An Introduction to Mold Assessments

In our first blog article on mold, we explored Mold Myths.  In the next one, we provided a general description of Mold Assessments.  Now, we will take those Assessments to the next level.  That is, we will go into more detail on how the information and data are interpreted and what the conclusions may be.  Keep in mind that while these Assessments are based on published scientific literature and guidelines, they remain the professional opinion of Environmental Safety Consultants, Inc. (ESC).

There are several areas of the Assessment that will be addressed in this article.  These include moisture content, inspection findings, on site (in situ) readings, laboratory results on various types of mold samples, and interview information.  Keep in mind that the Assessment needs to be conducted by a Florida-licensed Mold-Related Services Assessor (MRSA) not also serving as the Florida-licensed Mold-Related Services Remediator.  For a lot of reasons, and certainly if there is a potential for litigation, you may want to make sure the MRSA is also a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH, see www.abih.org).  You can also find CIHs in the Consultants Directory (www.aiha.org).

Mold AssessmentsFurther details on the moisture content of building materials are provided here.  Remember that the thermal imaging camera is used to identify materials that are cooler, perhaps due to the evaporation of water.   A moisture meter is then used to confirm or refute the presence of water.  These meters can be used in the survey or penetrating mode.  In the survey mode, readings are taken from the surface of the build-ing material, whereas in the penetrating mode, pin holes or larger holes are made and the readings are taken at a certain depth.  The readings are usually standardized to a common unit, such as wood moisture equivalent (WME).  Readings of 16 to 20% WME are considered borderline moist while those exceed-ing 20% WME are usually considered excessively moist.  This level of moisture is capable of supporting the growth of mold.  Thus, if this level is found, mold could be present in the building material, wall cavity air, etcetera.

Surface samples are of two basic types – cello-tape or sticky tape samples and swab samples.  Both types collect living, dead, and dormant mold.  Both can be analyzed directly under the microscope in a third party laboratory accredited by the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA).  The examination evaluates the sample for the genuses or genera of mold, percent coverage, and growth structures present.  ESC usually has the swabs streaked on nutrient agar plates (i.e., Petri dishes) in the laboratory.  They are then held under controlled conditions and evaluated for the genuses or genera of mold, percent coverage, and extent of growth (Colony FormingUnits or CFUs).  Whatever the analysis is, ESC uses internal criteria to determine if significant mold contamination is present.

Spore traps collect living, dead, and dormant mold in the air.  The genera of mold, concentration (counts or spores per cubic meter), and growth structures are reported. ESC typically compares these results to those for two outside air samples collected on different sides of the building.  Total concentrations of all mold, concentrations for each genus, and genera indicating wet or damp conditions are compared.  If several wet or damp indicators are found inside, the concentrations inside are much greater than outside, and if the diversity of the population is different inside, this may indicate unique conditions, and, thus, significant mold contamination.

Nutrient agar plate samples collect living mold spores with a sampling device such as an Anderson 1-stage microbial impaction device.  The plate is then allowed to grow under controlled conditions in the laboratory for 5 to seven days, then evaluated.  Comparison to outside plate samples and interpretation is the same as for spore trap samples.

ESC then evaluates all results – inspection, interview, in situ readings, and laboratory results to prepare the report.  Six to seven criteria are used to interpret the laboratory data.  The laboratory results are only part of the story, though.  Equally important are the inspection results, in situ readings, and interview information from the building occupants and owner.  The report provides details on the testing, results, conclusions and recommendations.  The report may include a Remediation Protocol (a cleanup plan).  ESC submits the report to the client and is available for discussion as required.

esc floridaSo now you have details on Mold Assessments.  If you need any more information, Environmental Safety Consultants (www.escflorida.com) can assist.  We have the credentials and experience to answer your questions and steer you in the right direction.  We are a Florida-licensed Engineering business with three Florida licensed Mold-Related Services Assessors on staff, as well as a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH, American Board of Industrial Hygiene, www.abih.org).  We are just a telephone call (800-226-1735) or an e-mail away (escinc@verizon.net).  Contact us today!

 

Mold Myths Revealed

Environmental Safety Consultants (ESC) has been in the Indoor Air Quality field for thirty years and heard many myths concerning mold from clients, other assessors, and remediators.  These mold myths have included the definition of mold, testing techniques, and remediation procedures.  We will review some of the more notorious myths in this article.

