One of the biggest areas of disagreement in mold remediation often involves personal possessions: should they be cleaned or discarded? Defense wants to just HEPA-vacuum the surfaces of the items, while plaintiff wants all soft-surface items to be discarded. But why do these disagreements occur so frequently? Part of the reason may be due to the selection of the sampling method. If the sampling method cannot differentiate between "contamination" and "colonization," then sample results may be difficult to interpret.
Let's define "contamination" as mold spores simply lying on a dry surface. This can occur when airborne spores settle onto a soft-surface item, such as a couch or chair. Since this often occurs during mold-related incidents, HEPA-vacuuming and cleaning soft-surface items as part of mold remediation is a prudent practice. Generally, soft-surface items that are contaminated in this way are easily cleaned. Unless the user is especially sensitive, a thorough cleaning by HEPA-vacuuming the item is often sufficient.
However, we have to be aware that such items, when exposed to water in either the liquid or vapor form (high relative humidity), can accumulate enough moisture to promote the growth of the settled spores. If a soft-surface item becomes wet, then colonization can occur. I will define "colonization" as mold growth within materials such as fabric, cushions and particle board. Once colonization has occurred, it becomes almost impossible to clean the item to acceptable levels. Discarding the item then becomes the most cost-effective solution.
If, in general, we can say that contaminated items can be cleaned, but that colonized items should be discarded, then we have the basis for a rational decision.
For more information on cleanup guidelines , go to http://www.epa.gov/mold/cleanupguidelines.html
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