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The Truth About Mold as Told By Brandon White

Just hearing the word “mold” can be enough to strike fear and horror into the heart of homeowners as they think of any information they may have read or heard about the subject. So, when they either see or smell evidence of it, they imagine the worst: that the family has been potentially suffocating in a toxic death trap. 

As a result, perhaps your disaster restoration company has been called to assess and possibly mitigate the situation. But unfortunately, that’s not your only job. You’ll also have to dispel common myths and misinformation about mold. One thing that might be useful in that regard is to understand some of the science behind mold. It’s even better when those facts are from an actual scientist.

Brandon White is a Microbiologist that will help you put mold in a proper perspective from a scientific point of view. Here’s some knowledge this expert would like to impart and it’s meaty:

 

Reets Drying Academy: Hey Brandon, let’s start with an easy one. What is mold?

Brandon White: There are currently over 148,000 recognized species of Fungi and a seemingly endless array of complex scientific names and non-scientific slang used in reference to these organisms. Considering the overwhelming complexity of the topic, it’s not surprising that people may become confused.  The common terms, mold(s) are used in reference to various types of organisms belonging to the taxonomic kingdom Fungi. Organisms in the Fungi kingdom live primarily on land and play an important role in the decomposition of dead organisms such as plants. It’s another one of nature’s recycling processes since Fungi aid in the degradation process by recycling carbon and other elements back into the environment. The reproductive structure of molds (called spores) are ubiquitous in nature. They’re found abundantly across the globe, from the depths of the ocean to the ionosphere, including the air you’re breathing right now as you read this blog. According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the scientists on the International Space Station constantly battle with mold problems. This NASA article published in Science, a peer-reviewed academic journal of the American Association of the Advancement of Science, reported that the “NASA ‘clean’ room is contaminated with fungus” (2018). 

Even though it’s impossible to avoid these organisms, not all of them are bad. Without many of these organisms in the Fungi kingdom, we would not have certain antibiotics and other medications today. Yeast is also in the Fungi kingdom. So if you enjoy the occasional adult beverage, you may have Fungi to thank for the ethanol contained in your drink. It’s certainly not a common thought to realize fungus is a part of happy hour but it does add to your collection of puns…blink twice when you get it.

Reets Drying Academy: Ok, so not as simple as we thought, lol! Now, there are a bunch of different types of fungi. Can we discuss those? For example, mold vs mushrooms? What’s the difference?

Brandon White: When classifying fungi, there are several factors to consider, this includes methods of reproduction. Generally, the organisms in the Fungi Kingdom referred to as molds, belong to the taxonomic group Deuteromycota (Imperfect Fungi). These organisms have no known sexual reproductive phase. Common mushrooms such as truffles, morels and portabellas have sexual spores. The two types of spores produced by these fungi are called ascospores and basidiospores.

Reets Drying Academy: Well, that is a bit confusing… aren’t ascospores and basidiospores included in an air quality lab report?

Brandon White:  Yeah, that makes it more difficult to understand. Both ascospores and basisiospores are not typically from the group Deuteromycota. They are actually from Ascomycota and Basidiomycota respectively. However, these two mold spore species are both widespread in nature and considered to be a normal component of outdoor air, as well as a common source of indoor air contamination. 

Click here to learn how to read an Air Quality Lab Report

 

Reets Drying Academy: Ok. That clears it up the confusion for me. I understand completely now, I promise…but for those that may not get it, would you mind giving a basic summary?

Brandon White: Basically, molds found indoors primarily come from the colonies we see growing on building materials such as drywall and mushroom come from growth on decaying materials such as leaves from the outdoors.

 

To learn the industry standard practices for mold remediation, sign up for the IICRC Applied Microbial Remediation Course here  

 

Reets Drying Academy: Why didn’t you say that in the first place! Lol! So, is there a difference between mold and mildew? 

Brandon White:  Good question. Say, a tenant finds a slow leak below the kitchen sink, smells a foul mold-like odor and then reports the problem to the maintenance department. The facilities maintenance employee says, “It’s not mold, it’s just mildew!” This excuse is used way too often, especially in the rental property sector. An important question to ask in this situation is: How does the facility personnel know that it is mildew? Chances are the answer will be scripted and inaccurate. As it turns out, organisms commonly referred to as mildew actually belong to the Fungi kingdom and are often plant pathogens. In reality, mildew is a type of Fungi. But even if the organism in question is a type of mildew, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t a problem.

Reets Drying Academy: That maintenance guy sounds like a real jerk. How big of a problem could this be if not addressed?

Brandon White: Is it toxic mold? Is it the bad kind of mold? Is it safe to be in the house? These questions related to visible mold growth indoors are routinely asked in our industry. Per the current edition, ANSI/IICRC S520-2015, section 9.2,90 “Customers and occupants who express health concerns or ask medical questions should be instructed to seek advice from qualified medical professionals or public health authorities.”

Advising a client to seek advice from the proper expert is good advice and it’s a part of the accepted standard of care. Testing would be required to answer any questions regarding mold growth and toxicity to occupants. Even after testing, the results could reveal that it might not affect all individuals entering or occupying the premises.  In some cases, it’s relevant to find out what type of Fungi is in an affected location. However, all Fungi growing indoors should be viewed as opportunistic pathogens regardless of the specific type. If mold testing is conducted, it should be conducted by a qualified, reputable industrial hygiene firm. Determining who’s qualified is another topic to tackle in a future blog.

 
 

Reets Drying Academy: We will keep that in mind. So after testing, how would you handle the remediation? Antimicrobial or Mold Removal?

Brandon White: The current S520 refers to the term “source removal” as removing mold. It also will involve removing building materials when dealing with Condition 3 (actual growth). According to the current S520 section 4.4, “Physically removing mold contamination is the primary means of remediation. Mold contamination should be physically removed from the structure, systems and contents to return them to Condition 1. Attempts to kill, encapsulate or inhibit mold instead of proper source removal generally are not adequate.” Simply killing the mold is not a good option because inactivated or dead mold spores and fungal structures can contain toxins that negatively impact human health. If the spores and fungal structures are not physically removed, then the contaminant is still present and can still contribute to poor air quality and possibly result in adverse health-related issues. Mold will only grow indoors if there’s an adequate source of water. The source could be from a leak or even due to excessive humidity levels. Prior to mold remediation, the source of moisture intrusion needs to be identified and eliminated. Mold spores are microscopic and can be as small as few microns. We cannot see these spores until colonies appear that are composed of hundreds of thousands or even millions of spores. If the mold remediation is not conducted with engineering controls and performed by an experienced restoration company, then cross contamination can likely occur resulting in an even bigger problem down the road. Before mold is disturbed it is good idea to consult with a qualified contractor.

Reets Drying Academy: That’s some great info! If you had to give one takeaway from what you’ve shared, what would it be?

Brandon White: The bottom line is, assumptions about mold are baseless without the science to back it up.  The take-away is that proper testing is the most efficient way to know what you are dealing with and how to properly proceed when it comes to a potential mold remediation job. The industry standards are the guidelines used to be successful in this regard. 

Reets Drying Academy: Thank you so much for being our guest, Brandon and using your expertise to help us understand this vital part of our industry!

To keep your company up to date with all of the OSHA requirements for the restoration industry, sign up for the Health and Safety Systems Course using the link below:  

About Our Guest:

Mr. Brandon White is the Principal industrial hygienist at Environmental Forensic Consultants, Inc. based out of Phoenix Arizona. Mr. White’s undergraduate research was in the field of virology and bacteriology. With over 20 years of experience working as an environmental microbiologist and industrial hygienist Mr. White has conducted oversight and project management of large-scale commercial losses all over the United States. Mr. White has 15 years of experience teaching college microbiology, pathophysiology and biology, is an OSHA outreach trainer through the University of San Diego California, is an IICRC certified instructor, an expert witness, and independent insurance appraiser.

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