BASEMENT FLOODS: Primary Damage and Secondary Mold Growth

Flooding of basement, whether the water travels through foundation walls, is caused by a broken pipe, or backs up from a drain, requires immediate action to prevent exposure hazards from mold, bacteria, chemicals, pesticides, and other contaminants. Just as families should prepare and rehearse plans for addressing fires, pre-emergency preparedness is essential to safeguarding health and property values after flood events.
Flood Preparedness
I. Identify the source of water. This is important for several reasons:
• The severity and types of contaminants in flood situations are defined by the origin of the water. For example, if the flood water has fecal material, toilet paper, etc. that are indicative of a sewage back-up, the water has the potential to cause significant harm to exposed individuals. In addition to mold, bacteria, toxins, and human pathogens, sewage water can be contaminated with viruses, chemicals, and pesticides.
• The origin of the water can define whether or not insurance coverage is available. Many homeowner insurance policies include riders for sump pump failures and drain back-ups. Homeowners should be aware that the coverage is not always mentioned by the agent. The cost is typically less than $100 per year, but most consumers don’t know that it is not included in the general policy. Additionally, most insurance policies do not cover damages associated with ground water intrusion that enters through foundation walls or basement windows.
• The origin of the water could determine if liability is to a municipality for negligence, such as insufficient maintenance of storm drains or pumping stations, can be demonstrated.
• The origin of the water can assist in developing an appropriate remediation scope. If flooding is from ground water or sewage, high velocity fans should not be utilized for drying until decontamination is completed. The fans can blow contaminants from affected to non-affected areas. If the water originates from a clean water source, such as broken supply line for a washing machine, high velocity air movers and dehumidifiers should be employed as soon as possible. If surfaces are dried within 24 – 48 hours, mold will not likely grow.
II. When to call your insurance company
In most cases, the insurance company should be called sooner than later. Delaying notification could cause denial of claims or delays in appropriate structural drying, which could promote mold growth that might not be covered by an insurance policy.
Homeowners should know in advance what types of water losses are covered by their insurance carrier. Knowing what the deductible and other out of pocket expenses are for a claim , as well as understanding whether additional riders are needed for mold, drain back-ups, and sump pump failures, is imperative to making wise financial and risk assessment decisions. Also, knowledge of what is and is not covered will assist in decision making regarding whether making a claim is advisable, as making claims that are not covered might compromise the insurability of a home or could cause rate increases.
III. When to call in professionals
The answer to this question depends on the origin and severity of water damage, as well as the type of building materials that are affected by water. If sewage, ground water, or storm water affects large or inaccessible areas, gets into a furnace, reaches depths that require wading through raw sewage – call a professional.
If storm, sewage, or ground water does not recede within a few hours – call a professional.
If porous cellulose building materials such as drywall, plywood, insulation, and carpeting is affected – call in a professional. Scrutinize contractors in advance and call immediately.
Since insurance companies usually require that homeowners take action to mitigate losses, having on hand the phone numbers of pre-vetted restoration contractors can save time and money. After major storms, contractors get booked up quickly. If possible, do not rely on your insurance company to pick the contractor. Choose your own independent third party that has a good reputation and appropriate certifications in water damage restoration. Information on certification can be accessed at IICRC.org.
IV. Quick responses
If water recedes to the extent that electrical and biological hazards are not imminent, healthy homeowners can don protective clothing and take action to protect their belongings and the indoor environment. With appropriate precautions, drains should be verified to be open, pumps should be used to remove standing water, and dehumidifies are to be put into operation. Removal of non-restorable contents reduces indoor contamination and minimizes secondary damage from high relative humidity.
Items to be discarded include affected papers, cardboard, books, stuffed animals, stuffed furniture and other non-restorable items immediately. Disposal should be documented with photos and lists, or items should be placed in receptacles until they are documented.
Wet carpeting should be removed as soon as possible. All wet items should be bagged or wrapped in heavy gauge polyethylene. Transport items only after they are bagged or wrapped. If possible, discard through a basement window or door to minimize cross-contamination to living spaces. Be mindful that contaminants are present, and healthy individuals with no history of breathing disorders are the only candidates for self-remediation. Protective water resistant overalls, gloves, rubber boots, and P100 respirators should be worn.
V. Habitability
If occupants experience adverse health symptoms such as headaches, itchy eyes, sore throats, congestion, gastrointestinal disorders, dizziness, or other flu-like symptoms, the home should not be occupied until decontamination is complete and verified by an independent third party consultant. Infants, elderly people, diabetics, people on immune-suppressive drugs, respiratory illnesses, or heart conditions should be removed from the home until decontamination is complete and verified. A physician should be contacted if symptoms develop after exposure.
VI. Independent third party consultant
If a homeowner suspects litigation, confrontation with the insurance company, or serious health issues, it is strongly advised that an independent third party mold and water damage consultant be hired to assess damages and develop an appropriate remediation scope. It is a good idea to have names and numbers of vetted consultants available in advance.

