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.

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.

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

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.


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


What “IS” a Mold Inspection?

July 14, 2016

I once again raise this question because I’ve been called in to provide yet another second opinion of a mold inspection that consisted of nothing more than the collection of a few air samples for mold spores.  I assure you that a correct mold assessment in accordance with the only industry standard of practice does not involve the random sampling of mold.  The only industry standard of practice is the ASTM D-7338 Assessment of Fungal Growth in Buildings.

The question of just what is a mold assessment is a frustrating and surprisingly hard question for many industry professionals to answer.  That’s right; many mold professionals just don’t know their own industry well enough to know the prevailing standard of practice.  When I’m asked to provide a second opinion on a mold inspection, I always want to talk with the original mold assessors.  Given the chance, I will always take the opportunity to try to raise the awareness of the original mold assessor and inform them of the ASTM D-7338 and the process of providing a valuable mold assessment and report.  I feel that this is best for our industry and for the consumer.

So just what is it that many mold assessors believe is a mold inspection?  Many believe that a mold assessment is simply testing for mold.  There is plenty of guidance on the value of mold sampling but if the ill-informed mold assessor isn’t aware of the industry standard of practice, the ASTM D-7338, there is little chance that they will be aware of the very public opinion of mold sampling.

Let’s just review the industry position on mold sampling.  Ten years ago, the ACGIH concluded that air testing provided a “snap shot” of conditions at the exact time and place of the sampling, but nothing more.   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.

What does the laboratory say about the interpretation of the collected mold samples?

  •        The client is solely responsible for the use and interpretation
  •        Note: Interpretation is left to the company and/or persons who conducted the field work.
  •        The “Lab” shall have no liability to the client or the client’s customer with respect to decisions or recommendations made, actions taken or courses of conduct implemented by either the client or the client’s customer as a result of or based upon the Test Results.

The mold assessor that collected the mold samples is the laboratory’s client not the property owner.  That is something that the mold sampler seems to not understand.

Let’s look a bit further. When the following governmental and industry organizations were asked if mold testing is necessary, this is what they had to say.

  •        American Industrial Hygiene Association, AIHA There are no standards for “acceptable” levels of mold in the indoor environment. 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.
  •        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.
  •        Occupational Health and Safety Administration, OSHA In most cases, if visible mold growth is present, sampling is unnecessary. Your first step should be to inspect for any evidence of water damage and visible mold growth.
  •        U.S. Department of Labor There are no standards for acceptable levels of mold in buildings, and the lack of a definitive correlation between exposure levels and health effects makes interpreting the data difficult, if not impossible.
  •        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 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.
  •        NYC Guidelines on Assessment and Remediation of Fungi in Indoor Environments, The Department of Health, DOH, should continue to emphasize in its public education materials that sampling for airborne mold is unlikely to provide reliable information for decision-making in damp or moldy buildings.

So, should you sample 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.  Mold spore trap air samples do not have the ability to establish the presence of any mycotoxins.  Air sampling’s lack of utility in determining the level of mold found in indoor air may be a surprise to some, given the frequent references to these tests and mold litigation.  Unfortunately, those that reference mold testing in mold litigation are never directly involved in mold litigation or they would know what the reality is, mold sampling to the genus level is worthless in court.

Mold assessors should bear in mind that samples provide information about a site as it existed at the time tested.  However, the findings may not represent conditions at a time in the past or future, even the relatively recent past or near future. Changes in the kinds, concentrations, and proportions of biological agents in the air can be rapid and substantial.  Bioaerosols: Assessment and Control, Section

ASTM D7338 Standard Guide for Assessment of Fungal Growth in Buildings 7.1 The most important requirement of an assessment for fungal growth is an on-site inspection of the subject building. It is very important to remember that the ASTM D-7338 is the only recognized standard for mold assessment.  According to the ASTM D-7338 the parts of a mold assessment include:

  •        the collection of background information,
  •        the formulation of a hypothesis or hypotheses,
  •        on-site inspection including moisture dynamics,
  •        an evaluation of the HVAC system,
  •        hypothesis testing,
  •        site documentation and written report.

The scope of work defines the problem and, just as importantly, which part of the basic assessment and which of the procedures are to be performed.   The scope of work will define the inspection boundaries.  The ASTM D-7338 clearly states that “Within the inspection boundary, all surfaces should be inspected to the extent feasible, including

  •        above suspended ceilings and
  •        inside pipe chases,
  •        attics, and
  •        crawlspaces.

The exterior of the building and adjacent grounds should also be inspected for moisture intrusion sites and air leaks.”

The mold inspector that only samples for mold and provides nothing more than a laboratory report will attempt to exclude virtually all areas of a building from his responsibility.  Below is an excerpt from a peer reviewed mold inspection report “Disclaimer”.  It is a remarkable example of how some mold inspectors attempt to alleviate themselves form the responsibility of the very job that they were hired to perform.


Certain areas are considered inaccessible and impractical to inspect including, but not limited to,

the interiors of walls and inaccessible areas below; areas beneath wood floors over concrete; areas concealed by floor coverings; and areas to which there is no access without defacing or tearing out lumber, masonry, roofing or finished workmanship; structures; portions of the attic concealed or made inaccessible by insulation, belongings, equipment or ducting; portions of the attic or roof cavity concealed due to inadequate crawl space; areas of the attic or crawl space made inaccessible due to construction; interiors of enclosed boxed eaves; portions of the sub area concealed or made inaccessible by ducting or insulation; enclosed bay windows; portions of the interior made inaccessible by furnishings; areas where locks prevented access; areas concealed by appliances; areas concealed by stored materials; and areas concealed by heavy vegetation.

