It seems like at least once a year, some on-line discussion forces me to saddle up old Rocinante and brandish my lance to do battle with my old foe—Mold-is-Gold.
The battles, and there have been many, typically accomplish little other than giving me the satisfaction of knowing that I have done what little I can, to provide the best information I can, to the people of my kingdom.
Staying home, safe in the castle, nestled with the wife that exists only in my mind’s eye, Dulcinea del Toboso, would be much easier, but that is not what is expected of Don Quixote.
With this post I am going to start with the assumption that everyone knows that most of the hysteria around mold is media hype and about making money for businesses that have swallowed the pill of junk science.
If you remain in the “other” camp, I hope you will humor me and go along for the ride anyway.
This pill has the apparent ability to leave the taker totally immune to logic, open-mindedness and rational thought. If this trance, this hallucination, was merely limited to the swallower of the pill it would be one thing. However, it seems to give the taker the confidence to venture forth and dupe others–after all, we only need to “follow the money.”
So now we have a whole population of people that are equally, deluded and misinformed. While they did not swallow the pill themselves, they are bombarded with people that seem well intentioned and have all manner of websites, media, and pamphlets to back up their claims. So what else is to be expected?
And then of course there is the barrage of anecdotes. Everyone knows that they sneeze like crazy and their eyes water when they walk into a mold infested basement. Believe it or not this is a NORMAL RESPONSE TO A BAD INDOOR AIR QUALITY SITUATION. It is your senses telling you that something is wrong–something needs to be addressed.
It is a GOOD thing!
This is a“normal” reaction and could be from literally hundreds of things, or combinations of things, that can be floating around in the air. Everyone’s reaction or non-reaction to them is going to be different. Mold would only be one very tiny component of any dirty air sample—any number of other contaminates could explain adverse reactions. Yet we pick on mold.
The specific battle I want to fight today is related to the notion that we, as home inspectors, are supposedly not allowed to use the word “mold,” even when what we see is clearly what everyone knows is mold–and that we have known is mold ever since we started making cheese and not using up bread fast enough. Now, not knowing “what kind” of mold it is is another matter. However, it would only be under VERY RARE conditions that anyone would need to know what specific “kind” of mold it is. AND (drum roll please)—there is no such thing as “TOXIC MOLD.” Therefore it is not germane to what must be done about it if you have a “water issue” in your home.
The specific type of comment I have an issue with goes something like this: “I cannot tell you that you have mold, so I recommend that you have it tested by a Certifiable Fungus Slayer.” According to the EPA this is just plain not necessary, and I quote:
“In most cases, if visible mold growth is present, sampling is unnecessary. Since no EPA or other federal limits have been set for mold or mold spores, sampling cannot be used to check a building’s compliance with federal mold standards. Surface sampling may be useful to determine if an area has been adequately cleaned or remediated. Sampling for mold should be conducted by professionals who have specific experience in designing mold sampling protocols, sampling methods, and interpreting results. Sample analysis should follow analytical methods recommended by the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), or other professional organizations”
There actually can be instances where a space has had an enormous water issue that has resulted a great deal of mold growth (think Hurricane Katrina etc) where surface sampling is recommended or might even be required by some government agency funding the cleanup.
MOST PEOPLE DO NOT HAVE HURRICANE KATRINA IN THEIR BASEMENT!
The fact is, most of this testing is to give occupants a “feel good” feeling about reoccupying the home. It is for all intents and purposes pretty meaningless assuming proper repairs have been made. Since proper repairs means that all damaged materials have been removed, repaired and properly disposed of by a qualified party, what is one to expect to find with a surface sample? Duh!
But now back to the problem I have with the original call to battle. “I cannot tell you that you have mold, so I recommend that you have it tested by a Certifiable Fungus Slayer.”
Why not simply say, “There is some mold, or assumed mold growth, on the drywall behind the toilet. I recommend proper cleaning and repairs as deemed necessary by a qualified party.”
As soon as we recommend that it be “tested” for what it obviously is, we are merely supporting the industry that benefits financially from unnecessary testing and we continue to feed the hysteria that forces me to climb this old nag yet again. Even the horse is sick of it.
Mold is but one small part of the soup of crud that defines poor-quality indoor air, created or exacerbated by a “WATER ISSUE.”
This condition is referred to as “damp.” When the damp is fixed, we go a long way to fixing the indoor air quality related to it, but it may not be all that is necessary. You can do your proper clean-up of the mold, pass your swab test, and still have crappy indoor air quality from other sources–including the very things used to clean up the mold.
So the whole building must be looked at to ensure that every chance for maintaining good indoor air quality has been addressed. These are the kinds of things that should be recommended when you have a mold issue–not testing!
So you see, it is not a mold issue at all! It is an indoor air quality issue.
For additional reading on mold:
And for some way serious reading on the issue:
Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle