What “IS” a Professional Mold Inspection?

October 21, 2017

A Professional Mold Assessment

To begin we should define a mold assessment and remind consumers that “All molds are created equal.  It is not necessary to determine what type of mold you may have.  All molds should be treated the same with respect to potential health risks and removal.”  This is according to Center for Disease Control, CDC.  Consumers should be aware that anyone using the terms “Black Mold” or “Toxic Mold” are preying on their fears.

The purpose of a mold assessment is to clearly establish the

  1. Cause & origin,
  2. Location, and
  3. Extent of mold growth

A mold assessment is not the identification of the type of mold by sampling.

A mold inspector doesn’t simply look for visible signs of a mold problem, but instead looks for signs of the possible cause of the mold problem. There can be many cases with no visible evidence.   However, a professional mold assessor will know what and where to look.  A professional mold assessor will look behind base boards, inside walls, under flooring, inside ceilings, and in other hidden spaces.  a professional mold assessor will look for water damage, pathways for water movement, and the sources of moisture that are essential for the growth of mold.  Moisture and mold go hand in hand; without moisture there can be no mold growth.

If mold is identified in the clients home the mold inspection report should identify the cause of the moisture supporting the mold growth so that the cause can be corrected and the mold once remediated will not return.  The next step is to identify the extent of the mold damage.  This involves the use of a site plan as described by the ASTM D-7338 Standard Guide for Assessment of Fungal Growth in Buildings. The report will be used by the remediation contractor as a scope of work or remediation protocol.

A Mold Remediation Protocol outlines the needed actions for any necessary mold remediation. Each plan is individually prepared based on the mold assessment of the property and the size and area of the mold contamination.  A properly prepared Mold Remediation Protocol should be written according to the ANSI Approved IICRC S-520 standard and reference guide for the remediation of mold damaged structures and contents.

When incomplete or poorly written, the mold remediation protocol can increase the cost of the mold remediation for the property owner as well as create possible liability for the remediation contractor.

Red Flag #1

Mold inspections by the mold remediator

The first “RED FLAG” when hiring a mold inspector is the “Free” mold inspection from the mold remediator.  Nothing is Free.  These free mold inspections are generally from mold remediators wanting to provide you with expensive mold remediation.  This is a huge conflict of interest and should be avoided at all cost.  These inspections typically include little more than the collection of mold samples to confirm the presence of mold and often to use the type of mold to scare the client into believing their mold issue is far more severe than they ever thought.  These guys will make a mold mountain out of a mold hill.

To protect the citizens of Florida from these scams, Florida Governor Crist signed Mold legislation (SB2234) into law. The new law regulates the Mold Inspection and Mold Remediation Industry.  The statute became effective July 1, 2010.  Under that statute it clearly states that the assessor cannot provide the remediation.

Florida Statutes and Rules  Chapter 468, Part XVI, Florida Statutes

468.8419 Prohibitions; penalties.—

A person may not: Perform or offer to perform any mold remediation to a structure on which the mold assessor or the mold assessor’s company provided a mold assessment within the last 12 months.

Perform or offer to perform any mold assessment to a structure on which the mold remediator or the mold remediator’s company provided a mold remediation within the last 12 months.

Accept any compensation, inducement, or reward from a mold assessor or mold assessor’s company for the referral of any business from the mold assessor or the mold assessor’s company.

Offer any compensation, inducement, or reward to a mold assessor or mold assessor’s company for the referral of any business from the mold assessor or the mold assessor’s company.

One would think that the statute would prevent the continued mold assessments by mold remediators.  Unfortunately, this remains the mold industry’s #1 conflict of interest.

Red Flag #2

The sample only mold inspection.

Unfortunately, many believe that a mold assessment is simply testing for mold.  Many simply collect a few samples for mold and provide the client with a laboratory report.  These mold samplers provide no relevant or necessary information that would inform the client of the cause and origin of the water supporting the mold or the extent of the mold impacted building material.  Sampling definitely does not provide a scope of work or mold remediation protocol.

