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September 1, 2002

7 Min Read
The Dangers of Mold

In the litigious society in which we live, the insurance industry is concerned with an increase in claims relating to mold. There have been a number of cases where residential and commercial buildings have been contaminated with mold, causing bodily injury and property damage. While this hasn't yet become a huge issue in the self-storage industry, we thought it valuable to share some "mold facts."

What Is It?

Molds, or fungus, are simple, multicellular plant-like organisms, found virtually everywhere--indoors and outdoors. Molds can be found on plants, foods, dry leaves and other organic material. They are needed for breaking down dead material. Mold spores are very small and lightweight, which allows them to travel through the air. Growths can often be seen in the form of discoloration, ranging from white to orange and from green to brown and black. When molds are present in large quantities, they may cause allergic symptoms similar to those caused by plant pollen.

Should I Be Concerned About Mold?

Yes, if the contamination is extensive. When airborne mold spores are present in large numbers, they may cause allergic reactions, asthma episodes, infections and other respiratory problems. Mold can also cause structural damage to a building. The State of California passed the Mold Protection Act on Oct. 10, 2001. The bill requires the department of health services to develop guidelines and includes a written disclosure notice for mold in the sale of rental, residential, commercial or industrial property.

Can Mold Become a Problem in My Self-Storage Buildings?

For mold to grow, it needs nutrient sources, such as leaves, wood, paper or dirt; moisture; and proper environmental conditions. When excessive moisture accumulates in buildings or on building materials, mold growth is likely to occur within 24 to 48 hours. Much of the mold found indoors comes from outside, i.e., spores entering the building through open doorways, windows and HVAC systems. When mold spores land on a damp area indoors, they begin growing on, digesting and, eventually, destroying whatever they originally landed on.

The following are some sources of indoor moisture that may cause problems:

  • Flooding

  • Backed-up sewers

  • Leaky roofs and windows

  • Inefficient HVAC systems

  • Humidifiers

  • Mud or ice dams

  • Damp basement or crawl spaces

  • Constant plumbing leaks

  • House plants (watering can generate large amounts of moisture)

How Am I Exposed to Indoor Molds? Can It Make Me Sick?

Everyone is exposed to some mold on a daily basis without adverse health effects. Mold spores primarily cause health problems when they are inhaled in large number. People can also be exposed to mold through skin contact and eating. For some people, a relatively small number of spores can cause health problems. People with allergies vary in their sensitivities to the amount and types of mold.

The basic rule is, if you can see or smell mold, take steps to eliminate the excess moisture, and to clean up and remove the mold. Excessive exposure to mold is not healthy for anyone. It is important to quickly identify and correct any moisture sources before health problems develop.

How Can I Tell if I Have Mold Contamination?

If you can see mold, or if there is an earthy or musty odor, you can assume you have a mold problem. Look for previous water damage. Visible mold growth is found underneath materials where water has damaged surfaces or behind walls. Look for discoloration, bubbling of paint and leaching from plaster.

As to testing, the California Department of Health Services, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and New York City Department of Health do not recommend air sampling as the first step to determine if you have a mold problem. Since no EPA or other federal threshold limits have been set for mold or its spores, sampling cannot be used to check a building's compliance with federal standards. According to the EPA, if visible mold growth is present, sampling is unnecessary. Sampling becomes useful once mold is identified to locate the source of contamination, identify the species present and differentiate between mold and soot or dirt.

Pre- and post-remediation sampling may also be useful in determining whether remediation efforts have been effective. After remediation, the types and concentrations of mold in indoor air samples should be similar to what is found in the local outdoor air. Unless the source of moisture is removed and the contaminated area is cleaned and disinfected, mold growth is likely to reoccur. The key to mold prevention is moisture control.

How Is Mold Regulated and What Standards Exist?

Several federal agencies regulate indoor air quality. The following is list of federal agencies and the area of jurisdiction:

  • The EPA's Indoor Air Environments Division is responsible for investigation of indoor air pollution and its impact on public health and the environment.

  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is responsible for indoor air pollution as it relates to occupational health or worker safety.

  • The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) researches health topics to support OHSA's regulatory activity.

  • The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is responsible for the investigation of claims of mold-related illness or death from a national public-health standpoint.

  • State or local agencies, such as the state department of health or town board of health, may also govern the investigation of indoor air quality. These agencies have published standards for unacceptable contamination levels for airborne concentrations of many types of indoor air pollutants. However, not one agency has established such limits or standards for airborne concentrations of mold. No one state or federal agency offers testing services for mold samples, and mold-remediation contractors are not licensed. No federal, state or local agency in the nation has the authority to treat toxic molds as a serious health problem.

General Clean-Up Procedures

The following is a brief outline of the typical steps taken when cleaning an area with mold contamination. (For additional information, contact one of the agencies listed above).

  • Identify and eliminate the moisture source.

  • Clean, disinfect and dry the moldy area.

  • Bag and dispose any material that has moldy residues, such as rags, paper, leaves or debris.

  • Substances that are porous and can trap molds, such as paper, rags, wallboard and rotten wood should be decontaminated and thrown out. Harder materials such as glass, plastic or metal can be kept after they are cleaned and disinfected. Ultimately, it is critical to remove the source of moisture first, before beginning remedial action, since mold growth will return shortly if an effected area becomes rewetted.

  • Sometimes air-duct systems can become contaminated with mold. If your air-duct system has had water damage, first identify the type of construction you have. Bare sheet-metal systems or sheet metal with exterior fibrous glass insulation can be cleaned and decontaminated. If your system has sheet metal with an internal fibrous glass liner or is made entirely of fibrous glass, the ductwork will normally need to be removed and discarded. Ductwork in difficult locations may have to be abandoned. If you have other questions, contact an air-duct cleaning professional or licensed contractor. Additional information can be found at www.nadca.com (website for the National Air Ducts Cleaners Association).

  • After you have cleaned as thoroughly as possible, mold odors may persist. Continue to dry and ventilate the area and search for any hidden mold. If the area continues to smell musty, you may have to reclean it. Don't replace flooring or rebuild until the area has dried completely.

  • To prevent any further damage to your building, check regularly for the following:

  • Moisture condensation on windows

  • Water incursion

  • Humidity levels less than 60 percent

  • Cracking of plasterboard

  • Bubbling of paint

  • Drywall tape loosening

  • Wood warping

  • Musty odor

If you see any of the above, seek out and take steps to eliminate the source of water penetration as quickly as possible.

Universal Insurance Facilities Ltd. offers a comprehensive package of coverages specifically designed to meet the needs of the self-storage industry. For more information, or to get a quick, no-obligation quote, write P.O. Box 40079, Phoenix, AZ 85067-0079; call 800.844.2101; fax 480.970.6240; e-mail [email protected]; visit www.vpico.com/universal.

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