You need to be worried about mold contamination and its related health risks if your home suffers extensive water damage from severe storms, floods or hurricanes. Even leaky sinks, tubs and toilets can breed contaminants. You may not even know you have damage until health problems start appearing.
What is Toxic Mold?
Molds are found everywhere - outdoor and indoors. Common indoor molds include Alternaria, Aspergillus, Cladosporium, and Penicillium. Although most are harmless, two types of household molds - Stachybotrys and Memnoniella - are toxic and can pose health risks to humans.
Stachybotrys chartarum, or "black mold," is the fungus associated with "toxic mold syndrome." It grows in damp places on materials that contain wood, carpet, cardboard, wallpaper, wet leaves, hay, and straw.
What are the Risks of Being Exposed to Toxic Mold?
While there aren't standard guidelines about how much or what kind of mold is toxic, mold, especially in high concentrations, has been blamed for:
- Skin rashes
- Respiratory problems, such as asthma
- Lung disease
- Memory loss and brain damage (in extreme circumstances
- Unexplained infant death
- Immune suppression
- Hypersensitivity pneumonitis, also known as farmer's lung, woodworker's lung and malt worker's lung
What Should I Do if My Residence is Contaminated?
It's important to contact your homeowner's insurance company, or notify your landlord's insurance company, as soon as you are aware of a potential mold problem.
The insurance company will want to send out an inspector to determine the type of mold and the source of the problem. Inspections cost at least $1,500, which should be paid by the insurance company. If you aren't happy with the inspection done by the insurance company, you may want to hire your own inspector for a second opinion.
If you own the property, you have the legal duty to mitigate your damages by removing the mold as soon as possible. The remediation process often involves ripping out walls and floor surfaces to eliminate the mold. It will also be necessary to repair the source of the water damage that made the mold growth possible, such as burst pipes, leaky foundations and so forth.
You may need to temporarily relocate while the remediation repair work is going on, so you don't continue exposing yourself to mold in the air. If you've been told you must leave your apartment because it's unsafe for you to stay, you may have been "constructively evicted" and your landlord should pay for the costs of relocating to another apartment.
What Kind of Information Do I Need to Make a Claim
Whether you end up being able to negotiate successfully with the insurance company, or must file a lawsuit and go to court, will depend in part on how organized and thorough you are in documenting the mold problem and your damages. At a minimum, you should have:
- Photos taken at every step of the process, from first discovering the mold through inspection and repair, including photos of household items contaminated by the mold
- Bills and receipts for inspections, repairs, medical expenses, household items you had to replace, relocation expenses, and any other expenses caused by the mold problem
- Medical reports and records