North Central Florida a breeding ground for mold
Published: Saturday, August 17, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, August 16, 2013 at 9:31 p.m.
A corner condominium in the Mill Run complex in southwest Gainesville sat empty for a couple of months, still as a stone.
How to prevent mold
-If you see a leak or water stain in your house, get it checked out immediately.
-Keep the AC on so your house gets no warmer than 80 degrees during the day.
-Shut off your water if you will be gone for four or more days.
-In the wintertime, dry any water that collects around uninsulated windows.
-Clean your bathroom regularly.
-Make sure bathrooms are well-ventilated.
-Use anti-microbial paints and primers to prevent mold from growing.
Want to know more?
For more information on mold, check out the Florida Health Department's website:
But inside, a different story was taking place. A leak in the water line supplying the upstairs bathroom — caused by a hole that might've been no bigger than a pinhead — gave rise to an outbreak of mold so severe the walls of the house looked like they had been charred by fire.
When the owners entered the condo, expecting to prep it for renting out, they instead found a mess that will cost about $38,000 to clean up, said Jonathan Dreyer, president of Dreyer's DKI, a Gainesville-based company that specializes in cleaning and restoration of damaged homes.
Dreyer, who was inspecting the condo Friday morning, said he normally sees cases this severe a couple of times a year. More routinely, he gets calls from people who have seen some mold in their homes and want to know what to do about it.
North Central Florida — much of it at one time a swampland — is a breeding ground for mold, which grows in moist environments.
"We're on the verge of being a mold-contaminated Florida," said Mike Steepy, an industrial hygienist with AirSpec, a company that inspects air for mold and other environmental hazards.
"Moisture and water is the home's greatest enemy," he said.
Dreyer said there are typically two causes of water that lead to mold: rainwater and leaky plumbing.
Investigating the cause of mold
It's important to find the cause of mold and not just report it, said Anthony Dennis, the environmental health director at the Alachua County Health Department.
Dennis said he gets about 50 calls a year — usually at the beginning of the college semesters — from people who have found mold in their apartments or houses.
"Typically people see it, and they freak out," Dennis said. "I have to tell them that there's no enforceable standard for mold. The health department does not have the ability to test for mold."
That puts the onus on renters to investigate the cause of mold themselves, he continued.
"Going after the cause of the mold is generally an issue that a landlord has to deal with under landlord-tenant law," Dennis said, adding that while there are no standards for mold — not even by the Environmental Protection Agency — there are standards for plumbing leaks and roof leaks. Steepy does test for mold spore counts in the air; even though the government hasn't set standard levels, research has shown that more than 2,000 spores per cubic meter of air indicates a mold problem.
Although seeing mold is the best way to diagnose it, mold is not always visible, and it doesn't always grow at a steady rate, Steepy continued.
He typically gets calls from people who smell it or have symptoms resembling allergies, such as sneezing, wheezing and low energy. When they sneeze, these people are essentially excreting mold spores, Steepy said.
"There are other symptoms such as nosebleeds, memory loss, skin rashes and headaches that are not totally accepted by the medical community, but I can't discount that these are occurring," Steepy said.
"We're like referees," he said of those like him whose job it is investigate the presence of mold.
Steepy said he is often contacted by insurance companies or attorneys in homeowner or renter disputes. He also intervenes when employees claim to be allergic to mold in their place of work.
Part of Steepy's job is determining how to remove mold properly so that residents in adjacent properties aren't affected since "fugitive mold spores" travel through the air.
Steepy stays busy in summer, during heavy rainfalls, and in fall and winter, when snowbirds open up homes that have been closed for several months and find mold.
"By April or May, all those problems are solved, and then the rainy season comes and the problems start all over again," Steepy said.
Dennis said he also gets a lot of calls during the winter months, when mold forms by poorly insulated windows from condensation.
Most mold problems are solved fairly quickly once they're spotted and properly diagnosed. But when houses are abandoned, mold can become a public health hazard.
In Old Town, Pat Claflin lives next door to one such house. Claflin peeked inside it a few times and said the house was "just full of (mold)."
"When the wind blows just right, you can smell it," she added. The once-beautiful older home was abandoned by a widower who moved north to be with her kids after her husband died.
A couple of years went by before a sign went up that said "Do not enter: black mold," Claflin said. She called a county commissioner, the health department and Bank of America, which took ownership of the house, to try to get it torn down.
"My husband has cancer, and sometimes it feels like it's hard to breathe — this can't be good for him," Claflin said.
The house recently was condemned and will be torn down, said Jason Holifield, a Dixie County commissioner.
Holifield added that the house had other violations — including a tire-sized hole in its roof — which might have prompted the condemnation. "I don't know that the mold is that harmful," he said.
Claflin, nonetheless, is grateful for the news.
"There's nothing salvageable in there — nothing at all," she said.