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Topics > Healthy Outlook > Advice on Dealing with Problems with Mold

Advice on Dealing with Problems with Mold

Published by Contra Costa Times
Posted on Thu, Apr. 21, 2005

By Michael Kent

I OFTEN GET calls from Contra Costa residents wanting the county to send someone to check their homes, workplace or school for mold problems. Many are worried that mold is making them or their children sick.

Determining if mold in your home is causing a health problem is tricky business. There aren't any legal or medical standards to determine if the type and amount of mold in a particular building is a health hazard.

Mold is a naturally occurring microscopic organism, a type of fungus, that exists virtually everywhere. Most people are exposed to mold daily without apparent harm.

For a number of reasons, including the fact that there are no scientific or legal standards for mold, Contra Costa Health Services doesn't have a mold inspection program. We can, however, offer information on how to deal with mold and where to go for more information.

Some types of mold can pose health risks, especially in people allergic to molds, young children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems and respiratory conditions like allergies and asthma.

Problems can occur if a susceptible person inhales mold spores, touches contaminated materials or eats contaminated foods. It is generally prudent to remove mold you can see or smell.

Mold grows where there is continuous moisture, which can be caused by leaky roofs or pipes, steam from showers or cooking, and damp crawl spaces or basements. Discolored patches, cottony or speckled growth on the walls, or a musty, earthy odor are likely indicators of mold.

The state health department and federal health agencies (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) do not recommend testing homes for mold because reliable air sampling for mold is expensive, and there are no standards for what mold levels are acceptable.

Sometimes mold isn't obvious and can be hidden behind walls or under chairs, or even under the floor. Anyone with health problems they believe are linked to mold exposure should consult a medical professional.

Symptoms related to mold exposure can include:

  • Wheezing, shortness of breath
  • Nasal and sinus congestion.
  • Eye irritation
  • Dry, hacking cough
  • Nose or throat irritation
  • Skin rashes or irritation

The best way to deal with a small mold problem is to first identify and eliminate the source of moisture, and then eliminate the mold.

Hard surfaces can usually be cleaned. Porous materials that are moldy may have to be thrown out. Use precautions such as rubber gloves and an appropriate breathing filter from a hardware store. Dispose of all material that may be moldy, such as rags, papers and leaves in sealed, plastic garbage bags.

For large contamination problems (more than 100 square feet), a professional contractor may be needed.

If you are a renter, your landlord may be responsible for fixing mold problems. Renters who have trouble getting their landlords to fix a mold problem caused by building code violations, such as leaky plumbing or roofs, should call their local code enforcement department.

Homeowner's insurance may cover mold problems and repairs.

For more information on mold and how to get rid of it, visit the Contra Costa Health Services Web site at, or the California Department of Health Services Web site at DHS also has a list of indoor air quality consultants that provide clean-up services.

Michael Kent is Contra Costa County's hazardous materials ombudsman.

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