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Health Issues: Mold

In the last several years mold has caught our attention in the newspapers, on television and in magazines. It's been around for thousands of years - so what's the deal? Molds and mildew are found everywhere in our environment. It can grow virtually there is adequate moisture and a food source, such as wood, paper, dirt, drywall, wallpaper, carpet and fabrics. Depending on the type of mold or mildew it can be almost any color from black to white, pink to green. Common household molds include Cladosporium, Penicillium, Aspergillus, Alternaria and Mucor. No one knows how many species of mold exist, but there are always dozens of kinds of mold and mildew spores present at all times in the indoor and outdoor environment.

Mold and mildew can be very destructive to the materials on which they grow. They may cause staining, rotting of materials, and musty odors. When colonies of mold are extensive, they can produce enough spores and by-products (mycotoxins) to be harmful to health, causing irritation to the skin, eyes and respiratory tracts.

Where does mold grow?
Mold will grow in places where leaks or flooding have occurred: leaking pipes, toilets, dishwashers, water heaters, other appliances, or leaking roofs. Many building materials provide suitable nutrients that encourage mold growth. Materials such as dust, paints, wallpaper, insulation materials, drywall, carpet and upholstery, commonly support mold growth. Molds cannot grow on dry materials even if all other conditions are ideal for mold growth. Conversely, mold and mildew cannot be controlled where moist materials exist.

Health implications of mold contamination.
Exposure to mold generally occurs through inhalation of airborne mold particles or to a lesser extent through cutaneous contact with mold contaminated surfaces. Mold exposure can also occur through ingestion as well. All molds have the potential to cause health effects. The extent to which an individual may be affected depends upon state of health, susceptibility to disease, the type and amount of mold contacted, and the duration and severity of exposure. Some effects may be temporary until the contaminated area is vacated, however, others may be long term or permanent.

Some of the symptoms and adverse health effects that have been reported:

  • Allergic reactions of the eyes, nose, and throat
  • Arthritic like aches and pains
  • Asthma
  • Depression
  • Dermatitis
  • Dizziness
  • Excessive and regular nosebleeds
  • Equilibrium or balance loss
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Memory problems
  • Respiratory dysfunction such as difficulty breathing and shortness of breath
  • Restlessness

Pregnant women, infants, the elderly and those with health problems, such as respiratory disease or a weakened or compromised immune system, are more at risk when exposed to mold.

There are at present no strict numerical guidelines, which are appropriate for assessing whether the contamination in an area is acceptable, or not. It is not known what quantity of mold is acceptable in indoor environments with respect to health. This is in part due to the considerable number of mold species and differences in personal sensitivities and tolerance. The presence of mold even in minor amounts might necessitate you to contact your local or state health department, your physician or environmental consultant


This article was published by Mold Testing Service, INC.

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