Weekend House Call
Transcripts from “Weekend House Call”
“Mold: Hazard or Hype?”
Aired October 4, 2003
GUPTA: Welcome to Weekend House Call.
Today we’re talking about mold. Well, it’s been in the headlines a lot lately. Ed McMahon, you know him, he won $7.2 million, not in a Publisher’s Clearinghouse, but in a mold lawsuit. Beagles are sniffing out mold in California and spore scares are evacuating schools.
Is it something you should be concerned about? That’s what you’re asking yourself? Or is it more hype than hazard?
GUPTA (voice-over): When Gloria Green’s (ph) basement flooded, her problems had just begun.
GLORIA GREEN: The moment that I step in the house, I usually carry a Kleenex or a tissue with me and my eyes start watering.
GUPTA: Mold is everywhere, microscopic fungi that live in every yard and every home.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can go in any home, any wall, any cabinet and swab that area and you’re going to have mold, because it’s part of the environment.
GUPTA: As the Greens learned, given the proper conditions, mold spores that lie dormant for years can germinate and make some people feel sick.
Dr. Stanley Fineman, an Atlanta allergist, hears a lot about mold from his patients, but worries that recent lawsuits and media reports of toxic mold have fueled undue hysteria.
DR. STANLEY FINEMAN, ALLERGIST: We see a lot of patients who read articles or talk to other people and are really scared of the fact that they might get sick from a mold exposure.
GUPTA: The EPA also plays down the hype.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think the notion that this is some widespread epidemic in the United States is really, is overblown.
GUPTA: But everyone agrees prolonged exposure over a protracted period of time can be a problem, particularly for people with allergies, asthma, respiratory disease, hypersensitivity or weakened immune system. For them, mold can produce such symptoms as nasal and sinus congestion, cough, wheezing, breathing difficulties, sore throat, skin and eye irritation or upper respiratory infections.
Louie Prestigiacomo isn’t allergic and he isn’t worried. He’s cleaning up a home overwhelmed by mold and plans to move in.
LOUIE PRESTIGIACOMO: I know that mold exists everywhere. It exists in nature and everybody’s home. It’s just at a higher level here.
GUPTA: According to the EPA, if you have more than 10 square feet of visible mold, it’s time to call in a professional. But in modest cases, the answer can be as simple as a call to the plumber and a little soapy water.
GUPTA: And what I learned is that a dry house is a safe house. It’s key for keeping mold at bay. Mold loves moisture, so if you get rid of the dampness you’re going to get rid of the majority of the mold. Now, if mold is a problem in your home, clean it up promptly. That’s really key. And fix the water problem, the source. It’s important to dry water damaged areas and all those items within 24 to 48 hours to prevent additional mold growth. Buy a dehumidifier. It can reduce the moisture in your home, as well.
If you want to prevent mold from growing, here are a few tips. It’s most likely to grow in basements and bathrooms — remember the two Bs. So try to get ventilation in those areas especially. Also try and make sure your entire house has adequate ventilation elsewhere. Run a fan when showering. This is an important point. And try to keep the humidity level in your home below 50 percent.
Glenn Fellman from the Indoor Air Quality Association is going to be joining us from Chicago and I just had — I learned all about television this morning. I heard that the bird was down and that there was no one in the teleport. Therefore he’s not on the television, or at least not right now. He joins us by phone.
Welcome, Mr. Fellman.
How are you doing?
GLENN FELLMAN, INDOOR AIR QUALITY ASSOCIATION: I’m doing great, thank you very much. A quick question for you before we even start. We’ve got a lot of e-mails. Toxic mold and black mold, it seems I read about this in the newspapers all the time. What exactly is that and how prevalent a problem is that, as well?
FELLMAN: Toxic mold is a term, really a media term that’s come out more than a technical term of ours in the industry. Mold can grow anywhere in a home and there’s a variety of different species and looks to mold. Whether it’s black or green or white really isn’t the issue. You just don’t want to have the mold indoors.
