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What Is Mold?
Molds are a fungi that can be found anywhere regardless of condition. With species estimates ranging from tens of thousands to three hundred thousand, mold is an everyday fact of life. Mold spores can and will enter interior structures through doors, windows, vents, and cracks. While it is normal for there to be mold spores in the air, concentrated levels can lead to many illnesses.
Mold is a living biological organism that serves to decompose decaying organic matter. Mold generally thrives in conditions in which there is plenty of moisture and little air circulation. Mold reproduces through microscopic single-celled reproductive spores. These microscopic spores then travel through the air until they find an environment conducive to growth.
Once the living mold spores find a suitable environment they begin to reproduce and create new growths called mold colonies. These colonies can vary in size ranging from the size of a half dollar to taking over entire walls within structures. Molds can also vary in color – white, orange, green, brown, or black are most commonly seen.
While mold cannot always be seen or smelled, it is always present. Once mold colonies are established within a structure, the reproduction of the colonies occurs rapidly and mold can quickly take over an entire building. If left unattended tremendous damage can occur to organic materials, animals, and even be associated with a variety of health problems humans. Large colony counts of certain species of mold can weaken and destroy the structural integrity of the house or building.
Health Risks Associated With Molds and Fungus Spores
To reproduce, mold and fungus release spores into the air. While these spores float in the air, they are inhaled by anyone in the area. Considered a major allergen, ranking alongside pollen as the main source of air contamination, mold spores are an inherent danger for allergy sufferers.
People react differently in their sensitivity to airborne mold spores. The elderly, children, and those with respiratory problems and compromised immune systems, are the most vulnerable to the ill health effects of toxic mold spores. Healthy individuals can also have adverse reactions to high concentrations of mold in their environment.
Common physical reactions can be…
- Nasal and sinus congestion
- Nose bleeds
- Sore throat
- Irritated eyes
- Skin rash
- Shortness of breath
- Brain damage
Mold is a likely factor in the so-called “sick building syndrome” (SBS), which occurs when occupants of a building experience health issues that are linked to time spent inside the building.
(For more information, click on Health Effects of Mold.)
How Mold Grows
Unfortunately, homes and buildings provide an ideal breeding environment to support colonized mold growth. To reproduce, colonize, and grow, mold spores require…
- A dark place
- An organic porous material as a food source
- The right high temperature
- Sources of Indoor Moisture
The typical sources of moisture detailed in a Safe Air Certified Mold Inspection report include…
- Leaking roof
- Damp basement or crawl space
- Constant plumbing leaks
- Steam from cooking
- House plants
- Shower/bath steam and leaks
- Wet clothes on indoor surfaces
- Clothes dryers vented indoors
- Backup sewers
- Mud and ice dams
- Combustion appliances, such as stoves not exhausted to the outdoors
- Along with sources, conditions that help trigger mold growth include…
- Humidity in the range of 50% or greater
- Un-circulated air
- Airtight construction
- Areas already infested by mold
- Low nitrogen levels in the air or ground
Mold can be very difficult to combat, but it is possible with various conditions, elements, compounds, and procedures.
Some ways to combat mold include:
- Wind, sun, rain, and other atmospheric conditions
- Direct sunlight or a high wattage UV bulb
- Dry indoor conditions with humidity below 50%
- Air circulation, especially in crawl spaces and basements
- Inspection and testing for mold
- Corrective action to eliminate mold
- Appropriate remediation (clean up) of the problem
- Fungicides or chemicals called “quats” (quaternary ammoniums)
- Anti-microbial chemicals that contain metallic oxides
- A high concentration of salt (although it is not useful in removing mold from walls or for disinfecting mold fungus)
- Mothballs that produce a vapor
- Bleach (not recommended for larger mold remediation clean-ups)
Toxic mold can be extremely dangerous to your health – especially if you suffer from a weak immune system or have any existing health problems. There are many classifications in the black mold family.
Stachybotrys chartarum, the most common species of toxic mold, can produce harmful airborne toxins that can be found inside buildings where there has been a water leak. Often described as “green-black and slimy,” it sometimes produces different types of mycotoxins, which protect against other competing organism like bacteria that may try to grow in the same area. Not all black organic matter is toxic mold, and other common species of black mold may have low or no toxicity.
Mycotoxins, when produced,are attached to mold spores. When the spores are inhaled or come into contact with the skin, an allergic reaction may result. Currently, there are no regulatory standards in regard to the amount of stachybotrys that are considered unsafe. However, unusual levels of mold are stated in SafeAir Certified Mold Inspection reports.
Memnoniella echinata, a member of the stachybotrys family, is another black mold that is very toxic, irritating, and easily airborne.
Fungi – usually brown, white, blue, black or green — will start to grow at moisture levels of 28% or greater. Some species are toxic. Fungi grow and reproduce on and throughout wood and wood byproducts generally found in basements, crawl spaces, and attics. When left to grow, fungi feed on wood until there is no structural integrity left. It can be difficult to know where the damage is occurring. Fungi can also be classified as “dry rot” and “wet rot.”
Dry rot (or “brown rot”) is the most common and often is found in older homes that have bacterial activity. While not life threatening, dry rot also is the more dangerous mold fungus because it can be located far away from its water source, and it can reduce wood to dry brown dust, causing serious damage to wood and a building’s structural integrity if not eliminated.
Wet rot requires a very humid condition. It is easily recognized by the dark brown threads spread over the surface of the timber. (Safe Air Certified Mold Inspection reports include and emphasize any rot that is found on structural components.)
Aspergillus penicullium, Claviceps pupurea, and cladosporium are other species of mold that pose health risks when allowed to grow and flourish inside living areas.
An analysis performed by a professional laboratory is necessary to determine the species of mold and the total number of mold spores that are present. With this data we can determine whether or not the particular species is potentially harmful to your health.
Any mold remediation, greater than 10 square feet, and major repairs to buildings affected by toxic mold should be performed only by certified biohazard contractors. SafeAir Certified Mold Inspection Inc. does not perform remediation services, as we believe it to be a conflict of interest.
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