Hello Mr. Jack:
Here is a thought on your question from a slightly different angle; that from a professional investigator.
In your question, you have already limited your answers. You have presumed, without any apparent reason, that the material on the surface must be either smoke or mould. Why? What if it is neither smoke or mould? Instead of asking “Is it smoke or mould?” shouldn’t you instead be asking “What is it?”
In 19 years of performing both mould inspections and smoke inspections (both criminal arson and civil liability investigations), I have never seen a single instance anywhere under any of the very strange circumstances I’m in where smoke has even slightly resembled mould or where mould has even slightly resembled smoke.
The two entities are so vastly different that their deposition, patterns, occurrence, visual aspects and even odors would allow an immediate on-site differentiation at a glance (without the collection of a single sample).
Some of your previous responders posted some lazy-brain responses “to cover yourself” and suggested taking mould samples. However, far from covering yourself, the suggested lazy-brain actions could result in even greater liability for you and provide a terrible disservice for your client. Here’s a simple example of how –
Let’s assume, for the moment, it is either exclusively smoke or mould. You follow a lazy choice and instead of investigating the discoloration properly, you simply collect the suggested swab and send it to the suggested laboratory, “Pro-Labs.” The result of the swab comes back positive (but then of course it would, even if there was no mould problem, the result would comeback positive), and Pro-Labs in their report interpret the data and report that the swab indicates that “Elevated Mold Condition Exists” (but then, as I have mentioned before, I have reviewed MANY Pro-Labs reports, wherein Pro-Labs has reported that the samples indicate that elevated mould conditions exist, where in fact, the property did NOT have ANY kind of elevated mould conditions ANYWHERE in the property).
So, now you have a lab report for a “mould test” that contains “data” that for all you know is exactly similar to a swab that one may take from virtually any attic, including one with no discoloration; and therefore, the report contains information that you cannot interpret. But, you tell your client the attic has a mould problem, since that is what the report says.
Consider for a moment what the US Centers for Disease Control says about such sampling (1):
The results of samples taken in your unique situation cannot be interpreted without physical inspection of the contaminated area or without considering the building’s characteristics and the factors that led to the present condition.
Ah, what the heck, what would they know? After all, as Mr. Gromiko would tell you, they’re not NACHI Home Inspectors, therefore, it’s criminal for them to provide instruction on mould inspections. Take a look at Messrs. Gromiko, and Porter recent comments on industrial hygienists, (of course, if you consider those comments, you are going to have to completely ignore the disclaimer found at the bottom of the page of the Pro-Labs report summary… ouch).
Also, you are going to have to explain to the homeowner why you similarly ignored the US Centers for Disease Control when they said:
Other than in a controlled, limited, research setting, sampling for biological agents in the environment cannot be meaningfully interpreted and would not significantly affect relevant decisions regarding remediation, reoccupancy, handling or disposal of waste and debris, worker protection or safety, or public health.
Aww, what the heck, Nick knows more than that bunch of egghead industrial hygienists at the CDC, right? And besides, you have been through the Pro-Labs one day class, so you’re every bit as much an expert as they are, right?
So you tell the homeowner that the deposition is mould, and the elevated mould conditions exist in the house.
Homeowner Smith: “What do I do?”
Mr. Jack: “Remediate the mould!”
So, the homeowner spends $15,000 to remediate the mould, and sells the house to the Jones family (with their two darling little girls).
But guess what? Yes of course there was mold on the surface – duh! That mould grew there thirty years ago when the building material was sitting out in the lumber yard, and became colonized with “Elevated Mould.” After which, it was installed into the house, and for the last 30 years the mould (now completely covered with smoke particles) can no longer be seen.
Mr. Jack: “Oooops… what was that? Smoke? Did you just say smoke? What do you mean smoke?”
Oh, didn’t I mention, the discoloration actually was smoke after all, and the smoke was coming from smoldering wires in the attic, that were shorting out, and smoldering the surround paper and other building materials. But then, see your “mould test” didn’t answer the necessary question “What is it?” In fact, your Pro-Labs mould test didn’t even answer the question you thought it did, which was “Is it mould or smoke?” Your Pro-Labs sample ONLY answered a single question “Is mould present on that surface at that location?” Which any fool could have told you that it was present, even an egghead industrial hygienist, without having to collect a sample.
Hey - But look at the bright side! The entire Jones family died in the subsequent fire three months later, so they will never know just how bloody wrong you were or how bloody incompetent you were or how foolish you were to follow the advice of the lazy-brains, instead of doing your job correctly.
And don’t worry about that attorney who is now trying to contact you, I’m sure he just represents the lottery board and is trying to tell you that you are the luckiest guy on earth – you hit the jack-pot!
Of, course, I just made all that up, and it is entirely an unreasonable scenario that could NEVER happen, right? By the way, would you like to see the photos of the Jones house and those darling little girls as found by the arson team and that will be entered as exhibits during the trial? I have some.
Just some thoughts, on the matter. Either way, it’s the same to me – except of course, I will make money off the lazy-brain course of action, when the Jones estate hires me to evaluate the mould inspection you performed. Ouch. I make rather a lot of money off the lazy-brains and their lazy-brain suggestions.
p.s. I wonder if you have ever actually read the disclaimer at the end of a Pro-Labs report. Hmmmm.
Caoimhín P. Connell
Forensic Industrial Hygienist
Forensic Applications, Inc.
- US Centers for Disease Control, Mold: General Information: Basic Facts | CDC APRHB, 2007
The opinions expressed here are exclusively my personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect my professional opinion, opinion of my employer, agency, peers, or professional affiliates. The above post is for information only and does not reflect professional advice and is not intended to supercede the professional advice of others.