Personal Safety During Mold Remediation


By Matthew Yurina, Mold Inspector/Remediator

How do I protect myself from mold?

The first Principle of Mold Remediation according to the IICRC regards Safety and Health. The full range of effects that mold exposure can have on humanity is unknown, and isn’t something that can ever really be understood in its entirety. A person with allergies to mold can be far more susceptible to the ill effects of it and its possibly toxigenic spores. The same caution must be given to those with asthma, respiratory problems or any immune compromising illnesses. It’s also possible that exposure to mold will have stronger effects on children or elderly people.

In any mold remediation project you must wear the correct personal protective equipment (PPE) for the job. A P100 or better rated respirator is essential. Never enter an area infested with mold without a P100 respirator. Breathing in molds spores can be dangerous even for completely healthy people.

Always wear gloves and protective clothing to limit exposure to your skin. Nitrile gloves are a favorite among professional remediators, but kitchen rubber gloves are just as good in many situations. A tyvek, or similar type of full body coveralls is recommended, but sometimes isn’t entirely necessary in the cleaning of smaller mold problems. The very least you should have in the way of clothing should be long sleeves, long pants, boots, respirator and goggles to cover your eyes.

In areas of heavy infestation, (especially in a basement, crawlspace or attic where ventilation could be poor and humidity high) or any situation where you’re cleaning a toxigenic, black mold, you WILL need more and better protective equipment. You’ll need full body coveralls, (average, porous clothing can easily capture airborne mold spores, allowing them to reach the surface of the skin during the sometimes hot and tiring process of mold remediation), Strong rubber or nitrile gloves and a full face P100 respirator. The California Dept. of Health & Services stresses that people not try using any chemical, fungicide or even a detergent to clean up mold, without a respirator that protects against chemical fumes also. A regular P100 will protect against mold spores, but during actual remediation, when using chemicals, you’ll need a P100 filter that also protects against chemical fumes.

Black molds require the right conditions (a large moisture source, poor ventilation, high humidity and plenty of cellulose material to feed on) for them to produce deadly mycotoxins. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) states, however, that all fungi most likely produce allergens that could cause disease depending upon one’s exposure to it. And of course, those allergic to any type of mold will be more susceptible. Standard practice in mold remediation is to take all the precautions one can.
To learn about mold’s effects on your health, click here.

The largest problem with any type of mold is that they all produce spores in order to reproduce and those spores can travel very easily to other areas. It’s important in mold remediation to contain the mold infestation as close to the source as possible, thus eliminating the spread of the infestation. New protective clothing should be dawned before each day of work, and the used material should be bagged and thrown away after leaving the contaminated area. Any tools used in the decontamination process should be washed or wiped off thoroughly before removing them from the area. P100 half and full face masks are usually reusable, so as long as you clean them off after a day’s work they can be used again the next day. The filter/cartages, however, should be replaced every day at the very least.

PPE

Basic P100 respirator:
Protects against particulates (dust, mold spores). Trask Research’s basic P100 is the North Safety brand 5500 half mask with two P100 filters. This is the absolute minimum of respiratory protection which should be worn when operating inside an area that’s contaminated with mold spores.

Premium P100 respirator

This is the same North Safety 5500 half mask, but it comes accompanied with much stronger filter cartridges. They’re P100 so they’ll protect against mold spores, but they’re also excellent protection against many chemical fumes. They’re designed to protect against the fumes of Borate and Quat based fungicides, among others. Whenever spraying or fogging indoors with chemicals this is the respirator that’s required.

Full face P100 respirator

This is the ultimate protection as far as respirators go. With a full face respirator you won’t need to worry about wearing goggles and you can be sure that neither mold spores nor chemical fumes will get into the eyes, nose or mouth. A full face respirator is strongly recommended when doing mold remediation indoors in any small or poorly ventilated places.

Tyvek Suiting

It’s important to limit skin exposure to mold and mold spores. Tyvek coveralls with attached hood and booties are the ultimate protection. This is the same type of suiting that Professional Remediators use. Full tyvek coveralls with attached hood and booties to cover the shoes will completely keep mold spores from one’s skin and protect against chemical splash.

