Tuesday, May 10, 2011


I love the internet.  At any time, day or night, on a sudden impulse of seeking infinite knowledge about anything in particular, I simply type it into Google and voila! -Everything I ever wanted to know about that "anything in particular" is delivered on demand!  How did we even manage to get through life pre-Google?  Reminiscing to the old fashioned way of finding information via a trip to the local library, flipping throuh encyclopedias, and scanning through (gasp!) microfiche, causes my thoughts to whirl at the time-consuming efforts we used to make to find bits and pieces of information here and there, like an ant following a trail of little crumbs in a lifelong quest for the Mother Load.

As a result of technology, we are indeed a more informed society.  Or.. are we becoming a misinformed society?

Google Search: "Mold Removal"
If you enter "mold removal" into Google's search engine, you will instantly be presented with roughly 2.5 million results!  That should keep you busy for a while...  Interestingly, of those 2.5 million pages for your reading enjoyment, 496 thousand results mention "black mold", as well.  It's ironic how mold removal automatically leads to black mold on nearly 20% of internet results.  That may not seem like a lot to you at first thought, it's only 20%, after all.  But if you consider that there are literally hundreds of thousands of mold species in our environment, black mold is undoubtedly the star.  One of the most common household mold species, penicillium, only gets mentioned in 17 thousand of the 2.5 million results.  

I'm going to lay one more statistic on the table for you.  "Toxic black mold" still far exceeds a highly common household mold, penicillium, with 200 thousand results of those 2.5 pages of mold removal information on Google.  

Why is black mold so prominent in mold removal information?
It all began with one big scary word: "mycotoxins".  Yes, it is correct that stachybotrys has the potential to produce mycotoxins, releasing them throughout the indoor air environment, which may create an unhealthy indoor air environment for individuals, especially the elderly, young, and those with compromised immune systems.  The media learned about mycotoxins and discovered immediately that it creates very interesting news stories.  We all love a little drama and fear in our daily news, don't we?  How many times did you see a shocking teaser on the evening news, and think to yourself, "Wow I can't miss that one!".  Simply stated, toxic black mold makes for sensational news.  Unfortunately, it also creates the opportunity for many "experts" to  utilize scare tactics to sell large-scale mold remediation projects based upon the perceived "toxic environment" in a client's home, whether this toxic environment is actually present or not.  No one wants to live in a toxic environment!  Frankly, if I thought my family's health were at risk, I would be prompted to take immediate corrective action too.

Here are a few misconceptions that I found on the web about black mold.

  • One Google search lead me to a mold remediation company who initially explains where to find mold then in the next paragraph heads straight down the black mold path stating accurate information however in an alarming tone.  For example, it mentions deaths of babies in the very first sentence, followed by recommendations of remediation which is "critical" for the purpose of preventing suffering on your family's behalf.  
    • Is the information true?  It can be in very severe cases.  What truly alarms me is the lack of a recommendation for a mold inspection or lab testing, and the advertiser only shows "mold removal" in their available services.  (which is fine as many believe that it is a conflict of interest to have the same company conduct the testing and the remediation for the same job - however I would expect that there would be a mention that the affected area should be inspected and tested, first) If you have done any homework on the web, you probably already have a vague idea that mold species cannot be positively identified without prior testing.  Any responsible mold removal company is going to protect their clients first and foremost, as well as their own liabilities through inspections and testing before and after the mold removal job to ensure that the job was done right.
  • Another website recommends to hire "Black Mold Inspectors".  
    • There is no standard title for a "Black Mold Inspector" and what you are looking for is referred to as a "Certified Mold Inspector".  If you happen across someone who labels him/herself a "Black Mold Inspector", then I would be concerned about their integrity.
  • One particular website ONLY addresses black mold.  All of the other hundreds of thousands species of mold are simply ignored.  Furthermore, they advise that upon a water event, black mold can grow extraordinarily fast and upon its first appearance you should assume you have a black mold problem within a day or two if it is not cleaned right away.  
    • As a mold professional, statements like this rings to the same tune as the old car salesman who claims another person looking at the car in an hour so you better buy it now!  The message incorrectly leads an uninformed reader to believe that if they discover visible mold following a water event that the mold growth is definitively black mold.  In fact, depending on the specific conditions and the environment, the type of mold that settles in the affected area can be one or many types of mold, sometimes including or excluding stachybotrys.  And although I do agree that it is always adviseable to address a mold situation as soon as possible, I wouldn't necessarily agree with the statement that within 2 days you can bet you have a mold "problem" in all cases.  Again, part-truths that are presented in a manner to cause panic and rushed decisions.  
  • My favorite find is a website that explains the difference between "good black mold" and "bad black mold" inside a house.
    • Statements like this one leave me completely speechless.  There is no such thing as "good mold" or "beneficial mold" on the building materials within a home or building.  There is, of course, a benefit to mold in our environment.  If mold did not exist we would be over our heads in leaves since mold plays a key role in breaking down organic matter.  And, to give partial credit to the website's statement, some mold is beneficial in the creation of products such as blue cheese.
    • Mold is a normal occurance in our environment, and every home will typcially test positive for a variety of mold species in the indoor air environment simply through the exchange of indoor & outdoor air from opening doors and windows for example.  The important thing to understand is mold can become problematic when it it is at elevated levels indoors as compared to the outdoor control sample collected.  I can assure you with confidence that no good can come from any type of mold growing on the walls of a home or building.
  • I also found various product websites promising to clean the air in your home from black mold.
    • Although these air "cleaners" in many cases do have the ability to help lower mold counts, they fail to mention that if you do not address the source of the mold, the problem will continue to fester getting worse over time.  No air cleaner is going to effectively remove mold if there is water damaged sheetrock causing the mold spores to continue colonizing in the indoor air environment.  