The government position on mold sampling

The Center for Disease Control, CDC. – There are no accepted standards for mold sampling in indoor environments or for analyzing and interpreting the data in terms of human health. Molds are ubiquitous in the environment, and can be found almost anywhere samples are taken. It is not known, however, what quantity of mold is acceptable in indoor environments with respect to health. CDC does not recommend routine sampling for molds. Generally, it is not necessary to identify the species of mold growing in a building. Measurements of mold in air are not reliable or representative. If mold is seen or smelled, there is a potential health risk; therefore, no matter what type of mold is present, you should arrange for its removal.

The Center for Disease Control, CDC’s current position is that air sampling for mold is nothing more than a snap shot and that such a snap shot is not reliable, representative or worth the cost. The CDC states very clearly that “Any claim based solely on air sampling results is inherently suspect.” The CDC goes on to state that “There is no reason to respond to questionable testing by conducting more of it. I believe that is a very clear position from a reputable source.

“The term “toxic mold” is not accurate. While certain molds are toxigenic, meaning they can produce toxins (specifically mycotoxins), the molds themselves are not toxic, or poisonous. Hazards presented by molds that may produce mycotoxins should be considered the same as other common molds which can grow in your house. There is always a little mold everywhere – in the air and on many surfaces.”

US Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, – If you know you have a mold problem, it is more important to spend time and resources solving the moisture problem and getting rid of the mold than to spend it on sampling. 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.

The Florida Department of Health, – The Florida Department of Health does not recommend mold testing or sampling to see if you have a mold problem, or to see what kind of mold might be growing.

So, should you inspect for mold by just sampling for mold?

No, never for the purpose of mold investigation. Why? There are too many variables impacting the results and the sample size is too small for air testing for mold to be reliable. The type of mold will not change the necessary mold remediation. The genus of mold is just not relevant or necessary unless you are trying to frighten a client into believing that they have “Toxic” mold.

The industry Standard for Mold Assessment

The industry has a standard for the assessment of mold.  The ASTM D7338 Standard Guide for Assessment of Fungal Growth in Buildings.  The standard was developed to provide a go-to reference for anyone inspecting for mold in buildings. The standard was developed by Subcommittee D22.08, part of ASTM International Committee D22 on Air Quality.

“The lack of consensus standards in the fungal sampling and analysis practice was the driving force behind establishing D22.08,” says its chairman, Lisa Rogers. “All of our efforts are focused on bringing consistency, reliability and accuracy to the practice.”

The ASTM D-7338 states that the assessor provide the Identification of Current Water Damage and Suspect Fungal Growth.  All surfaces within the inspection boundary should be systematically evaluated for indicators of moisture damage and fungal growth.  If the source is not apparent, intrusive investigation may be required.  The ASTM D-7338 states that the assessor provide the Classification of Inspection Observations.  Classify each distinct area or area of interest within the inspection boundary as one of the following categories:

  1. no apparent fungal growth and no apparent water damage;
  2. water damage having no visually suspect or confirmed fungal growth,
  3. visually suspect or confirmed fungal growth having no apparent water damage, &
  4. water damage having visually suspect or confirmed fungal growth.

A site/floor plan should be prepared showing each inspection classification, as determined in 7.5.6.   The plan should be sufficiently detailed to allow each area of interest to the assessment to be unambiguously located.

Documentation of Suspect Fungal Growth—Wherever suspect or confirmed fungal growth is identified during the inspection, documentation should include:

  1. extent (for example, approximate square footage of suspect growth),
  2. severity (for example, relative darkness or continuity of stain), growth pattern (for example, light versus heavy growth and spotty versus continuous growth), and
  3. clues to apparent cause (for example, exterior wall, condensation near a HVAC vent, associated with water staining).

Documentation of Moisture Damage—In addition to documenting the location of moisture damage, as above, further documentation should include:

  1. apparent sources of leaks and other moisture sources, and
  2. apparent timing and duration (for example, whether the moisture has been resolved, active (currently wet) or the moisture source is likely to reoccur

What should the client receive at the end of their mold inspection. 

Mold Inspection Report and Mold Remediation Protocol if necessary

The written report should be written in accordance with the ASTM D-7338 and signed by the licensed mold assessor that performed the assessment.  The Remediation Protocol should be very specific to the client’s loss.  The protocol should outline the specific material and cleaning process for the mold remediator.  The area of loss should never be ambiguous or left to the remediator to define.  Each plan should be individually prepared based on the mold assessment of the property and the size and area of the mold contamination.  The protocol should include a floor plan clearly identifying the area of loss, the extent of the damage, the mold impacted building material to be removed, and the necessary containment strategy to separate the impacted areas from the unimpacted areas.