There is no economically practical method to make these areas accessible. However, they may be subject to attack by microbial organisms. No opinion is rendered concerning the conditions in these aforementioned or other inaccessible areas. Furthermore, mold grows. As such, the inspection and report produced by Mold Assessor is not a guarantee that mold does not exist.

As a courtesy Mold Assessor may point out conditions that contribute to mold growth but such comments are not part of the bargained for report, protocol, or supplemental information. The protocol is not intended to be either exhaustive or inclusive of all pertinent requirements, methods or procedures that might be appropriate on a particular mold remediation project.

Anyone using this document should understand the limitations with its use, and rely on his or her own independent judgment, or as appropriate, seek the advice of competent professionals in determining the exercise of reasonable care in any given situation.

This type of disclaimer is an example of how some mold inspectors are intent on limiting their area of responsibility.  What exactly are property owners that hire this mold inspector paying for?  What exactly is the value provided by the mold assessor?  Most importantly, why the need to limit the area of responsibility in direct contradiction to the ASTM D-7338?  The answer is that this mold assessor, like many, had no idea that the ASTM D-7338 even existed. This mold assessor, like many, felt that the simple collection of air samples for mold was a mold inspection in direct contradiction to the government and industry positions sited above.

As with any industry the mold industry has a standard of practice that must be followed to provide a property owner with necessary and relevant information regarding any possible mold issue within their property.  Mold sampling will never have the ability to provide any of that necessary and relevant information

A mold inspection in accordance with the ASTM D-7338 will provide the property owner with a wealth of necessary and relevant information.

The ASTM D-7338 states in Section 7.5.3 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.

Exposed surfaces (including building materials, furnishings, and contents) should be examined for past and ongoing damage including:

(1)  suspect fungal growth,

(2)  standing water

(3)  water stains,

(4)  dampness to touch, and

(5)  blistering, warping, de-lamination, or other deterioration.

The ASTM D-7338 states in Section 7.5.4 Identification of Potentials for Fungal Growth

The inspection should identify moisture sources and moisture pathways, including:

(1)  sites where condensation may occur,

(2)  equipment or activities which may release water,

(3)  pathways for water movement and

(4)  areas where leakage is likely.

–  Staining patterns are often useful in identifying moisture sources.

The ASTM D-7338 states in Section 7.5.5 Presence of Odors

Detection of musty odors should always be noted.

(1)  Sources of such odors should be located.

(2)  If the source is not apparent, intrusive investigation may be required.

The ASTM D-7338 states in Section 7.5.6 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.

The ASTM D-7338 states in Section 7.5.8 HVAC Inspection, if applicable per the scope of work

The interiors of HVAC equipment in contact with ventilation air should be inspected for indicators of excessive moisture or suspect fungal growth.

Such areas may include intake and return plenums, filters, coils, condensate pans, fans, housing insulation, and supply ducts immediately downstream from the coils.

The ASTM D-7338 states in Section 7.6.1 Site Map—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.

The ASTM D-7338 states in Section 7.6.2 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).

The ASTM D-7338 states in Section 7.6.3 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

The ASTM D-7338 states in Section 7.6.4 Visual Documentation—Photographs or videotapes are often helpful in documenting building conditions. Captions should note location, timing, and context.

The ASTM D-7338 states in Section 7.6.5 Additional Detail—Start and stop time, temperature, humidity, occupancy, condition, and housekeeping of the property.

With a clearly written standard of practice for mold assessment, it’s truly hard to believe that there are so many mold assessors that provide a client little more than a few air samples for mold and call it a mold inspection.  Worse yet is when these mold inspectors call the simple collection of air samples for mold air quality samples.  Both are perfect examples of over selling and under delivering.

More importantly, I would stress that a mold assessment is NOT the collection of mold samples or testing for mold.  It may include the collection of mold samples but the collection of mold samples is NOT, on its own, a mold assessment.

If you hire a licensed mold assessor you should receive a written report in accordance with the ASTM D-7338 signed by the licensed mold assessor that performed the assessment.  Not by someone in another location that never visited your home or office.  When you hire a licensed mold assessor you should receive the written report signed by the licensed mold assessor that performed the assessment and never be required to pay an additional fee for a written report.

That’s ridicules, what are you paying for if you aren’t receiving a written mold assessment report from your licensed assessor.

So what should the written mold assessment report include?

As the ASTM D-7338 clearly states.  A detailed evaluation of data obtained from a building history and inspection to formulate an initial hypothesis about the

  •        origin,
  •        identity, location,
  •        and extent of amplification of mold growth

The written report can then be provided to licensed mold remediators that can then provide you with a written estimate for the remediation.

Finally, I close with questions you should ask your mold assessor before you hire them.

o    (Tip: You’re looking for conflicts of interest here. If they also perform remediation, they have a vested interest in finding mold to clean up.)

  •        Do you have references from clients within the past year that I can call to ask how the inspection went?

o   (Tip: Be cautious of anyone new to the business and doesn’t have references.)

  •        Do you perform mold remediation?

Please, as a take away, always ask if your mold assessor is Licensed and aware of the ASTM D-7338


Thank You


John P. Lapotaire, CIEC

Indoor Air Quality Solutions, IAQS

Indoor Air Quality Association, IAQA President



%d bloggers like this: