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Dear Consumer Ed:
There is mold growing in my house. I’m concerned this might be a health hazard. How do I know whether I can safely remove it myself, and how do I find a professional, if that is required?
Consumer Ed says:
Molds do have the potential to cause health problems. They produce allergens, irritants, and in some cases, potentially toxic substances. Inhaling or touching mold or mold spores may cause allergic reactions (the onset of which can be immediate or delayed), inducing hay fever-like symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes and skin rashes. Exposure to molds can irritate the eyes, skin, nose, throat and lungs of both mold-allergic and non-allergic people.
A number of factors should be considered when you’re deciding how to approach mold clean-up. One consideration is the size of the affected area. In most cases, if the moldy area is less than about 10 square feet, you can likely handle the job yourself. However, you should consider hiring a professional in the following circumstances:
- There has been a lot of water damage and/or mold growth covers an area of more than 10 square feet.
- The mold damage was caused by sewage or other contaminated water. Contact a professional who has experience cleaning and fixing buildings damaged by contaminated water.
- You have health concerns, such as asthma or allergic reactions to mold.
- You’re unsure about how to clean a particular item (especially if it’s expensive or has sentimental value). There are specialists in furniture repair, restoration, painting, art restoration and conservation, carpet and rug cleaning, water damage, or fire or water restoration, whom you can consult to make sure the cleaning is done properly and without further damage to the item.
Many skilled consultants and contractors provide mold inspections and remediation services. Here are some suggestions on how to find reliable consultants/contractors, and the things you should ask for when deciding whom to choose:
- Research the mold remediation company: Ask for references, research the company on the Internet, and check for complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau.
- Ask for proof of insurance: Reliable remediation companies should have general business liability and pollution insurance to protect you in case of a claim later.
- Occupants should be protected: Ask what methods will be used to protect the occupants of the structure. Often, a containment system will be required to make sure that mold particles are not spread throughout the structure as materials are removed and decontaminated.
- Ask what kind of training the company provides to its employees: Ask for information about the training, education, and experience of its owners and employees to perform mold remediation in a professional and workmanlike manner.
- Get a written inspection report: Ask for a written inspection report, including a summary of all the areas inspected, the cause of the mold growth, how to take care of the problem, and any follow-up service on warranties.
- Get all estimates in writing, and always get more than one estimate. If you need to find a mold remediation company, search on the website of the American Council for Accredited Certification, a certifying body for indoor air quality professionals (including mold remediation companies): www.acac.org/find/database.aspx. You can also search on www.aiha.org, which has a database for certified industrial hygienists.
When in doubt, you should consult a professional. But if you do decide to remove the mold yourself, there are several important tips to keep in mind:
- The key to mold control is moisture control. Mold spores won’t grow if moisture isn’t present. If you clean up the mold but don't fix the water problem, the mold will most likely come back.
- Scrub mold off hard surfaces with detergent and water, and dry completely. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not recommend using chlorine bleach for mold cleanup; however, if you do use bleaches, always ventilate the area and use an exhaust fan to shuttle the fumes to the outdoors. Never mix chlorine bleach solution with other cleaning solutions or detergents that contain ammonia, because the mixture could result in toxic fumes that are dangerous to breathe.
- Absorbent or porous materials, such as ceiling tiles and carpet, may have to be thrown away if they become moldy. This is because mold can grow into the empty spaces and crevices of porous materials, and may be difficult or impossible to remove completely.
- Avoid exposing yourself or others to mold. Wear an N-95 respirator, which is available at many hardware stores and online. Wear long gloves that extend to the middle of the forearm, and goggles that do not have ventilation holes (to avoid getting mold or mold spores in your eyes).
- Don’t paint or caulk moldy surfaces. Clean up the mold and dry the surfaces before painting or caulking. Any such materials that are applied over moldy surfaces are likely to peel.
For more information about mold remediation, visit the EPA’s website at www.epa.gov/mold/index.html, the CDC’s website at www.cdc.gov/mold/, and the Georgia Department of Public Health’s website at www.dph.georgia.gov/indoor-air-quality....more>
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