Questions you should ask your mold assessor before you hire them.

  1. Are you licensed by the State of Florida?
  2. Do you perform mold remediation?
  3. Will you be conducting a visual inspection or just mold testing?
  4. Will I be getting a written report from you or the laboratory?
  5. How do you interpret the laboratory results?
  6. Will you be performing the mold assessment in accordance with the ASTM D-7338 Standard Guide for Assessment of Fungal Growth in Buildings?
  7. Are you familiar with the IICRC S-520?
  8. What qualifications do you have to perform mold inspection?
  9. What certifications do you have?
  10. Do you have references from clients within the past year that I can call to ask how the inspection went?

 


Storm Damage Mold Remediation Consumer Alert!

October 7, 2017

bb-gif1.gifMany across Florida have been directly impacted by the recent storms that wreaked havoc on our beautiful state.

In a recent discussion with Richard “Rick” Morrison, Executive Director, Division of Professions Mold-Related Services Licensing Program regarding the possibility of the Governor waving licensure requirements for mold related services.  Rick felt that the state has enough licensed mold professionals to not recommend waving the licensing requirements at this time.

Those impacted by the storm and in need of water and mold damage restoration should ensure that the contractors providing services are licensed and in good standing with the state of Florida.  http://www.myfloridalicense.com/dbpr/pro/mold/index.html

I also wanted to take a minute to provide a few questions that you can ask your mold assessor or mold remediation contractor before you make the decision to hire.

  1.     Are you licensed?
  2.     Who will be providing the mold assessment?
  3.     Who will be providing the mold remediation?
  4.     What will my mold assessment consist of?
  5.     Will I receive a written report or just a laboratory report?

The most common mistake property owners can make is to allow the mold remediation contractor to provide the mold assessment.  Mold remediation is a very profitable business. Many mold remediation contractors use free or deeply discounted mold inspections as a means to acquire expensive mold remediation jobs.  This is the beginning of the “Fear” based approach to mold not the “Fact” based professional approach.

Unfortunately, this is a common practice.  The assessment often includes the collection of mold samples and the declaration that the home is contaminated with “Black Mold”.  Sampling of any kind is more often than not necessary and more often than not used to scare the homeowner into believing that their home is contaminated with “Toxic Black Mold” or “Stachybotrys”.  Fear not Fact!

If your mold professional brings up the “Black Mold” issue walk him or her right out the door.

The Center for Disease Control clearly states, “There is always some mold everywhere – in the air and on many surfaces. Molds have been on the Earth for millions of years. You do not need to know the type of mold growing in your home, and the CDC does not recommend performing routine sampling for molds.”  Fact!

The type of mold will not change the need for mold remediation nor will the type of mold change the severity of the water and mold damage.  There are over 100,000 molds and over 10,000 have the ability to produce mycotoxins.  There are also a few well know molds that are repeatedly used to scare consumers such as “Black Toxic Stachybotrys”.

From the CDC website.  “The term “toxic mold” is not accurate. While certain molds are toxigenic, meaning they can produce toxins (specifically mycotoxins), the molds themselves are not toxic, or poisonous. Hazards presented by molds that may produce mycotoxins should be considered the same as other common molds which can grow in your house. There is always a little mold everywhere – in the air and on many surfaces.”

These “Black Mold” fear tactics began in Cleveland, Ohio, when in 1993 and 1994 where there was a cluster of cases of pulmonary hemosiderosis among infants. with a conducted titled “Study of Toxin Production by Isolates of Stachybotrys chartarum and Memnoniella echinata Isolated during a Study of Pulmonary Hemosiderosis in Infants.”  Yes that is a mouth full but most government studies have grandiose titles.

The problem with the study is that it was preliminary and incomplete.  Worse yet is that most in the mold and restoration industry have never read any of these studies or the final opinions of these studies.

Below is the final opinion of the study from the CDC.

