Can This, Not That: How To Preserve Contents After Mold Infestation

There are no simple answers to questions that arise regarding saving personal belongings and furniture after an indoor environment is contaminated with mold.  Generally, from an insurance perspective, only items that are directly impacted by water from a covered water loss are covered for cleaning or replacement.  However, contents that are impacted by spores, mold fragments, mold toxins, and volatile organic compounds that are liberated from areas of actual mold growth must be addressed to prevent cross-contamination when moved to a new environment or returned after a structure is remediated.   Decisions on restorable must be made on a case by case basis, and are dependent on numerous factors, including:

  • The severity of the airborne contamination
  • The effectiveness of capture and containment methods if contents are present during structural remediation
  • The length of time in which the contents were exposed
  • The origin of the water loss, clean water versus sewage or other contaminated water source
  • Humidity control
  • The sensitivity or susceptibility of occupants

The primary objective of remediation, whether for structure or contents, should be protection of health. Financial practicality might be considered for low level contamination, but should not be a major criterion for immune-compromised or other sensitized individuals.  Compared to the devastating emotional and health consequences that many people experience with repeated exposure to contaminated contents, financial concerns are inconsequential.

Some people are unable to salvage any items from a contaminated home, while some individuals experience no adverse health symptoms if all items are saved.  For the majority of the population, a combination of cleaning and discarding proves to be effective.

The following guidelines are designed to address content restoration for healthy individuals in homes with low to moderate contamination.

CONTENT DECISION MAKING

 A.  Separate contents according to porosity.

    1. Hard surfaced items, such as metal, plastic, sealed wood, and glass.
    2. Semi-porous items, such as unsealed wood, stone, leather.
    3. Porous items, such as cardboard, paper, fabric, and canvas.
    4. Items to Discard
      1. Items that display visible growth
      2. Porous padded items, such as pillows, upholstered furniture that are exposed to a highly contaminated environment or exposed for extended time
      3. Mattresses that are exposed to a highly contaminated environment or exposed for extended time
      4. Books, paper, and stuffed animals that are exposed to a highly contaminated environment or exposed for extended time

B.  Porous, padded items with short exposure to low concentrations of mold

  1. Agitate books, papers, photos, etc. over the inlet of a HEPA-filtered air scrubber.  HEPA-vacuum.
  2. Porous padded items, HEPA-vacuum, agitate/compress, HEPA-vacuum again.

C.   Hard Surfaced Items

  1.   Clean by HEPA-vacuuming and damp-wiping
  2. Use compressed air to clean cracks and crevices
  3. Submerse glass, dishes, pots, pans, or clean in dishwasher

D.  Clothing

  1. Launder washable item with detergent, dry in dryer
  2. Select several representative items (fluffy sweater, wool coat, silk blouse) for dry-cleaning.  Select a dry cleaner that uses special procedures for mold-contaminated items.  The procedures should include filtering of the fluid to remove mold spores.  Once cleaned, items are to be tested using both direct exam and culturable dust sample method.  Test results should demonstrate that target fungi, such as Penicillium, Chaetomium, Aspergillus, and Stachybotrys, are not present. 

E.  Appliances

  1. Items with insulation are not likely salvageable if exposed to high concentrations of mold or if exposed for a long period.   If exposure was short and concentrations were low, the items should be professional cleaned by disassembly, using a combination of compressed air, HEPA-vacuuming and damp-wiping.
  2. Items without insulation should be disassembled and cleaned using compressed air, HEPA-vacuuming and damp-wiping.

F.  Art Work

  1. Remove craft paper backing and discard
  2. Clean by positioning the painting of the inlet of a HEPA-filtered air scrubber.  Starting at the top of the painting, use an art brush to systematically brush toward the bottom.  Repeat with a clean brush.  HEPA-vacuum and damp-wipe the frame.

