Carl Brahe, Guest Blogger and Home Inspector, CHI, CCI
There are few homeowner issues that cause as much fear as mold and meth. I get calls from across the country from people who are certain that one or the other is making them sick. My limited experience in these areas is that most of the health problems attributed to mold or meth are actually caused by something else.
Sometimes the causes are obvious. At an office building where I was called to inspect for mold all the employees were complaining of headaches, irritated sinuses and fatigue. As soon as I walked in I was assaulted by a heavy formaldehyde odor from new carpeting that made my eyes water and burned my sinuses. Simultaneously I experienced the worst lighting I’ve ever seen. It made my eyes throb and my head ache. I found no conditions in the building that would allow mold growth.
Mold has received so much media coverage related to terrible deaths and loss of property that people are frightened. Mold spores are everywhere and can grow almost anywhere if conditions are right. Most people have no reaction to most molds, but funguses can be a real concern to people who are sensitive or allergic to molds and people with compromised immune systems.
News reports of “toxic black mold” have lead us to believe that we may die a horrible, debilitating death if we encounter it. Here are some comments made Caoimhin Connell, an Industrial Hygienist, a scientist who is an expert concerning mold in homes:
“It is important to understand that even the term ‘toxic mould’ is a recent creation of the news media — there is no such thing as ‘toxic mould’ per Se, and similarly, there is no significance imparted to “black moulds. Not only are these descriptors created by recent news media. but scientifically there is not even a clear classification for ‘mould’ since any fungus exhibiting filamentous (hairy) extensions is called a ‘mould.’ Therefore, an organism may be a ‘mould’ at certain points in its life cycle, and not a mould at others. Indeed it is possible for a single organism to be a mould, a yeast, and ‘just a fungus,’ at different times in its life depending on its morphological state.”
Testing laboratories and mold remediation companies, in the spirit of the current US business environment, recruit home inspectors to do testing that, as far as I can understand, benefits only the lab. Mr. Connell says this of mold inspectors:
“Recent media coverage of indoor moulds has placed the mould issue into the realm of science fiction. As a result, a plethora of self-certified ‘mould experts’ and ‘certified mould inspectors’ have entered the newly recognized market providing wildly inaccurate and entirely unscientific consultations regarding mould, its occurrence, assessment, significance of human exposures, and remediation protocols.”
A recent TV news investigation found that 4 out of 10 mold experts were unable to tell the difference between “toxic black mold” and mascara. One remediator set up a containment area around a small smear of mascara after asking for $1800 to remediate it.
A condo complex in Durango was damaged by moisture from unusually heavy snows this year. The HOA hired a remediation company make repairs, like replacing wet dry wall, and insulation and drying or replacing wet carpet. “Toxic black mold” was discovered in the process.
Much anxiety, fear and worry followed. The HOA and insurance company diligently worked to restore the integrity of the condos. Tenets feared for their children and reacted as any parents would when their children are threatened. Who wouldn’t be angry to find that a design flaw in their home might kill them and their children? Who wouldn’t have the urge to run screaming from their homes?
There was plenty of confusion, fear, anger and misery to go around based on mold testing done by a local “expert”. The expert followed the protocol taught in mold testing certification training classes around the country. These are usually one day classes presented by big environmental testing laboratories and attended mainly by home inspectors looking to increase their knowledge base and/or find new income sources. The “expert” did everything exactly as it is taught in these classes, and yet he was ignorant, wrong, caused unnecessary grief and rightfully incurred damages.
Industrial Hygienist, Caoimhin P. Connell, on current attitudes about mold:
“In general, scientists and those in the medical field are not mystified about the health effects of molds so much as mystified about the public’s continued irrational fear of indoor molds; in spite of the vast, overwhelming, knowledge that has placed those risks into perspective and concluded that those fears are unfounded.”
“More recently, we have seen the US gripped by an irrational and unfounded fear of indoor molds, and in particular a mold called Stachybotrys atra. In spite of the fact that seven years ago, that report too was debunked and retracted by the Centers for Disease Control. There is no legitimate evidence to show that general indoor exposures to this mold (or any other for that matter) poses any significant threat to human health over and above that which we would see from the outdoor air.”
Mold testing like that done at this development is commonly offered to homeowners for $200 up. Read Mr. Connell’s assessment of the “expert” mold testing done at this condo project. This details how mold testing is routinely done and why it’s wrong and a waste of money.
Visual inspection is the proper method for initial and most mold testing. This is the protocol set by the American Society for Testing and Measurement. The US Center for Disease Control states the following on their website:
“Mold growing in homes and buildings, whether it is Stachybotrys chartarum (Stachybotrys atra) or other molds, indicates that there is a problem with water or moisture. This is the first problem that needs to be addressed
We do not believe that one needs to take any different precautions with Stachybotrys chartarum (Stachybotrys atra), than with other molds.”
Whether it’s the ignorance of the inspector duped into believing he/she is a mold expert by labs and remediation companies, or the hysteria created by media stories of terrible, slow deaths from mold hidden in the walls, or the dishonesty of some people trying to take advantage of our basic fears, mold is a subject that can paralyze a home buyer.
The truth is that mold will grow al
most anywhere there is sufficient moisture for a long enough period and something to digest. Mold spores are everywhere and can lay dormant for thousands of years waiting for moisture to grow. Some molds grow quickly and are territorial. Other molds grow slowly and may not be as aggressive. As in all nature, fungi, including mold, exists in balance with other microbial organisms. It is usually not a good idea to indiscriminately destroy all fungi. We could not live without fungi.
An Industrial Hygiene Critical Review Of Fungal Sampling is a very concise document that illuminates the current state of popular mold testing and its limitations. If you’ve suspected that you have been misled about mold and question the practices of “experts” in the field, here’s your validation.
This report done by Mr. Connell after conducting a proper inspection of the condo complex, involving no lab testing, details appropriate inspection done according to current scientific standards.