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Mold: What You Need To Know - 7/19/12

by Michel Ryan


In recent years, thousands of homes have experienced flooding in Canada. Flooding in your home or business brings a whole wealth of problems and stress but one thing that often goes overlooked is the issue of mold. It may not be glamorous or the stuff of entertainment news, but mold is a pervasive problem for many homeowners, especially following an incident of flooding.

If left unchecked, mold can have serious impacts on your health with infants and the elderly being at the greatest risk, especially if you are asthmatic, have allergies, or a weak immune system. It can also pose a serious risk to your pocketbook.

Wes Henry is a specialist with Safetech, a company that deals with restoration and emergency response to environmental contaminations in the home or workplace, including mold. In an interview with WaterToday, Mr. Henry explained that in order to control mold in your home or business, you need to control your water and make sure there are no leaks or areas of seepage being neglected.

When it comes to mold, time works against you so swift action is critical. If you fear you have a mold problem and want a second opinion, Mr. Henry advised that you can consult a health specialist to see if you are experiencing mold-related problems, or you can call a company like Safetech to conduct an onsite assessment. However one thing you shouldn't do, according to both Mr. Henry and the CMHC, is pay for an air quality test. They are unreliable as air quality tests cannot confirm or deny the presence of mold.

Insofar as health risks are concerned, Mr. Henry says that by far the most common symptoms are allergic-type reactions, asthmatic attacks, and a general feeling of illness. But there is also the potential for far more serious health effects.

For those with weak immune systems for example, there have been cases where an individual inhales mold spores that then grow within the lung and seep into the blood stream, resulting in death. Such cases are extremely rare and usually take place in hospitals where patient's immune systems are being deliberately weakened for surgery or treatment, but they exemplify the potential risks associated with mold exposure.

Mr. Henry also told us that in the past there has been a lot of hype surrounding claims from a variety of individuals who believe that mold has caused such symptoms as memory loss or bleeding of the lungs in infants, however there is no scientific proof that those symptoms are associated with mold exposure. He added, however, "that's not to say they won't find an association in say ten years, but right now there's no proof."

In general, though, it seems that people are either too dismissive of mold, leaving the problem to become worse, or they are too paranoid about the problem and overreact by paying for an air quality test they don't need or ripping out materials that don't need to be discarded.

With respect to indoor mold contamination, "The biggest thing… is controlling water, I mean if your house is dry you haven't any leaks, floods, the likelihood of mold contamination is low", according to Mr. Henry. But if you have experienced flooding, if there is a leaking pipe or seepage of water through a building's foundation, you need to address the source of the water immediately and dry out any affected materials within 48 hours, otherwise you will probably have a mold problem on your hands.

And if the potential health risks won't scare you into tackling the problem, the financial risk might. If you suspect you have a mold issue but are not sure, a professional assessment can cost you anywhere between $500 and $1,500, and if you end up having to rip out contaminated building materials like drywall or roofing, you could be looking at a bill of up to $100,000 or more depending on the severity of the contamination.

Mold produces spores that spread through the air and grow when supplied with moisture, so if you've got a serious contamination, both the American Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and the Canadian Mortgage Housing Corporation (CMHC) advise that getting rid of the problem can involve having to seal off the area, install a ventilation system while guys in hazmat suits rip out the affected building materials, put them into sealed bags and dispose of them safely. The cost of a neglected mold problem can add up quickly.

However, Mr. Henry emphasized: "Have an awareness that if you maintain your residence and control water you'll control the issue. If you do have a water problem…then it's really important to make sure you attend to it as quickly as possible." Doing so can spare you a lot of stress, negative health effects and financial cost. The most important thing is to take note and deal with water issues in your home immediately, "You can't sit on it for a week or two weeks or just mop up visible water on the floor if it has soaked in the walls" said Mr. Henry, and the CDC and CMHC both advise that you dry out or remove impacted materials within 48 hours.

The biggest question though is how to go about addressing a mold issue if money is tight, and again, avoiding the problem will only make it worse. If you can identify any mold or water issues quickly and report them or deal with them right away, your insurance policy may cover the costs associated with the cleanup. But if you ignore the issue or forget about it, not only will the mold inevitably grow and become worse but your chances of being covered for the damage diminish rapidly.

And the earlier you catch the problem the easier it is to deal with. In some cases simply using a non-aromatic detergent to clean up an affected area can be enough, if the source of water that initially gave rise to the mold is dealt with too.

All in all, the point here is that if you have a water leak, if you've experienced flooding in your home or business, or if you find a musty odor in a room or spot mold growing somewhere, take the time to deal with it immediately before it imposes a health and financial burden. Dealing with mold contamination can be as easy as cutting out a small section of drywall, scrubbing a mold-growth area, fixing a loose water pipe or re-sealing a windowsill. It can also be as bad as having to seal off an entire section of your home and have guys in hazmat suits remove materials in air locked bags to the tune of $30,000 or $100,000.

We attempted to contact the CMHC for advice as to what people can do if they have a mold problem and are not financially capable of hiring a professional to deal with it or not covered under their insurance policy, however they told us they are not able to provide an expert to discuss the matter, adding only that the CMHC does not offer homeowner insurance but rather insures against mortgage default alone.

For detailed information on how to address any feared or actual mold issue in your home or business, whether as a result of a flood or any other water problem, the CMHC has extensive information available through its website:
http://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/co/maho/yohoyohe/momo/momo_007.cfm
http://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/co/maho/em/em_001.cfm)

as does the CDC:
http://www.cdc.gov/mold/dampness_facts.htm
http://www.cdc.gov/mold/stachy.htm



































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