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Cladosporium is Not Always Harmless

Cladosporium cladosporioides will frequently colonize on damp wood, while Cladosporium sphaerspermum will colonize on damp insulation

Recently, I reviewed several reports from other consultants who discounted the presence of Cladosporium in spore trap air samples, claiming that this mold was not of concern because it was the most common in the outdoor sample.  Following are a few reasons why their conclusions could be faulty:

  1. Cladosporium found in air samples is often considered non-problematic because Cladosporium is generally the most common mold found in outdoor air.  However, if there is actual growth of Cladosporium indoors, which would require excess unplanned moisture, other contaminants that are inherent to water damaged buildings will also be present.  When conditions exist for indoor mold and bacteria growth, endotoxins, mycotoxins, spores, glucans, and other allergens and inflammatory agents will be present.
  2. Generally, the first molds to colonize on wet building materials are Penicillium and Aspergillus.  These two genera cannot be differentiated in spore trap samples and are often under-reported.
  3. When only the genus can be identified in samples, as with spore trap methodology, indoor and outdoor fungal ecologies cannot be conclusively compared.  Cladosporium found outdoors might be Cladosporium herbarum, which is commonly found on decayed vegetation, while the Cladospoirum indoors could be Cladosporium sphaerospermum, which grows on water damaged insulation.
  4. Even if Cladosporium is the same species as outdoors, sensitized individuals could react when concentrations are elevated indoors.

Lesson learned:  Spore trap air sampling alone is a very inconclusive tool for assessing the moldiness of an indoor environment.  Claims that Cladosporium is not a problem can be faulty.

Recommendations:

A detailed visual investigation is the single most important part of a mold investigation.  Sampling should only be performed to answer a question.  Spore trap samples cannot conclusively answer most questions.  A combination of air, dust, and surface samples that are analyzed by culturing or MSQPCR (Mold Specific Quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction) is typically necessary.

DAMMED ICE: MARCH IS TIME TO CHECK THE ATTIC FOR MOLD AND WATER DAMAGE

Dammed Ice

In winter months, they can be spotted throughout the northern regions of the United States.  At first they might seem harmless.  Some even sparkle as the winter sun reflects from the stalactite-like structures.  They are ice dams, and these giant icicles are surefire predictors of damned indoor air quality.

Ice dams are caused when the temperature on the upper part of a roof is warmer than on the lower edges.   The melting snow freezes at the colder lower edges, creating dams in the eaves troughs (gutters).  Problems start when the dammed ice begins to melt, and water backs up under shingles, seeking the paths of least resistance.

Water that backs up under shingles and runs into the attic, insulation, walls, and ceilings often remains undetected.  However, hidden within the wet cavities are feeding frenzies for mold and other nasty microorganisms.  Sustained  moisture causes structural damage, odors, and biological growth.       

Consequences of Dammed Ice  In most regions of the US, ice dams melt before March, and signs of  water damage begin to appear.  Some indicators of water damage from ice damming include:

•             Curling and cupping of shingles

•             Stains on ceilings and walls

•             Stains on the underside of a roof deck

•             Mold growth on wood structures in the attic

Drip stains on the topside of insulation and drywall ceiling

•             Drip stains on insulation in the attic

•             Oxidized nails on the underside of a roof deck

•             Musty or mold type odors

 If signs of damage from ice damming are discovered, a qualified professional should be called upon to evaluate structural damage, assess mold growth,  and develop a safe remediation plan.   A qualified consultant will not only provide recommendations for addressing visible mold and water damage, but will also identify areas that should be evaluated for hidden damage. To prevent cross-contamination during invasive investigations into suspect cavities, personal protection, HEPA-filtration, and partition barriers should be used.   An ounce of prevention is priceless when hidden mold contamination is found, especially in a home with immune compromised individuals.

  Remediation

Effective remediation involves two components: (1) removal of the mold and (2) addressing spores in the air and on surfaces.  Removal of attic mold caused by ice damming typically requires removal of the affected roof decking, as the growth is not limited to visible surfaces.  Trusses, joists, and other wood roof members can usually be cleaned using some type of abrasive cleaning.  One of the best abrasive cleaning methods for attics is dry ice blasting.  This method is not only less labor intensive than sanding or scrubbing, it is more effective because the dry ice freezes the surface of the moldy substrate.  Dry ice blasting also facilitates cleaning of crevices and hard to reach areas.  As with all mold remediation, appropriate containment measures, personal protection, and engineering controls must be employed.

  Remediation after ice damming generally requires removal of the attic insulation.  Insulation that is directly impacted by water loses its efficiency.   Insulation in proximityof mold growth must be removed because of cross-contamination.  Aerosolizing of mold spores, fragments and other propagules that settle onto insulation can cause adverse health effects.  After insulation is removed from an attic, surfaces must be cleaned to remove particulate debris and settled spores.

Removal of attic insulation also allows for a thorough inspection of the topsides of drywall ceilings.  Assessment of staining patterns can provide clues about areas of potential hidden water intrusion into wall cavities.  Drywall with visible mold growth on the topside of ceilings must be removed under appropriate containment.

 Appropriate mold remediation after ice damming is necessary to protect the air quality within an indoor environment and prevent structural damage.  Re-construction after remediation must be executed in a manner to correct the conditions that caused ice damming in the first place.  The most common approaches to preventing dammed ice involve installation of appropriate insulation, ventilation and vapor barriers.  Roofing contractors should provide warranties and be held accountable for these issues.

Mold and ice crystals on the underside of a roof deck

Connie Morbach To Be Featured In October “Women’s Health” Magazine!

Women's Health | July/August CoverI’m elated to announce I will be featured in the October issue of the nationally published “Women’s Health” magazine. I had the opportunity to speak with Women’s Health writer Kate Bowers giving my views on the importance of indoor air quality: what are the risks of household pollutants and what can people do to improve indoor air quality and more.

I’m excited to declare the CleanliNEST™ Crusade is picking up national steam. Here’s to everyone breathing easier!

Take a moment to check out the free iPhone and iPod Workout App from Women’s Health at the link below. Nice workout tool at an even nicer price!

Click here for the Women’s Health Workout Lite App

From Our Video Archives: Sanit-Air Featured On PBS “The Business Page” Television Program

The nationally recognized Public Broadcasting System affiliate in Detroit, WTVS Channel 56, produced and aired a wonderful local business program titled “The Business Page.” Sanit-Air and our team of environmental IAQ experts and technicians had the distinct pleasure of an extensive feature on “The Business Page.”

Producer Mike Echols narrates this business feature that serves as a nice introduction to the basic understanding of the workings of Sanit-Air and the foundation for our CleaniNEST™ brand and consumer crusade. We hope you find “The Business Page” feature on Sanit-Air informative.

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.   

Creepy Crawlspace: A Major Source of Contamination In 9 out of 10 Homes

What can you expect to find in a typical crawlspace? It has been determined, after reviewing thousands of air samples collected from properties with occupants that suffer from poor indoor air quality, that the source of contamination in 9 out of 10 homes comes from a poorly ventilated crawlspace. Common environmental contaminants found in crawlspaces include mold contamination, radon gas, pathogenic bacteria, fiberglass, pesticides, foul odors, asbestos fibers, raw sewage, and/or rodent excretions. Although some of these contaminants are classified as allergens, some are classified as carcinogens, which is why evaluating these air contaminants is important and significant.

If it’s in your crawlspace, it’s in your home! Studies have shown that approximately 40%-50% of the air inside the home generates from the crawlspace. Contaminated crawlspace air will enter the home through pressurization differentials or a condition known as the “Stacking Effect.” Inside a house, warm air rises (especially in multi-story properties) which then reduces the pressure in the base of the house (i.e. crawlspace or basement). This reduction in pressure then forces cooler air from the crawlspace to infiltrate the home through plumbing and electrical penetrations, through cracks or seams in flooring, and up into wall cavities.

During property inspections, crawlspaces are often the most overlooked and under-inspected areas of a property, yet they continue to be the source of more damage than any other area of the house. Crawlspaces are a major source of indoor air quality (IAQ) problems and should be one of the first places you and/or your IAQ Specialist inspect when trying to determine any suspect indoor air quality issues.

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