down the wall and exposing the mold.  They were well aware that I had a dog in the house, and part of our agreement was to wait until I returned home before beginning the work.  I am concerned about the effects that high exposure to this mold might have had on my dog.  Also, who is responsible financially for moving me into another unit?  Having just relocated to Georgia, I have no friends or family who can help me move.  I called management to complain about the work being started before my return, but no one has called me back.  At this point, I am so unhappy with the management here that I just want to get out of my lease. What can I do?

Consumer Ed Says:

The first thing you may want to do is consult the Landlord-Tenant Handbook , which can be found on the Department of Community Affairs' website. The Handbook has a discussion of "constructive eviction", which may be a way for you to get out of your lease. There are two things necessary to show that there has been a constructive eviction:

 

  • the landlord's failure to repair has made the unit an unfit place for the tenant to live; and
  • the unit cannot be restored to a fit condition by ordinary repairs. 

 

This is quite possibly what is going on with your apartment.  Your landlord and/or its agent, the property management company, failed to make the repairs necessary to prevent a serious mold issue from developing; now, this mold problem is so extreme that you need to move to a different unit.  However, your lease is for the specific unit into which you originally moved, not for a different unit.  The property manager may be showing you other units as a convenience or so that he or she doesn't lose a rent-paying customer, but unless your lease specifies that you are obligated to accept a reasonable alternative apartment in the event of a constructive eviction, you may not be under any obligation to continue renting from this company.  However, you should consult an attorney before taking any definitive action.

With regard to the effect of the mold on your dog, you probably have no recourse unless your dog is acting differently than usual (not eating or drinking, sneezing/wheezing, listless, etc.).  Limited natural exposure to mold spores is a part of everyday life, and is typically not a health threat.  However, prolonged exposure to elevated levels of mold spores is what can cause a reaction in otherwise healthy individuals (animal or human).  On the other hand, it's always possible that your dog could be hypersensitive to mold spores, and could experience serious health reactions despite only minor exposure to mold.  Common reactions include nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, wheezing, or skin irritation.  If you believe your dog has become ill from the mold exposure, you should contact a veterinarian, and then, if the vet can confirm the dog's illness was caused by the mold, speak to an attorney to explore your options for legal action.

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How can I test for asbestos, mold and mildew in my home?

October 24, 2013 19:14 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:

Are there government labs where a person can bring a sample to have it tested for asbestos, mildew and mold?

Consumer Ed Says:

No, but various government agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have specific recommendations for how and whether to test samples for asbestos, mildew, and mold.

Asbestos

If you would like to test for asbestos, the EPA recommends using an accredited laboratory in your area. After Congress enacted the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act of 1986, the National Institute of Standards and Technology developed a voluntary accreditation program for two types of laboratory testing: the Polarized Light Microscopy (PLM) Test Method, a test to determine the asbestos content in materials; and the Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM) Test Method, for determining the presence and amount of asbestos in air samples. To find an accredited lab in Georgia, visit http://ts.nist.gov/standards/scopes/plmtm.htm (PLM Test Method) and http://ts.nist.gov/standards/scopes/temtm.htm (TEM Test Method). For more information about asbestos, visit http://www2.epa.gov/asbestos.

If you would like to talk with a government official about your potential asbestos problem, you should contact Georgia's state asbestos consultant, Mindy Crean, by calling (404) 363-7043 or by e-mailing her at mindy.crean@dnr.state.ga.us.

Mold and Mildew

The CDC generally discourages people from testing any mold found in their home. If mold is touched or smelled, there's a potential health risk; therefore, if you believe you have mold, no matter what type, you should arrange for its removal. Reliable sampling for mold can be expensive, and standards for judging what is and what is not an acceptable or tolerable quantity of mold have not been established. If you do decide to pay for environmental sampling for molds, before the work starts, you should ask the consultants who will do the work to establish criteria for interpreting the test results. The results of samples taken in your unique situation cannot be interpreted without physical inspection of the contaminated area, or without considering the building's characteristics and the factors that led to the present condition.

For more information, you can go to the CDC's website, or to the Environmental Protection Agency's website: www.epa.gov/mold/moldguide.html. To locate a reliable mold testing/remediation company, you can visit the Better Business Bureau's site at www.bbb.org.


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