By Dr. Mercola
Air quality is extremely important, yet for all the pollution you're exposed to outdoors, your indoor air quality can be even worse! Jim Pearson has 30 years of experience in this business, and has been working with mold for nearly as long.
When scams within the mold remediation industry became a problem, an official professional mold remediation standard and reference guide was written, which is certified by the ANSI (American National Standards Institute). This document describes the correct way to address molds, so make sure any remediator you hire follows these standards. Pearson was part of the group who wrote this standard, and during the last four years of its creation, he served as the chairman of the consensus body writing it.
What Causes Mold?
Obviously, mold is the inevitable outcome whenever you have some form of water leak or flooding in your home. Poor drainage around your house or something as simple as clogged gutters or leaky plumbing can also cause problems.
However, high humidity is another a risk factor.
Aside from flooding, poor ventilation is the second major cause of mold. You really don't want to keep any kind of wet materials around the house for any length of time (think forgotten laundry in the washing machine, for example, or wet beach towels tossed in a corner), as it can cause mold to start to grow. Mold only needs two things to thrive: water and food. Its food is any organic source, such as paper, dry wall, or wood for example.
Indications that your environment has, or is conducive to mold growth include:
✓ Water damage from putting out a fire, or any kind of water intrusion, whether internal (like a leaky pipe) or external (such as broken shingles)
✓ Condensation on windows (indicative of high humidity in an environment that can cause mold growth especially around the windows or the window sills)
✓ Musty odor
✓ Water stains
✓ New or increased allergy symptoms
✓ Cracked or peeling paint, or loose drywall tape/wall paper
✓ Rusty metal (as it's a sign of high humidity)
✓ Drawers or doors that stick
Naturally, once you have visible mold growth, it's time to take immediate action.
Mold Remediation 101
The key to mold control is moisture control, so it's important to wipe up the excess water and dry the area and any affected items within 24 to 48 hours of the leak. Once it's dry, you need to clean up the mold.
"You don't cover it up. You don't paint it over. You don't spray bleach on it. You don't do any of that kind of stuff," Pearson warns. "And you don't mess with it without protection."
As a first step, Pearson suggests taking "the middle of the road approach."
"What I want you to do is take a reasonable approach to this. It's not going to kill you. It probably won't even make you sick. But you're not supposed to have mold in your house. The Centers for Disease Control is very clear about that, the EPA is clear about that. If you see visible mold growing, there is a problem there and you need to correct it.
I'll tell you -- there is this mold that's called condensation mold. It's a mold that forms on a wall in the condensation layer on the wall. For example, if it's super cold outside and you have poor insulation in the home walls, if you have a couch pushed up against the wall, you may get a little condensation there because there is not enough airflow in the winter time… So you might get a small patch of mold.
… If you're dealing with a little patch of mold that's less than the size of a dinner plate, you can take care of it yourself quite simply. First, do not spray anything on it. Don't blow any air on it to dry it out…
[T]ake a microfiber or a terry towel, a little hot water and just a little bit of detergent. Any of the dishwashing detergents are fine. You don't need to disinfect.
Just get that and kind of sneak up on it and place it over the mold. Don't be vigorous, and move slowly. Place it over the mold and kind of gather it up into the palm of your hand and then wipe the rest of it off and you're done. It's just that simple."
Warning Against Using Vinegar
Some people suggest using vinegar to destroy visible mold, but this might not be such a great idea, according to Pearson.
"Frankly, I think it's fruitless to attempt to kill a mold with anything," he says.
… Poisons, toxins, and allergens… they're not living things. The only thing you can really kill with anything that you can put on it would be the infectious or opportunistic types of mold. There are a few and they are very dangerous.
… But frankly, we're not in the "killing mold" business, we're into the "removing of the mold." Remove the source of the water and remove the mold itself and you're pretty much good to go. I say that because I don't want people trying to put on things that they hear about, bleach and home remedies and things to wipe this stuff up thinking that they're going to kill it, because that's not the goal. The goal is to stop it from growing…"
The reason for using detergent and hot water as opposed to vinegar when removing mold is because the detergent acts as a surfactant and breaks down surface tension. This is important because mold is hydrophobic, so it repels away from water—and away from vinegar, or any kind of aerosol spray. This actually causes the spores to scatter and SPREAD.
Remediation Steps for More Serious Mold Problems
Now, if you have moldy wood, such as a moldy baseboard, cabinet, or wall, then soap and water is not going to remedy the problem. That's when you want to call in a professional, because there's no telling how bad the problem might be. The visible portion may just be the tip of the iceberg.
So, how do you pick a professional?
"They really should have some certification in the cleanup, or some kind of training… There are considerations such as airflows, negative pressures, HEPA filtration, personal protective equipment, deconstruction rather than demolition; there are so many factors to consider.
… Pick somebody who belongs to an association or some sort of industry, [that has] ongoing training and schooling and certification," Pearson suggests.
You can find contractor or professional listings on the following sites. Both the IICRC and NORMI are certifying organizations for mold remediation, but the IICRC certification is perhaps the most widely used:
- IICRC (Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification)
- NORMI (National Organization of Remediators and Mold Inspectors)
- ACAC (American Council for Accredited Certification)—a certifying body that is third-party accredited.
