Quote of the Day

Monday, December 5, 2011

Mold - What is it and How Does It Affect Us?

Anna screamed and dropped the box of canned goods.  The basement bedroom they were using as storage always smelled a little musty, but the bottom of the box and the carpet underneath it, were covered in black mold and the room now reeked, making it hard for her to breath.  
How could this happen?  What did it mean?  Would they all get sick?  Would they have to move to protect her family?
Anna's head was spinning as terrible words boiled up from her subconscious.  She slammed the door and rushed up the stairs to call her husband.

"Black Mold,"
                                            "Toxic Mold,"
                                                                          "Killer Mold"

Mold is actually one of the basic components of our ecosystem.  Its purpose is to eat and digest the organic waste in our world, primarily cellulose, break it down into basic components, so this material can be re-cycled by nature, as humus in the soil.  If we did not have mold, we would find ourselves hopelessly overcome with grasses, dead leaves, branches and trees that would never decompose or go away.

There are over 100,000 different species of mold in the world.  Hundreds of them have the capacity to grow in our homes when conditions are right.  Stachybotrys is the common "black mold" that received unusually harsh treatment in the media.  Because its waste is a toxin, like several other molds, it was labeled "toxic mold".  In an effort to demonize it in law suits, attorneys began to refer to Stachy as "killer mold".  But, mold doesn't kill people and it does not have the same toxicity or danger as chemical weapons.

Molds are living organisms which require 3 basic components to grow.

     1.  Available mold spores
     2.  Water
     3.  And a food source

Food sources for mold are virtually any organic substance, although the varieties that grow indoors on buildings, tend to prefer cellulose products; such as wood, paper, cardboard, etc. If you take any one of these 3 components away, mold can not grow.

Mold also prefers warmer temperatures with little or no light or air movement. Although it can grow in virtually any temperature, even in the Antarctic; we generally find it most abundant in temperatures from 60 to 100 degrees F.  It often grows un-noticed in a home because it tends to be found behind beds, dressers, under boxes on the floor, inside walls, inside cabinets, etc.

Different areas of the country have a greater or lesser propensity for mold growth.  The east coast and deep south that normally have high humidity levels, can have prolific mold growth.  Ample moisture in the air easily condenses on building surfaces providing the needed source of water.  These areas also have more rampant growth in the wild that can easily be transferred into the buildings on air currents, increasing the availability of spores to germinate.  Mold grows exponentially, so the more spores you start with, the faster it multiplies.

Even the dry deserts and high mountain valleys of the western US, have everything needed for mold growth, except an abundance of water.  But if there is a small water leak in a building, mold will readily begin to grow.

There is a common misconception that if you kill the mold, it will no longer be a problem, as with bacteria.  This is not a reality.  Bacteria and viruses have soft cell walls that break apart and decompose very rapidly after they die.

Mold, on the other hand, has a hard cell wall, much like a nut, that does not break down nor decompose without water.  Also, when mold dies, it sporulates, that is, it spews out hundreds of thousand of spores (eggs) that await the opportunity to hatch and grow.  Introducing water will decompose the mold carcasses, but will also germinate the waiting spores, (eggs) and the mold colony will continue to grow and thrive.  Since dead mold provides the same level of irritation that live mold does, it must be removed from the environment to have the remediation successful.

We are all exposed to mold on a regular basis.  It could be an apple or an orange that has been in the fridge for 3 months.  You smell it in flower beds and compost piles.  Maybe there is a small amount of mold growing on your window sills or under the bathroom vanity.  Generally, exposure to mold, has little or no affect on healthy people.  It is only when it becomes concentrated in an enclosed space, as in a bathroom or bedroom, and levels are elevated, that it becomes a concern.

Exposure to mold is usually through inhalation.  When we breathe in the spores,  they irritate linings of our nose, throat and sinuses.  We experience much the same reaction as people with hay fever.  In an effort to extract the spores, our bodies produce symptoms such as; watering eyes, stuffy sinuses, runny noses, sore throats, dry hacking coughs or a general, all over feeling, that we might be getting sick.  The good news is; once we are removed from the source of irritation, the symptoms disappear within a few hours, or at most, a day or two.

Exposure to mold is determined by both quantity and duration.  A person who is exposed to a small amount regularly over a long period of time, may have more detrimental affects than someone exposed to a large amount for a short period.  The irritation that is inflicted on our bodies, generally results in fatigue and/or exhaustion of our immune systems; allowing us to become susceptible to other viruses and bacteria in our environment.

There are 4 groups of people that tend to have greater sensitivity to mold exposure.
  1. Those who have upper-respiratory conditions, such as; asthma, hay-fever, chronic pneumonia or bronchitis.  This is because their respiratory system is already weakened from their conditions.
  2. Those who have compromised immune systems, such as; chronic fatigue, fibro-myalgia, lupus, Epstein bar, etc.  The irritation from the mold continues to weaken their immune system along with their resistance to disease and illness.
  3. The very young, as under age 3-4.  These children have less body mass and they breath air close to the floor where mold spores tend to congregate, giving them higher doses of exposure.
  4. The elderly already have tired immune systems because of their age.
Discussions of the effect of mold on people have to take into account so many factors, that a simple blanket statement of how much exposure is safe is impossible.  This article sheds some light on what variables need to be considered in determining the negative effects of mold exposure.

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