Friday, August 14, 2015

Irrational Fear has Created a Scary Mold Racket

Here in the the gorgeous but often damp Pacific Northwest we have a higher than average occurrence of mold and mildew in homes. Many years back there were a series of very serious mold outbreaks that got significant media coverage. Horrifying tales of sickness and death were paraded in front of America with homes that became uninhabitable. As always, it seems America's so called "journalists" present the worst case scenarios and over-sensationalize them. Fear became rampant. Make no mistake about it, mold can be a real problem, but driving a car is far more dangerous and yet here we are driving every day.

I am no mold expert and will start by saying right now, if you are concerned about mold in your home or a home you are about to purchase or sell, check in with the Washington State Department of Health for solid information on mold. The state isn't trying to sell you anything here.  

What I will say is that we have a system that keeps trying to protect people and in so doing sometimes hurts them instead. It all comes down to lawyers. No I will not go on any kind of anti-attorney rampage, worry not. Attorneys are an important part of our American system of justice. But here is part of the problem. When a home inspector sees any kind of dark staining or potential mold, he is obligated to suggest the buyer have additional testing done to ensure the questionable matter is safe. He does this at least partly out of fear of lawsuit but also due to mandates for his license. OK, no problem. So enter the "mold" company and let the racketeering begin. OK, racket might be a little harsh, but not entirely undeserved. My experience has been mostly negative when the staining is not at all mold-like and it is in minuscule amounts. Mind you, I have seen mold in houses that was so scary I didn't want to go in. But nearly every single house west of the Cascades will have mildew and or mold. So the mold company says something like this... "We can test this to be certain it is not a dangerous variety of mold... $500 and two weeks lab time... or we can just treat the whole space for a quick and easy $1500... you want to be safe, right?" Seriously, I want to go into a Rocko McKnuckles, New Jersey accent every time I read that line.

On one hand we have the very important issue of health and safety on the other we have to worry about unscrupulous activity by certain companies to essentially extort money through fear rather than giving an honest evaluation of the nature of the problem. Again I turn to the legal system. The mold company does not want to be sued so they operate on side of excessive caution and recommend full treatment which just happens to line their pockets with cash. Convenient, isn't it. 

I would ask this, why don't we hire a mold company when we clean our bathrooms? We get right down on the floor and clean up "mildew", we don't seem worried about "black mold". Yet the same minor occurrences in an attic sends a wave of terror through people. Let me reiterate my position because I don't want to get sued either! If you are concerned about mold by all means take it seriously, especially if the "mold" is everywhere and not just a little area. But do some research and remember that mold companies are "for profit" businesses. Some businesses put profit ahead of integrity so get a second opinion if the first is a potential deal killer or seems unreasonable. My point however is that many people miss out on their dream house because some inspector scares the hell out of them over what is probably a minor condition that can be treated by any one. Then the mold company racketeers arrive with their deal killing solution that costs more than the seller is willing to pay and more than the buyer can afford.

I have found that many brand new homes have some of this black staining that can be "mold" related. The roof plywood sheeting is delivered and it rains. The sheeting is a little wet, it is installed, and some growth and or staining occurs. Often the attic is ventilated well enough that the mold either dies and leaves the "stain" or it doesn't grow into any kind of infestation. It can however become a problem if not periodically checked especially if the attic is NOT well ventilated. The bottom line for home buyers is this: Use caution, do some research, have things checked out and be reasonable with the seller when the "mold" is a minor condition. The State of Washington, Department of Health has this to say on their website about mold.

"Most molds do not harm healthy people. But people who have allergies or asthma may be more sensitive to molds. Sensitive people may experience skin rash, running nose, eye irritation, cough, nasal congestion, aggravation of asthma or difficulty breathing. People with an immune suppression or underlying lung disease, may be at increased risk for infections from molds.

A small number of molds produce toxins called mycotoxins. When people are exposed to high levels of mold mycotoxins they may suffer toxic effects, including fatigue, nausea, headaches, and irritation to the lungs and eyes. If you or your family members have health problems that you suspect are caused by exposure to mold, you should consult with your physician."

There are very few molds that are dangerous to healthy people. The ones that are dangerous are generally only a problem when the outbreak is not treated and allowed to expand. A little staining in the attic is 95% of the time, no issue. A simple treatment with consumer available products will eliminate the problem. If the mold is allowed to expand and grow into an infestation, the cost to eradicate it can be excessive. Proper attic ventilation can reduce the chance of significant mold growth exponentially. There is a great deal of information from reliable sources such as the Department of Health. Take a few moments and read about the issues before killing the deal on your dream house over a few specks of benign mold. Here is another quote from the State of Washington Department of Health. Please follow the link if you have concerns about mold.

"Decide if you have a large or small area of mold. A small area is less than about ten square feet, or a patch three feet by three feet square. To clean a small area, follow the advice below. You may use a cotton face mask for protection.

If you have a lot of mold damage (more than ten square feet) consider hiring a cleaning professional. If the moldy area has been contaminated by sewage or is in hidden places, hire a professional."

The State is making pretty soft recommendations here that cover nearly every "mold" scenario. They get firm in the suggestion of hiring a professional when the mold is hidden or contaminated by sewage, etc. It is important to keep things in proper perspective. 

The idea of this blog post is not to take away from the serious nature of mold, but rather to keep it in its proper context. Mold is everywhere. In our part of the world you will be exposed to mold spores. Cleaning up mold is a part of life in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. There are times when a mold situation is so severe and potentially dangerous, that the treatment MUST be done by properly trained and licensed professionals. The majority of times however, treatment can be done by homeowners or general contractors using consumer grade products and basic protection.

People with high sensitivity must use more caution than others. Common sense should still prevail, and utilizing our government's public resources is a good start before making an uninformed decision you may regret later. 

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