Some related Black Mold and Mold Removal facts:

  • There are several hundred thousand mold species in our environment.
  • When mold is visible, it is always best to address the situation right away.  
  • Mold grows at varied rates depending on several environmental factors including temperature, disturbance, humidity, light, and the substrate on which it grows.
  • Mold that is black in color is not always stachybotrys, commonly referred to as "black mold" and "toxic black mold"
  • The only way to positively identify mold is by testing and analysis by an accredited laboratory
  • A mold inspector who refers to himself as a "black mold inspector" would raise a red flag in my professional opinion
  • A company that only mentions black mold or toxic black mold, and does not consider the possible  presence of other mold species would also raise red flags in my professional opinion.
  • There is no such thing as "good mold" and "bad mold".  All species of mold have the potential to create health concerns to individuals at varying levels depending on the individual.  All species of mold that are growing on building materials should be addressed sooner than later.  There is no "good mold" growing on your bathroom wall.  It should be cleaned as soon as possible and recurrence or large amounts (more than 10 sq. ft.) may indicate that there is a contributing factor causing the mold growth which should be addressed through further investigation.
It has been my experience that information from the web should always be digested with a grain of salt.  Caveat emptor.  Similar to any other significant decision if you feel like you are being rushed or pushed into a decision, it's always sound advice to obtain a second opinion.

-Steve Spinelli

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

NJ Flooding 2011

Recent river cresting in New Jersey swiftly left homes and businesses submerged in water.   Over the weekend, as I drove around towns such as Little Falls, Wayne, Fairfield and Pompton Lakes I was knocked over after observing the sheer area affected by NJ’s swollen rivers.  Many buildings that were not flooded still had water banked up against the foundation, which poses a serious concern for home owners and building owners alike.  After events like this one, the phones in my office typically take a sudden turn into the haphazard, with scores of good questions about household mold in particular, many of which follow the same theme.

“My house flooded and I cleaned it out right away.  Do I need to worry about mold?”
“How can I prevent mold after a flood in my building?”
The best course of action that you can take following a flood is to remove the water from your home or building immediately, specifically within 24-48 hours if possible.  If the basement flooded and you had items stored inside cardboard boxes, you will want to remove everything from the boxes, clean, disinfect, and dry everything thoroughly, and store them in new, clean, dry containers.   Clean and dry items stored inside furniture or cabinets, too.  Remove and wash all linens, bedding, clothing, and floor mats.  Carpeting affected by water intrusion should be removed.  A thorough cleaning, disinfecting, and drying process is absolutely crucial in minimizing the opportunity for mold growth on every affected surface within your home or building.  Take advantage of warm dry days by opening up doors and windows to increase air flow.  Cheap box fans are helpful too.  These are just a few tips to help you prevent mold growth after a flood. 

 “Should I have my home tested for mold after a flood?”
Of course a mold test would help give you, your family members, or any other occupants of the building peace of mind following any water event such as a flood.  But when is a mold test actually needed or appropriate? 
  1. If following cleanup, there is no visible mold growth on any surfaces but you smell a musty odor, that could be an indication that mold may be forming in areas that are unseen, such as behind sheetrock.  This would be cause for a mold test.  A mold test would also provide details as to what species of mold are growing and if at elevated levels in the indoor air environment, indicating the possibility or absence of mold growth in non-visible areas.
  2. Following cleanup, if you begin to notice mold or mildew growth on building materials in the home or building that continue to reappear after cleaning.
  3. A large area of visible mold growth, meaning more than 10 sq. ft. in any contiguous area would prompt you to call in a professional.

