Black Mold and Other Toxic Mold
Mold is a type of fungi which is fluffy and can be white, yellow, pink, brown, green, gray, or black. Molds produce invisible spores which act like seeds and travel easily through the air. Under severe conditions thousands of mold spores can be carried in each cubic foot of air. There are over 1,000 types of mold which have been identified in homes in North America. Mold is found outdoors and indoors at all times of the year. Every home has some mold in it and is only a problem when there is too much moisture. When people are exposed to mold spores they can develop an allergic reaction which can be severe.
In order to grow, mold needs moisture, air, and a food source and to control it your must remove one of them. Since you can’t live without air and you can’t remove every food source in the house the best method is to control moisture by keeping the house dry. Typical sources of moisture are stagnant bathrooms and kitchens, condensation in walls and windows, high humidity, leaky plumbing, and un-vented dryers.
The first sign of mold is often a musty smell. With a source of water to feed on mold can grow on many different materials. Mildew typically refers to mold growing on fabrics and bathroom tiles.
Black mold typically refers to stachybotrys chartarum, which is a type of green and black mold sometimes referred to as toxic mold because under certain conditions it can produce poisons or toxins. Not all black colored molds are Stachybotrys chartarum and not all toxic molds are black. Toxins can also be produced by aspergillus versicolor. The health effects of breathing these toxins are not well understood but there is speculation that heavy exposure to mycotoxins may cause health effects like lungs damage.
It is not necessary to identify a mold in order to know how to treat it. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) all mold and moisture problems should be treated with the same care and urgency. Check for signs of mold and trace the moisture back to the source. If you have a high relative humidity in a room of 55% or higher, then consider a dehumidifier. If you have a water leak have it fixed and dry the area thoroughly. Do not leave wet towels or other items near walls or laying on floors. Remember it only takes 24-48 hours for toxic mold to germinate and grow.
Sick House Syndrome describes a house with a serious indoor air quality problem which causes people to develop symptoms such as headaches, nausea, watery eyes, skin irritation and fatigue when they spend time there. Possible causes can be air pollutants from building materials, mold, household products, formaldehyde and other breathable particles and allergens.
When mold spores get into the air conditioning system they can be a perfect home for mold and bacteria. Alternating high and low humidity conditions can grow, spread, and distribute the spores through the house. Mold contamination in air conditioning ducts poses a serious problem.
To keep the ducts free of mold keep filters clean and use a filtration system to keep out dirt and spores. Have your unit inspected often and have any leaks in ducts repaired so they can't introduce dirt and moisture.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency or EPA duct cleaning has never been shown to actually prevent health problems. The EPA discourages duct cleaning because it can't effectively get the mold and other contaminants out of the air conditioner. Also loosening mold in the ductwork can spread it throughout the house effectively contaminating the entire house. If you have mold in your ductwork it is likely that it came from somewhere else in your house and the problem will reoccur if not properly corrected. Also there is no evidence that contaminants increase because of dirty air ducts or go down after cleaning. Actually almost all of the dirt that accumulates inside air ducts adheres to duct surfaces and does not enter the living space. Dirty air ducts are only one of many possible sources of particles and activities such as cooking, cleaning, smoking, or just moving around can cause greater exposure to contaminants than dirty air ducts. Moreover, there is no evidence that a light amount of household dust or other particulate matter in air ducts poses any risk to health.
When fiberglass ducts are used in high humidity environments they trap organic dust which can result in mold and bacteria growth when humidity levels are too high. The use of agents designed to kill molds and bacteria is not recommended in ductwork because of the danger to the building occupants. The only proper solution is to replace the contaminated area.
When mold grows within wall cavities drywall is usually infected also. If toxic mold grows in drywall, it should be replaced. The space between the wall and the baseboards is also a growing place for mold. The basement or crawl space of your house is another problem area since it has a greater chance of fostering mold growth than any other place in the home. Check wooden building materials, like the frame of a house since this is the most common path for mold to take to other parts of the home. Remember to look for evidence of dampness. Any area where flooding, leaks, or water damage has occurred are prime candidates.
Before you begin cleaning and removing mold, make sure you take measures to prevent them from spreading to other areas. Contain each area being cleaned by sealing it off from other rooms using plastic sheeting and duct tape to cover vents, doorways, and other openings. If possible place a fan next to an open window or outside door to force mold spores outside. Always turn off the HVAC system before you begin.
Clean mold only on slightly damp surfaces. If the mold is dry lightly spray them with water before to keep them from becoming becoming airborne. Clean the affected area with soap to remove as much of the mold as you can and then apply a disinfectant to kill remaining mold spores. Once the surface has been cleaned and disinfected it should be completely dried. Carefully remove mold and mold contaminated materials and place them in heavy plastic bags and take them directly outside. Put the bags outside through a window or door which leads directly outside if possible.
Exposure to molds during cleanup can be minimized by wearing a dust mask or respirator, wearing protective clothing having people who are not helping leave the area, only working for short periods of time.
Some signs of toxic poisoning are irritated mucous membranes, headaches, decreased attention span, difficulty in concentration, and dizziness.
Mold tests that take samples from the air and can be combined with other evaluation methods to determine the extent of the problem. It is usually best to find the source of excessive moisture and to try fixing it before using a mold test.
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