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David C Sulock

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Mold Frequently Asked Questions

Posted by David C Sulock on Jan 21, 2016 11:11:17 AM

After almost 20 years of providing environmnetal solutions, we have provided a summary of the molst commonly asked mold related questions.  What to know about mold, toxic mold, mold remediation and who to hire to perform mold remediation?   Read our commonly asked mold questions.

IMG_1305.jpgWhat is Mold?

Mold is a fungi that can be found both indoors and outdoors. Mold is natural to our environment; some level of Mold is present at all times.   Outdoor Mold can be found in shady, damp areas such as where leaves lay or where vegetation is decomposing. Indoor Mold is found when moisture levels rise above 60; for example, Attics, Crawl Spaces, Basements and Showers (bathrooms).

 How many types of Mold are there?

There is no general consensus as to how many types of Mold there are in the world.  Estimates range from tens of thousands to over three hundred thousand or more.

 What are some of the common indoor Molds?

  • Cladosporium
  • Penicillium
  • Alternaria
  • Aspergillus

How do Molds affect people?

In 2009, the World Health Organization issued additional guidance, the WHO Guidelines for Indoor Air Quality: Dampness and Mold [PDF - 2.52 MB]. Studies have suggested a potential link of early Mold exposure in children to development of asthma in, particularly among children who may be genetically susceptible to asthma development, and that selected interventions that improve housing conditions can reduce morbidity from asthma and respiratory allergies.  Bottom line more research is needed, but evidence to date correlates to health related concern in Moldy environmental as compared to living spaces that lack Mold growth.    Molds grow best in warm, damp (wet), and humid conditions. When Mold grows it can off-gas and produce the smell of musty odor that is so commonly associated with Mold.  When conditions are right (humidity below 55 and temperature below 70 degrees), Molds will go dormant, like a lawn in winter.  When temperatures rise and moisture levels increase Molds will grow again, which is when you are more likely to smell the musty odor.

I smell a musty odor but don’t see any Mold? 

If a musty odor is present, which is not typical for the living space, quite simply you have something that is off-gassing causing the odor.  You must ask yourself a few questions.

I see Mold but I do not smell a musty odor, why?  If I don’t smell Mold is it not Mold? 

In 2004, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) found evidence to link indoor exposure to Mold with upper respiratory tract symptoms, cough, and wheeze in otherwise healthy people; with asthma symptoms in people with asthma; and with hypersensitivity pneumonitis in individuals susceptible to that immune-mediated condition. The IOM also found limited or suggestive evidence linking indoor Mold exposure and respiratory illness in otherwise healthy children.  

  1. Has anything changed in the space?  
  2. Has anything new been brought into the space such as books, boxes or old possessions that maybe giving off an odor.  
  3. New carpet, paint, furniture?  

You see where this is going, if nothing has been added then something that is and has been present is off-gassing and if the odor is truly musty, then a moisture issue is present and fueling Mold growth.   In the industry we call this Hidden Mold and you should hire a professional to look for Mold.

Can Mold be killed by cold weather?

Mold spores can survive extreme environmental conditions, such as dry and freezing conditions.  Like grass they go dormant and will become active again when conditions improve.   

I am looking to hire a firm to remediate Mold, what licensing should I look for?

If your site is in New Jersey, Pennsylvania or Delaware, there is no licensing or state certification.  Unlike tank removal which requires companies to be certified, Mold remediation is not a service where a license is required.

Should I be concerned that the Mold Company is not certified?

Yes and no.  Yes, you should be concerned as it is difficult to ascertain if the company is qualified or competent to remediate Mold when a licensing program does not exist.   There are things to look for when evaluating Mold fits.  One did you find them through advertising?  Surveys have shown that referral is a more solid form of evaluation as opposed to pay per click advertising.  Next, google the company, is it a PO Box, do they work out of a house in a residential area, if so tread with caution, these firms need personnel and equipment to perform the work and a home based business typically means they subcontract the services.  Third, do they provide any other environmental services?  Carpet cleaning and termite services are not what is typically associated with environmental services, these firms maybe doing Mold as a sideline.  Full-service companies would also perform other remediation services such as tank removal, soil and water remediation and environmental audits.  These types of firms have no doubt encountered Mold in a variety of commercial and residential settings and are more likely to have the expertise.  As a general point of reference New Jersey, Pennsylvania & Delaware require licensing to perform these tasks so you can be assured there are some core competencies at the firm. 

Why should I not be concerned about Mold licensing?

Well to be fair, only New York State has licensing requirement for Mold inspection and remediation and that started on January 1, 2016.  So it is hard to be licensed in a state if the state does not offer it. I would circle back to the above answer for a more thorough explanation as to why you should be concerned.

I obtained two quotes to remediate the Mold and the prices are wide spread, why are costs so variable?

