Mold infestations in residential, commercial, or industrial environments are of concern to both the EPA and OSHA, as well as to any number of state and local authorities.
In this post, we take a look at the fundamentals of mold remediation and provide answers to important questions, including:
- What exactly are molds
- How do molds grow
- What do molds like to eat?
- What are toxic molds?
- What is hidden mold?
- What are the five levels of mold contamination?
- What’s involved in mold removal?
What exactly are molds?
Molds—aka mildew—are fungi that develop on wet surfaces. They’re a ubiquitous part of the natural environment, crucial for breaking down dead organic matter (e.g. fallen leaves and dead trees).
Molds are also great in the form of mushrooms and for making gorgonzola cheese. But when molds show up uninvited in a residential, commercial, or industrial building, they’re a hazardous material—and their removal requires professional mold removal.
How do molds grow?
Molds reproduce via tiny spores carried by dust inside interior environments. They waft through the air, invisible to the naked eye, land on surfaces, and when there’s a perfect storm of temperature, moisture, and nutrients, the spores form into mold colonies.
Indoor mold growth is typically caused by moisture secondary to chronically-wet concrete floors, flooding, leaky roofs, plumbing problems, and/or poor maintenance practices. And then there’s condensation…
Molds thrive when interior humidity condenses on cool interior surfaces, producing a vapor that passes through walls and ceilings.
A notorious source of such condensation is HVAC systems, inside of which condensation provides the moisture, dust particles provide the nutrients, and where the temperature becomes optimal between cycles of the equipment when it’s effectively turned off.
What do molds like to eat?
Molds like to dine on plywood, drywall, furring strips, finish carpentry, cabinetry, wood framing, composite wood flooring, and carpet padding. Carpeting itself is a particular delicacy, as it tends to hold organic specks of dust that are real palate-pleasers among molds and black molds.
What are toxic molds?
Toxic molds produce mycotoxins. These are chemicals produced in low concentrations by molds as they grow. Ingested by humans or animals, mycotoxins cause a toxic response known as mycotoxicosis (see source).
A particular bad actor in the fungus family is called stachybotrys chartarum, also called black mold, although it has a green tinge.
Mycotoxicosis is implicated in nephropathy, various types of cancer, alimentary toxic aleukia, hepatic diseases, various hemorrhagic syndromes, immune disorders, neuropathy, and lots of other ills we hope you never have the need to lookup.
But before things get that bad, be on the lookout for nasal congestion, sinusitis, rhinorrhea, eye irritation, and respiratory difficulties. Add to that persistent sneezing, throat irritation, skin rashes, headaches, and—of course—OSHA.
What is hidden mold?
Molds and black molds don’t always make themselves obvious. They might be lurking behind wallpaper or paneling, inside of dropped ceilings, the backs of drywall, on the undersides of carpets, or on carpet padding. They give themselves away for smelling bad—and causing water damage.
What are the five levels of mold contamination?
The EPA has stratified levels of mold and black mold contamination into five categories based on the size of the affected area (see source). They are, in ascending order of severity:
Level 1 (10 sq. ft. or Less) At this level you can remove the mold yourself, but you should use protective gear like masks and gloves, as well as follow tips & techniques helpfully provided by the EPA.
Level 2 (10 to 30 sq. ft.) This usually involves one wall in a single room. DIY efforts at this stage are acceptable but require more diligence and greater precautions, so you might be better off hiring a professional mold-removal company: one that uses heavy-duty vacuum apparatus, HEPA filters, and other equipment you’re not likely to have languished in your storage closet.
Level 3 (30 to 100 sq. ft.) Here you have multiple walls and/or the entire floor affected: a situation wherein you need a professional mold removal company that’s experienced in conducting microbial investigations, with cleanup crews trained in hazardous waste handling, and who work with respiratory protection, gloves, eye protection, and other PPE.
Level 4 (Over sq. ft.) This is when mold has propagated throughout the entire building, which has likely become uninhabitable per the EPA, OSHA, local agencies, and any semblance of common sense. Don’t even think about handling this yourself. Hire a professional mold removal company.
Level 5 (HVAC) This level is reserved for air-conditioners and other HVAC componentry, which are particularly dangerous for blowing mold spores from one place to every place. If you notice bad smells coming from your cooling or heating units, they might be infested with mold. Turn them off. And hire a professional mold removal company.
What’s involved in mold removal?
There’s no strictly prescribed protocol for mold or black mold removal, as each infestation is different. But most mold remediation efforts involve these steps:
- Observation. Mold removal begins with an examination of areas where there’s evidence of moisture or vapor. This is done to determine if sampling should be performed. It includes moving furniture, lifting or removing carpets, checking behind wallpaper or paneling, examining HVAC ductwork, exposing wall cavities, and more.
- Sampling. If the presence of mold is patently obvious (see 1), the EPA doesn’t consider sampling to be necessary, unless people in the affected area have become ill. If sampling is deemed necessary, it should be performed by a trained professional with specific experience in mold-sampling protocols, sampling methods, and the interpretation of findings.
- Containment. Infested areas need to be isolated before remediation begins. This is because cleanup activities will stir up mold spores that might migrate into other areas of the building and contaminate it.
- Cleanup and air-filtration. Different products, techniques, and regimens are needed for different kinds of surfaces, molds, locations, etc. Ditto for air purification.
- Disposal or removal. The material on which the mold exists (and other factors) determines whether infested materials removed from a building require hazardous waste disposal, or if they can be simply thrown away as municipal waste.
- Sanitization & deodorizing. After mold-infested materials are removed from an area, equipment, furniture, curtains, floors, walls, etc. are sanitized and deodorized to prevent reinfestation and remove repugnant smells.
- Post-remedial recommendations. The final step in mold removal is professional recommendations about how to never let it happen again.
What’s the upshot?
Except on the smallest scale, mold or black mold removal isn’t something you should try to do on your own, if for no other reason than mold remediation—done incorrectly—can make a mold infestation worse, spuriously driving up your mold removal costs.
Making a mold infestation worse (accidentally or otherwise) is very much frowned upon by the EPA and OSHA, not to mention a raft of state and local bureaucracies, which tend to be stricter about these things than their federal counterparts.
Hazardous Waste Experts is a hazardous waste management & disposal company with extensive experience providing mold remediation services nationwide.
As in all things involving hazardous materials, you shouldn’t proceed until you get expert advice.
Contact us today. Or call 1.888.681.8923.
And thank you for reading our blog!