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Mold Awareness

September 26, 2011
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Those in the carpet cleaning and restoration industry a decade or more ago likely remember when mold concerns and litigation were sweeping the country.



Those in the carpet cleaning and restoration industry a decade or more ago likely remember when mold concerns and litigation were sweeping the country. Many building owners were worried that it might become “the next asbestos” in terms of the volume of lawsuits and the staggering amounts of money awarded victims.

Litigation increased in the mid-2000s, when entire buildings were closed because of mold. For instance, in 2006, the University of Colorado at Boulder closed a campus building because employees and building users began complaining about flu-like symptoms every time they entered the facility, symptoms later blamed on toxic mold.

However, this and similar unfortunate cases had a positive result: it caused builders, property managers, and the carpet cleaning industry to take mold seriously, looking for ways to identify it and prevent its growth.  And largely, their efforts have been successful.  In recent years, the number of mold lawsuits has declined, as have the awards won in court cases.

Although the hysteria and the lawsuits about mold of a decade ago have abated, that does not mean property owners, managers, and carpet cleaning technicians should view this as an issue of the past. Toxic mold can still be a problem, especially for young children and older adults. And with the greater emphasis on Green cleaning and Green carpet care in recent years, it is imperative that carpet cleaning technicians be aware of mold, especially toxic mold, as far as what it is and how it can be prevented.

About Mold

Molds are microscopic organisms found just about everywhere, both inside and outside. Depending on who you ask, there may be as many as 400,000 types of mold, of which approximately 100,000 have been identified and named. Approximately 1,000 types of mold are found indoors in America, and less than 80 molds are suspected of causing some form of illness; of that number only a few are considered toxic.

Some of the most common indoor molds are the following:
  • Aspergillus,  found in decomposing organic materials, has been associated with opportunistic infections of the ears and eyes.
  • Cladosporium, often found in air ducts and fiberglass insulating materials, is an allergen.
  • Penicillium, although best known for its use in killing infections, can cause respiratory reactions if airborne. Indoors it can be found in carpeting and other fibers.
  • Alternaria is often found in carpets and textiles and on horizontal surfaces such as window frames. Like other molds, it can cause respiratory problems and trigger asthma attacks.
  • Stachybotrys is also known as “black mold.” Of the common molds listed here, it can be the most harmful to human health. Chronic exposure can result in flu and cold symptoms, sore throat, headaches, and fatigue, and may even suppress the immune system, resulting in a host of health-related problems.
It is Stachybotrys and similar toxic molds, as they are loosely identified, that are of greatest concern. The problem occurs when spores of these molds become airborne. As they are inhaled, they may irritate the lungs, causing respiratory and other health problems, especially in young children and older adults.

How do these molds get inside? They may be airborne already or “walked into” homes and facilities on shoe bottoms or develop as a result of flooding or excessive moisture that is left unattended, including after carpet cleaning. Once inside a facility, they may grow in carpets and upholstery, in walls, or on any organic debris, without being seen.

Prevention

There is little that carpet cleaning technicians can do after mold has begun to grow in a home or facility. However, technicians can take steps to prevent its growth when performing carpet cleaning tasks.

At the top of the list of preventive measures is ensuring carpets dry in less than 24 hours. The IICRC recommends an even shorter time, six to eight hours, and the Low Moisture Carpet Cleaning Association takes this even further, recommending the use of carpet cleaning “methods or procedures that allow [carpet] fibers to dry to their natural state in less than 2 hours” after cleaning.

With carpet extractors, whether portable or truckmount, this is best accomplished by using machines that are designated low moisture, using less than a gallon of water per minute, or have advanced vacuum systems for more thorough and complete moisture recovery. Further, machines that heat water/cleaning solution above 200 degrees (F) can help reduce carpet drying times.

There are other measures that can be taken as well, such as increasing air circulation in areas where the carpet has recently been cleaned and ensuring that each wet stroke is followed by at least two dry strokes-more in excessively humid areas.

The important thing to remember for carpet cleaning technicians is that although the threat to human health once attributed to mold exposure, and the litigation that accompanied it, has ebbed, mold-related problems still exist. Mold is everywhere. Our job is to ensure it is kept at bay.

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