In 2000, a new “toxic mold” panic swept the country, and after 16 years of untold lawsuits and billions of dollars spent, major myths still plague and unnecessarily panic association boards, managers and homeowners. The myths all too often cause exaggerated repairs, unduly frightened residents, and conflict. In this and the next column, I will address thirteen pervasive toxic mold myths.
1. Mold is new. Mold, one of the earliest and simplest life forms, has existed for thousands of years. Almost 100 years ago, mold was the basis of the discovery of penicillin. Mold is ever-present, as is dust or pollen.
2. The scientific and medical communities confirm mold’s many dangers. In 2004, the National Institute of Medicine published its comprehensive study on indoor mold exposure, called “Damp Indoor Spaces and Health.” A central finding was: “Scientific evidence links mold … in homes and buildings to asthma symptoms in some people with the chronic disorder, as well as to coughing, wheezing, and upper respiratory tract symptoms in otherwise healthy people… However, the available evidence does not support an association between … mold and the wide range of other health complaints that have been ascribed.”
That sounds like mold is as dangerous as dust or pollen to people with severe asthma. The announcement containing this finding is easily located by a web search, but it did not receive much press play – stories of frightened people living in tents are more interesting.
3. One must determine the kind of mold present. Mold consultants and plaintiff attorneys often describe some molds as worse than others. The most famous mold is stachybotrys chartarum, a mold producing infinitesimal quantities of a substance similar to botulism poison. However, the amount is so small they call it a “mycotoxin.” It sounds frightening, but the scientific community long ago debunked the myth that this or any mold was somehow poisonous to breathe. For example, read the National Institute of Health Fact Sheet on Mold, found at www.niehs.nih.gov.
4. California is protected by the Toxic Mold Protection Act of 2001. The act instructed the Department of Public Health to develop permissible exposure limits of the various mold strains. However, in 2005, and again in 2008, the DPH reported the task could not be completed with the scientific information available. Consequently, there is presently no official standard as to how many mold spores of any given variety are “unhealthy.”
5. Always start with a mold test. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends against mold testing. There is no standard as to how many mold spores are “unhealthy,” and indoor air sampling tests are extremely vulnerable to events in the home, which can change the results. A recent shower, window opening or carpet cleaning are some of the many factors that can completely change test outcomes.
Mold tests, to put it bluntly, primarily frighten the occupants and create a “need” for the expense of a mold consultant, and a second test after the area is cleaned. Since the health authorities have not confirmed any particular strain is more dangerous, and since there is no official standard as to how many airborne spores are unhealthy, there is rarely a good reason to spend the money on such a test.
PALO ALTO (KPIX) — A deadly water mold called Phytophthora (literally, “plant-destroyer”) is threatening to wipe out native California plants.
Local plants have no immunity to the fungus-like organism, which may have hitch-hiked into the state from other countries on infected plants or pots.
Non-profit Grassroots Ecology is battling Phytophthora at their nursery, which provides plants to the Mid-Peninsula Open Space District and the Valley Water District for wildland-restoration projects. Their first line of defense: no one gets to enter the nursery until they’ve cleaned their shoes.
“Alcohol kills the pathogens,” Deanna Giuliano, with Grassroots Ecology, said.
In addition to shoe-cleaning, the nursery in the Palo Alto hills, has taken all plants off the ground to avoid splash contamination and pasteurizes the soil. Hoses and tools are kept off the ground, as well.
“I feel like all these new protocols are helping. I’ve seen a difference in the plants, they look healthier,” Giuliano remarked.
Those protocols are driving up prices. The cost of native plants coming from nurseries like Giuliano’s has doubled.
“Each of the plants in this shade house will eventually be replanted in the wild by the Open Space Preserve but not one of the plants will leave here without first being tested,” Giuliano said.
These efforts aren’t cheap or easy but they’re essential in conquering Phytophthora, according to Cindy Roessler, with the Mid-Peninsula Opens Space District.
“If we go out and put in new native plants in a preserve and they’re diseased, those plants will die but there is also a chance that their roots will spread the disease from those plants into the natural areas around them,” Roessler said.
Recently, the Santa Clarita Valley Sanitation District located just north of Los Angeles, California, initiated “inspections” of private homes suspected of harboring illegal salt based water softeners. Recalcitrant homeowners who so far have refused to remove their offending water softeners face a $1,000 fine.
In 2008, residents of Santa Clarita voted for a ban on water softeners because they were told that there was too much salt going through the waste treatment facility, more than the amount allowed by state and federal regulators. Residents supported the ban in order to avoid an expensive upgrade of the facility. However, since water softeners only add a miniscule amount of salt to waste water, the Sanitation District is being forced to install a $250 million filtration system after all.
“Salt based water softeners are the best way to treat hard water which contains high levels of calcium and magnesium,” said Morton Satin, Vice President of Science and Research for the Salt Institute. “These scale deposits increase energy costs by reducing the efficiency of dish and clothes washers and causing them to break down and need replacement more often. In addition, research has demonstrated the potential for hard water scale on taps and shower heads to harbor pathogenic bacteria.”
In washing machines, hard water requires the use of more soap and hotter water to achieve the same results. Salt-regenerated water softeners work by running the incoming hard water through a resin filter that traps the calcium and magnesium, as well as any iron, manganese or radium ions in the water and replacing them with sodium ions.
“The irony is that since the district is installing the salt filters anyways, there is zero benefit from banning water softeners. In the end residents will be stuck with hard water, higher energy and appliance costs, and will likely see their taxes increase to pay for the new water treatment system,” said Satin. “This is bad for consumers, taxpayers and the environment, not to mention a gross invasion of privacy.”
The Salt Institute is a North American based non-profit trade association dedicated to advancing the many benefits of salt, particularly to ensure winter roadway safety, quality water and healthy nutrition.