Background: Mold spores are naturally occurring and found in all outdoor and almost all indoor environments – MOLD SPORE ARE EVERYWHERE. In the natural world mold colonies that develop from spores serve to digest and break down organic matter like leaves, grass, wood, etc. Since cellulose in paper (e.g. in books, boxes, drywall surfaces, etc.) is derived from trees, it provides a great food source for mold to grow on and thrive in the indoor environment. BUT mold spores need water in some form to activate their digestive enzymes that then digest organic matter and cellulose; so if it is dry indoors, mold spores will not grow.
The water that can activate mold spores can be in several forms:
- Condensation on cool surfaces when the dew point temperatures/humidities are high (i.e. basements in summer, window frames in winter, poorly insulated ducts, etc.)
- Drips that are not repaired and splash on walls, floors, contents, etc.
- Leaks from broken or frozen pipes with water moving through walls and across floors and ceilings heading to the lowest level and soaking structures and contents on the way
- Leaks from old roofing, around windows, from overflowing gutters, from downspouts discharging too close to foundations, etc.
- Warm, moist air entering cold attics from gaps around access doors/hatches or bathroom vents improperly installed and then condensing on cold attic sheathing, especially in winter.
Investigations: Nauset Environmental Services, Inc. (NES) specializes in mold investigation services and provides independent professional expertise to investigate potential mold conditions. NES is NOT associated with any mold remediation firm so its investigations provide objective information to the client. With NES there is NO conflict of interest. NES does NOT provide “free inspections” as many mold remediation companies do as part of their marketing strategy where the goal is to win remediation projects, even if there is no objective, health-based reason to carry out a remediation! [See “FREE” side bar.]
We are indoor air quality professionals who understand the causes as well as the situations in which the mold may develop. William M. Vaughan, PhD who leads the NES team started making air quality measurements in 1969 and has investigated mold in the indoor environment since 1988. He is a Council-certified Indoor Environmental Consultant (CIEC – see www.acac.org. ). His assistant, Alex MacLellan is a Council-certified Residential Mold Inspector (CRMI).
Here are some examples of mold investigations by the NES team along with the findings:
- Kitchen (& house) with “toxic mold” affected by a leaking toilet on the floor above – Stachybotrys, the ”black toxic mold” touted by the media, was present even though there was no visible mold growth, just settled spores spread by plumbing repair activities.
- Leaks around windows in manufactured homes – mold in wall cavities
- Moldy/musty odor in den built in former garage – mold growing on insulation between the new floor and slab
- Allergic reactions in a house that were worst in the master bedroom – very irritating mold spores blowing in from a nearby tidal marsh
- Strong allergic reactions after car AC leaked – high mold spores levels in car
- Irritation and allergic reactions in an office space after it was remediated for mold following a leak – inadequately cleaned contents in storage boxes were returned to the space, re-contaminating it including bringing back Stachybotrys spores
- Follow-up burst pipe leaks – mold contamination in residences on multiple levels
- Documenting spore variations in school building with leaking roof and walls – helped teachers and staff understand what needed to be done and reduced anxiety with explanations of objective data
Investigation techniques: NES utilizes a variety of human senses (primarily eyes and nose) and “tools” to investigate mold situations in homes and businesses. The specific approach used will depend on the questions being raised by site conditions and the budgetary limits.
- Use of moisture meters to find currently damp areas near windows and doors or near staining to discover if elevated moisture is still present that may be a trigger for mold growth. Findings may lead to deeper investigation of wall cavities.
- Looking for surface staining that may indicate past or current leaks or moisture penetration.
- Air screening with spore traps for assessing potential exposure and identification of general spore types using paired “quiet” and “air disturbed” samples to assess settled spore levels. [The difference between readings under “quiet” conditions and “disturbed” conditions, following fan disturbance reveal whether there are settled spores (Condition 2 contamination) in a room/area – see Talks & Articles.]
- Interpreting mold data that involves comparing collected data since a single sample has no reference. One can compare data to a governmental or institutional standard, but they do not exist; so “informal guidelines” can be used (see below and sidebar). One can also compare different parts of a building to one another or to the outdoor air.
- While there are no formally accepted governmental standards for NES has followed the scientific evaluation of air sampling results and the less formal descriptions from professionals when “complaints” or “problems” have been associated with various levels of spore readings. From that review of public and scientific documents NES has developed it own “informal guideline” that it applies to the results from total spore sampling (see NES Informal Spore Guideline).
- Use of comparisons in data sets involves seeing if the sampling data are different in total spores and/or the mix of spores between control (i.e. “non-complaint’ or “non-problem”) areas and those with complaints or problems or even with the outdoor air. After taking thousands of air samples over the years, NES does not not find “outdoor” comparisons helpful since the sampling focus is on indoor conditions impacted by moisture events. (See sidebar on why NES does not take outdoor samples every time.)
- Determination of spore types in bulk materials or surface wipes
– Building cavity samples that are cultured to discover “hidden” viable mold colonies
– Tape lift samples to identify types in visible mold growth areas
Resources to learn more: Here are some of the helpful print resources and web sites to learn more about mold issues:
The Mold Survival Guide for Your Home and for Your Health, Jeffrey C. May and Connie L. May (Johns Hopkins University press, 2004)
EPA – www.epa.gov/iaq/molds [provides link to other mold resources]
CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) – http://www.cdc.gov/mold/dampness_facts.htm
Building Sciences – http://www.buildingscience.com/resources/more-topics/mold/
Minnesota: Mold in Homes
Why choose NES to address your mold concerns??
¨ Decades of experience measuring and evaluating air quality problems
¨ NES is the “independent environmental professional” (IEP) who avoids conflicts of interest which may arise when the investigator works for the remediator and has pressure to generate work for his boss! [This independence is called for in the August 2008 standard from the “Institute for Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification” (IICRC) – IICRC S520 (2015), “Standard and Reference Guide for Professional Mold Remediation” that was first released in December 2003]
¨ Clear interpretation of laboratory results in understandable reporting, NOT just giving clients copies of confusing lab reports and charts (see Reports tab)
¨ Scientific staff who keep current on the latest approaches to investigation and the current research on the health issues associated with molds
¨ Appreciated by clients who now understand and are empowered to control their situation and gladly provide referrals (see Testimonials tab)
© 2017 – Nauset Environmental Services, Inc.