“I don’t see any mold but I smell a musty odor.  How do I know if I have mold growing in my home or building?”
As stated above, a musty odor is generally a clue that mold may be forming in areas that you cannot see, such as behind sheetrock.  If a musty odor persists, it’s probably a good idea to contact a certified mold inspector to help determine the cause of the moldy odor and locate the potential source, so that proper cleaning techniques may be applied before this turns into an even bigger problem.  Tackled straight away, mold cleanup is always less expensive than when it is ignored for significant periods of time and left to grow.

“Will bleach kill mold growth? / Will bleach prevent mold growth?”
There is a lot of conflicting information circulating about bleach and whether bleach is effective in cleaning up mold.  So, does bleach kill mold?  Yes.. sometimes.  And no .. sometimes.  There are many variables that should be considered but mainly the object that is being cleaned and the species of mold that is growing on that object.  Objects that are non-porous, like hard plastic items or glazed ceramic sinks, can usually be disinfected with a solution of bleach and water and in most cases that will prevent mold growth.  However, in situations where you are cleaning porous objects such as wood, then it is very likely that the bleach will not penetrate the mold spore roots therefore this method may not be an effective course of action.  Also, certain mold species are resistant to bleach – although the bleach may partially destroy the organism, the fungi is still able to flourish.  
From Clorox’s website:  "Sodium hypochlorite, the active ingredient in household bleach, helps to whiten, brighten and remove dirt and stains from surfaces and fabrics. EPA-registered, sodium hypochlorite-based bleach is effective in killing 99.9 percent of bacteria, viruses and some types of mold."  Also found in the Cleaning & Laundry Advisor for Allergies, note that they specify using bleach to tackle mold on hard surfaces:  “Mold and mildew can be found on hard surfaces around the house. Spray the Clorox® Clean-Up® Cleaner with Bleach 4 to 6 inches from the surface until thoroughly wet, let stand for 5 minutes, and rinse or wipe clean to kill mildew. Use it to clean and disinfect bathtubs, counters, showers, sinks, refrigerators, glazed ceramic tile, and fiberglass.”
 “I am concerned about toxic mold / black mold / stachybotrys due to a flood in my home or building.”
The fact is that ALL molds have the ability to contribute towards health concerns in individuals, depending on the individual’s sensitivity to mold, age, and various health conditions.  So, what is “Toxic Mold” and how does it relate to “Toxic Black Mold”, “Black Mold”, and “Stachybotrys”?  Of the many thousands of species of mold in our environment, some have the ability to release mycotoxins throughout the indoor air environment.  Hence, the term, “Toxic Mold”. 

The terms “Black Mold”, “Toxic Black Mold”, and “Stachybotrys” all refer to a species of mold referred to as “Stachybotrys chartarum”.  Stachybotrys chartarum is black in color, slimy, and is also a notorious species of mold that has the ability to release mycotoxins into the air.  This would account for all of the different names for one single species of mold that we all know can create many ugly health related symptoms in individuals.
The above, however, does not necessarily mean that if you find mold in your home or building that happens to be black in color, that it is Stachybotrys chartarum.  The only way to definitively confirm the fungal species is through lab testing.  Whether you learn the mold in question affecting your property is confirmed to be Stachybotrys chartarum, or any other variety of mold, it still needs to be cleaned.  The methods of cleaning will be determined depending on the concentration of mold spores, the affected area, and the species of mold. 

“Can I clean up mold myself or do I really need to hire a professional?”
In this economy and the cost of living you may want to try and cut costs by cleaning mold yourself.  There are many resources around the web with guidelines for the do-it-yourselfer and in many cases you can tackle the project if you follow instructions carefully.  Do-it-yourself-mold-cleanup comes with one caveat.  Following removal of moldy building materials, and prior to rebuilding, it is critical to treat the underlying building materials with mold inhibiting products.  These products are only available to licensed professionals and therefore you may find yourself in a situation where that part of the project would need to be hired out to a professional.

I was saddened to see so many people affected by such an unfortunate incident.  My hope is that they find something positive in the rebuilding and renewal of their homes and their lives.

Pictures of the flood in NJ March 2011
source: nj.com

Wow.  This house just sold and is now flooded.
Cumberland County Courthouse Flood 2011
Route 46 was closed due to flooding
by Willowbrook Mall in Wayne NJ
Lots of people used boats and rafts to escape their flooded neighborhoods.
The irony.
A pool Supplies sign in the background of this flood picture!

-Steve Spinelli