How can IAQ help do mold cleanup?
In places faced with high humidity throughout the year, it is common to find little spots on the wall that can grow into a larger structure that can present smell and serious risk to your well-being. These slow-growing life forms can appear in new buildings, in older structures or in places that have been affected by dampening and floods. Here are a couple of things you should know about mold to help prevent any further problems in your environment.
What is Mold?
Mold is a form multicellular fungus that grows basically anywhere. They are found growing both outdoors and indoors and are so diverse that they can be found in basically every environment imaginable. In our daily lives, we tend to see these fungi growing on fruits and bread that have been left to rest on the counter, for example. Molds are a microbial life form that is classified by the way they grow and where they can be found. They appear normally in the form of multicolored dots and present a musty smell, but in most cases, they are present in small colonies and are hard to point out visually in the environment. However, in cases where you can see and smell mold, your health might be at risk.
How does mold appear?
Being a natural bio-decomposer, molds feed on the natural organism and feed on plants, fruits and other forms of biological structures. In buildings, mold tends to appear as colonies decomposing structures that are composed of natural cellulose, such as doors, linings, and other wooden structures. Overall, areas that present a lot of moisture such as pipes, leaks, and areas that have been flooded will be preferred by molds.
In this case, mold naturally grow from areas that present two fundamental elements: moisture and nutritional sources. In buildings, these areas can be found on the exterior, in porches or other structures that present the tendency to accumulate humidity, or in the interior of the building, in basements, along running pipes on the wall and other areas where leaks and dampness are found.
Where can I find mold?
Mold reproduce by spores that are transported through air currents. Once the spores reach a surface high in humidity they settle and start to grow. The area affected might slowly darken in color and present slight dampness that is related to moisture and can grow in areas that are invisible to the eye. For buildings, mold can be found in pipes, behind wallpapers and over crawl spaces or areas with dirt floor.
Hidden mold is one of the most dangerous and challenging forms of mold in the indoor environment and although they are basically the same organism because they are growing away from human sight, they can reach large proportions and compromise infrastructure safety before being detected. They can occur behind paneling, inside the ceiling tiles, drywall or underneath carpets and carpets padding living off of cardboard, paper, and other organic matter.
Molds naturally produce allergens and irritants as the spores, which help in their reproduction, are easily spread through the air and can reach sensitive individuals. All allergic responses are commonly reported in cases of mold infestation. Sneezing, runny nose and irritated eyes and skin are all part of allergic reactions provoked by exposure to mold. In more aggravated cases, mold can lead to an asthma attack for individuals who are specifically allergic to mold.
Chronic exposure has also been linked to more serious issues due to the toxins produced by mold. Molds can produce mycotoxins, which are a class of toxins that have strong potential to adversely affect certain strains of bacteria. This property has been used in science to develop penicillin, for example. However, when human is constantly exposed to these mycotoxins, they can develop neurological problems and, in some cases, this might lead to death.
How can I detect the presence of mold?
Due to their fast-growing rate and because most molds prefer moist and hidden areas, mold colonies can grow to a large extent before being detected. This can lead to both health and infrastructure issues that might compromise the building altogether and should be avoided. In this case, early detection of the presence of mold is essential and several different techniques have been proposed. Unfortunately, most people treat mold only after it is detectable by visual assessment, which means it has spread out from hidden areas and is now laying on the surface of walls, ceilings and other structures that have been badly affected by the growth of molds and are compromised.
In cases where visual assessment is enough to detect the presence of molds, no other sampling method is necessary. However, in cases where prevention is carried out or molds are still not detectable by visual assessment, it is recommended to carry out air, surface and dust sampling. From these methods, air sampling presents the most reliable indication of mold in the indoor environment.
Air sampling is carried out by collecting samples of indoor and outdoor air and comparing the concentrations and species distribution. Air sampling is carried out by stationary and personal samplers, the first indicating mold presence in certain closed environments (e.g. living room, kitchen, office), while the second indicates the exposure an individual has while circulating through the building and is carried out by attaching the sampler to workers. Personal samplers tend to indicate higher concentration than stationary ones as individuals re-suspended settled mold when they circulate through the area.
Surface and dust sampling are carried out to determine species and level of mold present in the environment. They are usually applied as a verification test after cleaning procedures have been carried out. Surface sampling is done by scrubbing swabs on surfaces and on agar plates for culture analysis. Dust sampling is collected by vacuuming dust of floors, beds, and furniture and analyzed by culture-based and culture-independent methods.
At the present moment, there is no proper regulation on mold levels in the indoor environment to determine threshold exposure and limit levels. However, analytical methods recommended by entities such as the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) should be followed to ensure proper and adequate estimations.
As living organisms, mold needs ideal conditions for their survival and dissemination in closed environments. Therefore, a series of simple actions might impair their indoor growth and reduce your exposure to mold. Among the most frequent measures recommended by the Central for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that can be carried out to solve mold issues indoors (1) it is important to:
- Keep humidity levels low: using air conditioners and dehumidifiers in closed environment drastically reduce the indoor humidity.
- Ensure proper ventilation: install exhaust vents in bathrooms and kitchen.
- Fix leaks in plumbing and roofs so no moisture areas are formed.
- Clean up your building 24-48 hours after flooding.
- Add mold-inhibitors to paint solutions before painting walls.
- Use mold-killing products to clean bathrooms.
- Remove carpets that have not been dried adequately to avoid forming damp areas.
How can IAQ help?
Once mold has been detected, proper assessment of the area must be carried out and in many cases, organizations such as the American Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends hiring professional and trained personnel to address the issue in order to avoid further health problems. EPA classifies mold contamination in four levels:
|Level I||0.93 m2 (10 sq. ft.)||Trained building staff|
|Level II||0.93-2.79 m2 (10-30 sq. ft.)||Trained protected building staff|
|Level III||2.8 – 9.3 m2 (30=100 sq. ft.)||Professional with microbial investigation training equipped with respiratory protection, gloves and eye protection.|
|Level IV||9.3 m2 and larger (100 sq. ft.)||Trained equipped professionals|
IAQ can provide services for cleaning indoor environments that have been affected by mold infestations and also help prevent damp and moist areas that can help promote mold growth. Special care needs to be carried out in case of moist carpets which tend to lead to hidden mold growth and in cases of floods. IAQ can help clean and control the humidity and moist in buildings that have gone through floods providing high-quality service with a reliable team of experts that will assess and reduce the humidity and moist areas of your building. Finally, the service provided by IAQ from the assessment of the area to the final cleanup of your indoor environment will ensure that the mold infestation is solved and your indoor air quality restored.
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