Mold: What is it and what does it do?

Molds are microscopic fungi. At the present time scientists have no accurate assessment as to how many different species exist. However, more than 100,000 forms of mold are known to presently exist, with more being discovered almost daily. The most common species of molds found in homes include cladosporium, penicillium, aspergillus, alternaria, and stachybotrys. Of these, the particular species stachybotrys chartarum, aspergillus versicolor, and aspergillus niger (which is less common) are of great concern to the health of an indoor air environment.

Mold: Where does it grow?

Mold needs moisture, food, and correct temperature conditions to grow. Inside homes, molds live on both plant and animal matter, and are frequently found on drywall, wood studs, wallpaper glue, and carpet backing. Other locations are attics, the “furred” spaces between the exterior and interior walls, closets, ceiling spaces, and cabinets in kitchens and bathrooms. Flooding and plumbing breaks are a common cause of sudden mold infestations. Gypsum board is a perfect medium to promote mold growth. Molds are found everywhere, but when active colonies of molds grow inside buildings, remedial action must be taken. Leaking roofs, windows, or defective plumbing can fill the wall cavities with thriving mold colonies from which gasses and submicroscopic spores seep into the home. Mold is often hidden and can be difficult to detect A property owner may only see telltale signs, smell a musty odor, or worse yet, suffer adverse health effects.

Mold: What are mycotoxins?

Some fungi produce mycotoxins, a form of poison that comes from mold. These toxic substances are released into the air, cling to surfaces of the mold spores, or can be found within the cellular structure of the mold itself. Occupants of a home or building can be exposed to the toxins by a variety of means, including inhalation, ingestion, or through skin contact. As molds grow, they produce airborne spores, which can travel through ventilation systems that in effect serve as delivery systems for spores and these poisons. Spores can be emitted from fungal growth in walls.

Mold: How does it affect people?

Different species of fungi produce different reactions in different people. Some people react very seriously to low ranges of exposure, while others do not react even to substantial exposure. Because mold symptoms mimic cold and flu symptoms, their connection to mold growth is often overlooked. Symptoms can include nausea and vomiting, respiratory congestion, wheezing, coughing, sore throat, fatigue, fever, headaches and backaches, dizziness, watery eyes and runny nose. Prolonged and close exposure to mold, such as living in a home that has been contaminated, can produce respiratory disease, allergies, and deteriorating immune response. People who are in regular contact with mold, especially small children and elderly persons, can sometimes suffer serious and continuing adverse health effects. Persons whose immune systems have been weakened by HIV or cancer treatment, as well as persons with asthma, are particularly at risk.

Mold: Is it a construction defect?

Mold growth can sometimes be linked to construction defects, especially those defects that cause water leakage into buildings. Moreover, claims for personal injury can be included in construction defect litigation, and are not subject to the statute of limitation period otherwise applicable to latent or hidden construction defects. How can a home or building owner test for mold? Professional assessment is needed if its suspected that a building may be contaminated. The expert will evaluate the history of occupant complaints and water intrusion into the home or building. The assessment will include a thorough visual inspection, air analysis, and sometimes various forms of “bulk sampling” of mold attached to building components. The result of the assessment may be negative, positive, or inconclusive, which requires further testing.

Mold: How to get rid of it. What can be done to get rid of mold?

While mold can become dormant when growth conditions such as moisture are removed, the remnants may remain on surfaces or in wood, ready to send off spores. Moreover, even mold that has “died” can remain toxic, and therefore requires remediation beyond mere deprivation of water sources. Systematic remediation is required to completely remove the molds to prevent the return of fungi. Although it may appear that the growth has been removed, fungal “roots” or spores known as hyphae may remain imbedded. Contaminated materials, including carpet, furniture, beds and bedding, clothing, papers, photographs, and even the children’s toys, must sometimes be removed to ensure cross-contamination does not occur after cleaning. Once a building has been contaminated, the heating and ventilation system should also be examined to determine whether it needs to be remediated. This examination can be particularly extensive when the building lacks a ducted return air system and thus wall cavities serve as the return plenum, or if the duct system has breaks or leaks. The ducts and furnace blower may be contaminated. Finally, all surfaces should be HEPA vacuumed while operating aggressive ventilation using hepa-exhausted, negative-air machines that are used to reduce spore levels to normal. During remediation, caution must be taken to keep the cleaning activities from spreading the mold spores into the air. Typically, mold remediation of contaminated buildings involves careful cleaning procedures, including isolating rooms during treatment, specialized types of equipment, and protective garments for remediation technicians.

What about a condominium development?

In a condominium development, members own the units from the skin of the interior paint inward, and the association is responsible for repair and maintenance of the structure, including the building envelope, walls, windows, roofs, and foundations. All of these are potential sources of water intrusion which can cause mold growth. Given the Owner’s Association’s (AOAO) responsibility under the Declaration of Condominium Property Regime to maintain and repair the property, once alerted to water intrusion and resultant potential for mold, the AOAO and the manager should be acutely aware of the potential for mold growth and consider investigation and remediation. The responsibility of the manager can and should be defined in the Property Management Agreement so that property management companies do not inadvertently find themselves becoming insurers for alleged failure to either identify or remediate such conditions. It is well established that the AOAO must exercise reasonable care to protect a unit from undue damage, an Association may be held to the same standard of care as a landlord as it applies to a resident’s safety. Each Association’s governing documents are different, but failure of an Association to act to remediate mold can create a substantial risk of liability.