“A review within CDC and by outside experts of the investigation of acute pulmonary hemorrhage/hemosiderosis in infants has identified shortcomings in the implementation and reporting of the investigation described in MMWR (1,2) and detailed in other scientific publications authored, in part, by CDC personnel (3-5). The reviews led CDC to conclude that a possible association between acute pulmonary hemorrhage/hemosiderosis in infants and exposure to molds, specifically Stachybotrys chartarum, commonly referred to by its synonym Stachybotrys atra, was not proven.”

The CDC Position on Toxic Mold and Stachybotrys.  https://www.cdc.gov/mold/stachy.htm

The term “toxic mold” is not accurate. While certain molds are toxigenic, meaning they can produce toxins (specifically mycotoxins), the molds themselves are not toxic, or poisonous. Hazards presented by molds that may produce mycotoxins should be considered the same as other common molds which can grow in your house. There is always a little mold everywhere – in the air and on many surfaces. There are very few reports that toxigenic molds found inside homes can cause unique or rare health conditions such as pulmonary hemorrhage or memory loss. These case reports are rare, and a causal link between the presence of the toxigenic mold and these conditions has not been proven.

Stachybotrys chartarum (also known by its synonym Stachybotrys atra) is a greenish-black mold. It can grow on material with a high cellulose and low nitrogen content, such as fiberboard, gypsum board, paper, dust, and lint. Growth occurs when there is moisture from water damage, excessive humidity, water leaks, condensation, water infiltration, or flooding. Constant moisture is required for its growth. It is not necessary, however, to determine what type of mold you may have. All molds should be treated the same with respect to potential health risks and removal.

US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC145304/

While many papers suggest a similar relationship between Stachybotrys and human disease, the studies nearly uniformly suffer from significant methodological flaws, making their findings inconclusive. As a result, we have not found well-substantiated supportive evidence of serious illness due to Stachybotrys exposure in the contemporary environment.

Despite the well documented lack of connection between Stachybotrys and health effects, including the CDC, many in the mold and restoration industry continue to use these wild and scientifically unsupported scare tactics to charge for mold remediation services that are unnecessary.  I can assure you that Stachybotrys is in every home and building to some degree or another.  We have been cohabitating with mold since we lived in caves.

The value in a professional mold assessment is in the identification of the specific area of the mold contamination by a licensed professional that is not providing the mold remediation.  With the identification of the specific area of mold contamination in a written report from your assessor, licensed mold remediators can provide estimates for the mold remediation.

The specific area of mold contamination cannot and will never be revealed by sampling the air and scaring homeowners with specific molds.   The sample only approach to a mold assessment has no value to anyone but the sampler who collects a fee for the sample.  Remember the type of mold does not change the method of mold remediation, does not change the area impacted by mold, and will never elevate the concern for exposure to occupants.  All claims that the type of mold raises the severity are either by the ill-informed or those looking to prey on your fears for profit.

A professional mold assessment would include the area affected by the mold as required by the ASTM D-7338.  A professional assessment would report that the area impacted by mold.  For example, the area of mold growth is approximately 4 square feet of the exterior south facing bedroom wall as shown on the attached restoration floor plan and diagram.  Remove the base boards and the drywall from the floor to a height of 2 feet.  The diagram would show the area of affected building material that would require removal.  The type of mold would not matter and would not change the area impacted or the method of remediation.   Fact not Fear.

Those wanting to insight fear would report nothing more than the spore counts of samples collected as elevated or as having the presence of Stachybotrys “Black Toxic Mold”.  Fear not Fact.

The cost of restoring your home can be greatly increased if you’re not careful when hiring a mold professional.  Be aware of scare tactics, ask for references, never hire anyone that is recommending sampling, never ever hire anyone that uses the term “Black or Toxic Mold”.

I hope this helps at least one family through this time of recovery.

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The Art of Over Selling and Under Delivering

July 19, 2016

Air Sampling for Mold Spores is NOT a Mold Inspection and NOT an Air Quality Sample!

Mold has become an issue for homeowners and home buyers across the country.  Mold inspections have become a part of most real estate transactions.   However, here in Florida, a mold inspection has become a bit cliché even passé.  Today it’s all about Air Quality.  Why call it a mold sample if you can charge more and call it an Air Quality Sample?  I’ve given my 2 cents about the value of mold sampling and the total lack of value in simply sampling for mold and calling it a mold inspection so I won’t beat a dead horse, well not much.

