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What is Mold?

ABOUT MOLD

What is it?

Molds are simple, microscopic organisms, found virtually everywhere, indoors and outdoors. Molds can be found on plants, foods, dry leaves, and other organic material. Molds are needed for breaking down dead material. Mold spores are very tiny and lightweight, and this allows them to travel through the air. Mold growths can often be seen in the form of discoloration, ranging from white to orange and from green to brown and black. When molds are present in large quantities, they can cause allergic symptoms similar to those caused by plant pollen.

Should I be concerned about mold in my home?
Yes, if the contamination is extensive. When airborne mold spores are present in large numbers, they can cause allergic reactions, asthma episodes, infections, and other respiratory problems for people. Exposure to high spore levels can cause the development of an allergy to the mold. Mold can also cause structural damage to your home. Similarly, when wood goes through a period of wetting, then drying, it can eventually warp and cause walls to crack or become structurally weak.

What does mold need to grow?
For mold to grow, it needs:

  • Food sources - such as leaves, wood, paper, or dirt
  • A source of moisture
  • A place to grow

Can mold become a problem in my home?
Yes, if there is moisture available to allow mold to thrive and multiply. The following are sources of indoor moisture that may cause problems:

flooding
backed-up sewers
leaky roofs
humidifiers
mud or ice dams
damp basement or crawl spaces
constant plumbing leaks
house plants -- watering can generate large amounts of moisture
steam from cooking
shower/bath steam and leaks
wet clothes on indoor drying lines
clothes dryers vented indoors
combustion appliances (e.g. stoves) not exhausted to the outdoors

CAUTION: If you see moisture condensation on the windows or walls, it is also possible that you have a combustion problem in your home. It is important to have sufficient fresh air available for fuel burning appliances, such as the furnace, water heater, stove/range, clothes dryer, as well as a fireplace. A shortage of air for these appliances can result in back drafting of dangerous gases such as carbon monoxide into the home. To prevent back drafting of air, you need either open vents or a ventilation system that brings fresh air into the home to replace air that is exhausted out. Have your local utility company or a professional heating contractor inspect your fuel-burning appliances annually.

 
HEALTH EFFECTS OF MOLD

How am I exposed to indoor molds?
Mold is found everywhere, indoors and outdoors. It is common to find mold spores in the air of homes and growing on damp surfaces. Much of the mold found indoors comes from outdoor sources. Therefore, everyone is exposed to some mold on a daily basis without evident harm. Mold spores primarily cause health problems when they enter the air and are inhaled in large number. People can also be exposed to mold through skin contact and eating.

How much mold can make me sick?
It depends. For some people, a relatively small number of mold spores can cause health problems. For other people, it may take many more. The basic rule is, if you can see or smell it, take steps to eliminate the excess moisture, and to cleanup and remove the mold.

Who is at greater risk when exposed to mold?
Exposure to mold is not healthy for anyone inside buildings. It is important to quickly identify and correct any moisture sources before health problems develop. The following individuals appear to be at higher risk for adverse health effects of molds:

Infants, children and the elderly
immune compromised patients (people with HIV infection, cancer chemotherapy, liver disease, etc.)
pregnant women
individuals with existing respiratory conditions, such as allergies, multiple chemical sensitivity, and asthma.
People with these special concerns should consult a physician if they are having health problems.

What symptoms are common?
Allergic reactions may be the most common health problem of mold exposure. Typical symptoms reported (alone or in combination) include:

respiratory problems, such as wheezing, and difficulty in breathing
nasal and sinus congestion
eyes-burning, watery, reddened, blurry vision, light sensitivity
dry, hacking cough
sore throat
nose and throat irritation
shortness of breath
skin irritation
central nervous system problems (constant headaches, memory problems, and mood changes)
aches and pains
possible fever

Are some molds more hazardous than others?
Allergic persons vary in their sensitivities to mold, both as to amount and type needed to cause reactions. In addition, certain types of molds can produce toxins, called mycotoxins, that the mold uses to inhibit or prevent the growth of other organisms. Mycotoxins are found in both living and dead mold spores. Materials permeated with mold need to be removed, even after they are disinfected with cleaning solutions. Allergic and toxic effects can remain in dead spores. Exposure to mycotoxins may present a greater hazard than that of allergenic or irritative molds. Mycotoxins have been found in homes, agricultural settings, food, and office buildings.

 
THE DETECTION OF MOLD

How can I tell if I have mold in my house?
If you can see mold, or if there is an earthy or musty odor, you can assume you have a mold problem. Allergic individuals may experience the symptoms listed above. Look for previous water damage. Visible mold growth is found underneath materials where water has damaged surfaces, or behind walls. Look for discoloration and leaching from plaster.

Should I test my home for mold?
Reliable sampling for mold can be expensive, and requires equipment not available to the general public. Residents of individual private homes must pay a contractor to carry out such sampling, as it is not usually done by public health agencies. Mold cleanup is usually considered one of the housekeeping tasks of the private citizen, along with roof and plumbing repairs, sweeping and house cleaning.

Another problem is that there are few available standards for judging what is an acceptable quantity of mold. In all locations, there is some outdoor levels of molds. If sampling is carried out, an outdoor air sample needs to be taken at the same time as the sample indoors, to provide a baseline measurement. Since the susceptibility of individuals varies so greatly, sampling is at best a general guide.

The simplest approach is: If you can see or smell mold, you have a problem.

Unless the source of moisture is removed and the contaminated area is cleaned and disinfected, mold growth is likely to reoccur.