How does mold get into my home?
In most cases, porous or semi-porous building materials such as wood, sheetrock or concrete sustain some sort of water damage. Often times it’s begins as a result of high humidity levels in an area such as a basement or crawlspace. Other times a plumbing leak will occur behind a wall which can not be seen. In these cases, the mold damage is usually quite extensive as it has had time to grow undetected for an extended period of time.
In some instances, a home will experience seepage or actual flooding. If the water damaged building materials are not dried out within the first 48 hours, mold will begin to form and will usually multiply rapidly. Another common way for mold to enter a home is when the homeowner brings mold contaminated objects into the home. When the mold on these contents are disturbed, mold spores will become airborne (aerosolized) causing airborne mold contamination to occur.
How does the mold spread?
Mold needs a food source, moisture and oxygen to grow. Food sources include any porous or semi porous materials such as wood, sheetrock, concrete, paper, wallpaper adhesive etc… When these surfaces come in contact with water or moisture from humidity (Levels over 60%) they will produce mold spores which will grow and spread on the surface of the food source. In addition, as the mold grows, a stage is reached when it will produce spores. The spores then become airborne (aerosolized) after drying out or if they are disturbed.
Can you see airborne mold spores?
No. Not with the naked eye. Mold spores are smaller than 0.3 microns in size and can only be seen under microscope. To give you an idea of just how small mold spores are, you can fit 250,000 mold spores on the head of a pin. In addition, they are light enough to remain airborne for up to 8 hours after being disturbed.
Can you smell airborne mold spores?
Yes, when in high concentrations you can smell airborne mold spores just as you can smell surface mold.
Are all types of mold harmful?
Not all mold is dangerous! There are over 100,000 different types of mold and only some are toxic to humans. Some mold species will produce powerful chemicals called “mycotoxins” which can cause illness in animals and humans. The grey area is while many people can tolerate exposure to high levels of mold, others with compromised immune systems can not. For the most part, these groups include children, the elderly and individuals who take ill easily. This is why it is important to perform air quality testing when someone in the home is getting sick.
Does mold affect everyone the same way?
No. Some individuals have a genetic makeup that puts them at risk for developing allergies to mold. People who have an allergy to mold, especially if they also have asthma, can become ill from exposure to a small amount of mold. Those most susceptible mold-borne illness are infants with under developed immune systems, elderly with weakened immune systems, AIDS and cancer patients, anyone whose immune system has been compromised by respiratory infections such as pneumonia, bronchitis, etc., and people who undergo harsh medical treatments such as chemotherapy.
How much mold exposure is harmful?
No one knows the answer to this question for several reasons. Individuals are very different with respect to the amount of mold exposure they can tolerate. Measuring or estimating “exposure” levels is very difficult. “Exposure” means the amount of mold (microscopic spores and mold fragments) that enters the body. This can be through breathing, but also by eating or absorption through the skin. For example, a building may have a lot of mold in the walls but very little of that mold is getting into the air stream. In that case the people working or living in that building would have little mold exposure, even though the building itself is deteriorating.
Can mold exposure cause brain damage or death?
Although some “experts” claim that individuals have contracted brain damage or have died because of exposure to mold and especially mold toxins, there is no verifiable scientific or medical proof at this time to support these claims. Consequently it is prudent to minimize one’s exposure to really moldy environments. By “really moldy” we mean where there are large visible areas of mold (more than a few square feet) or the building has a “musty” odor because of hidden mold growth. There are many epidemiological studies showing that people who live in houses with dampness have many more health problems, especially respiratory, than do people who live in dry houses.