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Mold poses a serious threat to a resident's health. Eileen C. Lee, Ph.D., tells you how to implement an effective plan to prevent mold from growing and spreading in your apartment homes.

Property owners and managers are facing new challenges in dealing with the presence of mold on multifamily properties. News reports from California to New York, Texas to Delaware have highlighted stories involving individuals and families, sometimes seriously ill, driven from their homes by an uncontrollable growth of mold.

What is Mold?

Molds (also known as fungi) are everywhere in the environment. Webster's II New College Dictionary defines mold as a fungus growth often producing disintegration of organic matter. Fungi make up approximately 25 percent of the earth's biomass. Mold has the ability to colonize dead and decaying organic matter. These microscopic organisms' means of reproduction are spores, which germinate in humid conditions (greater than 60 percent relative humidity) and utilize cellulose-containing products (like wood and wallboard) for nutrients.

When is Mold a Problem?

Mold fragments or spores are normally found in all non-sterile environments, in both outdoor and indoor air. Occasionally, situations arise that favor the growth of molds to the extent that their growth is either visible or able to be detected by the presence of an "off odor."

There are currently no federal or state regulations establishing exposure levels for molds in air quality, although some occupational exposure air limits exist. Molds can trigger a range of illnesses in susceptible individuals ranging from cold and flu like symptoms, to allergies and asthma, to neurological impairments.

Mold growth is generally associated with a sudden occurrence involving flooding, or a building construction defect that has allowed water to penetrate the structure or may even arise as a result of building materials becoming wet during the construction process. Another area of concern for apartment community owners and managers is the personal behavior of residents, which may result in high levels of humidity being generated in an apartment home.

What Should You Do?

Owners and managers who have experienced mold problems in their communities agree on the following strategies to deal with the issue:

* Encourage residents to notify management about any situations that involve excessive moisture, water leakage or water damage, or mal-functioning ventilation equipment. Residents should also be encouraged to report any mold conditions to the onsite staff.

* Managers need to respond promptly to these complaints, address the source of the moisture and make the appropriate repairs to any surfaces that have been water damaged.

* Routine maintenance of heating and ventilation equipment in accordance with the manufacturers' instructions is as important as making sure that ventilation fans in kitchen and bath areas are sufficiently able to remove moist air as it is generated.

* In addition to having a solid Operations and Maintenance plan to deal with the conditions that lead to mold growth, property owners are advised to review their insurance policies before a problem arises. Residents should also be encouraged to report any mold conditions to the onsite staff.

Additional Information

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has recently issued a useful Handbook--Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings. It is available online at www. or can be ordered from the Government Printing Office.

Eileen C. Lee, Ph.D. will bespeaking at 2001 NAA Education Conference and Exposition, Simply the Best, on Thursday, June 14 on Emerging Legislative environmental Issues. She will also be leading the session Mold: What Every Owner/Manager Must Know on Thursday June 14.

Eileen C. Lee, Ph.D. is NAA/NMHC Joint Legislative Team Vice President Environment. She has advised President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore's presidential transition team on environmental policy Prior to joining the Joint Legislative Program, Lee was a consultant with Royer & Babyak. Before that, she spent eight years as staff director of the Environment Subcommittee of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology for the United States House of Representatives.
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Author:Lee, Eileen C.
Date:Jun 1, 2001
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