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Mold and Indoor Air Quality

What is mold and how does it grow?

Mold, a type of fungus, forms multicellular strands known as hyphae that grow on organic matter. It becomes visible when these strands form a large colony, termed a mycelium. Unlike colonies of other organisms like ants or termites, a mycelium is not composed of separate entities, but rather is an interconnected network of hyphae that belong to the same organism. Mold propagates through the production of tiny spores, comparable to plant seeds in their function. However, these spores are much smaller, allowing them to disperse easily through wind, water, or by attaching to clothing or fur. Mold spores can survive in non-conducive environments but will only start growing once they encounter an environment with suitable water, food, temperature, and oxygen.

Mold growth is dependent on several conditions. It needs water, food, oxygen, and a suitable temperature. Most mold species cannot grow below 40° F, which is why food is often refrigerated at slightly lower temperatures to inhibit mold growth. On the other hand, mold thrives between 77° F and 86° F, particularly if the air is humid. Water is a crucial factor for mold growth seeing as mold thrives in damp, humid, and wet conditions. Situations like water leaks, flooding, high humidity, and condensation provide the necessary moisture for mold to grow and spread. Hence, maintaining dryness, especially in walls and carpets, is a recommended preventative measure.

Mold has the ability to metabolize virtually any organic matter, allowing it to grow on a variety of materials ranging from wood and paper products to synthetic materials like paints, adhesives, and textiles. It can’t directly digest inorganic materials like concrete, glass, or metal, but it can grow on the organic residue that accumulates on these surfaces. The materials mold grows on become its food source, getting broken down by digestive enzymes secreted by the mold. Over time, these materials can become damaged or degraded, causing aesthetic damage, unpleasant odors, and even structural degradation. It is, therefore, crucial to identify the cause of any mold growth promptly and to remove and remediate the mold as soon as possible.

Mold Exposure and Health Effects

Mold can occur on any indoor surface where moisture is present. In order to control mold growth, you need to control the amount of moisture in bathrooms, basement walls, leaky pipes, and any other wet or damp areas. When mold growth forms in these areas, residents may report odors and other health issues such as headaches, breathing problems, allergic reactions, and aggravation of asthma symptoms. Mold can be found in homes, offices, buildings, or any occupied space.

Mold can be more harmful when it creates chemicals known as toxins that cause illness. Although toxic mold can be affect everyone, it can be especially harmful to children, the elderly, and immuno-compromised individuals. For this reason, it is important to test for mold if you suspect you have a problem. Mold can appear as black, brown, or greenish spots on walls or near leaky faucets or other damp areas.

It is important to seek the help of a professional mold remediator to test for the presence of mold spores. He  can inspect problem areas for existing mold damage and identify any items or materials that need repair or replacement.

contractors at construction site; OSHA training
Mold Safety Concerns

Being exposed to moldy and damp environments can cause a multitude of health effects, especially for people who are sensitive to molds. For those who are mold-sensitive, exposure to it can cause issues such as a stuffy nose, wheezing, and itchy eyes or skin. People who are allergic to mold and those with asthma may have even more severe reactions when exposed. Other people who are at risk of severe reactions are workers that are exposed to large amounts of mold in occupational settings. Some symptoms of more severe reactions include fever and shortness of breath, among others.

In 2004, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) discovered that there was enough evidence to link indoor mold exposure with upper respiratory tract symptoms, which includes coughing and wheezing, in people who are otherwise healthy. Indoor mold exposure is also linked to asthma in asthmatic people and with hypersensitivity pneumonitis in those who are susceptible to it.

More recent studies have also suggested that early mold exposure could potentially be linked to some children developing asthma, especially in those that are genetically susceptible to developing the illness. Studies have also revealed a connection between mold and other more adverse health effects, including acute idiopathic pulmonary hemorrhage in infants, memory loss, and lethargy. More studies need to be conducted in order to determine a true causal relationship, but the bottom line is that exposure to mold can wreak havoc on your body.

Preventing Mold

There are many things one can do to try and prevent mold before it gets out of hand. Inside of your home, you can control mold growth by monitoring humidity levels, fixing leaky roofs, windows, and pipes promptly, thoroughly drying and cleaning after flooding, and by ventilating the shower, laundry, and cooking areas. It is important to inspect buildings for evidence of water damage and visible mold when doing routine maintenance checks. Things like water leaks, condensation, infiltration, and flooding can cause mold to grow.

Experts recommend that you keep humidity levels in your home as low as possible (between 30% and 50%) during the entire day. Air conditioners and dehumidifiers can also aid in keeping the humidity levels at bay. You will most likely need to check the humidity levels more than once a day, as the levels are constantly changing. In addition, you should also make sure your home has good ventilation. Exhaust fans that vent outside of your home should be placed in areas such as the kitchen and the bathroom. It can also be a good idea to forgo carpets in rooms that may contain a lot of moisture, like bathrooms and basements. It is also crucial that you fix any leaks present in your home’s walls, roof, and plumbing to ensure that mold has no moisture to grow.

Protecting Indoor Air Quality

The best way to protect the indoor air quality in your home or business is to test the space to figure out which environmental hazard may be present. The key is to stop or reduce exposure to what is causing any adverse health reactions. A professional mold inspector and remediator can help people with air quality issues by identifying the problem and providing a real solution to correct the problem.