We have found that companies that are home based or “Mold only” firms, swing high on costs as their workload is so variable and to survive they have to charge more when work is not abundant.  These firms also suffer from a diversity of services, so if jobs are not coming in for Mold related work, they have no other sources of revenue.   Remember every property needs plumbing, roofing and painting, NOT every site will require Mold remediation, so if that is all a company offers too many eggs may be in one basket.  In Curren’s 20 years of business, we have seen the opening and closing of franchised operations with too high of an overhead same goes for small, home-based entities closing up shop.

black mold

 A company tested for mold and told me I have Toxic Mold and need to remediate the mold immediately. Is there such as thing as Toxic Mold?  I feel like the mold company is trying to scare me, no one is getting sick from the mold.

 Great questions and you should be wary of anything else the mold company says. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), and this is directly from their website http://www.cdc.gov/mold/stachy.htm

The term "toxic mold" is not accurate. While certain molds are toxigenic, meaning they can produce toxins (specifically mycotoxins), the molds themselves are not toxic, or poisonous. Hazards presented by molds that may produce mycotoxins should be considered the same as other common molds, which can grow in your house.

Who is the CDC?   Why should I believe the CDC, when they say there is no toxic mold?

From the CDC web site: The CDC works 24/7(http://www.cdc.gov/24-7/index.html) to protect America from health, safety and security threats, both foreign and in the U.S. Whether diseases start at home or abroad, are chronic or acute, curable or preventable, human error or deliberate attack, CDC fights disease and supports communities and citizens to do the same.

Unfortunately, Mold is highly unregulated and misinformation is being presented by mold companies (private non-government web sites) that only cares and confuses consumers.

 I had Mold remediation performed, how do I prevent Mold from returning?

Take away the food source and environment and Mold growth can be prevented. Keep humidity levels as low as you can—no higher than 50%—all day long. An air conditioner in summer and or dehumidifier YEAR ROUND will help you keep the level low. Humidity levels change over the course of a day with changes in the moisture in the air and the air temperature, so 24/7 dehumidification is recommended. Dehumidifiers that are able to operate autonomously, meaning units that have a drain house connected to an outfall such as a sink or sump, so human interaction is not required to empty the water tank is best.   Exhaust fans that actually suck air in humid environments such as bathrooms are needed and MUST be used when humidity increases.  Bottom line we find Mold in bathrooms where exhaust gas fans are not present, are not used or lack sufficient power to exhaust humid air.  Take our test, turn on the fan and place a paper towel on the fan, if the fan cannot hold the towel in place, your fan sucks and not the good kind (replace the fan).

  • Attics should able passive and active ventilation
  • Crawl spaces should be dry with vapor barriers.
  • Soil should have a positive slope around the entire house so water flows away not toward the foundation.
  • All roof leaders should be extended 5’ to 10’ away from the building foundation.
  • Do not carpet bathrooms and basements.
  • Any water entry, flooding, eat, must be dried out within 48 hours to prevent Mold growth.

I saw Mold and hired a company to inspect and they confirmed it was Mold.  They were quick to give me a cost to remediate (read expensive Mold remediation) but said little regarding why the Mold was present.I found Mold growing in my home, how do I test the Mold?

The EPA and CDC do not recommend sampling for Molds. Since the susceptibility of individuals can vary greatly, the type is not important.   If you are susceptible to Mold and if it is seen or smelled, there is a potential health risk; therefore, no matter what type of Mold is present, you should arrange for its removal. 

Mold inspection without evaluation as to what caused the Mold is a concern.  Mold inspections should provide an opinion as to why the Mold was present, i.e., what caused it and what to do to prevent growth in the future.   We have seen Mold grow back after remediation due to the fact that the moisture problem was not addressed – controls to stop the moisture were not established so of course Mold can grow back.

Abandoned Filled in Place Oil Tank

Posted by David C Sulock on Sep 22, 2015 11:50:00 AM

IMG_1951Is your underground oil tank filled with sand?  Like the one in the photo?  Does the permit for your tank mean it’s a safe, non-leaking oil tank? 

Many residents who have underground oil tanks have had their tanks filled. A local permit must be filed for the underground oil tank. This permit, however does not assure that the tank did not leak, and the soil is not contaminated.

At Curren Environmental, we consistently receive calls regarding properties where an oil tank was previously filled with sand. Sometimes the owner has an approval sticker from the municipal construction office, other times they do not. Sometimes the township no longer has a permit record. No soil samples were acquired at time of closure.   The local approval is always meant to document that the tank was filled however this permit does not give evidence that the oil tank is clean, safe and non-leaking.

Can the Buyers of such property request NJDEP documentation on the tank? NO, they cannot. The NJDEP will only be involved if the tank leaks and there is documentation that it did leak. Without having any sample data you have no data indicating, the tank did or did not leak. Additionally the NJDEP does not provide information on sites where tanks do not leak. Buyers are looking for evidence of the tank leaking. If samples were acquired at the original time of closure, this data would be available and a report detailing the tank removal, condition of the tank, narrative on what was performed to complete closure, map of soil samples, analytical data and discussion of the laboratory results as compared to NJDEP standards. It should be noted that soil sampling for a tank closure in 1980 or in 2015 is not required by law, in short, there is no legal driver to have testing done.  What if there was a hole in the tank at time of fill? These previously filled and closed tanks were completed to prevent a problem of oil leaking in the future. What these tank closure projects did not address was IF THE OIL TANK LEAKED?   By not obtaining soil samples, you are not answering the question if the tank leaked PREVIOUSLY. If you are a Seller, you are hoping that buyers will not question the filled and closed tank.   We call this the ostrich effect, put your head in the sand and do not look for a problem. The problem is that people are better informed now regarding oil tanks. It comes up in real estate transactions as buyers (insurance companies, lawyers, mortgage companies) want documentation that the tank did not leak. The underling purpose of obtaining this documentation is that contamination is owned by the owner of a property.

