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Learn what mold is, why it's harmful, what the response should be, and how to remediate it.

What Is Mold?

We have probably all encountered mold at one time or another. It might have been in the shower, or on a stale piece of bread or wet drywall. Mold is a microscopic life form found in all parts of the world. It is part of the natural decay process of organic materials. There are many different species of mold and while they are diverse, they share some common characteristics:

  • Molds require an organic food source. One common source is cellulose, which is found in building materials such as drywall.
  • Molds require oxygen, so they do not grow under water.
  • Molds require a constant supply of water. To prevent mold, buildings must be kept dry.
  • Molds are spread by tiny particles called "spores." A spore can be compared to a seed.

Why Is It Harmful?

Mold causes problems for several reasons:
  • The colored, fuzzy growth on the contaminated surface is obviously very objectionable. Active mold colonies usually emit a very unpleasant, musty odor.
  • Because the job of mold is to digest, decay and recycle dead organic matter, it destroys whatever surface is its host.
  • Exposure to mold spores can cause mild to severe allergic reactions, and possibly more serious problems, depending on individual sensitivity.

What Is a Reasonable and Safe Response?

The best way to deal with mold is to prevent it from happening. If wet building materials are dried within 24 hours (assuming clean water), the chances of preventing mold growth are excellent. If the area remains wet, mold will start to grow. Therefore, addressing and eliminating the moisture problem is the most important first step. But once mold is present, drying is not enough. Moldy materials must be either removed or decontaminated. This process is called "remediation," which means "to remedy" or "to cure." Proper remediation procedures will be determined by the size, scope and nature of the mold contamination and should be conducted by a professional.

Three integral principles form the framework for mold remediation: containment, removal and safety. Containment is the practice of sealing or separating the affected area to keep mold spores from spreading and causing mold to grow in previously uncontaminated areas. Temporary walls of plastic or plywood may be erected to separate the affected area from the rest of the building. This area is called the "containment zone."

Air machines equipped with HEPA (high efficiency particulate arresting) filters are used to pull outside air into the containment zone and exhaust filtered air to the outside. These machines are sometimes called "air scrubbers" and this process is called "negative air flow." Removal of mold and mold-contaminated materials must also be done in a manner that prevents further contamination. Most importantly, these procedures must be performed in a way that protects the remediation technicians, as well as the occupants of the building from potentially harmful exposure.


Understanding the Testing and Remediation Process

The analogy of a medical examination, diagnosis and treatment is helpful in understanding the various parts of the remediation process. The first part of the process is the examination or inspection. Extreme care should be taken during this process not to disturb or remove any building materials in areas affected by mold (carpet, pad, drywall, wallpaper, etc.).

Laboratory tests are often necessary to enable a physician to diagnose and treat a patient most effectively. Similarly, environmental testing and sampling of a mold-contaminated structure is necessary to determine proper remediation procedures. An environmental professional who is specifically trained for this task should perform testing and sampling.

Once samples are collected, they are sent to an environmental laboratory where analysis is conducted to determine the type of mold contamination. This analysis must be done in a laboratory and takes a minimum of several days to complete.

Much like a physician uses the results of physical examination and laboratory analysis to make a diagnosis and prescribe an appropriate course of treatment, a qualified environmental professional uses visual inspection, photographs and laboratory analysis to quantify the type and extent of mold contamination. This same information will assist the restoration company in developing the protocol for the removal of the mold.

Like a pharmacist fills a prescription written by a physician, a restoration company trained in mold remediation follows the written remediation plan or protocol written by an environmental professional. Mold remediation training is the equivalent of pharmacy school - it equips the restoration company to understand and implement the specifications contained in the remediation plan.

Finally, clearance testing is often performed after the mold remediation is complete, to ensure that microbial contamination has been eliminated or reduced to an acceptable level. The same environmental professional who did the initial testing and sampling generally performs clearance testing.

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