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Mold
Mold is found everywhere. In the natural environment, molds act to break down natural wastes and consume dead organic matter, but mold indoors can cause problems for both homes and homeowners. Molds reproduce with tiny spores that can be carried by wind and water. These spores can survive without air, food, and water almost indefinitely, but require water to begin to grow and reproduce.

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Molds do not require light or air to reproduce and can grow anywhere – on wood, paper, carpet, and foods. Once even a single mold spore comes into contact with enough water and organic material for it to reproduce, it can form a whole colony that can proliferate and spread at a high rate. Some common molds include: Chysosporium, Absidia, Acremonium, Alternaria, Aspergillus, Aureobasidium, Bioplaris, Blastomyces, Candida, Cladosporium, Coccidioides, Cryptococcus, Cunninghamella, Curvularia, Exserohilum, Fusarium, Histoplasma, Mucor, Penicillum, Sporothrix, Satchybotrys (see below), Verticillium, and yeasts.

Millions of known mold species are present in the air naturally. Very few of them are known to cause medical problems for the general populace. However, if mold reproduces heavily in an enclosed space such as a home, the risk of health hazards is no longer negligible; serious health problems can occur, ranging from allergic reactions to – in some severe cases – death.

Moisture in the home is the main cause of serious cases of mold-related problems. Leaky pipes, roofs, and windows can cause serious mold growth problems.

Toxic Mold

There are several types of "toxic molds" which cause serious allergic reactions in most people. The most famous mold-related problems have stemmed from a toxic mold known as "black mold". Its scientific name is Stachybotrys chartarum or Stachybotrys atra. This mold is greenish-black and grows extremely well on such materials as sheetrock, ceiling tiles, and wood. The symptoms of Stachybotrys are severe and sometimes similar to the symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease (i.e. – loss of memory, severe disorientation, etc.), and are often mistaken for the latter in many cases where older people are involved. However, these are not the only symptoms that can be brought on by Stachybotrys. Exposure to this mold can cause birth defects, headaches, cancer, miscarriages, severe allergic reactions, skin disease, fungal infections, sinus problems, lung diseases, and sometimes even death.

Common Sources

Molds will grow anywhere where there is moisture. Water damage can cause more serious effects than simply weakening the integrity of a home; it also provides an ideal atmosphere for molds to grow. The most common molds that can be found indoors include: Cladosporium, Penicillium, Aspergillus, and Alternaria. In the home, molds will usually grow in such places as:

  • Around bathtubs, sinks, and toilets
  • Areas surrounding leaks in the roof
  • Basements
  • Attics
  • Air ducts
  • Wall cavities

Indoor molds can also grow in "hidden" places such as:

  • Backside of wallpaper
  • Top side of ceiling tiles
  • Under carpets
  • On drywall
  • Around pipes
  • Behind furniture

It is important to keep your home in good repair so that leaks and excessive moisture do not invite mold to grow indoors. Once mold enters a home and begins to reproduce, it can be difficult (if not impossible) to remove it and reduce the chance of a more serious occurrence of mold colonization in the future.

Health Effects

    • Common Effects

Exposure to mold can come through many sources such as direct skin contact, inhalation, and ingestion. The health effects of mold in a home are numerous and can vary depending on the sensitivity of exposed persons to the type of spores present, the severity of the mold spore circulation, etc. The most common effects of mold exposure are allergic reactions such as:

    • Asthma attacks
    • Pneumonitis
    • Sinusitis
    • Dry cough
    • Skin rashes
    • Upset stomach, headaches, disorientation
    • Bloody nose
    • Chronic fatigue

In some cases even non-toxic mold has been suspected to relate to cases of miscarriage, birth defects, and serious health problems for expectant mothers. After birth, children can develop serious respiratory and general health problems if exposed to high levels of mold spores in the home.

Serious exposure to toxic mold species may cause cancer, internal bleeding, emphysema, kidney or liver failure.

    • Molds and Mycotoxins

Mycotoxins are the chemicals that give toxic molds their toxicity. They can enter the body through the nose, mouth, and skin. Mycotoxins find their way to the digestive tract, lungs, and brain and can severely affect the health of anyone exposed to them. Some signs that you may have been exposed to toxic mold and mycotoxins can include:

    • Memory loss
    • Sudden difficulties in learning or logical thinking
    • Severe disorientation
    • Frequent severe headaches
    • Frequent bloody nose
    • Hives
    • Frequent sneezing fits (usually more than three sneezes in a row)

Testing

Testing for mold is usually unnecessary, since any serious amounts of mold in your home will probably result in a "moldy" smell or even visible moldy areas. There are tests available to ascertain if there are unusual levels of mold present in a home, but they are often unreliable and do not test for all of the millions of varieties of mold that exist. Some common methods of mold testing today include:

  • DNA testing
  • Mold culture analysis
  • Scanning for visible mold

If you feel that testing for mold is necessary in your home, it is advised that you contact a professional mold tester.

Control/Remediation

Once mold enters a home, it is difficult to completely eliminate its presence. There are many common-sense steps that can be taken to prevent mold from colonizing in your home. The key to controlling mold is moisture control. Some steps that can be taken to ensure that no excessive moisture can enter your home include:

  • Regularly clean and repair roofs and gutters
  • Maintain good plumbing
  • Have proper water drainage away from the foundation of your home
  • Keep indoor humidity low, especially in basements, utilizing a dehumidifier if needed
  • Watch for signs of high humidity/water leakage, such as condensation on windows or pipes, wet spots, discolored or water-stained ceiling, etc.

If mold colonies do begin to appear in your home, the two most important steps towards ridding yourself of the problem are to prevent the mold from spreading and clean it up. In its simplest form, this can be done by:

  • Contain the are around the mold that is growing
  • Locate and remove the source of the moisture that is encouraging mold growth
  • Remove the mold thoroughly (this can be done with abrasive cleaning substances such as bleach or non-ammonia detergent)
  • Remove or disinfect any nearby materials (sheets, couches, curtains, ceiling tiles, carpet, etc.) that may be harboring mold or mold spores
  • Dry all surfaces thoroughly
  • Reduce humidity in your home

These are only basic guidelines for cleaning up a mold problem in your home. To ensure the safety of your home and family, you should follow mold-removal guidelines recommended by the EPA or similar organizations. In many instances, especially where the mold spread is severe, this may require professional assistance.

To prevent mold from returning, make sure that you have completely removed all signs of mold in the area before performing any of the following steps:

  • Painting (paint applied over mold may peel)
  • Caulking
  • Sealing
  • Structural decontamination, HVAC decontamination, basement decontamination
  • Disinfecting of surrounding area

DO NOT declare your home mold-free until you are absolutely sure that all signs of molds are gone and that any conditions that may have allowed it to thrive are taken care of. Inattention to proper procedures can result in a recurrence of mold colonization.

Exposure

There are currently no regulations or standards related to mold exposure. Because every person reacts differently to any one of the millions of known mold varieties, mold exposure is difficult to categorize in terms of severity. If you believe the presence of any amount of mold in your home is causing health or other problems, you should take appropriate measures to remove it.

Mold and Property Values

Mold in a structure is the concern of landlords as well as homeowners. Lawsuits have been filed over failure to disclose the presence of mold when renting or selling a home. Mold is the cause of many severe health problems, as well as "dry rot" – the shrinking and deterioration of structural wood in a home due to the death and recession of a mold colony. This, as well as indoor air quality concerns, can severely affect a home’s value, and should be taken care of prior to placing a structure on the market.

More information on mold, mold effects, prevention, and removal can be found online at:

www.epa.gov

www.epa.gov/iaq/molds/index.html
 

 
         

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