In a scenario where a Buyer knowingly buys a property with an untested tank and later finds out the tank leaks, this new owner is responsible for the remediation.   This can trigger a claim to the insurance carrier, which will be denied, as new policies typically exclude oil tank releases. People sue the carrier, the carrier defends and wins but monies are spent on a suit that was unnecessary. This scenario tilts the insurance carrier to not want to ensure a property with an untested tank. On the mortgage side, the mortgage companies do not want the borrower to encounter a financial loss that would deter them from making mortgage payments. Unfortunately, many people have walked away from properties with environmental tank leaks due to the expense of the cleanup.   Lastly, as sour grapes gestures buyers will sue the seller, thinking the seller withheld information on the tank, meaning the seller knew the tank had a problem. While I am not saying any of these situations apply to your site, these are the triggers for buyers wanting closed and filled tanks removed and tested.  

The best approach is for Sellers to address these tanks prior to a sale to maintain positive control of the project. Let’s face it if there is a problem with the oil tank it is the owner’s responsibility to address the problem. Regulations in New Jersey can be confusing and complicated.

What happens when you remove the filled and closed underground oil tanks? You have two possible scenarios, (1) if the tank was properly cleaned (i.e., devoid of all residual oil) and filled with sand, then the sand will be removed and staged on site for your use. The fill cannot be reused to backfill the tank, as NJDEP regulations require the fill material to be certified clean AND come from a virgin source. Soil removed from an oil tank does not meet the virgin source definition. If in the event that the tank was not cleaned and then subsequently filled with sand, then the sand in the tank is likely impacted with oil and will need to be properly disposed of at an off-site facility. (2) an oil and sand filled tank (No sand does not absorb oil, it is used to make glass and is not porous) that has been left unchecked will cause a problem not from the tank leaking, but rather from the tank overflowing. You see when you fill a tank with sand, you cut a hole into it to allow sand to enter. If oil is left in the tank, you have an oil and sand mix. Add rainwater entering the tank through the hole placed in the tank and you have a bathtub affect that will allow the oil and water to not mix (oil floats on water) and the oil rising to the top of the tank and overflows into the ground.   We had a situation that was identical to this, $19,000.00 later it was resolved

 

Abandoned filled in place oil tanks CAN BE AN ISSUE, be safe, remove the tank, have soil testing completed and properly address the issue, do not be an ostrich.

Why are ISRA Letters of Non-Applicability still Requested?

Posted by David C Sulock on Sep 17, 2015 8:58:03 AM

The NJDEP discontinued ISRA Letters of Non-Applicability under the Industrial Site Recovery Act in April of 2008, but these letters are still requested.  Why?   Re

The Department’s Site Remediation Program discontinued the issuance of applicability determinations pursuant to ISRA on April 30, 2008.  Any application that was submitted after April 30, 2008, would no longer receive a letter of non-applicability or "LNA's" which is what they were sometimes called regarding the NJDEP’s Industrial Site Recovery Act ("ISRA"). ISRA is the New Jersey law that requires, certain applicable companies to go through a rather exhaustive clearance process for site contamination as a condition to a property sale, transfer or cessation of operations of an industrial establishment (which was historically determined by the facility's SIC code and was subsequently switched to the firms or NAICS code) that handles hazardous substances.

These letters were very valuable as a site that was subject to ISRA, can be engulfed in a lengthy environmental review process that could derail real estate transactions. The concern of being drawn into the ISRA process (The NJDEP never undertook an awareness campaign to notify regulated business that would need to go through ISRA.) created a knee jerk reaction that a letter of non-applicability should be obtained to settle any concerns that ISRA was relevant. For many years, NJDEP had issued LNA's as a service to the New Jersey regulated community so that parties knew that the business operations were not subject to ISRA.

A requirement to secure an ISRA LNA has often been a condition of a purchase agreement or a loan commitment and is frequently a standard HISTORICAL term in leases. As LNAs have long since been discontinued, often times contract language has not been updated and parties still request these letters.

Although NJDEP ISRA Letters of Non Applicability were discontinued in 2008, the outreach campaign to inform realtors, business owner, lending institutions and lawyers was nonexistent. Curren Environmental gets call monthly from parties wanting to obtain this discontinued NJDEP service.  If you want to stop dealing with outdated information and have ISRA questions, please feel free to contact David Sulock 856-858-9509, extension 151 or by email at davidsulock@currenenvironmental.com.