REGION It's the same mold story health officials are hearing

If you spot mold, just get rid of it and the moisture causing it, health officials say.

Valley residents have steadily become more aware of mold problems in homes, apartments, schools and office buildings.

Even the Trumbull County Health Department isn't immune. The basement of its offices in Warren has been sealed off from the rest of the building because of mold.

In Girard, the intermediate school was closed because of it and other health issues, which some parents used in an unsuccessful attempt to oust school board members for not alerting them sooner to the problems.

A Niles house has been demolished. Another in Champion will be torn down by month's end.

Nine classrooms at Youngstown State University's Beeghly Center have been closed because of mold.

In Hubbard, city officials are looking to abandon their aged police station. The basement, the primary source of the bold, has been sealed from the rest of the building.

In some cases, such as the Girard school, ventilation ducts were replaced and carpeting removed to correct the problem.

In all these cases, excessive moisture is the cause of the problem.
Mold produces spores, which can be found in both indoor and outdoor air. Spores land and grow on a damp spot on any of several surfaces, including wood, paper, carpeting and food.

According to the Black Mold Iformation Center, black mold can kill. There are some people, especially children, who can suffer lung tissue damage and memory loss.

Frank Migliozzi, director of environmental health in Trumbull County, and his counterpart in Mahoning County, Rick Setty, say a television news magazine show on mold alerted the public to the silent yet nagging problem.

"That's what got the whole thing going," Migliozzi said. "This is nothing new, though."

Because of education through the press and the Internet, Migliozzi said, he's been surprised at the knowledge the public has about mold.
In Trumbull County, the health department used to get maybe two inquiries monthly about a possible mold problem.
Between September 2001 and April, the department got 60 written complaints, and the same number over the phone.
Setty said his agency, which never got mold complaints, now fields two or three a week.

"Part of what is driving this is people standing by and watching their houses being bulldozed," Setty said.

In New Castle, Pa., city health officer Gary Bonelli said public education has slightly increased complaints of mold there.
The city had three complaints all of last year and four so far this year.
Bonelli said most mold problems occur because of poor building maintenance.

For example, moisture reaches the basement because gutters malfunction and downspouts don't direct the water away from the structure.

Setty and Migliozzi say renters file the most complaints.
Because Ohio has no toxic mold program, Migliozzi said inspectors can't enter rental property without prior approval of the owner.
Because of the lack of a "right to entry" law, renters are forced to take legal action to get inspectors inside.

In Mahoning, Setty said, local regulations don't require the health department to go through the owner.

Setty said he "hangs his hat" on a written complaint to enter a rental unit under the health district's dwelling and premises regulations.
In some cases, he said, property owners "go off the deep end" when they see mold, but there shouldn't be any concern if it's cleaned up.
Setty doesn't understand how a house can become so full of mold that it must be demolished. If the structure is properly maintained, the problem shouldn't become so dramatic.

Setty said that if mold can't been seen, there isn't much a property owner can do.

But Migliozzi said that if a homeowner suspects that mold is in the house, the local health department should be contacted.
In many cases, tenants file complaints to get back at the owners for one reason or another.

"It's become a classic debate between tenants and landlords to determine who's at fault," Setty said.

It's the tenants' responsibility to keep the rental clean and dry and the owner's responsibility if construction work is needed to resolve the mold problem.

Health officials agree the best way to take care of mold is to first correct the cause of the moisture, such as a leaky roof or water entering the basement.

Then, they advise, remove the mold. That might mean removing wood, drywall and carpeting and then scrubbing the area.
Finally, they recommend keeping the problem area dry.
Testing for mold is expensive.

Migliozzi said it cost $4,600 to test a building, such as the Chestnut Street location his agency is in, and the testing cost for an average home is about $1,500.

James Dobson, Girard health commissioner, doesn't even recommend testing for mold in residences.

Dobson stressed that eliminating the cause of the moisture and cleaning up any mold that has accumulated should allow people to forget about it.

"If you see it, get rid of it," Setty re-emphasized. "If you ignore it, it could become a health hazard."

The Center for Disease Control calls attention to health issues because of exposure to some molds such as respiratory problems, sore throat, shortness of breath, chronic fatigue, skin irritation, diarrhea and immune suppression.

Lou Morocco, manager of remediation for the Aberdeen Corp. in Boardman, has been working on mold problems for about a year and a half.

Morocco said his company first eliminates the source of the moisture - leaking roof, broken pipe - then dries the area.

"People don't understand how critical it is to get it dry," Morocco said.
If the mold appears, his company removes it.

"The medical effects of mold are just becoming known," he said.
Morocco pointed out, though, that mold has always been around and has its advantages, such as in making bread, cheese, wine and beer. It also helps decompose waste in dumps.

But if a residence is not properly maintained, family members can become ill and their dwelling quarantined and demolished.


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