Making decisions to discard items with high intrinsic or monetary value, such as antiques, memorabilia, and photographs, can be especially troubling when someone is already dealing with the health, emotional, or financial consequences from a mold infestation.  When possible, questionable items should be stored in sealable containers so that decisions can be made at a time when health and stress levels have improved.   

Home Based Toxins Can Cause Serious Injuries

Based on scientific studies, there are huge compelling pieces of evidence that support the validity of adverse environmental neurotoxic health effects of toxigenic mold and mycotoxins.   If this statement sounds like scary science, it’s because it is.   Exposure to the toxins produced by certain molds that grow on water-damaged building materials can cause neurological disorders that manifest as difficulty concentrating, memory loss, and other symptoms of cognitive impairment.  These adverse effects have been shown to occur in adults and children.

On another toxic note – Lead poisoning in children can reduce IQ, cause learning disabilities and impair hearing. Lead can damage a child’s kidneys and central nervous system, and cause anemia, convulsions and even death.

According to the US Dept of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), nearly one million U.S. kids under age six have blood lead levels high enough to impair their ability to think, concentrate and learn.

Thirty-five percent of all houses in the US have lead-based paint.  As little as one gram of lead dust from sanding a wall can contaminate an entire house.  Lead-based paint was banned in 1978.

 Imagine the excitement of moving into an older home that you purchased at a bargain price because it was about to go into foreclosure.  You move your family into the home and proceed with repairs that include ripping out water damaged walls and ceilings.  Several months after moving in, your seven-year old child begins to fall behind in school.  The pediatrician determines that the child has lead poisoning, with the possibility that treatment to remove the lead might not completely reverse the learning disabilities.

Also imagine that you purchase your family’s dream home, which is a ten year old four thousand square foot “mansion” with ample space for the kids to have a recreation room and you to set up an exercise room.  About six months after moving in, your twelve year old’s report card shows D’s in subjects where he previously had A’s and B’s.  After almost a year of doctor visits and testing, you learn that the child has suffered from exposure to toxigenic mold that is growing within wall cavities.  Inspections show that the house was very poorly constructed.

Both of these scenarios are true stories from my clients.  In addition to the physical symptoms, the psychological aftermath in both families was devastating.  The only positive outcome is that these families spread the word to their families, friends, and colleagues.  These referrals helped numerous families avoid the purchase of “dream home” nightmares, and provided the necessary information for many other families to corrected hazards before moving into houses with problems that could be mitigated in a cost-effective manner.

Caring for Aging Parents Podcast with WWJ-AM 950 Reporter, Pat Sweeting

WWJ-AM 950 Radio

WWJ-AM 950 Reporter: Pat Sweeting

Since 1981, Pat Sweeting has been a valued employee of the nation’s oldest commercial radio station, where there’s always something to keep the adrenaline pumping in overdrive. Pat joined WWJ Newsradio 950 as a news anchor and reporter. Over the years, she has interviewed everyone from Presidents to Hollywood stars to a Grand Wizard of the Michigan Ku Klux Klan as he was pelted with vegetables by passing protestors. Pat has also been able to work on breaking news and award winning stories.

For years you’ve also heard Sweeting bring you health and lifestyle news in a trio of feature reports: “60 Seconds on Health”, “Your Health” and “Prescription for Health.” She has now re-focused her efforts towards more general reporting, but continues to watch for interesting and exciting medical and lifestyle news from doctors, hospitals and universities at home and around the world.

PODCAST ONE: Pat speaks with Environmental Scientist and Indoor Air Quality & Mold Expert Connie Morbach, M.S., CHMM, CIE on the merits of having your home inspected before renovating or putting it on the market. Here’s the link to the podcast: http://67.72.16.166/wwj/2293214.mp3

PODCAST TWO: Pat and Connie also discuss on her Caring for Aging Parents 03/26 podcast, in-home air quality and its implications for Aging In Place. Listen to the podcast here: http://67.72.16.166/wwj/2293210.mp3

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