Molds are fungi that grow best in damp, humid, warm conditions and reproduce and spread by making tiny spores that are not visible to the naked eye and float through the air indoors and outdoors. It is estimated that there are tens of thousands, to even perhaps three hundred thousand or more species.
The spores of mold may survive in dry conditions as well. Molds may be found outdoors and indoors in virtually every environment all year round, especially when there is lot of moisture. They may be found in damp, shady places or areas where vegetation such as leaves, for instance, are decomposing.
Some common indoor molds are Aspergillus, Penicillium, Cladosporium, Alternaria. Indoor molds may also be found in showers and basements where humidity levels are high.
Areas that have unusually high mold counts are summer cottages, construction areas, flower shops, antique shops, saunas, mills, farms and green houses.
Molds may cause health problems, as they produce irritants, allergens, and mycotoxins. Touching or inhaling mold spores or mold may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. Stuffy, runny nose, skin rash, red eyes, sneezing and wheezing are quite common. These reactions can be immediate or delayed. People who are allergic to mold and also asthmatic may develop asthma attacks upon exposure to molds and have severe reactions that may include shortness of breath and fever. People with obstructive lung disease may develop mold infections in their lungs. Even in people that are not allergic to molds, irritation of the eyes, nose, skin, throat and lungs may occur.
Symptoms, other than the irritant and allergic types, are not commonly reported as a result of inhaling mold, however there is ongoing research on mold and it's health effects. To get more information on mold, you may want to consult a health professional, or your local or state health department.
Sensitive persons should try to avoid cut grass, compost piles, or wooded areas, as these are most likely to have mold. Inside a home, keeping the humidity levels between 40% to 60% and ventilating cooking areas and showers may slow the growth of mold. If at all possible, between 30% to 50% humidity would be ideal. Relative humidity can be measured with a humidity or moisture meter, which is an inexpensive (approximately $10- $50), small instrument available at various hardware stores.
It is recommended to use an air conditioner or a dehumidifier during humid months, make sure that the home has adequate ventilation and exhaust fans, and, preferably, no carpet in the basement and bathrooms. It is also advisable to replace or remove previously soaked upholstery and carpets.
When spills or water leaks occur indoors, it is important to act quickly to dry areas within 24 - 48 hours to try to prevent the growth of mold. Usually, it is not necessary to identify the species of mold in a home and CDC does not recommend sampling routinely for mold. No matter what type of mold it is, it should be removed. If the moldy area that is to be cleaned up is less than 3 ft. by 3 ft. you most probably can handle the job yourself. Mold growth can be removed from hard surfaces with soap and water, commercial products, or a bleach solution of 1 gallon of water with no more than 1 cup of bleach. If you decide to clean up mold using bleach, never mix ammonia or other household cleaners with bleach as it may produce dangerous and toxic fumes. Make sure that you open doors and windows to provide fresh air, and wear protective eye wear, such as goggles that do not have ventilation holes, and avoid getting mold spores or mold in your eyes. Wear long and non-porous gloves that extend to the middle of the forearm when using water and a mild detergent.
If you are using chlorine bleach, a strong disinfectant, or a cleaning solution, you should wear gloves made from neoprene, natural rubber, nitrile, polyurethane (PCV). Avoid touching moldy items or mold with your bare hands and avoid breathing in mold spores or mold. You may want to wear an N-95 respirator, to limit your exposure to air born mold, which can be purchased at many hardware stores. They usually cost about $12 to $ 25. To be effective, the mask or respirator must fit properly, so it is important to carefully follow the instructions supplied with the mask or respirator. When used in an occupational setting, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that respirators have fit testing.
If there is more than 10 square feet of mold growth, it is best to consult the EPA's Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings. Even though it focuses on schools and commercial buildings, it is applicable for other buildings as well.
If you decide to hire a professional service provider or a contractor be sure that this person has experience in cleaning mold. Check references carefully and ask the contractor to follow the guidelines from government or professional organizations, such as the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), or recommendations from EPA's Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings.
If you suspect that the ventilation/air conditioning/heating (HVAC) system may be contaminated with mold, you should consult EPA's guide before you take further action. If you suspect or know that the HVAC system is contaminated with mold, do not run the system, as mold could be spread throughout the building. If contaminated water, or sewage caused the mold damage, it is advised to call a professional who has experience in fixing and cleaning buildings damaged by contaminated water, and if you are concerned about health effects, before starting cleaning up, consult with a health professional.
-Christiane Tourtet, B.A.
© 2007 Christiane Tourtet
Reprinted with Permission
CDC, Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
EPA, United States Environmental Protection Agency.
Pictures for this article provided by
Certified Mold Strategies, Ltd.
Christiane Tourtet graduated with an Associate in Science and an Associate in Arts degrees, both with high honors, from Florida Junior College. Then she graduated with a Bachelor in Arts, from Jacksonville University, Jacksonville, Florida. She is a well-known, writer, photo-journalist, photographer, poetess, former teacher and college instructor, radio producer/air personality, publicity model, television voice over talent, and artist. Her biography has been included in numerous world wide publications, notably in Who's Who in America and Who's Who in the World. As a role model for Society, her biography has been published in the Millennium 54th Edition of Who's Who in America and chosen to be included in the White House Millennium Time Capsule.