A mold outbreak may be expensive if it does a lot of damage, can spread easily once it’s established, and has potential health implications. It’s also impossible to prevent mold from getting into a building in the first place; it can come in on clothes, pets, HVAC systems, packaging materials, and windows and doors.
The good news is that what we call “toxic mold” isn’t truly toxic or poisonous. Some molds can produce toxins or mycotoxins, but the molds themselves aren’t and haven’t been directly linked to rare or serious conditions. However, you still should remove mold as soon as possible and test the air quality to ensure the health and safety of building occupants. All it takes is a little mold know-how.
You’ll know it when you smell it. Mold has a very distinctive smell, so follow your nose to the place or thing in the building that might be infested. Mold can live almost anywhere. It thrives in wet cellulose, such as in paper and wood products, but it can grow on just about any wall, piece of furniture, section of carpeting, tile, glass or metal. Mold also spreads with moisture, so if you know of any leaks in your plumbing or places where condensation gathers — such as in the kitchen, bathroom or windowpanes — those areas are worth checking out. Mold looks like fuzzy spots or blotches in a variety of different colors, depending on the type of mold with which you’re dealing. If you can’t find it during your search, it might be time to call in a professional to rip up carpeting or look behind walls.
You also will likely tell if you have a mold problem based on health problems. Allergy or asthma symptoms can be common, and can be more intense with people who are particularly sensitive to mold. Severe reactions to mold can include fever or shortness of breath. When clearing out mold, people with weakened immune systems, lung diseases, or serious allergies might need to leave the building; talk to your doctor about appropriate measures.
The safest way to deal with mold is to clean it as completely as possible. While there are nearly 1,000 kinds of mold — toxic or otherwise — the CDC says you should treat them the same way. Molds must be removed as soon as possible, and steps taken to treat the causes so there’s less chance of another outbreak.
If your mold problem covers 10 square feet or more, or you suspect there’s contaminated water, contact professionals and the public health department. If you can handle the job on your own, make sure you have all mold-cleaning supplies you need before you get started. These include:
• an N-95 respirator to trap mold spores
• goggles without ventilation holes
• long clothing that covers your skin
• gloves — made of natural rubber, PVC or neoprene, if you’re using a biocide
• plastic bags, sheeting and other wrapping materials
• cleaning products, whether a commercial product, a combination of soap and water, or a bleach and water solution
• a wet-dry vacuum
Turn off any HVAC systems and fans to stop the mold from spreading (but open windows and doors if you’re using bleach), and lay down plastic sheeting in the area where you’re removing mold. You probably will need to throw out carpeting, upholstery, ceiling tiles or other porous materials; wrap them in plastic and throw them in the garbage outside. Thoroughly scrub surfaces and everything else with your chosen cleaning product, wearing protective gear and keeping the room well-ventilated. Completely dry everything, using a wet-dry vacuum after you’ve scrubbed. Wash any clothing you wore in hot water, and throw out any cleaning materials that can’t be thoroughly cleaned.
Air-quality tests for mold aren’t priorities before clean-up. The priority is getting the infestation taken care of as soon as possible. Once you’ve taken steps to make the building or worksite free of mold, testing can help you ensure the property is mold-free. There are a few ways you may arrange for an air-quality test for mold if you’re concerned about which type of mold or how much of it remains in the environment.
An in-home test kit allows you to run a test yourself. All you need to do is purchase a kit, follow the directions, and send your sample to a lab for professional evaluation. The costs for doing this, as well as the dependability of the results, vary.
A professional can evaluate the building with more detailed testing and equipment that wouldn’t be available to a homeowner. Contractors should be licensed with your state for mold remediation. If your mold problem is because of a water-related disaster, get in touch with the public health department or FEMA for guidance.
You can test for mold through good old-fashioned methods. Once the mold is cleaned, evaluate the infected area once in a while, along with the health of the building occupants, to see if the mold has returned. This can take time and effort, but it’s worth it for your health.
You can prevent mold outbreaks by keeping the indoor relative humidity between 30 and 50 percent, using ventilation fans when cooking or bathing, and repairing any leaks or other water sources as soon as possible. When tackling a DIY painting project, use mold inhibitors in your paints. Clean up any spills as soon as possible, and keep the air flowing inside of the building (and any HVAC systems clean) to help keep everything dry and mold-free.
You and your workers might not be able to avoid working in moldy areas, but you can make it possible for the conditions to be safer. This starts with proper equipment, which you can get through PK Safety. Whether you’re looking for respirators and filters to keep from breathing in mold, gloves and clothing to keep it off your body, or other equipment to help you in your workspace, we have something that can work for you, and the expertise to answer your questions. Get in touch with a safety expert online or by phone at 800.829.9580 to start a safety conversation.