Mold is in the news. People are talking about its potential health and economic impact. But what are the real risks and issues?
The available science is incomplete and sometimes controversial. Although there are several guidance documents available, there is no accepted national standard. Validated methods to measure contamination are still in their infancy, and even when measurement techniques are available, there are no clear benchmarks or standard values to compare the results against. Similar scientific uncertainties exist in the medical diagnosis of some mold-related health effects.
The scientific complexities alone would be a huge challenge, but the truth is that other difficulties dwarf them. The intense public and media attention on this topic often creates emotionally charged circumstances that make scientific judgment and reasoned dialogue difficult. In some instances, building owners tend to ignore or dismiss potentially serious problems. In other instances building occupants or public officials can react with excessive alarm to perceived potential threats, complicating the scientific component of the evaluation and making risk communication very difficult.
While experts and practitioners disagree on which trend is of more concern, it is clear that both are real and sizable. The biggest obstacle, however, is the amount of money that can be involved in these disputes. As a result, the issue is increasingly clouded by the acrimony and distorted partisanship of mushrooming liability battles in the legal arena.
Facts About Mold For Everyone
WHAT IS MOLD?
Molds are forms of fungi found all year round both indoors and outdoors. Outdoors, molds live in the soil, on plants, and on dead or decaying matter. Another common term for mold is mildew. Mold growth is encouraged by warm and humid conditions, although it can grow during cold weather. There are thousands of species of mold and they can be any color. Many times, mold can be detected by a musty odor. Most fungi, including molds, produce microscopic cells called “spores” that spread easily through the air. Live spores act like seeds, forming new mold growths (colonies) with the right conditions. All of us are exposed to fungal spores daily in the air we breathe.
HOW DOES MOLD GET INTO A HOUSE OR BUILDING?
Most, if not all, of the mold found indoors comes from outdoor sources. It needs moisture to grow and becomes a problem only where there is water damage, high humidity, or dampness. Common sources of indoor moisture that cause mold problems include flooding, roof and plumbing leaks, damp basements or crawl spaces, or any moisture condensation on cold surfaces. Bathroom showers and steam from cooking may also create problems if not well ventilated.
HOW CAN I PREVENT MOLD GROWTH?
Controlling excess moisture is the key to preventing and stopping indoor mold growth. Keeping susceptible areas in the home clean and dry is very important. Ventilate or use exhaust fans (vented to the outdoors) to remove moisture where it accumulates, particularly in bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry areas. Clothes dryers should be vented to the outside. Repair water leaks promptly, and either dry out and clean or replace water-damaged materials. Materials that stay wet for more than 48 hours are likely to produce mold growth. Lowering humidity indoors helps prevent condensation problems. To lower humidity during humid weather, use air conditioner and dehumidifiers. Proper exterior wall insulation helps prevent condensation from forming inside, during cold weather.
CAN MOLD BE TOXIC?
Some molds produce toxic substances called mycotoxins. Airborne mycotoxins have been shown to cause health problems for occupants in residential or commercial buildings. The health effects of breathing mycotoxins are not well understood and are currently under study. There are several common symptoms that people tend to experience when exposed to toxic mold. These symptoms include, but are not limited to, chronic sinusitis, coughing, wheezing, watery eyes, headaches, nausea and memory issues.
EPA “A brief guide to mold, moisture, and your home.”