Technical Papers

Mold Testing Guidelines for NJ Homeowners

Thursday, March 10th, 2016 by Bill Cowley

What is mold?

Mold is a fungus that feeds on organic material, living or dead, processed or unprocessed. Mold consumes building materials like Types of Moldwood, carpeting, drywall, and wallpaper just as easily as that apple hiding in your fridge for the past three months. Mold can grow on a variety of surfaces, both porous like wood and non-porous like glass and tile. Mold, nature’s recycler, can be found both indoors and outdoors. If it’s more than 50 degrees F, mold can grow as long as there is oxygen, some organic material for nutrients, and adequate water or moisture, and that includes high humidity. The only way to control mold growth is by controlling water and moisture.

How does mold reproduce?

Mold reproduces by making microscopic spores. Mold spores can be found almost anywhere, and are around us all the time. These spores become airborne, travelling on air currents throughout your home to find new areas on which to grow. This is why mold can quickly spread. Problems with mold growth do not become apparent until the conditions are ripe for mold spores to attach and grow.

Why are we concerned about indoor mold growth?

Indoors, mold spores are usually present. They usually do not affect most people. Some are sensitive to high mold spore counts just as some people are sensitive to high pollen counts. The serious problems with mold arises when mold spores land on wet or damp surfaces and begin to grow. Actively growing mold has the potential to cause a wide range of reactions. Some molds are irritants and can cause allergic reactions in sensitive people resulting in sneezing, red eyes, watery eyes, runny noses, and even skin rashes. People who are sensitive to mold can also have asthma attacks brought on by the mold. Allergic reactions can be immediate or delayed.

Other molds, typically black molds, produce toxins, called mycotoxins, that can be particularly hazardous to a person’s lungs when breathed in. Laboratory experiments in animals have shown that exposure to mycotoxins can result in lung inflammation -- even when the level of exposure is relatively low. Although mycotoxins are being studied in the lab, there is still a great deal about them that is not understood and research is continuing.

What are the federal mold limits?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), do not have a specific limit for mold or mold spores in a home or office setting. There are no Threshold Limit Values (TLV’s) for airborne concentrations of mold or mold spores. As such, sampling cannot be used to check a building’s compliance with any federal mold standards because there are no standards. In the vast majority of cases, according to these federal agencies, mold testing is unnecessary. If mold is found, it has to be treated. All mold is potentially harmful to some people.

Why are there no federal limits in place?

Mold exposure is a difficult issue to quantify because people’s reactions to mold can vary significantly from one person to another and from one variety of mold to another. As discussed previously, research is currently underway to better understand how different molds affect people. To reiterate, there is currently no stated threshold between safe exposure and unsafe exposure to mold. The most prudent course of action is to remove any and all mold regardless of type or quantity. Molds and people cannot safely coexist in confined indoor spaces.

How should someone test for mold in a home?

According to the New Jersey Department of Health, sampling alone does NOT usually provide all of the information needed to evaluate the extent of a mold and moisture problem. In order to properly test for mold it is important for a professional to visually inspect the areas suspected of having mold.

The person doing the visual test must have experience in identifying mold because mold comes in many different shapes, sizes, and colors. Also, there are mold imposters. These are various types of discolorations that look like mold, but, in fact, aren’t. A good inspector will pay special attention to floors, ceilings, and the corners of rooms, and look for areas where moisture can be present, areas that have had recent flooding, and areas where there may be a water intrusion problem like leaky pipes. A good inspector looks throughout all areas of the home, not just the regularly used living spaces. Ii is important to look in hidden areas like the basement, crawl space, and attic. These dark, often damp areas of the home are prime locations for mold growth.

A mold professional does more than a visual inspection. He should also simultaneously be doing a smell test.  Mold often produces foul, musty, or earthy smells. If there are occupants of the home who have symptoms consistent with mold exposure and mold cannot be seen or smelled, it may be appropriate to do mold sampling to rule in or rule out mold as the cause.

What information can be gained from sampling?

Although some private professional organizations support the idea of sampling, the CDC does NOT recommend routine sampling for mold. Those organizations that support mold testing often have members who have a financial interest in conducting the test or a financial interest in the outcome of the test. The position of government agencies like the CDC and EPA is that it is unnecessary to routinely identify the species of mold found in a home. Because of the varied individual reactions to mold, sampling and culturing are NOT reliable in determining your health risk. Again, there are no federal standards to evaluate what levels of mold are acceptable.

Since there are no federal guidelines, who is qualified to do a visual test of mold?

A homeowner is often the first person to see or smell mold in their home. An inspector is often just confirming what the homeowner already knows. It is still a good idea to have a professional inspect the mold growth to assess the scope of the problem and the most cost effective way to treat the mold. Pest Control Operators, who are licensed and certified by the State Department of Environmental Protection, often have training in mold because water intrusion and moisture issues often trigger not only mold growth, but also insect infestations as well. Whomever you choose to inspect for mold, make sure that they are up to date on the latest and most effective methodologies of mold removal such as bioremediation. 

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