Mold

 

Molds are ubiquitous in nature, and mold spores are a common component of household and workplace dust. However, when spores are present in large quantities, they are a health hazard to humans, potentially causing allergic reactions and respiratory problems.

Some molds also produce mycotoxins that can pose serious health risks to humans and animals. The term "toxic mold" refers to molds that produce mycotoxins, such as Stachybotrys chartarum, not to all molds. Exposure to high levels of mycotoxins can lead to neurological problems and in some cases death. Prolonged exposure, e.g. daily workplace exposure, can be particularly harmful.

Symptoms of Mold Exposure

  • Nasal and sinus congestion, runny nose
  • Eye irritation, such as itchy, red, watery eyes
  • Respiratory problems, such as wheezing and difficulty breathing, chest tightness
  • Cough
  • Throat irritation
  • Skin irritation, such as a rash
  • Headache
  • Sneezing
  • Health effects linking to Asthma

Infants may develop respiratory symptoms as a result of exposure to a specific type of fungal mold, called Penicillium. Infants will begin to show respiratory problems if they have a persistent cough and/or wheeze. The number of days that a child will suffer from respiratory symptoms during their first year of life increases by an average of 20% every time the level of Pencicillium increases. The levels are deemed no mold to low level, from low to intermediate, from intermediate to high.

Mold exposures have a variety of health effects depending on the person, some people are more sensitive to mold than others. Exposure to mold can cause a number of health issues such as; throat irritation, nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, cough and wheezing, as well as skin irritation in some cases. People at higher risk for mold allergies are people with chronic lung illnesses, which will result in more severe reactions when exposed to mold. There has been sufficient evidence that damp indoor environments are correlated with upper respiratory tract symptoms such as; coughing, and wheezing in people with asthma.

Causes & growing conditions

Molds are found everywhere inside and outside, and can grow on almost any substance when moisture is present. Molds reproduce by spores, which can be carried by air currents. When these spores land on a moist surface that is suitable for life, they begin to grow. Mold is normally found indoors at levels that do not affect most healthy individuals.

Because common building materials are capable of sustaining mold growth, and mold spores are ubiquitous, mold growth in an indoor environment is typically related to water or moisture indoors. Mold growth may also be caused by incomplete drying of flooring materials such as concrete. Flooding, leaky roofs, building maintenance problems, or indoor plumbing problems can lead to mold growth inside .

For significant mold growth to occur, there must be a source of water (which could be invisible humidity), a source of food, and a substrate capable of sustaining growth. Common building materials, such as plywood, drywall, furring strips, carpets, and carpet padding are food for molds. In carpet, invisible dust and cellulose are the food sources (see also dust mites). After a single incident of water damage occurs in a building, molds grow inside walls and then become dormant until a subsequent incident of high humidity; this illustrates how mold can appear to be a sudden problem, long after a previous flood or water incident that did not produce such a problem. The right conditions reactivate mold. Studies also show that mycotoxin levels are perceptibly higher in buildings that have once had a water incident (source: CMHC).

 

Spores need three things to grow into mold:

  • Nutrients: Cellulose is a common food for spores in an indoor environment. It is the part of the cell wall of green plants.
  • Moisture: Moisture is required to begin the decaying process caused by the mold.
  • Time: Mold growth begins between 24 hours and 10 days from the provision of the growing conditions. There is no known way to date mold.

Mold colonies can grow inside building structures. The main problem with the presence of mold in buildings is the inhalation of mycotoxins. Molds may produce an identifiable smell. Growth is fostered by moisture. After a flood or major leak, mycotoxin levels are higher in the building even after it has dried out (source: CMHC).

Food sources for molds in buildings include cellulose-based materials, such as wood, cardboard, and the paper facing on both sides of drywall, and all other kinds of organic matter, such as soap, fabrics, and dust containing skin cells. If a house has mold, the moisture may be from the basement or crawl space, a leaking roof, or a leak in plumbing pipes behind the walls. People residing in a house also contribute moisture through normal breathing and perspiration. Insufficient ventilation can further enable moisture build-up. Visible mold colonies may form where ventilation is poorest, and on perimeter walls, because they are coolest, thus closest to the dew point.

If there are mold problems in a house only during certain times of the year, then it is probably either too air-tight, or too drafty. Mold problems occur in airtight homes more frequently in the warmer months (when humidity reaches high levels inside the house, and moisture is trapped), and occur in drafty homes more frequently in the colder months (when warm air escapes from the living area into unconditioned space, and condenses). If a house is artificially humidified during the winter, this can create conditions favorable to mold. Moving air may prevent mold from growing since it has the same desiccating effect as lowering humidity. Molds grow best in warm temperatures, 77 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit, though some growth may occur anywhere between 32 and 95 degrees.