guidance with probable mold issue

la_de_daJuly 7, 2008

I'd appreciate any guidance and advice on the best way to proceed and what to anticpate with what I think is going to be a serious problem. Here's the deal:

-I've lived in my apt for about 4 years.

-The bldg is small, about 12 units and is 66 years old.

-I'm on the 2nd floor, technically, but below me is storage units.

-My windows are about 12 ft. off the ground.

- I've always had peeling paint in certain problem areas, which I know are not related to mold or water damage, just shoddy plastering and painting.

- For a little over a month I've had a very strong & distinct damp, musty, earthy smell mostly concentrated in the bedroom and bathroom. At one point I was actually able to trace the smell as emanating out of a wall outlet!

-I also started to notice new cracks in the bedroom and bathroom walls, which eventually expanded and peeled off and away. When it's really loose,I usually will peel it off myself as I don't want it to fall in the night, as one of the spots is right above my bed, and in general would just scare the living s--- out of me.

-When I showed the propmgr, he told me the old gentleman above me had left his sink basin running, and it had overflowed into the bedroom (how in the hell he managed to do that, I still can't figure out). He said he was pretty sure that's where the new cracking and peeling was coming from. He stated he could not smell the moldy smell. The smell is not constant. Sometimes it is stonger, esp. if it's been raining or is v. humid. Sometimes it isn't strong or noticable at all. He said they wanted to let it "dry out" some before figuring out the extent of the damage.

-While I actually don't have a problem with the peeling paint (I'll call it "character" or "decayed elegance") - I am concerned about the health issues related to the possiblity of mold. The building owners live in Canada during the summer (I'm in Virginia), and will address the problem when they come down in August.

-What are their legal obligations and what are my rights to having this addressed sooner, since I consider this a potentially serious liability and don't want to get sick.

-Also, for anyone who has ever had this - what was the process of fixing it? I really don't/can't move to a new place, and am wondering how painful this is going to be.

-Lastly,today I showed the propmgr the progression, and he told me the owners are not happy with the guy upstairs, and will probably make him fincially liable for some of it.

Sorry this is so long, but I wanted to make sure I covered the whole situation.

Many thanks for reading!

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Until you experience actual symptoms that an MD could trace to mold, then just having to live with a nasty, part-time odor (hopefully not forever) is something you may want to choose vs moving somewhere else (with who knows what problems). You said you're very afraid, but you know mold problems, such as are responsible for evacuating public schools, etc. in recent years, are generally very widespread, of long-standing, and have been tested for toxicity, which is not always present. Small children (and their families) represent a huge legal liability to schools, and it is smarter (and cheaper) to move them out when a problem is (possibly) found than to fool around with ongoing tests (on the 'mold'), construction redo's, medical fees for every child that sneezes one day, etc. etc. Yes there are toxic molds out there, but in general, many people can live with the consequences of some dampness behind a wall for some time without succumbing to deadly symptoms or needing to run off and sue the world. Not all mold is toxic (however unpleasant it might look or smell) and not all dampness problems necessarily even mean mold is an automatic result. Wet construction materials can smell awful, but if allowed to dry over time may just do that and nothing more.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2008 at 6:12AM
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I believe lucy is correct - most of the time, garden variety household mold may be no reason for panic.

But this last year I've lived through a horrendous toxic mold experience in my condo, and when the combination of environment and individual really is a problem, it can be a very very serious problem. I've been out of my place pretty much all of 2008, and while much improved via extraordinary medical care (regular docs not much help) I'm still dealing with health issues - and it looks like some new hypersensitivities and allergies (gluten, argh, it was never a problem before) may be here to stay for life. Some strains of mold are seriously neurotoxic and for quite a while I was concerned I might have some damage... but lately I (choose to) believe 'twas other stuff like my battered but healing endocrine system which had fogged my brain.

Part of what I've learned is that this is still pretty new terrain, and it's hard to point to any one person or source as the unquestioned authority. Everyone in the testing and remediation biz seems to say (and I don't doubt, genuinely believe most of the time) "the more casual guy who's half my price is worthless; the guy twice my price is just cashing in on toxic mold panic." Well, I did have to escalate up a few $$$ and expertise levels of testers & remediators to grasp the full scope of the problem and to get it fixed. But maybe the cheaper guys are fine in more typical cases; I dunno.

So anyhow, I'd recommend, don't panic - you've most likely got nothing to worry about. But do get the place sampled and tested, find out what if anything's growing there. On the off chance you have nasties like stachybotrys and aspergillus, you're really so much better bailing out before you get really sick. There are website and labs with instructions for taking your own samples and sending them in. My only experience is with (a) remediators using solely their eyes, (b) a $900 visit from environmental inspector who took some air samples which all turned up negative (ha!), and (c) a $2000 visit from the super-duper inspector who's a global authority on this stuff, who did a variety of samples including sampling inside the walls and e.g. shaking curtains and thumping mattresses before taking air samples, and finally uncovered the horrors in multiple places in the condo - as in, four or five interior walls had to be removed etc. I guess my point is, if a $900 inspection can be such a joke, you may well be a lot better of with the DIY swab or tape samples.

Here's a couple website which include some testing info. Please understand much of these sites concerns situations which are likely far more serious than yours. I'm not trying to freak you out, but take it seriously enough to diagnose your situation.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2008 at 5:20PM
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