Everyone at one time or another will encounter mold. It grows in our homes, our lawns, our offices, and it’s even in some of the foods we eat. If it is in your home, you’ve got a problem. Evaluating your mold situation is crucial to safe and complete mold clean-up. Some mold problems require a specialist, while others can be tackled with proper equipment. If you are concerned about your health and safety, it is best to call a mold remediation specialist to handle the clean-up for you. Small mold projects, like cleaning mildew from a bathroom, can be done safely and easily with the right cleaners.
What is Mold?
Molds are tiny microscopic organisms that digest organic matter and reproduce by releasing spores. They are most often associated with damp, musty locations such as bathrooms, basements and attics. There are over 100,000 species of mold. Mold travels through the air as tiny spores which like to make their home in wet areas, where they will breed. Molds are fungi. Fungi are coenocytic organisms composed of masses of tubes or filaments, called hyphae. Fungi are heterotrophic, they do not produce their own food like plants do. They must get their food from their environment. They get their food by secreting digestive enzymes to dissolve organic and inorganic food materials. They then absorb the soluble products from digestion. In nature, mold helps decompose or break-down leaves, wood and other plant debris. Molds become a problem when they go where they are not wanted and digest materials such as our homes.
Why is Mold Growing There?
There is a moisture problem. Mold can’t grow without water. That’s why it often finds its way into your tub or your bath tiles. It’s wet. The first step to controlling mold is always to control the moisture problem. Moisture can come from condensation, leaks, drainage back ups, improper water flow, storms, burst pipes, improper construction, etc. If you have a ‘mystery’ mold spring up, there is probably a new moisture problem you weren’t aware of.
Mold must have something to grow and feed on. Surfaces like cloth, carpet, drywall, or wood are susceptible. Mold thrives on organic surfaces in stale environments. Poor air circulation traps the spores in one area and prevents moisture from drying. Damp stale areas such as attics and crawl spaces often have wooden beams or insulation that can feed the mold.
Before you go to battle, consider the Four Factors of Mold :
The Fungal Biomass
This is the mold you see. Mold comes in every color, texture, and style imaginable. A Mold Test Kit is the only sure way to know what kind of mold is growing. The color and appearance can be difficult to differentiate because of the variety of molds. When the media use the terms “Black Mold” or “Toxic Mold,” they are usually referring to Stachbotrys. Both media terms are misleading, because many molds are black and many molds produce toxins. Further, Stachbotrys is not always black, but is sometime green, gray, or brown, depending upon its food source.
Stachybotrys has the ability to produce mycotoxins that are extremely toxic, suspected carcinogens, and immunosuppressive. Exposure to these mycotoxins can occur through inhalation, ingestion, and dermal exposure. . Long term exposure has shown that Stachybotrys and Chaetomium can destroy the myelin sheath, leading to autoimmune disease. These are the only two fungi that can also be linked to MCS (Multiple Chemical Sensitivity).
Penicillium fungi are commonly found in soil, food, cellulose, grains, paint, carpet, wallpaper, interior fiberglass duct insulation, and decaying vegetation. This fungi has been linked to common illnesses such as ear infections, pneumonia, and urinary tract infections. Penicillium infections are most commonly exhibited in immunosuppressed individuals. An indication of infection is the appearance of papules that resemble acne on the face, trunk, and extremities.
Fusarium is a common soil fungus and inhabitant on a wide array of plants. This fungi is often found in humidifiers and has been isolated from water-damaged carpets and a variety of other building materials. Human exposure may occur through ingestion of contaminated grains and possibly through the inhalation of spores. Fusarium are frequently involved with eye, skin, and nail infections.
Cladosporium is pigmented dark green to black in the front and black on the reverse with a velvety to powdery texture. One of the most commonly isolated from indoor and outdoor air, Cladosporium are found on decaying plants, woody plants, food, straw, soil, paint, textiles, and the surface of fiberglass duct liner in the interior of supply ducts. These fungi are the causative agents of skin lesions, keratitis, nail fungus, sinusitis, asthma, and pulmonary infections. More commonly, it is a more causative factor for intrinsic asthma.
