Agencies have no standards for mold exposure
February 20, 2013
Superstorm Sandy left a wake of destruction when it swept through the East Coast late last year, causing widespread flooding, power outages and wind damage.
While the floodwaters have subsided and power has been restored, many of those affected by the storm are still struggling to rebuild their homes and lives. For some, that challenge has proven to be more difficult by the presence of mold, which is flourishing in homes that never sufficiently dried out or remain vacant and unheated.
According to a 2006 report published by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), certain molds can cause a variety of adverse human health effects, including allergic reactions and immune responses, infectious disease and toxic effects that can cause lung damage and pulmonary diseases.
Although there are many different types of mold, one of the most important factors affecting mold growth is moisture level.
“In general, most molds require fairly wet conditions (near saturation), lasting for many days, to extensively colonize an environment,” the report said. “However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that it should be assumed that buildings or materials soaked for more than 48 hours are contaminated with mold unless proven otherwise by adequate environmental sampling or cleaned according to EPA recommendations.”
Products most vulnerable to mold attack include waterdamaged, aged organic materials such as wooden materials, jute, wallpaper and cardboard, according to the report, and mold is typically found in homes with poor ventilation, water leakage and flooding.
In 2004, the Institute of Medicine of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences found “sufficient evidence” of an association between moldy indoor environments and upperrespiratory tract symptoms, wheezing, coughing and asthma symptoms for people with asthma.
According to the Web site of the EPA, inhaling or touching mold spores may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals regardless of whether the mold is dead or alive. Approximately 6 to 10 percent of the general population, and 15 to 50 percent of people genetically prone to develop allergies, are allergic to mold, according to the National Academy of Sciences.
n a report on its Web site, officials with the National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH) said that molds are often clearly visible in homes but can sometimes be hidden under furniture and carpets, in cabinets, behind walls and in crawlspaces or attics. In some cases, the report said, mold may be detected by a musty odor or health problems.
Residential mold can often be abated through remediation, but both the CDC and the EPA recommend the use of trained mold-remediation professionals if the mold growth covers more than 100 square feet, or a 10-foot-by-10-foot area. Guidelines developed by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene include protecting workers with disposable respirators, gloves and goggles; suppressing dust; and vacating people from the work area.
Controlling mold in the home is largely dependent on controlling the level of moisture in the home, according to the NCHH.
Non-porous materials such as metals, glass and hard plastics, and semi-porous materials such as wood and concrete, can often be cleaned, while porous materials such as ceiling tiles, wallboards and fabrics may need to be removed and discarded.
David Jacobs, an adjunct associate professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said that mold can typically be remediated through cleaning, and it is the level of contamination, as opposed to the type of mold, that would dictate removal of infested material, if necessary.
Despite an increased awareness of residential mold, there are currently no health-based standards for mold exposure, according to the NCHH; and, although the EPA and New York City have established recommendations for the safe assessment and remediation of mold, those guidelines are not legally binding.
Some states have adopted measures to require the disclosure of mold during sale or lease transactions while others have turned legislative attention to indoor air quality issues in schools and public buildings.
According to the Web site of the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), the agency does not test for mold or license individuals to perform mold testing or clean-up. In addition, the agency does not have the authority to enforce codes that define and protect indoor air quality.