Real Estate: Watch out for the effects of mold

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Servpro workers cleaning mold in a Riverhead house.

Just as the North Fork finishes cleaning up and heaving a sigh of relief that Tropical Storm Irene wasn’t as bad as it had threatened to be, many will confront one of the serious consequences of that storm — mold.

Mold is nothing new in our part of the world. Everyone has it to a greater or lesser extent but, left untreated, mold can cause serious health issues.

According to the state Office of Emergency Management and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, New Yorkers who sustained any level of water damage should be vigilant in discarding or treating mildewed and moldy items.

But what if mold appears not only on a few disposable household items? Mold spores can be found everywhere, including walls.

“It can happen very quickly,” said certified mold inspector and industrial hygienist Brad Slack, owner of Moldpro, a company that evaluates mold contamination throughout Suffolk County. “If you have a leak, you need to fix it right away or you could be encouraging mold. It only takes 24 to 48 hours for those spores to start growing.”

Mr. Slack explained that mold grows solely by virtue of moisture.

“Mold spores are everywhere,” he said. “They just need water and something to feed on — like, for example building materials.”

He suggests keeping gutters clean and directing water away from a home’s foundation.

“Central air conditioning can be very helpful in summer,” he added.

Mr. Slack added that he’s been extremely busy since Irene swept through our area — “not to mention the big storm before Irene. Together they created a lot of work for us,” he said.

John Paciullo, president of Insight Environmental, a Patchogue-based company serving the East End, agrees.

“We’ve definitely had an uptick in calls,” he said. “The recent elevated water table has caused a lot of water intrusion into basements. You’ll get a generally musty smell and you’ll see discoloration of surfaces.”

Mr. Paciullo advises that any area greater than 10 square feet should be evaluated and treated by professionals. A homeowner may be able to tackle smaller areas, but he cautions that traditional remedies like bleach are not really very effective.

“Use detergent and water,” he said.

And there’s really no time to lose once mold appears. According to Mr. Paciullo, most insurance policies don’t cover mold resulting from continuous seepage and so treatment can become very expensive for a chronic condition.

Both Moldpro and Insight Environmental are engaged strictly in the business of evaluation. They’ll prepare a report detailing the extent of the mold infestation with recommendations for remediation. The homeowner must then contact a company to take the next step. One such firm is Calverton-based Servpro of the North Fork.

Owner Rich Fevola says that once mold is visible the spore count is already in the millions. That means it’s all but certain that professional services are required.

“If you pass your hand over mold spores, you’re spreading it further,” he said. “Mold has to be contained in much the same way as a biohazard.”

Once the industrial hygienist’s evaluation is complete, companies like Servpro will receive a protocol for cleanup.

“What that means is that we contain the affected area and then workers will come in with protective clothing and equipment,” said Mr. Fevola. “We use a Hepavac machine that ensures the treated area will be 99.9 percent clean.

We then clean the surfaces again and apply an anti-microbial sealer that will help to prevent regrowth. Once we’re done with that process, the industrial hygienist will come in and retest the area.”

Mr. Fevola advises anyone with a serious mold issue to shop around, get references and, in particular, be very wary of any company claiming it can both test and treat mold infestations.

“That’s a definite conflict of interest,” he said.

Mr. Slack concurs, adding that because there’s no state licensing for either mold inspection or mold mitigation companies, “it’s a case of buyer beware.”