If anyone is purchasing a home and they want to know if there is a mold issue they will typically ask their home inspector to collect a few air samples for airborne mold spores.  This is the add-on feature that benefits the home inspector and adds no valuable information to the home buyer.  But hey, the home buyer doesn’t know that, right?  Worse yet, the home inspector doesn’t even know that.  The home inspector isn’t aware of the standard of practice for mold inspection, the ASTM D-7338.  The home inspector simply excludes as much liability as possible in his or her inspection disclaimer and collects a few air samples for airborne mold spores and calls them air quality samples, C’est La Vie, That’s life, thanks for the extra cash and on to the next job.

The home buyer who then becomes the homeowner may soon realize that there’s an issue with water intrusion that the home inspector missed and the mold samples for airborne mold spores didn’t discover.  How could that be?  The home inspector inspected for mold, right? The home was sampled for mold, right?  There were air quality samples collected that said there was no problem, Right?

No, not true.  The home was never inspected for mold, and actually only a very, very, small amount of the air was sampled for mold.  The actual air quality was never established, and if the one component that was sampled (mold) is undisturbed, the mold won’t be in the air.  The air sampling for mold spores is extremely unreliable and will not provide any valuable information.  (pardon my beating the dead horse a bit).

The home inspector or mold inspector that collected the samples for airborne mold spores provided the homeowner with no valuable information about the home they just purchased.  So now that the new homeowner has discovered a water or mold problem they have to hire a new mold assessor to take a second look at the home.  If we are contacted, we always take the opportunity to ask the new homeowners to provide us with their mold inspection report to review.

We have a great collection of mold inspection reports from home and mold inspectors all across the state.  Insurance companies and homeowners have been asking us for a second opinion for years and our collection of worthless reports is substantial and growing each week.  How our industry came to this is amazing?  Let’s just say it’s capitalism at the expense of personal ethics.  If all you care about is making a buck and you could care less about the value of what you’re providing your client, go ahead and collect a few more air samples for mold spores and call them “Air Quality Samples”.  That’s capitalism without ethics.

So exactly what happens when we get to the home and actually take a look.  A disclaimer free look.  A true mold inspection in accordance with the ASTM D-7338.  Let’s face it, if we’re there, then there’s a problem.  If there wasn’t, the homeowner wouldn’t have called us, right?  So now we have a homeowner that should have had the opportunity to identify a problem with the home they wanted to purchase prior to that purchase.  Critical, right?  That’s what they hired the first mold inspector for.  To identify any issues with the home that can support mold growth.  Prior to the purchase is the time to identify any mold related issues.  That’s when the issues can be used during the decision making phase of the purchase.

Regardless of the issue, everything can be negotiated if the issues are identified during the buying phase of the transaction.  What the home buyer wants is information about the home.  Valuable information about the home not useless airborne mold spore count information.  Valuable information like, “The home you are wanting to purchase has areas of building envelope failure that are allowing water intrusion that could support mold growth in the following areas.” Then list the areas of failure. The list should be specific and define the extent of the water and mold damage, describe the failure, and don’t be concerned with the genus of mold because it doesn’t matter.  What matters to the home buyer is the knowledge any issues before they make the purchase, not after.

The collection of air samples is a feel good placebo that may help facilitate a sale but is not a mold inspection.  If you’re selling a mold inspection, then provide a mold inspection.  The only thing worse than collecting air samples for mold spores and calling it a mold inspection is selling that simple collection of airborne mold spores as an air quality sample.  With all that can be in the air, mold is but one small piece of the air quality puzzle.  I can assure you that sampling the air for mold spores is not and never will be an air quality sample any more than it’s a mold inspection.  This is the art of over selling and under delivering.

This brief article should be informative.  It should raise questions, but it shouldn’t offend.  If it does offend you then you’re probably the guy collecting the air samples for mold spores and either calling it a mold inspection or air quality sampling.  If that’s the case, no apologies necessary on my end.  My advice, stop it. Stop over selling and under delivering just to make a few extra bucks.

I gotta go for now, I have a dead horse to go kick in another forum…….

John P. Lapotaire, CIEC

#IAQS


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