Post-Harvey relief and the Texas mold law

By Elizabeth Glass Geltman JD, LLM, Nicolas Wilhelm, JD, and Abraham Gutman, MA

Hurricane Harvey was called “the most extreme rain event in U.S. history.” In just a few days, the storm dropped 50 inches of rain on Houston. Now that the storm has ended, the response is moving from relief efforts to repair and cleanup efforts to deal with the extensive damage Harvey caused.

Unfortunately, the danger to first responders and volunteers does not end when the floodwaters recede — some of the most significant health concerns come from post-storm environmental perils, including mold. One study following Hurricane Katrina indicated that the concentration of mold in flooded areas was roughly double the concentration in non-flooded areas. After Harvey, Houston should expect to see a significant increase in mold hazards in homes.

Mold produces a fungus called mycotoxin which can make exposure to mold a health hazard. According to a World Health Organization report, people who have been exposed to mold are at risk of developing symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and asthma (in sensitized persons). Moreover, exposure to mold could also lead to chronicconditions, such as chronic rhinosinusitis and chronic fatigue syndrome. The impact of mold is not always seen immediately. Individuals exposed to mold may see negative impacts on their health for years after leaving the moldy space.

Texas is one of 12 states and the District of Columbia that passed laws that regulate the way mold should be assessed, treated, and remediated to protect the public’s health from adverse effects of moldy buildings and homes.

The Texas mold law requires contractors providing mold removal services, or “mold remediation,” to complete an accredited training program and be certified to remove the mold. This certification requirement was designed to both protect the health of mold remediators and to ensure that those doing the removal do so properly so mold is less likely to grow back.

The Texas Department of Health Services, however, released emergency guidelines, allowing out-of-state mold remediation companies and unlicensed companies to apply for a temporary waiver to remediate mold in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

Although the number of properties flooded may exceed the number of mold remediators certified by Texas, it remains important for individuals and contractors working to remediate mold take appropriate measures to protect themselves and property inhabitants. The waiver might be needed to increase in emergencies, but mold remains dangerous.

How to Prevent Mold Growth in Your Home

Mold plays an important role in nature. Mold breaks down dead organic matter, including fallen leaves, and speeds up the decomposition process so nutrients can return to the soil as quickly as possible. But mold inside a home can be a formidable foe, triggering allergic reactions and increasing a person’s risk of developing respiratory problems. Mold can even cause damage to a home by attaching itself to wood and breaking down that wood. Because the consequences of mold growth inside a home can be so dire, it’s important that men and women take steps to prevent mold growth in their homes and apartments. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency notes that controlling moisture levels in a home or apartment is the key to controlling mold as well.

  1. Address spills quickly and properly. Many instances of mold infestations can be traced to leaks or spills that were not quickly or properly addressed. The EPA advises that wet or damp materials or areas should be dried within 24 to 48 hours to prevent the growth of mold. Make sure spills are thoroughly cleaned as opposed to a cursory cleanup of only the areas visible to the naked eye. Inspect nearby crevices when spills occur to ensure the area where the spill happened and all surrounding areas vulnerable to mold growth are dry. In addition, fix leaky plumbing fixtures immediately, hiring a professional if necessary.
  2. Inspect the ground surrounding your home. Factors outside a home can sometimes contribute to mold growth within a home. Make sure the ground outside your home slopes away from the foundation. If the ground slopes toward your home, rainwater or runoff from sprinkler systems may direct water into your home, creating conditions favorable to mold growth inside. Gutters and downspouts also should be inspected to ensure they are working optimally. If not, they can contribute to water damage on the roof that can ultimately lead to mold growth.
  3. Monitor indoor humidity. The EPA advises that homeowners keep indoor humidity below 60 percent relative humidity, which can be measured with humidity meters available at many hardware stores. Homeowners who can keep indoor humidity at levels 30 to 50 percent below relative humidity might be even more successful at keeping indoor mold growth at bay.
  4. Dry wet surfaces immediately. Surfaces can become wet even if a home has no leaky fixtures and no spills have occurred. For example, the surfaces of bathroom walls, ceilings and floors get wet when a home’s inhabitants take hot baths or showers. That condensation is natural, but such surfaces are also susceptible to mold growth. Make sure to dry wet surfaces immediately, and keep exhaust fans on or windows open when bathing to decrease the likelihood of mold growth. Mold growth can be detrimental to human beings and their homes. But many mold infestations are easily prevented.

Keeping Your Front-end Loading Washer Free of Mold

SAN ANTONIO (NEWS 4) — An appliance that’s in millions of homes across the country could be a magnet for mold and mildew, and you may not even realize it. It’s a problem more than six million owners of front-loading washing machines sued over. A settlement was reached, and the deadline to join has passed. While manufacturers have taken steps to make the machines less susceptible to mold and mildew, many owners are still finding a black substance along the rubber boot that seals the door shut. “There’s mold growing in my washing machine,” says owner Michael Correa. Other owners notice telltale signs. “I dry it out all the time because the water lays in there,” says owner Irene Voight. “It will start smelling.” “Just musty,” adds owner Anne Higginbotham. Certified repairman Mickey Resendez with San Antonio Appliance Repair Service Company shines a light in the cause. “I think the general public at this point and time has not really caught onto the fact that these machines, a lot of them, do not have venting in the machine built in to alleviate all the moisture inside the machine after the wash load has been done,” he says.