The Odor / VOCs
Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs are are organic chemical compounds that have high enough vapor pressures enter the atmosphere. This means they are in the air we breathe. VOCs are a by product of mold growth. When mold digests organic matter, such as drywall, it releases VOCs into your home. When the mold blooms and releases spores into the air, those particles can also contribute to the moldy smell. In short, if you can smell a mildewy or moldy odor, there is mold contaminating your air.
The dangerous by-product of mold, the thing that makes you sick, is called a mycotoxin. A Mycotoxin is a toxin produced by mushrooms, molds, and yeasts. Where there is more fungal growth, there are higher mycotoxin levels. Toxins vary greatly in their severity. Some fungi produce severe toxins only under specific conditions, while some are lethal, some weaken the immune system without producing symptoms specific to that toxin, some act as allergens or irritants, and some have no known effect on humans.
Mycotoxins may cause a variety of short-term as well as long-term adverse health effects. These range from an immediate toxic response and immune-suppression to potential long-term carcinogenic effects. Symptoms include dermatitis, recurring cold and flu-like symptoms, burning sore throat, headaches and excessive fatigue, diarrhea, and impaired or altered immune function. The ability of the body to fight off infectious diseases may be weakened resulting in opportunistic infections. Because these symptoms may also be caused by many other diseases, misdiagnoses of mycotoxin exposures are common. Occupational or building-related exposures to mycotoxins through inhalation are slowly being recognized as a major indoor air quality problem. Generally, removal of causative agents, the mold and mildew, is necessary.
Mold spreads by creating reproductive cells called spores and sending them into the environment. Mold spores are too small to detect with the naked eye. They are everywhere around us and you cannot avoid being exposed to them.
Mold spores travel in the air and attach to people’s skin, clothing, shoes, shopping bags and belongings. Other ways spores can enter your home invisibly are: through open doors and windows, through your home’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, or on the anything that comes from outside.
Once spores enter, they can settle onto carpeting or other surfaces inside your home. You cannot keep spores out of your home, but regular home cleaning and maintenance often can prevent mold problems before they arise.
When mold spores enter your home, they need moisture to begin growing, digesting and destroying. Mold can grow on almost any surface, including; wood, ceiling tiles, wallpaper, paints, carpet, sheet rock, and insulation. Mold grows best when there is a lot of moisture from a leaky, humidity, or flood. There is no way to rid your home of all molds and mold spores. You can control mold growth by keeping your home dry.
How do you clean up mold?
To eliminate mold, you’ll first need to eliminate the source. Find out how and where moisture is seeping into your home and deal with it accordingly. Once the moisture problem is solved, you can begin removing the mold.
The mold must be removed completely. Simply spraying chlorine bleach will not make the mold go away. It will not address the spread of mold spores, VOCs, or mycotoxins. The best way to remove mold is with a non-chlorine mold cleaning product. Enzyme-based products have proven both safe and effective at removing mold because of their power to break apart the fungal biomass. Research all products carefully to ensure they are safe for your family, the eco-system, and the surface you are cleaning.
It is in your best interest to invest in a face mask and other protective gear. The last thing you want to do is breathe in mold. A surgical mask, or the type used by carpenters to keep from inhaling saw dust, works well for this task. A long sleeved shirt and long pants should complete the protective outfit. Even the best protective gear is no guarantee that you are safe from the toxins associated with traditional mold removal. A lot of people are hesitant to spray chlorine bleach on their home exteriors, as they should be.
There are a variety of mold cleaners, killers, and inhibitors on the market that employ chemicals. Chlorine is commonly and dangerously used for mold clean-up. We do not recommend it. Chlorine bleaches away the mold stain, but the mold always comes back. It wasn’t fully removed from the surface. Conventional mold clean up methods require protective gear to protect you from both the mold and the chlorine bleaching products. Even a small mold clean up can expose you to hazardous products and by-products. Mold and chlorine have both been linked to poor indoor air quality, allergies, and even childhood asthma. Chlorine bleach is just as toxic as the mold in many cases. New research has linked the residue compounds left by chlorine cleaners, called organochlorides, to a variety of illnesses from respiratory disorders to cancer.
If you are unable to find a non-toxic chlorine-free alternative or the clean up project is large, it is recommended that you contact a mold remediation specialist. Again, it is important to consider the clean-up method as a potential health risk.