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Mold And Human Health

Don't Feed The Mold

The Broome County Health Department will no longer be assisting in the direct investigations of mold complaints.  Below is an abundance of information concerning mold.  If the mold is a potential result of structural defects in a building, you should contact your local code enforcement officer.

Basic Knowledge
 
Scientific research by the federal government (www.epa.gov; enter "mold" in search box) and state health departments (www.health.state.mn.us; enter "mold" in search box) indicates that exposure to mold can be a health concern for persons with mold allergies or asthma.
 
Mold is a simple microscopic organism that is found almost everywhere - indoors and out. There are hundreds of different kinds of mold in the natural environment. Mold spores are very light and travel easily through the air - this is how people come in contact with them. Mold needs a food source and moisture to grow. Mold food can include wood, paper, drywall, cardboard and other organic-rich materials. Mold can also grow on tile grout and plaster. It is rare to see mold growing on stone, plastic, metal or concrete surfaces. Common moisture sources include leaking pipes and leaking roofs, floods, chronically damp basements and condensation on cold windows and walls. Mold can be many colors (white, black, orange, green, brown), depending on the species present. Mold can be fuzzy or slimy to the touch.
 
Symptoms of mold exposure for sensitive individuals can include respiratory problems, nasal and sinus congestion, a dry cough, wheezing, difficulty in breathing and burning/watery eyes. More serious health effects (constant headaches, memory problems) are very rare. The "black mold" (Stachybotrys chartarum) commonly mentioned in news reports is uncommon in Broome County homes. An intensive sampling program by the Health Department during 2001-2003 found only a few instances of this mold, generally (but not always) on drywall in flooded basements.
 
Unless environmental testing is requested by a doctor, it is usually better to spend money on a thorough mold clean-up. Mold sampling can be expensive, and in most cases, no matter what kind of mold is present, the recommendation would be to do a clean-up anyway.
 
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (www.epa.gov) and Cooperative Extension (see file below) have good recommendations on how to clean up mold. The first step in a mold clean-up project is to remove moisture sources (fix leaks, dry out air with dehumidifiers, increase ventilation). After this is done, moldy items can be cleaned or discarded.
Other good sources of mold information are the New York City Health Department (www.nyc.gov; enter "mold" in search box) and the National Institutes for Health (www.nih.gov; enter "mold" in the search box).
 
Fixing a Mold Problem
  • Mold needs water to grow. Removing water sources is the key to solving mold problems. Mold will come back if water issues are not dealt with. The quicker a water problem is fixed, the less chance that there is for mold to become an issue.
  • Common locations for mold infestations are close to plumbing leaks (beneath sinks, around bathtubs, near toilets). Mold is also commonly seen in poorly ventilated bathrooms on walls and ceilings and on bathtub caulking. Damp or flooded basements can have mold on a variety of surfaces like carpeting, paneling, drywall, cardboard boxes and wooden items like two-by-fours. Roof leaks can lead to mold issues on plaster ceilings and ceiling tiles.
  • The USEPA recommends that professional cleaning be considered for large moldy areas (greater than 10 square feet in extent). When in doubt about the extent of a mold problem or how to approach a clean-up, consult a professional mold removal company.
  • Prior to cleaning mold, it is important to check with a physician if there are any existing health-related concerns like asthma and allergies.
  • Do not touch mold with bare hands. Do not get mold on your skin or in your eyes. Do not breathe in mold.
  • Hard surfaces can be cleaned using commercial mold cleaners, which are available at hardware stores. Be sure to follow all label directions regarding ventilation of work areas and the use of personal protective equipment like gloves and goggles.
  • A bleach and water solution (1 part bleach to 10 parts water) will also kill mold on hard surfaces. Good ventilation of the work area is essential, as is the use of gloves, eye protection (goggles or face shield) and skin protection (old clothes, coveralls, etc.).
  • Materials that are moldy and badly water-damaged may have to be replaced. Mold is difficult to clean from soft or rotted wood, cloth, cardboard, paper and other porous materials. Moldy dry wall is hard to clean and may need to be removed.
  • Damp basements may require added ventilation and/or the use of dehumidifiers to dry them out sufficiently so that mold will not grow. Basements that are chronically wet or subject to flooding are not good for storing clothing, papers, cardboard and other materials that are vulnerable to mold growth.
  • Ideal relative humidity levels in a dwelling are 30-50%. The use of a dehumidifier may be necessary in rooms with higher relative humidity. Humidity levels can be measured with hygrometers which are available at hardware stores.
  • Sometimes mold will grow on interior walls of buildings. Usually these are outside facing walls that become cold in the winter and act as condensers for excess moisture from cooking and showers. Mold can grow on these walls if there is poor air circulation (in closets or behind furniture). A good strategy to resolve problems like this (once mold is cleaned) is to keep closet doors open and to pull furniture away from walls which helps increase air movement. Areas known to be vulnerable to this kind of outbreak can be painted with mold-resistant paint for greater protection.
  • High humidity in bathrooms is another major source of mold. Window fans or ceiling exhaust fans are a good way to get excess moisture out of a bathroom. Cracking a window helps during warmer months. Opening doors wide and using floor fans will get moisture out of a bathroom after showers. Repainting bathroom walls with mold-resistant paint and using mold-resistant caulk is helpful in combination with these other measures.
  • Water condensation on cold windows can drip on to window sills and cause mold growth. This problem can be solved by occasionally wiping off the excess water from the windows with a rag and cleaning the mold as suggested above.
  • Mold growth on bathroom surfaces (like caulk) can be delayed by wiping them with a dry cloth after showers, especially in bathrooms with poor ventilation. 
  