Gloves

Imperative when working with mold or chemicals is either rubber or nitrile gloves. Certain species of mold can cause different types of dermatitis, and nearly every species of mold is capable of causing infections. Quat based fungicides like the Impact are some of the safest as far as people are concerned, but one still needs to limit ones skin contact with it. When Impact has gotten on the skin it should be washed off thoroughly as soon as possible.

Goggles

If you’re not wearing a full face respirator, then goggles are essential. Excessive exposure to mold spores can turn eyes red and itchy, possibly leading to infection. Never enter an area infested with mold spores without full eye protection.

Home Ventilation

Keeping your home well ventilated is one of the most important factors in prohibiting mold growth, as it will help keep mold spores and other indoor air pollutants (radon, asbestos, carbon monoxide, dust, pollen, etc.) from accumulating and creating mold growth or allergy problems in susceptible people. These days houses are being constructed far more compact and air tight than in the past, so little outdoor air seeps in through cracks, closed windows and doors even when wind is strong and temperature is changing. Ventilation will also help lower moisture in your indoor air, which is essential since moisture is the cause of mold growth, rot, insect infiltration, bacterial growth, algae growth, etc.

In older houses outdoor air can get in relatively easy by infiltration, or even naturally through open windows when weather permits, which keeps the home drier and keeps pollutants moving, not settling indoors. In new homes the need for mechanical ventilation is quite high. Exhaust fans removing air and moisture from bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, etc. are not only necessary, they’re mandatory to prevent mold accumulation. However, the best way to prevent the buildup of indoor pollutants is to have mechanical ventilation removing indoor air and bringing in fresh, outdoor air. Without mechanical air ventilation from outdoors, the best way to prevent mold spore and other pollutants from becoming a health risk would be with dehumidification and HEPA air filtration.

According to the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineering (ASHRAE) a home should be moving 15 cubic feet of air per minute, per person in the household. To keep it simple add the number of bedrooms in the home to the number 1 and then multiply that by the 15 cfm: i.e. [(4 bedrooms + 1) x 15 cfm = 75 cfm]. Bathrooms are supposed to have a capacity of 50 cfm, and kitchens should have and exhaust capacity of 100 cfm.
For more information on home ventilation or indoor air issues, visit:
www.epa.gov, or www.ashrae.org.

Water Damage Causes Mold Growth

How does mold grow?

Molds reproduce by spores, which are microscopic cells that are ubiquitous in the air around us, both indoors and out. They’re as common as dust particles. What spores require in order to begin growing into visible mold is moisture. Any moisture accumulation whatsoever can initiate mold growth; when any organic surface remains damp for more than 24 hours, mold can start to develop. And mold literally feeds on the surface it grows on, slowly eating away until it destroys these materials utterly.

The majority of mold problems around the country have long been due to water line leaks, poor ventilation that leads to humidity condensation, or improper exhaust piping from kitchens, bathrooms and laundry rooms, but these are all individual, isolated sources for mold growth. Flooding on the other hand puts immense amounts of water into homes and leaves it there, sometimes for weeks on end. The flood water will not only cause mold growth, but brings with it countless microorganisms and chemicals that can accelerate mold growth and create toxic fumes and spread disease. In cases like this, there is no way at all to prevent mold growth. Mold should be accepted as inevitable, and steps should be taken to protect those who’re returning home after a flood, or who’re present to clean up the flood water.

How do I protect myself from mold?

When returning to any structure that’s been flooded or has sustained significant water damage the very least protection one should be wearing is: P100 respirator, gloves, and goggles. In cases where flood water has kept buildings damp for more than two to three days, full body coveralls should be worn as well when cleaning or removing water damaged or moldy materials.

Working in a water damaged environment can be physically and mentally stressful. Extensive water damage of any kind can allow millions upon millions of microorganisms into a structure, making these areas extremely harmful to human beings. Before attacking a mold remediation project a plan for safety should be put in place, and the job should be done carefully and in moderation. Working in full body coveralls and respirators is physically challenging, and the remediators will need to pace themselves, taking regular breaks to cool down and exchange respirator cartridges as necessary.

It’s understandable that people will need a place to stay, or can’t afford to pay for a hotel for weeks on end if the remediation requires completely gutting a home. Instances like this can cause many people to jump into remediation quickly, using bleach to try and clean the mold so that they can remain living in the home. Bleach is not a mold killer and its application around the home will be more destructive than helpful. Bleach cannot penetrate to the tiny roots of mold, but the water portion of the solution will, thus creating more mold growth in the future. There isn’t an hundred percent chance this will happen immediately, but when it looks like the mold is gone, and the rebuilding begins, reinstalling drywall, insulation and repainting will give the mold food for growth, and it’s then practically inevitable that the mold will return.

How do I clean up mold?

The mold infested area should be isolated as close to the source as possible, so when a whole house is involved it may be necessary to section off certain areas with polyethylene sheeting, creating a containment area to prevent the spread of spores. All standing water must be pumped out or sucked up immediately. Water damaged materials need to be dried out quickly and thoroughly before mold has time to become extensive enough to cause a total loss of the property. Water damaged sheetrock, insulation and any other porous material that aren’t salvable need to be removed, bagged up safely in polyethylene sheeting and disposed of without spreading mold spores or other potentially harmful microorganisms to other areas.

All visible mold must be physically removed from the area. A fungicide should be either fogged or sprayed after mold removal in order to kill mold roots and airborne mold spores. This will insure that mold cannot begin growing again. The entire flood water damaged area should be treated at least twice with an EPA registered fungicide, allowing time to dry thoroughly between applications.

There are many products on the market geared toward eradicating mold, no matter the species. When in doubt be sure to check with the product’s manufacturer to find out what chemicals are in the product and if it’s safe for your particular application. While good strong chemical fungicides are the best for killing and preventing mold growth, some people are more chemically sensitive than others, and should be clear of the area being treated until the place is ventilated and the fungicide has dried thoroughly.
Once fogging, spraying, or both with the fungicide has taken place at least twice, the area should be tested to verify that airborne spores are once again at a reasonable level. Only then can a fungicidal sealant be applied and rebuilding can begin.

Is Killing the Mold Enough?

Safety is and always will be the number one concern when dealing with mold. There’s no such thing as going too far when trying to rectify a mold problem. One should always err on the side of caution. In small mold contamination situations killing the mold alone and applying a fungicidal sealant can usually solve the problem. In areas of heavy water damage where mold is extensive, it’s strongly advised to make use of HEPA air filtration, or a good HEPA grade vacuum to remove or suck up live and dead mold spores. Even dead mold spores can be a health concern, especially if the spores are present in the air.

Regardless of the species of mold an abundance of airborne spores, either dead or alive, can create an unhealthy atmosphere, aggravating anyone with asthma, immune deficiencies, respiratory disorders or general allergies to mold.

To summarize mold contamination will inherently make light of the detail that’s involved in its removal. This aside, mold requires moisture to grow and thrive, and the more moisture present for long periods of time will cause mold growth. Mold growth means mold spore production and even more mold growth. As long as moisture remains, mold has the opportunity to grow, destroy walls, floors, etc. and create health problems for the inhabitants of the area. This isn’t to suggest people should panic about mold and let it depress them into inaction. It means mold should be taken seriously, moisture should be controlled, and when mold growth does occur, it must be handled in a safe and thorough manner. When in doubt, proceed with all caution, and consult a certified mold professional for support.

Is Mold Destroying Your Health?

There’s an unpleasant but inescapably true answer to this question: If there are molds growing in the areas you either live or work in, IT IS EFFECTING YOUR HEALTH! Symptoms may not show themselves for a long time in some people due to differences in health: immune system, allergies, asthma, etc.

Mold itself may or may not be problems in the beginning, but the spores mold produce in order to reproduce will spread into the air of living and working quarters easily, even invading ventilation systems, which forces them through buildings into other areas quickly and effortlessly. Mold can enter the body three ways. It can be absorbed, ingested, or inhaled.

Mold can affect people in three different ways: allergy, infection, and through toxicity. Not all types of mold can do all three of these things, and while there are only a small group that’s known to be pathogenic to humans, every species is potentially allergenic and any species could cause infections in susceptible people.

Mold’s Allergenic Potential

Symptoms of allergies to mold are coughing, wheezing, stuffy or runny nose, headaches, sore throat, fatigue, and dizziness, even reduction of the acuteness of the senses and lack of will. These symptoms will logically be more prominent in people who’re already allergic to mold, but new allergies can be developed after only one exposure, and long term exposure will only make these symptoms worse.

Mold can grow upon dust, which can create Organic Dust Toxic Syndrome (ODTS), and can cause severe cold or flu-like symptoms. Mold also produces things called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) which create most of the damp, musty or moldy smells related to mold growth. The majority of VOCs are ethanol, alcohols and ketones, and they in themselves are not yet understood to contribute to human health problems. In many situations the odors could remain somewhat separate from airborne mold spores, and a moldy odor can’t necessarily prove that indoor air is contaminated. Mold testing would need to be done to insure this theory. The study of VOCs is still underway.

Large moisture problems in themselves, even in the hours before causing mold to grow, already bring extensive amounts of extra microorganisms and other organic products into the area. Dust, bacteria, insect parts, fecal matter, etc. can cause many of the same symptoms that mold has been known to cause. With respect to this it’s always advised to perform mold testing before starting a remediation project. These microorganisms, fungal in nature or not, need to be eliminated from indoor air completely, not just killed. In extensive mold contamination, complete HEPA grade filtration is necessary after cleaning, killing and removing mold.

Mold’s Infective Potential

There are estimated to be more than a million species of fungi in the world and of them only a few thousand are commonly found in the living environments of human beings. Of that thousand or so many have been reported to have caused infections in humans, animals and plants. Certain genera, like Aspergillus for example, have many species known to cause infections, allergies and produce toxins that can make people sick. Aspergillosis is the main infectious disease caused by Aspergillus, but the disease can come in many forms, ranging from lesser, allergy style illnesses, to fatal diseases characterized by actual mold growth (called a fungal ball) in the lungs or other organs, where it produces toxins, eats away at the organ’s lining, and eventually leads to necrosis, and death if untreated.

There are many types of aspergillosis, and they’re only the effects of one genera of mold. Invasive Aspergillosis can kill people with compromised immune systems. Other diseases caused by known pathogenic molds are: Blastomycosis, Candidiasis, Coccidioidomycosis, Cryptococcosis, Histoplasmosis, Paracoccidiomycosis, Sporotrichosis, and Zygomycosis. Like Aspergillosis, many of these diseases come in more than one form, and they can all infect nearly any part of the body.

Mold’s Potential Toxicity

There are many species of mold known to produce toxins, which, when ingested (the majority of cases have resulted from actual ingestion, but when mold spores are contaminating the air, it greatly raises the possibility of this) can lead to some potentially fatal diseases. The species of fungi known as Ergot (Claviceps purpurea) has for centuries now been known to cause a disease called ergotism, which can initiate gangrene in limbs, and even lead to death. Ergot commonly infects wheat and rye, and is in turn ingested by people who eat it. The mold, Stachybotrys Chartarum can produce toxins that reduce white blood cell count, cause hemorrhaging and even death!

Other molds that can produce toxins are: Aspergillus flavus, Fusarium graminearum, Memnoniella, and some 200 or so others. Not all mycotoxins produced by molds are actually bad, but there are enough of them being produced these days inside homes for one to be concerned.

This by no means should suggest one should panic. As long as one rectifies water problems quickly after they occur, keeps one’s living quarters clean and well ventilated, mold problems should not manifest. Toxigenic molds require special conditions like: unfixed moisture issues, high humidity, poor ventilation, and usually several days to weeks of time, in order to produce their deadly byproducts. With this in mind, one merely has to maintain a clean living space to ensure one’s health against mold.

If you believe you have a mold issue that needs looking into, please feel free to reach out at (920) 435-2288. Our professional staff is here and we can offer a FREE no obligation review of your mold problem and we’ll help any way we can.  Your personal safety during a mold remediation process is of our largest concern.