What is Mold?

Molds are fungi. No one knows exactly how many species of fungi exist, but estimates range from 10,000 to perhaps 300,000 or more.

Their tiny particles are present everywhere – both indoors and outdoors. Mold is often found in buildings and homes where conditions are warm and humid. Basements and bathrooms are common areas for mold growth, but it can grow anywhere there is moisture present.

What types of mold are commonly found indoors?
The most common indoor molds are Cladosporium, Penicillium, Aspergillus, Alternaria, and Mucor. The only toxic molds found in homes are two species of black mold, Stachybotrys and Memnoniella. Stachybotrys is the more common toxic variety. Common household molds come in a rainbow palette of colors including red, pink, green, blue-green, brown and black

How does mold get into my home/business?
Molds produce microscopic cells called “spores” which spread easily through the air. Live spores act like seeds, forming new mold growths (colonies) when they find the right conditions. Mold spores may enter your home through open doorways and windows, as well as through many environmental control systems. Spores in the outside air also enter homes by attaching to clothing and pets. When mold spores drop on surfaces where moisture is present, they will grow.

Where does mold grow?
Mold commonly grows in places where leakage and/or seepage is an issue – particularly in roofs, pipes, walls, plant pots, or anywhere flooding has occurred. To make matters worse, many building materials actually provide “nutrients” which encourage mold to grow. Wet cellulose materials, including paper and paper products, cardboard, ceiling tiles, wood and wood products are particularly conducive to the growth of some molds. Other common materials such as dust, paint, wallpaper, insulation materials, drywall, carpet, fabric and upholstery commonly support mold growth.

How can I tell if there is mold growth in my home?
Visible mold growth may appear cottony, velvety, granular or leathery and appears in many colors such as white, gray, brown, black, yellow, green and even fluorescent. Look for discoloration, staining or fuzzy growth on the surface of furnishings or building materials, as well as signs of excess moisture or water damage.
Search behind and underneath materials (carpet and pad, wallpaper, vinyl flooring, sink cabinets), furniture, pictures, and stored items, especially items placed near outside walls or on cold floors.  Sometimes it is necessary to open a wall cavity to inspect and clean enclosed spaces where mold and moisture are hidden.

Check around air handling units (air conditioners, furnaces) for stagnant water. These units require regular service and cleaning of HVAC ducts and air filters.

Carefully search areas with noticeable mold odors. Mildew has been described as pungent or “aromatic”. If you can see mold, or if you smell an earthy or musty odor, you can assume you have a mold problem.

How can I be exposed to mold?
When mold-laden materials are damaged or disturbed, spores can be released into the air. Exposure can occur if people inhale the spores, directly handle moldy materials or accidentally ingest mold.

Should I be concerned about mold in my home?
Mold should not be permitted to grow and multiply indoors – this leads to health problems as well as damage to building materials, goods and furnishings.

Are there really health risks associated with exposure to mold?
Yes. A relatively small number of mold spores can cause serious health problems in certain individuals. Infants, children, immune-compromised patients, pregnant women, individuals with existing respiratory conditions (e.g. allergies, multiple chemical sensitivity and asthma) and the elderly are at higher risks for adverse health effects from mold. Allergic reactions are the most common health consequence of mold exposure.

How do molds affect people?
Molds cause inflammation, allergic reactions, and/or infections. Allergic reactions (often referred to as hay fever) are most common following mold exposure. Typical symptoms include:

  • Respiratory problems such as wheezing, difficulty breathing, and shortness of breath
  • Nasal and sinus congestion
  • Eye irritation (burning, watery, or reddened eyes)
  • Dry cough
  • Nose or throat irritation
  • Skin irritation

Headaches, memory problems, mood swings, nosebleeds, aches and pains, and fevers are occasionally reported in mold cases, but their cause is not understood. Reports of these symptoms at home or in the workplace may be an indication to have the building inspected for fungal growth.

What are the signs of a mold problem?
Look for the following conditions:

  • Mold and/or mildew – Fungus which grows in damp, dark areas and causes discoloration, musty smells and odors
  • Musty odors – This is a result of the decay process from mold, mildew, and dry rot.
  • Damp spots on walls – Dark grey splotches are one of the signs that water has absorbed into the wall
  • White chalky substance on walls – Known as efflorescence, this is a chemical breakdown of the bonding agent which holds walls together and a sign of possible structural deterioration
  • Cracked walls – This is a sign that foundation has moved or shifted and should be inspected to determine the exact cause.
  • Peeling paint – A sign that the wall has absorbed moisture, as paint will not stick to a wet surface
  • Rust on appliances or furniture – Look for rust on the bottoms of furnaces, water heaters, and other metal appliances. This is a sign of dampness and water evaporation
  • Dry rot – This dark brown/black fungus which grows on walls and other surfaces such as wooden surfaces causes decay
  • Warped paneling – Moisture will cause paneling to bow and discolor, often at the bottom portion of the paneling

Can HVAC ducts become contaminated with mold?
Yes, HVAC ducts systems often become contaminated with mold. Duct systems may be constructed from bare sheet metal, sheet metal with exterior fibrous glass insulation, internal sheet fibrous glass liner, or they may be made entirely of fibrous glass. Bare sheet metal and sheet metal with external fibrous glass insulation can often be cleaned, while ductwork made of sheet metal with an internal fibrous glass liner or made entirely of fibrous glass will usually need to be removed and discarded.

Can ozone air cleaners help remove indoor mold or reduce odors?
Some common air cleaners use ozone to “freshen” the air and remove odors. Ozone is a strong oxidizing agent and a known lung irritant. In certain cases, ozone cleaners have been shown to produce indoor ozone levels in excess of the safe limit.

Ozone has not been proven effective in controlling molds and other microbial components at safe health levels. Furthermore, ozone may damage certain materials, such as causing rubber to become brittle.  For these reasons, many health departments srongly recommend that an ozone air cleaner not be used in confined spaces.

I’ve heard that chlorine bleach is supposed to kill mold. Is that true?
Chlorine bleach should NOT be used to kill or disinfect moldy areas. It is not a long lasting or effective killer of mold or mold spores.  There are several reasons for this, including:

  • Bleach itself is 99% water, and water is one of the primary contributors to the growth of harmful mold and bacteria. In fact, testing has shown that bleach actually perpetuated mold growth.
  • The ionic structure of bleach prevents chlorine from penetrating into porous materials such as drywall and wood. The water content, however, does penetrate and actually feeds the mold.
  • Chlorine bleach accelerates the deterioration of matter and wears down the fibers of porous materials.
  • Chlorine bleach is not registered with the EPA as a disinfectant for killing mold.
  • Chlorine bleach gives of gases for a long period of time. These gases can be harmful to humans and animals and have been associated with pulmonary embolisms in compromised individuals.

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