- The IAQA (Indoor Air Quality Association)—a membership organization with no certification program (the ACAC handles this by agreement)
- RIA (Restoration Industry Association)
Keep in mind that a mere certification or listing may not be enough. Also evaluate the remediator's qualifications and insurance (liability as well as workman's comp). With the ACAC, there are a few different levels.
Standard mold remediation includes:
|1. Setting up containments and sucking the air out with negative air pressure. (This is similar to turning on your bathroom vent fan.)|
|2. Next, they clear the air using a HEPA filtered air purifier or scrubber. The air must be cleaned because once they start working on the mold, the spores will begin to fly everywhere like light dust.|
|3. Wearing protective gear, such as HEPA filtered respirators, goggles, protective suits and latex gloves, the remediator begins taking the affected area apart. Removed parts, such as drywall, are slowly and carefully placed into a bag.|
|4. Once the affected pieces are bagged, every inch of the area is carefully HEPA vacuumed again.|
|5. Once the source of the mold has been located, it's carefully removed using hot soapy water, scrub brush, HEPA filtered sanders, chisels, or any other tool that will remove the mold.|
|6. Professional remediators will typically treat the area with a disinfectant, as bacteria accompany mold growth.|
|7. Next, the area is force dried. Once thoroughly dry, repairs can be made.|
Post Mold Remediation Air Purification Strategies
Once you've remediated the mold, or if you don't have any to begin with, you may want to consider addressing the air quality. Ozone generators effectively remove odors, even some of the most persistent ones, such as:
- Combusted materials (fire)
- Organic odors
Another useful tool in the remediation process is the photocatalytic oxidizer, which employs UV light on titanium dioxide. Pearson isn't fully convinced that it is an effective way to remove mold spores, but the UV light does destroy bacteria and viruses.
Always remember however, you must remove any mold FIRST, before you consider purifying the air of any lingering odors.
"My analogy is: you got a dead rat in your ductwork. There are two things I can do. I can put perfume on it and it will smell like a dead rat with a lot of perfume on it, or I could use ozone—but if you leave the darn thing in there, it's going to start smelling again.
Removal first, and then you can approach these other issues."
Simple Tips to Improve Your Air Quality
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), poor indoor air quality is one of the top five greatest environmental risks to public health and well-being. Amazing as it sounds, indoor air can be five to 10 times more polluted than outdoors air! This is because there's a lack of ventilation, so contaminants build up and stagnant air is re-circulated.
Common health problems that can be attributed to poor indoor air quality include:
✓ Fatigue and lethargy
✓ Poor concentration and forgetfulness
✓ Stomach- and digestive problems
✓ Neurological problems
So what can you do about it?
Regular duct work cleanings might spring to mind, but according to Pearson getting them cleaned more frequently than once every five to 10 years is unnecessary, as this is unlikely to resolve your health issues. Here too, it's important to make sure the duct cleaner is certified and well-trained. A good resource is the NADCA (National Air Duct Cleaners Association), which created the standards and lists qualified HVAC technicians.
In terms of making a difference to your health, Pearson suggests the following five guidelines to improve your indoor air quality:
- Use a HEPA filter vacuum cleaner—Standard bag- or bagless vacuum cleaners are the number one contributor to poor air quality. A regular vacuum cleaner typically has about a 20 micron tolerance. Although that's tiny, far more microscopic particles flow right through the vacuum cleaner than it actually picks up! Beware of cheaper knock-offs that profess to have "HEPA-like" filters—get the real deal
- Provide plenty of fresh air ventilation—Open your windows and regularly "air out" your home. Opening at least two windows, on opposite sides of the house, will provide good cross-ventilation through your home. Also bring your mattress and rugs outside and use a rug beater to get the dust out. (Of course, don't leave out in a high-humidity or wet area)
- Clean your furnace often—A full and impacted furnace can cause the heat exchanger to crack, which can lead to carbon monoxide leaking out. In small amounts, it may cause headaches, but in high amounts, carbon monoxide is lethal. Replace your furnace filter at least once every three months. Upgrading it to a pleated Filtrate is also a good idea.
- Avoid storing and using chemicals in your home—Storing chemicals such as drain cleaners, scrubbing powders with bleach and dishwasher powder for example under your sink can create a noxious environment. Do you get headaches when washing dishes? Check what's being stored beneath the sink! Replace what you really need and use with non-toxic alternatives. Ditto for old paints, glues, fertilizers and pesticides being kept in your garage.
- Avoid powders—Talcum and other personal care powders can be problematic as they float and linger in the air after each use. Many powders are allergens due to their tiny size, and can cause respiratory problems.
I would also suggest adding a few house plants, as they can act as natural air purifiers. NASA, along with the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA), conducted a classic study on the benefits of plants on indoor air, and found that houseplants were able to remove up to 87 percent of air toxins in 24 hours. They recommended using 15 to 18 "good-sized" houseplants in 6- to 8-inch diameter containers for an 1,800 square-foot house.
Many more details on the issues of mold and air quality are discussed in this interview—far too many to include in this summary, so for more information, please listen to the interview in its entirety or read through the transcript.