Mold and the Law
  • No regulations or standards for mold exist in Broome County. Broome County does not   condemn moldy homes. Building owners cannot be forced to clean up mold infestations.
  • New York State building codes do apply to many of the water problems that lead to mold outbreaks. If underlying water issues are fixed, mold can be cleaned up.
  • Town, Village and City code enforcement units have the legal authority to implement building codes in their jurisdictions. If you think that there are water problems in your building, call your local code unit to schedule an inspection.
  • Examples of water problems that might violate building codes include leaking roofs, leaking pipes, leaking plumbing fixtures and poor ventilation.
  • The New York State Attorney General’s Office has rules on the habitability of rental property and what a tenant’s rights are with respect to issues like structural defects in a building and mold outbreaks. The telephone number for the local Attorney General’s Office is 607-721-8771.    
  • If a tenant is receiving rental assistance, the government agency giving the assistance may have rules against mold being present.
NYSAG's Tenant's Right Guide (see pages 18 & 19)
 
Mold Health Symptons
  • Mold exposure can aggravate asthma and allergies. Check with your family doctor(s) for more information on who might be most vulnerable to mold exposure.
  • Mold health symptoms can include sneezing, coughing, wheezing, watery eyes and respiratory congestion, among other things. Check with your family doctor(s) for more information on mold health effects.
  • Headaches, nausea, dizziness and listlessness may be the result of carbon monoxide poisoning. If your residence has combustion appliances (furnace, water heater, stove) and you are experiencing these symptoms, you should immediately leave your living space and call either the gas company (NYSEG for buildings with gas appliances) or your local fire department to schedule an inspection. Most local fire departments and NYSEG have sensitive meters that can detect carbon monoxide.
 
Mold Recognition in Buildings 
  • Mold usually grows in areas with water problems.
  • Sampling for mold is expensive. If mold can be seen or smelled, it may be an issue for certain people. It is better to spend money on cleaning up a mold problem than to study it. In almost every case, no matter what type of mold is present, the recommendation is to clean it up. 
  • If mold sampling is unavoidable (if for example it is requested by a doctor), it is important to use an experienced professional to do the work.
  •  Look for mold in places with current or historic water leaks. Common areas where mold is seen is under damaged sinks, around and below leaky toilets or other bathroom plumbing and on ceilings and walls beneath roof leaks. Flooded structures are subject to mold infestations. 
  • Mold can also grow in areas with excess humidity. In this situation, mold might be found on the walls and ceilings of bathrooms with poor ventilation or on walls or other surfaces in a damp basement. Mold is often seen on the caulking around bathtubs and showers.
  • Mold grows best on household surfaces that provide organic (food) content. These can include paper, drywall, cardboard, wood, ceiling tiles, cloth and certain carpet fibers like wool. Plastic, metal, stone and concrete do not easily grow mold unless they are very dirty.
  • Mold can be fuzzy or slimy. It should be possible to smear many types of visible mold with a finger or cotton swab. Water stains typically do not smear or rub off.
  • Mold can be many different colors. Common ones are black, green and white.
  • Concrete in damp or flooded basements can grow feathery crystals that look like mold. This calcium material is harmless. It can be recognized because it dissolves in water (mold doesn’t do this).
  • Water damage can stain surfaces without forming mold. Such stains will usually not rub off and will not have an odor.
  • “Black mold” (Stachybotrys atra) is a type of mold that gives off spores and a gas that can affect people’s heath. Stachybotrys is actually blackish green, is usually slimy to the touch and grows best in very wet conditions (after a flood or a big water leak). This mold is most common on drywall, paper or cardboard surfaces. Stachybotrys colonies are often round in shape. A Health Department sampling program in the early 2000s where several hundred houses were checked showed that this mold is rare in Broome County. Stachybotrys can be cleaned or removed just like any other mold.
  • Sometimes there is no visible mold in a building, only a mildew/moldy odor. This is most common in damp basements, or basements with dirt floors and crawl spaces. Look closely for mold on carpeting, wood, paneling, old newspapers, cardboard boxes and clothing. If an object smells moldy, there could be small amounts of mold present.
Mold Recognition Pictures