Mold is a microorganism that occurs naturally in our environment. They are very small plant-like life forms that consume formerly-living material. Mold spreads over surfaces using a fibrous root system that supports primitive-looking plant-like stems and leaves. Molds frequently produce spores that can be carried by winds and by fans that circulate air in a home. When spores land in humid places on warm carbon-rich surfaces, new mold grows. Many of the things that we take for granted are the result of mold, such as leaves decaying, composting and the development of antibiotics, including penicillin. The problem is that while some molds are helpful, others are toxic and can be harmful to our health and homes.
Most molds, when ingested (some in antibiotics, beer, wine, cheese) are not harmful; some, when ingested (cows eating moldy hay; people eating moldy cereal grains and peanuts) are harmful to most people. Ingestion can cause burning mouth, nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Similarly, most spores produce allergic reactions in most people. Very few produce spores that are toxic to most people, and some of these grow in regions with a climate like that of New England.
The greatest risk is in babies, elderly people, and people with chronic inflammatory lung disease (including allergies and asthma), pregnant woman, people recovering from surgery, and people with weakened immune systems.
The development of health problems depends on many factors:
- Type of mold, length of exposure time, quantity of mold in exposure area.
- Disposition to health problems (related to general health, age, sensitivity to other allergens)
Because susceptibility varies, even within the members of a family living in a home, it is not possible to determine safe or unsafe levels. It is possible, however, to identify which molds are present and to learn about the health risks known to be attributed to these molds.
The following is a summary of known health problems related to mold:
- Molds produce spores that produce allergens (organic chemicals) that can cause allergic reactions (headaches, runny nose, red eyes, skin rashes, sinus problems, aches and pains, etc.)
- Pathogenic molds cause serious health effects. These molds (often called toxic molds) produce spores that produce very dangerous chemicals called "mycotoxins" (mycology refers to fungi, a group of life forms that includes molds, mildews, mushrooms, plant rusts, puffballs and yeast) which are poisons.
- Airborne spores can easily be inhaled. When these spores are inhaled, some people develop nosebleeds, skin rashes, hair loss, sore throats, memory loss, headaches, inability to concentrate or to learn, weakness and lethargy.
- In extreme cases, mycotoxins may cause thinking difficulties (brain damage), blurred vision, chest pains, shortness of breath, dry cough, immune disorders, liver and kidney damage, cancer, and death.
Evidence of a Potential Mold Problem
The following points are to assist you in identifying a potential mold problem in a home or building. It is likely if any of the following are true:
- Musty odor (volatile organic compounds from living mold that make an earthy smell, like the taste of beer) VOCs attract insects that carry spores to new locations.
- Evidence of using a dehumidifier or humidifier, firewood stored inside, many antiques, inadequately vented rooms with books, room where crawl space has exposed soil, water condensing around cold-water pipes (particularly inside walls and above ceilings).
- The indoor humidity is often above 50% (inadequate venting of kitchen, bathroom and clothes dryer).
- There are stains of water damage on floor, carpets, furniture, wallpaper, paneling, woodwork, or ceilings, and/or evidence of a house fire that has been extinguished by water.
- There are patches of growing mold (the mold "plant" is mostly below the surface; the surface tissue is rich in spores that are usually black, brown, blue, green, gray, yellow, orange, pink or white, in a patch that appears discolored, leathery, granular, velvety or cottony).
- There is evidence of a "tight house" (stuffy air due to low air exchange with outside).
- There is evidence of nests of bats, birds, mice etc. inside the home.
- There is mold growing around the heating and air conditioning vents.
- The bathroom has poorly maintained grout in showers and normally has a rug on the floor.
Lastly, there are molds which can sometimes produce spores that contain potent mycotoxins. Found in a least 20 of the approximately 100,000 molds, the discovery of pathogenic mold implies need for serious risk management, which includes a determination of the extent of mold colonies and a careful removal plan, all of which Property Preservation Specialists can assist you with.