What is Mold?
Mold is a fungus that is found both indoors and outside. There are countless species of mold, with estimates ranging into the hundreds of thousands. Mold grows in damp, warm, humid conditions and reproduces through spores, which can survive in harsh, dry conditions that do not support normal mold growth.
What are the Most Common Indoor Molds?
The most common indoor molds are Cladosporium, penicillium, alternaria, and aspergillus.
How do Molds Affect People?
Mold is a common trigger for allergies and asthma, causing symptoms such as nasal congestion, eye irritation, wheezing, and skin rashes or irritation. In some cases, more severe reactions can occur. Workers who are exposed to large amounts of mold in their occupational settings, such as farmers and construction workers, may suffer from more severe reactions to mold, with symptoms including shortness of breath and fever. People with chronic lung illnesses, including obstructive lung diseases, may develop mold infections in their lungs. In 2004, the Institute of Medicine found sufficient evidence to link exposure to indoor molds with upper respiratory tract symptoms such as coughing and wheezing in otherwise healthy people, with increased asthma attacks in people with asthma, and with hypersensitivity pneumonitis in people who are susceptible to that medical condition. The Institute of Medicine also found evidence that linked mold exposure to increased respiratory illnesses in healthy children. In 2009, the World Health Organization issued the WHO Guidelines for Indoor Air Quality: Dampness and Mold In addition, other recent studies have pointed to a link between early mold exposure and the development of asthma in children and suggested that interventions that improve housing conditions and remove mold can reduce morbidity from asthma and respiratory allergies, however, more research is needed before final recommendations can be made.
Where are Molds Found?
Mold is found in almost every environment, at any time of the year, both inside and out. Warm and humid conditions encourage mold growth, and mold thrives outdoors in shady, damp areas or places where vegetation is decomposing. Inside, mold is found in bathrooms, basements, and other areas where humidity is high.
How to Decrease Mold Exposure
People who are sensitive to mold should avoid outdoor areas where mold can thrive, like compost piles, cut grass, and wooded areas. Control mold growth indoors by controlling humidity levels and making sure showers and cooking areas are properly ventilated. Water leaks can lead to mold growth, so promptly fix problems, and, if you discover mold growth, remove it with commercial products, soap and water, or a homemade solution made from 1 cup of bleach mixed with a gallon of water. If you are using bleach to clean up a mold problem, ensure the area is properly ventilated by opening doors and windows to provide fresh air, never mix the bleach with ammonia or other household cleaners, which will produce dangerous, toxic fumes, and wear protective eye wear and non-porous gloves. If the area of mold growth is more than 10 square feet, consult the EPA document entitled “Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings” for advice on how to take care of the problem. The guidelines can be found on the EPA’s website. http://www.epa.gov/mold/mold_remediation.html
- Try to keep humidity levels no higher than 50%. Air conditioners and dehumidifiers can help keep humidity levels low in your home or office. Air temperature fluctuations and changes in the moisture in the air will cause humidity levels to fluctuate throughout the day so you will need to check humidity levels more than once a day.
- During humid summer months use a dehumidifier or air conditioner.
- Use exhaust fans, open windows and doors, and use other methods as needed to ensure your home has adequate ventilation.
- Before applying paints add mold inhibitors.
- Use mold killing products to clean bathrooms.
- Use hardwood, vinyl, tile, or other flooring options instead of carpet in bathrooms and basements where mold is more likely to grow.
- Remove or replace carpets and upholstery that has become saturated.
Should I Test the Mold I Found In My Home?
The CDC does not recommend routine sampling for molds. Current evidence indicates that allergies are the most common disease associated with molds and that while the susceptibility of individuals can vary based on the amount or type of mold, sampling and culturing the mold is not necessary since all mold should be removed immediately. Furthermore, sampling and culturing methods are not reliable in determining health risks and can be expensive. Since all mold poses a health risk, instead of having mold growths tested, simply have it removed instead of worrying about having it tested.
An Environmental Lab Took Samples of the Mold in my Home. How Do I Interpret the Results?
There are no standards for what are acceptable or normal quantities of mold. If you do decide to have the mold in your home tested by an environmental lab, you need to ask the consultants what criteria they will use to interpret the test results and what recommendations they will make based on sampling results. The results of your sample cannot be interpreted with physical inspection of the contaminated area and without consideration of your home’s characteristics and the events that proceeded the mold growth.
I’ve Been Exposed to Mold. What Doctor Should I See?
Your fist stop should be a visit to your family doctor, who will determine if you need a referral to a specialist, such as an allergist or an infectious disease doctor. If you have a mold infection in your lungs, a pulmonary physician may be need to be seen. If you have been exposed to mold in your workplace, you may need to be seen by an occupational physician.
My Landlord Won’t Clean Up the Mold in My Apartment. What Can I Do?
If you are living in a rental property that has a mold problem and the property owner has not responded to your concerns about mold exposure, contact your local board of health or housing authority to see what mold assessment and remediation services they may offer. Applicable codes, insurance, inspection, legal, and other issues related to mold fall under state and local jurisdiction. Once you’ve reviewed your lease or building contract, try contacting local or state government authorities, your insurance companies, or an attorney to learn about local codes and regulations as well as your legal rights.
What Should I Do If I Think Mold at Work is Making Me Sick?
If you think you are getting sick due to mold exposure at your workplace, the first thing you should do is consult your health care provider. Next, notify your employer of the problem, and, if applicable, your union representative, so they can take action and clean up any mold growth.
I Think my Kids are Getting Sick from Mold at School. What Should I do?
If you think your child is being exposed to mold at their school, take them to their pediatrician to determine what treatment is needed. Then, contact the school’s administration about your concerns and ask that they remove the mold and prevent future growth. If the administration does not address your concerns in a satisfactory manner, you can also contact the local school board. Your local health department may have additional information about mold that can help you and you can get in touch with the state Indoor Air Quality office. The EPA’s guidelines, Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings provides further information that may be helpful as well. For additional information on indoor air quality tools visit the following websites: