Like people, homes, and walls breath, a structure may have no visible signs of mold growth but could still have high levels of encapsulated toxic mold. Because all walls breathe, anything within the wall cavity can be released into the ambient air.
Dust, mold, and even dust mite feces are just a few of the things that can come through the walls in any dwelling.
When there is an air conditioning unit, the problem intensifies. The return for the AC system is constantly pulling both clean and contaminated air through the wall. I’m no rocket scientist, but I think this happens because of the AC unit’s pressure.
No AC is one reason I believe that I could stay in a few musty places with light water damage overseas and while sick from toxic mold and not have debilitating reactions. Another reason is that I was in a location with really good air and spent most of my days outdoors. So my body seemed to do very well in the clean air, reducing my symptoms. The buildings and places I stayed didn’t have HVAC systems; the only airflow source were windows and doors. The last reason could have been that the molds present in the buildings where I stayed weren’t toxic.
In the United States, we are building super tight, air-conditioned buildings where the only airflow is from the AC’s movement. If the air is contaminated, it is locked in, affecting the health of occupants. We lock in VOCs from new construction materials and VOCs from new furniture, and then if there is a toxic mold issue, we have a recipe for disaster.
Why we think making ultra-tight buildings is a good idea is beyond me. I understand energy efficiency, but other things can be done to ensure occupants’ safety.
When toxic mold becomes apparent to a homeowner, renter, college dorm resident, or employee, the first thing most people want to do is test the environment. But, I’ve learned that this doesn’t always prove that an issue exists.
One of the reasons is the current design of the air sampling pumps used on the market today. None of these pumps are equipped to pull more than two cubic feet of air from an area being sampled. I’ve asked multiple Environmental Hygienists and Mold Assessors, and I’ve been told that none of the pumps currently on the market that meet industry standards can do this.
Why is this a big deal? Well, because if you were to move the sampling pump just two feet to the right or two feet to the left, it could yield completely different results, and in some cases, if there are high amounts of debris inside the wall cavity, the results will not show anything at all.
So when there is a suspected toxic mold problem, using air sampling alone is not the best strategy because it will NOT identify where the problem resides.
You can sample a space until you’re blue in the face, but it will not tell you what needs to be addressed. Only a full inspection by a seasoned Mold Assessor or Environmental Hygienist can give you this valuable information.
So if you’re a homeowner or a renter or you’re in college and getting sick in your dorm and experiencing new symptoms you never had before, always rule out your environment. Take some time to get away from the building in question and then hire someone who is licensed, qualified and seasoned in their line of work. Have them do a full inspection in addition to testing and then go from there. Sometimes it can be something that requires a simple fix other times, it requires a massive remediation plan.
Make sure whoever you hire will do wall cavity samples. If they refuse, find someone else. They should conduct a thorough visual inspection of the property both inside and out. Request that they do infrared thermal imaging to detect any current issues behind walls and in hard-to-reach areas. A qualified and experienced mold assessor will measure moisture levels on all walls and check the level of humidity in the air. They will also check all perimeter walls, flooring substrates, baseboards, AC systems including vents and ducts, window and door assemblies, ceilings, and if applicable – attics and basements.
I must add that I’m still waiting to find a case where remediating a home with Stachybotrous and other mycotoxin-producing molds worked out and allowed occupants to return without experiencing reactions. So always be prepared for the house not to be suitable and always have a plan B. I know this isn’t what most people like to hear, but it is the reality I have seen in my own life and in the consultations I have offered to hundreds of families over the years.