There can be mold that is black in color which may not be harmful and which could be harmful.
A quick e-mail now from Mark in Texas.
He asks, “How can you determine if you have a mold problem in your home if it’s inside a wall?” I was wondering that same thing. “Is there a recognizable smell or should there be some evidence also on the outside of the wall?”
FELLMAN: It would be very common to have an odor, a musky or a moldy odor and if there is a lot of mold growing behind a wall, eventually that mold is going to make it’s way into the indoor spaces where you can see it.
Now, as for detecting mold behind a wall, it’s not something that a homeowner could very easily do. If they’re suspicious, if there’s signs that there could be mold in the home, they can bring in a specialist who can detect it.
GUPTA: OK. A phone caller, as well. A phone call coming in from Hawaii. Carol from Hawaii, welcome to House Call. Do you have a question?
CAROL: Yes, thank you.
I’m calling, I have mold — it’s black — in the bathroom around the sink and in the kitchen. I use bleach and it takes it away temporarily. But I’m having trouble breathing. Could you tell me that that might be the cause or not?
GUPTA: A lot of people are asking about this sort of stuff, Glenn.
What do you tell someone like Carol?
FELLMAN: It potentially could be, but that’s something that really your doctor or your allergist would need to determine by doing some testing to see if you have sensitivities to mold. As to mold growing in those areas, those are very wet areas of the home. They probably have standing water on them or just a surface amount of it. And to clean a hard surface, a non-porous surface in the way you’ve said is a good idea. Bleach should be used sparingly on not a full concentration.
GUPTA: And how often does someone have to clean that over and over again with bleach?
FELLMAN: Well, if it’s a sink area or a bathroom area, it should be cleaned very frequently. It’s just a good hygiene practice.
Mold won’t grow unless you’ve got a steady moisture source and a food source. So the key to keeping mold out of your home is to keep your home clean and dry.
GUPTA: OK, good advice.
Dee Dee in Philadelphia writes, “I found mold in our linen closet as well as in our food cabinet. The color of the mold was dark, almost black. I wiped it down with pure ammonia. I was told to put polyurethane on the moldy areas and continuously — or continuously spray bleach. What’s your suggestion?”
FELLMAN: Well, first of all, mold growing in a food cabinet would concern me quite a bit. You don’t want mold growing anywhere in your house, obviously, but in the place where you keep your food is very concerning. Those two recommendations I don’t like at all. Neither of those are the methods that would be recommended by, say, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Mold can be cleaned very effectively, believe it or not, with just some detergent and water. But ammonia shouldn’t be used and under any circumstances mold should never be covered up. It shouldn’t be painted over or use some sort of a coating to seal it in. It should be removed.
GUPTA: All right, are there any of those sort of mold fighting paints? Have you heard about those at all?
FELLMAN: Sure. There are paints that have anti-microbial chemicals built in and they’re designed to resist mold growth. But they shouldn’t be used to cover over mold. After a surface is cleaned, then it can be painted with such a product, which will resist mold growth for a certain period of time.
GUPTA: All right, it prevents the mold but it doesn’t necessarily fight it, so make sure it’s clean first.
DON: Hi. My wife, my daughter and myself have all been, had like upper respiratory and sinus infections and we couldn’t figure out what it was. So I went to the store and got a mold testing kit and I put it out and there’s, it’s growing mold. I mean I just put it out in the living room for like, for an hour like the instructions said, and there’s three or four different kinds of mold growing in this Petri dish.
GUPTA: And, so, Glenn, if someone, you know, they buy these kits in the store. If it comes back positive, does this automatically mean that that’s the cause of their respiratory problems?
FELLMAN: No, it doesn’t, and consumers need to be very careful with those types of kits. Mold is everywhere. It’s in the air we breathe and inside and outside. And if you put a dish out like that, you’re going to get mold growth nearly regardless of what environment you’re in.
You need to have someone come into your home who can do more specific types of testing and different types of testing if your family is really sick and you suspect it to be from mold.
GUPTA: OK, lost of valuable information here. Lots of questions coming in here.
KEVIN: We are in the process of having our house evaluated. We’ve actually already had the tests done to see if, in fact, we have mold in the house. We’ve gotten the results back. I’m interested, in retrospect, if we paid a fair amount, for one; of what tests need to be done, what’s sort of over the top and unnecessary and how much it all should cost?
GUPTA: All right, so from one end of the spectrum to the other, Glenn. You’ve got these home kits and then you’ve got specialists actually coming in. What about costs for these sorts of things?
FELLMAN: That’s a good question, Kevin. In general, if you know you have a mold problem, if you can see it, if you can identify the water source and if no one in the home is sick, testing may not be necessary. The most important thing is to remove the mold. And as to the cost of testing services, there’s a wide range depending on how much of the home is investigated and what types of testing they do.
But people should look at testing with a very conservative eye, really assess whether it’s necessary. And, again, if you know the mold is there and no one is sick from it, your primary objective is to remove the mold and correct the problem that allowed water to enter the home in the first place. You do that and the mold won’t come back.
GUPTA: OK, let’s keep going right straight away with our e-mail questions now.
Franz from Indiana asking, “How effective is mold abatement? If a home has mold abatement, is the mold likely to come back?”
And I’ll add to that, what is mold abatement, first of all? It sounds like Franz already knows what he’s talking about here.
FELLMAN: Sure. Mold abatement, it’s often referred to as mold remediation, is a process where mold is removed from the home. And while it’s removed, safety steps are taken to protect mold from spreading to other areas of the home. They do this with polyethylene sheeting and making containment areas within the home.
Mold abatement or remediation is very effective. The technology to do that these days is really great.
GUPTA: OK, and that takes us actually straight to our next e- mail question, which is also about the cost. Jean from Texas asking, “Why are insurance companies so reluctant to insure a home with a history of water damage, even if the water damage has been cleaned up according to the appropriate standards?”
So she’s doing everything right, yet still getting a, having a hard time getting insurance.
FELLMAN: That’s a great question. In our organization, we hear questions like that quite often. The problem that caused the water damage in the first place is what the insurance company is concerned about. If it was a structural problem, say a foundation problem in the home, regardless of how well the water was removed from the home, there’s a chance for it to come back.
Insurance companies like to reduce their risk. That’s what it’s all about for them. And so if they have a property that’s a known risk, they’re not going to want to insure it because it’s going to be a losing proposition for them.
GUPTA: OK.We’re talking about children. Infants and children can be most affected by mold. A lot of people are curious about that. We’re going to go over the symptoms to look for in your little ones. That’s coming up.
GUPTA: This is Weekend House Call and we are talking about mold. Mold exposure can cause severe reactions in infants, children and the elderly. Pregnant women and allergy and asthma sufferers can also be more susceptible. And people with compromised immune systems are at a higher risk of infection if they’re also exposed to mold.
GUPTA: You know, one thing, everyone goes down in their basement, it seems like everyone’s basement smells a little bit moldy. I mean does everyone that’s watching today, should they be worried about that? How do you know when to be worried?
FELLMAN: I’ve, I grew up on the East Coast, where a musty moldy smell in the basement was pretty common. You can find it quite a bit. And, no, you don’t have to be overly concerned about it. If you find the source of moisture and if you put in some dehumidification equipment and do some cleaning, that odor could go away very quickly. And if it does, you don’t have a problem, move on.
Mold prevention really is fairly simple. Clean and dry is the key to keeping mold from your home. Don’t allow moisture to come in. Regular good housekeeping practices should be maintained. If you do have a mold problem, if you’re worried about it, you want to have someone come out and check it out or perhaps do some remediation, find a contractor who’s qualified and trained and certified. Iaqa.org is a Web site where you can find nationwide directories of certified people who are very good at detecting and solving indoor air quality problems.