The Mold Menace

by Monte Vines and Integrated Solutions

In this issue we want to feature a “growing” problem for real estate owners, managers, contractors and tenants–mold. Mold has been around forever, but only in the last several years has it become a subject of frequent litigation and a cause of substantial liability.

Last year, the Delaware Supreme Court upheld a $1 million negligence jury verdict in favor of an apartment tenant who suffered serious health problems from toxic mold. That figure was reduced by 22% because of the tenant’s own negligence in living with the problem as long as she did, but that still left a large liability for the landlord. Although that was an unusual case, lesser mold problems can also lead to health problems and legal liability.

We invited our friends at Integrated Solutions to share some of their expertise on mold, and we are pleased to present that here. Integrated Solutions is a regional source for comprehensive environmental, health, and safety testing, training, and remediation.

A Living Liability to Property and Health

By Integrated Solutions

In the last few years, commercial building owners and homeowners alike have sought relief from an invasion of mold inside their buildings. Mold on building surfaces used to mean unpleasant odors, unsightly appearances and the possibility of deteriorating building materials. Today its presence has quickly become the newest indoor air quality health concern.

Where Does Mold Come From?
Mold has always been with us. Some mold is expected in even the best kept buildings. Mold spores drift with the wind and are carried into our buildings on our clothing and on the feet of pets and vermin. Mold grows where it can feed and get enough moisture. Cellulose-based building materials like sheet rock, paper and ceiling tiles are particularly vulnerable to mold growth when they get wet. They will never dry completely enough to be inhospitable to mold once it has started growing.
What are the Health Issues?

Mold's effect on health is being noted nationwide. One of the effects, an allergic reaction, is fairly easy to spot, but there is a growing list of other symptoms caused by mold-produced toxins. Although the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has taken the stand that there's no direct evidence linking the mold Stachybotrys chartarum with the deaths of several infants, it's still considered one of several potentially toxic molds affecting occupants of both commercial buildings and private homes. Other molds targeted as health concerns by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other agencies include: Aspergillus, Penicillium, Fusarium and Trichoderma.

Locating Mold
A general rule of thumb in assessing mold contamination is: the mold level in the air inside should be less than the level outside. (Buildings with mechanical ventilation systems typically see significantly lower levels inside.) Increases in total spores or increases in a particular species indicates an indoor source, meaning that somewhere in the building mold is growing and spreading its spores. An investigation into potential water intrusion can determine if that is the problem. From our experience, the most common conditions causing mold growth are roof leaks, broken pipes and flooding. Unfortunately, mold spores aren't always visible. They can be concealed inside wall cavities or behind baseboard strips and their toxins can still be felt by occupants.

Getting Rid of Mold
Cleanup of large areas of mold-damaged materials requires techniques similar to those used by the asbestos industry-personal protection for the workers, air filtration and proper disposal of contaminated materials. Mold, unlike asbestos, can grow back if the remediation is insufficient or done carelessly. It's a living organism that will continue to reproduce as long as building conditions permit. Improper handling can actually spread the spores, making the problem worse. The goal of mold remediation is to correct the cause and remove the damaged materials that have supported mold growth. This will return the building to a level of airborne mold inside that is consistent with the outside, and will allow occupants to work or live without health concerns from mold.

Written by Constance Timmons, Industrial Hygienist and Tamara Hadley, Marketing Director

(Article appeared in Adams Jones February 2002 Newsletter)