He says the cheapest and most effective solution is probably already in your laundry room: bleach. “Say every three to six months, depending on how much washing you do, we recommend you put a quarter to a half gallon of bleach directly into the machine,” Resendez says. Rather than adding the liquid into the bleach slot, he recommends pouring it directly into the tub. Then, put the washer on a hot setting and let the bleach do its job. “And after that, you should kill all the mold and bacteria from the machine, and thus releasing all the odor from the machine,” Resendez says. When you’re not using the machine, he suggests cracking the door open a few inches to let it air out. Resendez says these extra steps will make sure your washer is squeaky clean.

Many Types of Fungi Can Cause Indoor Air Quality Problems

PRLog (Press Release) – Jun 06, 2011

Over the past decade there have been numerous media reports about Stachybotrys chartarum that have often referred to it as “toxic mold”.  These stories have made headlines in the country’s newspapers, magazines and television programs.  Stachybotrys chartarum is a greenish-black mold that can be found in properties with water damage or highly elevated humidity levels.   It grows on common materials found in buildings that contain a high cellulose and low nitrogen content.  Growth occurs when there is moisture from water damage, excessive humidity, water leaks, condensation, water infiltration or flooding.

The term “toxic mold”, used by many media reports is not accurate, unless the fungi are actually tested to see if they are producing toxins.  While certain molds are toxigenic, meaning they can produce toxins (mycotoxins), the molds themselves are not toxic, or poisonous and do not always appear to produce toxins.  Another thing that is rarely mentioned in the media reports is that Stachybotrys chartarum is just one of numerous species of fungi that can produce these mycotoxins.

The mere presence of these fungi does not mean they are producing mycotoxins.  None the less, when these molds are found at elevated levels in the indoor environment they need to be addressed.

“Perhaps the most common problem caused by high levels of fungi in homes, schools and offices is their ability to cause allergies and trigger asthma,” stated Susan White, Ph.D., CMC, President of Sussex Environmental Health Consultants (SEHC), a Delaware based environmental consulting firm.  “Mold growing in homes and buildings, whether it is Stachybotrys chartarum or other molds, indicates that there is a problem with water or moisture. Failure to address any moisture problems will simply allow the mold to come back,” she continued.

Pittsburg Residents Suing Apartment Owner Over Mold

Contra Costa Times

Tenants of an apartment complex here are suing their management company over claims that it failed to remove mold that made them sick. About 30 residents of Portofino Apartments on Loveridge Circle are signing onto a lawsuit, said attorney Bob Levin, against management company Riverstone Residential Group, citing poor living conditions and retaliatory responses to complaints. Levin said he plans to file the suit “within the statutory period,” once he meets with all prospective plaintiffs. The common thread among the tenants’ complaints is allegations of mold growing on walls, in carpet, and in windowsills and doorjambs. Other complaints include cockroach and rodent infestations, broken heating and air conditioning systems, and faulty smoke detectors. Residents say their concerns have been ignored, and instead were met with eviction threats. “I have investigators looking into other aspects of this,” said Levin, who is considering seeking class-action status. “I don’t know how far this thing’s going to go.”

Chinese Drywall Linked to Corrosion

Federal investigators reported on Monday that a “strong association” exists between chemicals in Chinese drywall installed in thousands of homes during the housing boom and electrical problems in those homes. In addition, investigators said that the drywall was a possible cause of respiratory problems reported by homeowners, brought on by hydrogen sulfide gas emitted from the imported drywall in combination with formaldehyde, which is common in new homes. The finding, released by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, is the second in a series of progress reports on a widespread investigation into complaints by homeowners that their newly built homes were giving off a rotten egg odor and causing respiratory problems, and that appliances and electrical systems were failing quickly. More than 2,100 homeowners, mainly in Florida, Louisiana and Virginia, have complained to the government of problems with their homes.

Those three states experienced a home construction boom after devastating hurricanes. With domestic sources of drywall running low a few years ago, many home builders turned to imported drywall from China, which investigators now say is linked to many of the homeowners’ problems. The report found that Southern homeowners were particularly vulnerable. The problems were brought on by a higher-than-normal level of hydrogen sulfide, worsened by high humidity, high temperatures and poor air circulation in highly air-conditioned homes.

Dehumidifiers Not the Only Solution for Mold Problems

Sep 14, 2009 – People who want to fight mold problems around their home can start by investing in a good dehumidifier. However, that’s not the only strategy to follow when trying to maintain indoor air quality and fight off mold and mildew. A recent article in the Palm Beach Post focuses on the importance of keeping one’s air conditioning ducts cleaned. The report warns that some “fly by night” companies have been advertising in the area, offering dubious value for their services, and in some cases, unnecessary features that purport to target mold and other problems. One local business owner, Sidney Talavera, told the Post that a reputable company will charge between $400 and $1,000 to clean ducts in a house as large as 2,000 square feet. He also says that a home’s vents should be cleaned every five years.

Overall, dirty or clogged vents can be a source of air quality problems because they allow a way for mold spores and other contaminants to be spread throughout an entire home. Otherwise, such problems may be more confined to moisture prone areas like the basement. While proper ventilation maintenance is important, many homeowners also find a dehumidifier or other energy efficient air purifiers to be useful.

Former Tenant Sued for ‘Tweeting’ About Mold

CHICAGO – A Chicago real estate management company is suing a former tenant for defamation for complaining on Twitter about mold in her apartment. Horizon Group Management filed the lawsuit against Amanda Bonnen, the former tenant, on Monday in Cook County Circuit Court and is seeking at least 50,000 dollars in damages. Horizon, in its suit, said that on May 12, Bonnen wrote a “false and defamatory” message on the micro-blogging service. “Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it’s okay,” said the “tweet” sent from Bonnen’s since-discontinued account at @abonnen. Horizon said the statement was “wholly false” and had “greatly injured” its reputation as a landlord in Chicago.

-AFP

%d bloggers like this: