The Dangers of Household Mold

The Dangers of Household Mold

What Is Mold?

Mold is the common term used to describe a variety of microscopic fungi that play an important role in breaking down organic material. It can be found everywhere, from the pile of leaves rotting in your yard to the fuzzy old bread on your counter, and is a natural and necessary part of any ecosystem. There are also a number of commercial uses for mold: many drugs, including penicillin and some cholesterol lowering drugs, are derived from mold while cheese and fermented soy products like tempeh and soy sauce are all made using molds.

Most molds flourish in warm, wet environments. Indoors, this means mold is most likely to be found on surfaces that remain damp for long periods of time. Common places to find mold included behind appliances like refrigerators and air conditioners, around leaky windows, doors, or pipes, and in poorly ventilated bathrooms where steam builds up. Mold is also very common after flooding.

It can sometimes be difficult to differentiate mold from other types of stains, but in general large mold colonies will have a fuzzy texture and can present in a range of colors from black to yellow to white. Some molds also have a distinctive earthy smell. If you are unsure about possible mold in your home, you can use a mold test kit.

Is It Dangerous?

Molds reproduce using spores – reproductive cells that are small and light enough to float through the air. These spores can be responsible for an array of health conditions: high concentrations of mold spores can aggravate asthma and will trigger allergic reactions in many people. Mold allergy symptoms include headaches, sinus congestion, rashes, and general respiratory symptoms like sneezing and coughing.

Molds also produce mycotoxins, a family of toxic chemicals with a wide range of effects, although most well-researched mycotoxins are food contaminants that only pose a health hazard when ingested. For example, the disease historically known as St. Anthony’s Fire is caused by the mycotoxin ergot, which attacks the nervous system and is found on cereal grains, while aflatoxins are a potent carcinogen associated with tropical species like maize and peanuts. Less is known about the effects of mycotoxins as an indoor air pollutant, although they have been linked to sick building syndrome.

Immuno-compromised individuals are at a greater risk for mold-related health problems and particularly for fungal infections. Spores may infect the sinuses, digestive tract, lung, or skin and can cause life-threatening illnesses.

How Do I Get Rid of It?

Most mold can be removed from hard surfaces with simple soap and water (be sure to use an eco-friendly cleaner to avoid introducing hazardous chemicals into your home). It is important to wear a mask and gloves when dealing with mold – cleaning will agitate the mold and can increase the concentration of spores in the air. To prevent mold from spreading further, be sure to cover the other surfaces in your home while cleaning and to vacuum thoroughly once the cleaning is complete. Any porous surfaces that become infected with mold will need to be thrown out and replaced. This includes upholstery, untreated wood, and carpets.

Mold spores are a common indoor air pollutant. They are very small – most range from 3 to 100 microns in length – so they may not be captured by regular air conditioner or furnace filters. To keep mold spores from causing problems in your home, use HEPA or other filters that can remove smaller particles. You can also use an air purifier to remove mold spores from the air.

Always keep in mind that mold is a dangerous home contaminant. If you find colonies of mold in your home that are too large to clean on your own or if you are unsure of what to do, contact a mold removal professional who will be able to identify the possible dangers and safely remove the mold from your home.

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