water damage

When it Rains, it Molds: Part 2 of 2

By Marcia Anderson

Schools can harbor mold that triggers asthma in students.

Schools can harbor mold that triggers asthma in students.

When I was in EPA Region 2 (New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands) I visited several schools that had questions about mold. This prompted a follow-up discussion with Mark Berry, EPA’s Region 6 (Serving Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and 66 Tribes) Indoor Air Quality Coordinator about common mold questions resulting from these visits. An earlier blog looked at general questions about mold and moisture. Here, we focus on these issues in schools.

What are the most impacted areas in school buildings?

Areas without adequate air flow by themselves are not, necessarily the issue – it is areas where it is damp or humid and the airflow isn’t adequate enough to help dry up the moisture. Problem areas may be in the walls behind restrooms, kitchens, gyms, facility manager closets, near air conditioners, compressors and in damp basements. Moisture problems in schools may also be associated with delayed or insufficient maintenance due to budget and other constraints. Temporary structures, such as trailers and portable classrooms, have frequently been associated with moisture and mold problems. Most respiratory issues are associated with poor ventilation or outdated HVAC units. Mold is often targeted as the cause for illness, but, in fact, the mold is an indicator of moisture.

One area that is often impacted by mold and moisture problems in schools are gym locker rooms. Do you have any advice for school facility managers?

It is common for mold to grow on and around areas that are continuously wet. The moisture has a tendency to increase the relative humidity levels in a building, providing the perfect environment for mold and mold spores to grow.

  • Vent showers and other moisture-generating sources to the outside;
  • Control humidity levels and dampness by using air conditioners and de-humidifiers to provide adequate ventilation.
  • Maintain indoor humidity levels between 30-60 percent.
  • Students should remove clothing from their gym lockers at least weekly, and damp laundry, such as towels, should be removed daily.

For existing mold, the first step is to eliminate the moisture source, then take appropriate steps to clean it up. The EPA does not encourage the use of harsh chemicals for mold clean-up. Soap and water will suffice. These measures, along with monitoring for adequate ventilation, locker checks and educating students about the importance of following these guidelines, will go a long way to decreasing mold in your school.

Mold and moisture problems in the basement of an older school.

Mold and moisture problems in the basement of an older school.

What do we do if we suspect hidden mold?

Investigating hidden mold problems may be difficult and will require caution when it involves disturbing potential sites of mold growth. If you believe that you may have a hidden mold problem, consider hiring an experienced professional.

What can building facility managers do to decrease the incidence of mold in their buildings?

EPA’s guidance is solutions based – to focus on the source of the moisture that feeds the mold. The three principles of mold remediation are:

  1. Fix and eliminate the moisture source.
  2. Clean and remove mold and mold spores. In many cases detergent and water will be sufficient – there is no need to use harsh chemicals that may endanger your health. Follow all manufacturer’s directions when using cleaning products.
  3. Dry out the area. If you continue to see mold growing, you have not eliminated the moisture source and should repeat step 1.

Does carpet cause mold or related allergy problems in schools?

Carpet use in schools provides a decrease in noise, falls and injuries. Mold problems can be encountered with carpet and many other materials if the school has any type of water intrusion or moisture problem, such as a leaky roof. If carpeting remains damp, it can become a primary source for microbial growth, which frequently results in adverse health effects. Carpet and other furnishings that become significantly water damaged should be removed and discarded. Use care to prevent excess moisture or cleaning residue accumulation and ensure that cleaned areas are dried quickly. In areas where there is a perpetual moisture, do not install carpeting (i.e., by drinking fountains, by classroom sinks, or on concrete floors with leaks or frequent condensation).

How does mold affect asthma?

Molds can trigger asthma episodes in sensitive individuals with asthma. People with asthma should limit contact with and exposure to areas contaminated with a mold presence. However, remember that molds are a natural part of the environment – and it is impossible to totally avoid mold for asthmatics. EPA provides very useful information on mold and asthma.

How does mold remediation compare to Integrated Pest Management (IPM)?

IPM and mold remediation are both based on the principle of limiting sources of the primary needs for life – but they are very different practices. Molds are microscopic fungi that grow best in damp places such as kitchens, bathrooms and basements. Mold has the same basic needs as any pest: 1. Mold needs a surface to grow on; 2. Food (paper, wood, carpet, food, insulation or other organic fibers); and 3. Water (moisture to germinate and grow). IPM is similar, in that it employs common sense strategies to reduce sources of food, water and shelter for pests in your school buildings. If just one of the essential components that a pest needs to survive can be removed, then the pest cannot survive. In the case of mold, remove the moisture. Mold problem solved.

For more information on controlling mold and moisture, visit www.epa.gov/mold

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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When it Rains, it Molds

Part 1 of 2

By Marcia Anderson

Mold spores up close

Mold spores up close

When I went back home recently to visit my family, I noticed a number of mold spots on the ceiling in multiple rooms. A result of roof water damage from the winter ice and snow the northeast experienced this year. This prompted me to have an interview with Mark Berry, EPA’s Indoor Air Quality Coordinator for Region 6 (serving Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and 66 Tribes). Here are his responses to some common questions about mold and moisture.

  1. What is it that many people misunderstand about mold? It is important to view mold, not as a mold issue, but as a moisture issue. People think that mold is a hazardous material. Most people do not realize that mold and mold spores are all around us. Molds live in the soil, on plants, and on dead or decaying matter. Outdoors, molds play a key role in the breakdown of leaves, wood, and other plant debris. Molds produce tiny spores to reproduce, just as some plants produce seeds. These mold spores can be found in both indoor and outdoor air, and settled on indoor and outdoor surfaces. When mold spores land on a damp spot, they may begin growing. It is important not to provide the moist environment mold needs to grow.The solution to the problem is to find and eliminate the moisture source first, and not focus only on the mold. Removing the mold alone does not solve the problem. If the water remains, new mold will grow in the same area.
  1. Mold spreads in the damp area behind a sink

    Mold spreads in the damp area behind a sink

    Should I use bleach to clean up my mold? In most cases using bleach isn’t necessary. Soap and water will often do the trick. Using bleach or some other harsh chemical cleaners can create a breathing hazard for you. If you choose to use disinfectants or biocides, always follow manufacturer’s directions, ventilate the area and exhaust the air to the outdoors. Never mix chlorine bleach solution with other cleaning solutions or detergents that contain ammonia because toxic fumes could be produced.

  1. Can I just paint over the mold? Many people see mold, spray some chemical then paint over it, thinking that will solve the problem. Mold can grow between the paint and the wall in all directions. The paint merely acts as a temporary cover-up. The issue with the paint is that it traps moisture between the paint and the wall, further aiding and abetting the growth of mold. Fix the source of the moisture first, and then take the appropriate steps to clean the affected area or remove it altogether.
  1. What are your most compelling mold calls? Landlord /tenant disputes over mold are our most frequent calls. We attempt to educate and make suggestions for remediation that may be used or not used by the caller’s choice. Callers need to consider the problem as both a building water issue as opposed to a mold issue. This strategy addresses the cause of the mold infestation and not the symptom. We try to get to the root cause of the problem and ease the caller’s concerns. Mold is essentially the result of water damage.
  1. Is there more mold in different parts of the country? Yes, and No. We have more mold inquiries in humid areas because the mold continually gets fed more moisture which allows it to flourish. However, mold can grow everywhere and can exist in a broad range of temperatures and humidity levels. Although moisture is necessary for growth there are molds which prefer drier environments and would need much less than other types to survive.
  1. Mold can be a variety of colors

    Mold can be a variety of colors

    What are your most frequent calls? “I’ve got mold problems can you do something to help me?” EPA Region 6’s Indoor Air Quality program (IAQ) is a voluntary program primarily responsible for conducting outreach and educating the public about indoor environmental issues, including health risks and the means by which human exposures can be reduced. IAQ educates the public about indoor environmental pollutants and sources of pollution, including mold. However, EPA does not have any regulatory authority to control mold in private residences nor do we have the resources to inspect individual homes.

    The EPA does not conduct mold cleanups, but we do provide the education necessary to give people the strategy and empowerment needed to solve the problem. We recognize the health danger to schools, homes and places of work. The EPA is the technical lead in mold research from which many states and local agencies borrow.

  1. Is testing for mold necessary?
    In most cases, if visible mold is present, sampling is not necessary. Since no EPA or other federal limits have been set for mold or mold spores, sampling cannot be used to check a building’s compliance with federal mold standards. Remember that mold and mold spores are natural in the environment so any sampling will result in finding mold.

For more information on controlling mold and moisture, visit www.epa.gov/mold

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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After the Storm

By Lina Younes

As millions of residents along the mid-Atlantic and northeastern regions of the United States are getting their lives back in order after Sandy’s vicious rampage, many are still dealing with the storm’s aftermath: severe flooding.

One of the many problems with flood water is that it may contain high levels of raw sewage and other contaminants that are hazardous to both your health and the environment. Above all, limit your contact with flood water!

If you were fortunate in not having flood water in your area, but still have water problems inside your home, remove and clean any water damaged items in order to avoid mold buildup. Controlling moisture is key to controlling mold in indoor environments. Exposure to mold has potential health effects that include allergic reactions, asthma attacks and other respiratory complaints. So address any water damage in your home quickly to protect your health and your family.

Are you concerned about the water quality in your area? Have you been informed by local authorities on the need to boil your water? Here you will find some valuable information on emergency disinfection of drinking water.

While utilities and local authorities are working around the clock to make sure that power is restored as quickly as possible, there are still residents without electricity due to Sandy’s wrath. Above all, do not use generators in enclosed areas inside the home or even in the garage. Why may you ask? Because generator exhaust is extremely toxic and may be lethal. Generator exhaust contains deadly carbon monoxide.  Avoid using a generator or other combustion appliances inside the home.

Please be mindful that children and the elderly need special attention during these natural disasters. I know from my own personal experience listening to my parents mention that they simply “don’t feel thirsty.” Losing the sense of thirst with age puts the elderly at a greater risk of dehydration. Make sure they drink enough water even when they say they don’t feel like it.

Simple tips to help us recover from the storm. Hope they are helpful. Do you have any tips you would like to share with us?

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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After the Storm

By Denise Owens

After the departure of Hurricane Irene, I was left with tons of damage and cleanup. My basement was my first concern. I couldn’t believe the amount of water I was seeing, but with the electricity off, I had to wait until the morning to actually see what was damaged.

I knew my first priority was to get the water out as quickly as possible because of the danger of mold . The electricity being out for a week made it harder, but I just had to get it done.

With the water gone, the next step was to remove the carpet to get the basement dry. Then I realized the walls were damaged. Since my home is older, I had paneling instead of drywall; it also had to be removed. Proper clean-up was necessary to avoid mold showing up later.

After I cleaned the basement, I just didn’t feel safe or comfortable with my results, so I hired a professional company to come out and do a thorough cleaning. After the company cleaned for hours, they assured me that I wouldn’t have any further problems and my basement was mold-free.

I didn’t realize it would take me so long to get things back to normal, but I’m so happy that my basement is mold free!

About the author: Denise Owens has worked with the Environmental Protection Agency for over 20 years.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.