How seriously should I be taking the black mold that is growing in my Pacific Northwest apartment?
posted by anonymous to home & garden (25 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I moved into a rental apartment in September 2012, in Portland, Oregon. The property manager, when she was showing me around when I signed the lease, told me to keep an eye on one of the walls in the bedroom because it had gotten wet in past years due to an exterior leak, but that they fixed that leak last year and didn't think it would be a problem.
A few weeks ago, I noticed the wall in question was wet, and I sent her an email. The wall was damp all over. The next morning, I woke up and there was black fuzz growing all over two of the walls. I assume this was mold. I of course told her, she asked me a bunch of stuff about the temperature of the room and wanted to heat it, removing a bunch of other irrelevant details here I cleaned the walls with TSP. A couple of days later, the mold came back and I cleaned it with bleach. I've since heard mixed things about cleaning mold with bleach. Now I've got dehumidifier running in there which pulls astonishing amounts of water from the air. But I just saw there's more black mold growing in the bathroom.
The building was built in 1914. The outside is stucco and the inside walls appear to be lath and plaster. The apartment does not appear to have proper ventilation: there is a hole through the cabinets that's been repaired that looks like it was the exhaust hood for the stove, but now it's closed up and the stove is moved (no hood, but there is a window nearby). There is no vent or fan in the bathroom, but again, there is a window.
The walls on which the mold grows are the exterior walls of the apartment. With the (forced hot air from a gas furnace in the unit) heat on, these walls are consistently around 10 degrees F cooler than the interior walls (i check them with an infrared pyrometer), and they are covered with semigloss paint (although the paint was apparently formulated with some sort of fungicide).
In short, I think the apartment is nearly airtight, but poorly insulated. So I believe that all sorts of water vapor from general living like breathing, sweating, taking showers, cooking, etc. builds up and has no where to go, and then it encounters the poorly insulated exterior wall surface and condenses there, creating a perfect mold-growing environment.
So my mitigation strategy is "reduce the humidity" so that it drops below the level required to condense on the wall at the temperature it is likely to stay. The only other possibility I can think of is raising the temperature of the wall above the dew point, and that seems either impractical (wall heater?) or expensive and wasteful (heating the air in the room more so that it heats the wall more and makes up for the lackluster insulation).
Now, I just moved to the Pacific Northwest. The property manager gave me some sort of mold disclosure form or something, I don't really remember, but when I saw this mold I figured, "hey, it's the Pacific Northwest. It's wet and dark all the time here. Mold is just going to be part of the deal, like flying cockroaches in the South or bed bugs in New York." I mean, most of the year, it is insanely humid, and it's relatively cool, so everything is wet, always, but it's not so cold that mold can't grow. How are you not going to have mold everywhere? I figure millions of people have lived in the Pacific Northwest since forever, quite happily, and they seem to have done just fine with their mold.
However, other people I have mentioned this to are like "OH MY GOD YOU HAVE TO MOVE! YOU HAVE TO MOVE IMMEDIATELY! TOXIC MOLD YOU ARE GOING TO GET MOLD POISONING!" When I tell people I've cleaned the mold up, they say that I've only cleaned the surface mold and there is actually mold living everywhere and I can never remove it, and that it's going to start growing in my sinuses and it's going to produce mycotoxins and so on. They also say, "Even if it's only a 10% chance, you don't own the place, just break your lease and move it's not worth the risk!" I tend to think that everyone up there who says this has mold in their dwelling and just doesn't know it, and that they are overreacting. I just don't see how you could completely eradicate mold in this environment.
Mold seems to be one of those things it's tough to read about on the internet. There are a lot of paranoiac-seeming sites and I don't know enough about the subject to distinguish the reasonable from the insane. A lot of people are selling mold-related services.
There is one complicating factor that is making me take my friends' arguments more seriously: I have what seems to be a cold I cannot get rid of. I got one a few weeks after I moved in, and it never really seemed to totally go away, and then last week it came back with a vengeance and now I can't kick it. I was thinking this was just bad luck, or something in the weather of the region wasn't agreeing with me since even before I got this apartment I got sick a lot (I had strep throat in July, for instance). I am not normally a person who gets sick frequently.
Now I'm worried that this black mold was just the first mold I can see, and that somehow this mold is making me sick, or perhaps I am allergic to it (I don't have any allergies that I know of). I have gotten sick with insane frequency in the six or so months I've been here, but some of that predates this specific apartment.
So, long story short: is my apartment going to poison me with it's insidious ineradicable toxic mold? Do I really have to move? Or is mold just something everyone has to stay on top of in a climate where it is sort of drizzly basically all the time?