Before delving into mold myths let’s begin with what mold is.  It is not a plant or an animal.  It is a microscopic organism that is in the fungi kingdom.  Its official name is fungus (singular) or fungi (pleural).  Included in that kingdom are mushrooms.  Another myth is that you don’t have to worry about mildew.  That is wrong because it can cause sneezing, coughing, and upper respiratory ailments (www.cdc.gov), just like mold can.  From this point forward, we will use the term mold for mildew and mold.

mold mythsAnother myth is concluding no mold is present in the air or on surfaces because you can’t see it.  Mold is microscopic until it forms layer upon layer of organisms (a colony) and becomes visible to the unaided eye.  The spores in the air and the organisms on surfaces of building materials and contents are invisible until they are put under the microscope or grown out in the lab on nutrient agar plates – otherwise known as Petri dishes.

A very common myth is that as long as the “black toxic mold” is not present, I don’t have to worry.  Ah, if life were so simple!  Unfortunately, when you dig into the scientific literature, a lot of different types of mold (genuses or genera) can cause health problems for people.  One example is Aspergillus, which can grow into a fungal ball in your lungs resulting in a debilitating disease known as aspergillosis.

Another myth is that mold is everywhere in Florida and you don’t have to worry about it if it grows in your residential or commercial building.  True, mold is everywhere but when it becomes way more concentrated in your home, starts destroying your building materials, and you start having health problems which clear up when you leave the building, it is time to act.  Oh, and by the way, it also does well in other climes whenever enough water is present.

The final myth is that remediation is supposed to eliminate all mold in the building.  Not true.  The objective is to return a mold infested building to normal mold conditions.  Sterile, that is the total absence of mold is not realistic and is, certainly, not sustainable.  As soon as the door is opened, the air conditioning or heating system kicks on, or mold spores are carried into the building on your shoes, the building is no longer sterile.

So there are a few of the mold myths that are out there.  If you need any more information, Environmental Safety Consultants (www.escflorida.com) can assist.  We have the credentials and experience to answer your questions and steer you in the right direction.  We are a Florida-licensed Engineering business with three Florida licensed Mold-Related Services Assessors, and a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH, American Board of Industrial Hygiene, www.abih.org).  We are just a telephone call (800-226-1735) or an e-mail away (escinc@verizon.net).  Contact us today!

 

Why Indoor Air Pollutants Might be Making You Sick

We have all been there. Suddenly, you seem to be sniffling whenever you’re at home or whenever you’re in your place of employment. It comes out of nowhere and doesn’t seem to go away. Your neighbors, co-workers, or other family members are not sick, just you, and it seems to be the worst when you are either in your home or at work. Few, if any people realize that indoor air pollutants might be the reason they immediately seem to catch a case of the sniffles when they get home or arrive at work. Health issues from these pollutants can range from headache and upper respiratory problems to a myriad of other ailments.

Unfortunately, poor indoor air quality is not on most people’s radar screens. Consumer Reports estimates that only 9% of Americans consider it a threat to their health, while 70% aren’t concerned at all. The advent of tight buildings for energy conservation means that indoor air contaminants are trapped and build up.

Furniture, furnishings, and cleaning products are other common sources of indoor air pollutants. A lot of claims as to zero emissions or all natural ingredients are not necessarily based on any established standards. Care must be used in mixing cleaning chemicals since poisonous gases can be produced.

Poor indoor air quality can lead to other issues such as fatigue or thinking problems. This is why it is important to get your building checked if you think you may have indoor air pollutants of concern. These pollutants can be from microbiological organisms, chemicals, or particulates. They can come from leaks, printers, copiers, or combustion sources, among others.

indoor air pollutantsThe risks associated with indoor air pollutants can be great. But even more risky is choosing an untested, untrusted firm to test your building. Environmental Safety Consultants has been in business for over 30 years providing quick, professional testing services for homeowners and companies alike.

Environmental Safety Consultants is licensed, accredited, and certified to provide these services with a staff that has over 100 years of combined experience! Give us a call at (941) 795-2399 or (727) 538-4154 or send us a quick message for a speedy response on any indoor air pollutants questions you might have today.

Toxic Mold

Toxic mold is very misunderstood.  Environmental Safety Consultants receives a lot of requests to do a mold inspection for “that black toxic mold”.  That typically means they want to check for Stachybotrys chartarum.  It also means that if we do not find that one, then there is nothing to worry about.  That simply is not true.  A lot of different types of mold can be toxic.  Those include some common types such as Aspergillus, Penicillium, Curvularia, and, yes, even Cladosporium.  The misunderstanding has come from all of the highly publicized information on Stachybotrys.  When the potential health effects of mold are researched, it turns out that a lot of them can cause health problems for the wrong individual.