Why do Termite Inspections Identify Fungus but not Mold?

Thrasher Termite & Pest Control is licensed to conduct inspections for wood destroying organisms (WDOs). Mold does not destroy wood, therefore we’re not trained or licensed to identify surface mold. That’s the short answer. But not the full story on mold. We’ll get to that in a minute.

What the real estate industry refers to as “termite inspections” are really inspections conducted by licensed professionals to identify 1) infestations of wood destroying pests or organisms, 2) wood damaged by pests or organisms, and 3) conditions usually deemed likely to lead to infestation or infections. Remember point number three. It becomes really important in the discussion of mold.

The list of pests and organisms that WDO (or Branch 3) inspectors are licensed to identify is short: termites, wood-destroying fungus, carpenter ants, carpenter bees. As mentioned in a previous post, SPCB license holders are prohibited from identifying pests or organisms outside the scope of their license.  Mold is definitely outside of a Branch 3 license.

What’s within a termite inspector’s Branch 3 license? To identify “conditions usually deemed likely to lead to infestation or infections.” Excessive moisture is one of those conditions likely to lead to growth of wood-destroying fungus and it will be listed on a termite report. Coincidentally, moisture is a condition conducive to the growth of mold too. Therefore, resolve the moisture issue and you’ll solve or prevent a number of potential problems.

More about Mold

We’ve read a lot about mold in preparation for this article. Most of the information is old and/or alarmist and/or intended to sell an unnecessary product or service. Below are direct quotes from reliable, current sources and links to the source material.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Facts about Stachybotrys chartarum and Other Molds

I heard about “toxic molds” that grow in homes and other buildings. Should I be concerned about a serious health risk to me and my family?

The term “toxic mold” is not accurate. While certain molds are toxigenic, meaning they can produce toxins (specifically mycotoxins), the molds themselves are not toxic, or poisonous. Hazards presented by molds that may produce mycotoxins should be considered the same as other common molds which can grow in your house. There is always a little mold everywhere – in the air and on many surfaces. There are very few reports that toxigenic molds found inside homes can cause unique or rare health conditions such as pulmonary hemorrhage or memory loss. These case reports are rare, and a causal link between the presence of the toxigenic mold and these conditions has not been proven.

Environmental Protection Agency: A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture, and Your Home

The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine states, “Current scientific evidence does not support the proposition that human health has been adversely affected by inhaled mycotoxins in the home, school, or office environment.”

The term “toxic mold” is misleading. Molds may produce substances called mycotoxins that modify their environment. Some of these substances are useful as antibiotics; but others are potentially harmful, especially if eaten. However, there is little evidence that breathing mycotoxins in mold-contaminated buildings represents a health hazard. The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine states, “Current scientific evidence does not support the proposition that human health has been adversely affected by inhaled mycotoxins in the home, school, or office environment.”

California Department of Public Health: Indoor Mold 

2001 Toxic Mold Protection Act

The 2001 Toxic Mold Protection Act (SB 732, Ortiz) directed the California Department of Health Services (now Department of Public Health or CDPH) to establish various programs to develop guidelines for mold assessment, clean-up, and disclosure in residences. However, these components were dependent on the Department establishing health-based, permissible exposure limits (or PELs). In April 2005, CDPH released its “Report to the California Legislature on Implementation of the Toxic Mold Protection Act of 2001,” of which one of the key findings was

“After considerable research into this question,

[CDPH] staff has determined that sound, science-based PELs [health-based standards] for indoor molds cannot be established at this time.”

It continues

“.. [CDPH] agrees with other building and health professionals that indoor dampness, water intrusion, or fungal growth should always be eliminated in a safe and efficient manner.”

This view was reaffirmed in the Department’s July 2008 update. The 2005 report and 2008 update are available on-line:

http://www.cdph.ca.gov/programs/IAQ/Documents/SB732-LegReport-Final.pdf

http://www.cdph.ca.gov/programs/IAQ/Documents/SB%20732%20Implementation%20Update%20July%202008.htm

It is worth noting that after passage of SB 732 in 2001, insurance providers began including notification to policy holders that damage caused by mold may be limited or excluded from their coverage.

2011 CDPH Statement

Last year, the Department released a “Statement on Building Dampness, Mold, and Health,” which states

“CDPH has concluded that the presence of water damage, dampness, visible mold, or mold odor in schools, workplaces, residences, and other indoor environments is unhealthy. We recommend against measuring indoor microorganisms or using the presence of specific microorganisms to determine the level of health hazard or the need for urgent remediation. Rather, we strongly recommend addressing water damage, dampness, visible mold, and mold odor by (a) identification and correction of the source of water that may allow microbial growth or contribute to other problems, (b) the rapid drying or removal of damp materials, and (c) the cleaning or removal of mold and moldy materials, as rapidly and safely as possible, to protect the health and well-being of building occupants, especially children.”

CDPH’s position is consistent with the current consensus among scientists and medical experts (cited in the Statement) that

  • Visible water damage, damp materials, visible mold, and mold odor indicate an increased risk of respiratory disease
  • The traditional methods used to measure mold exposure do not reliably predict health risks
  • The differentiation of some molds (such as Stachybotrys species) as “toxic molds” that are especially hazardous to healthy individuals is not justified
  • The most important steps in dealing with indoor dampness or mold are to identify the source of moisture and to take the necessary steps to make repairs to stop them