Molds are microscopic organisms (minuscule life forms) found virtually everywhere outdoors. No one really knows how many different species of mold exist but estimates range from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands. Spore production is characteristic of molds in general to reproduce. A spore is a small reproductive body that is capable of growing into a new organism, producing bacteria, fungi, and algae. Most spores are filamentous (thread-like) organisms so small that 250,000 of them can fit on the head of a pin. They stay airborne indefinitely, drifting from one room to the next, landing on food, clothing, appliances, table tops, carpeting and furniture, walls and woodwork. Any wet, damp or humid surface becomes a breeding ground for mold colonies and more spores. Harmless as well as dangerous molds can be found almost everywhere. They live year round in indoor and outdoor environments. They enter interior structures through doors, windows, vents, and cracks. And they can threaten your health. Molds range in color – white, orange, green, brown, or black – and you cannot always see or smell mold or mold spores. Once mold is established inside a structure, it can reproduce rapidly and spread. If left unattended, it can cause tremendous damage. Large numbers of certain types of mold and fungus can weaken and destroy the structural integrity of the house or building, plus cause a variety of health problems. Not all mold spores are harmful, they break down into categories: Allergenic, Hyper-allergenic and Toxic.
Some molds produce powerful chemicals called “mycotoxins” that can produce illness in animals and people. Mold can cause havoc on your immune system and can lead to serious illnesses. Individuals seem to be quite different in their response to exposure to the toxic chemicals that some molds release. These differences between individuals contribute to the difficult question of determining safe exposure limits for mold. You can’t take a chance if you are responsible for others. When defining mold, it is important to distinguish between mold growth you can visibly see on a surface, and mold spores that cannot be seen with the naked eye but are ever-present in the air. The mold you can see growing on the surface of construction materials can cause property damage. The mold spores you cannot see floating in the air can cause people harm.
To reproduce, mold and fungus release mold spores into the air. When toxic mold spores float in the air, they pose inhalation risks to everyone who inhales them. They are considered a major allergen, ranking with pollen as the main source of air contamination for allergy sufferers.
Mold spores are regenerative cells surrounded by a very tough coating that can survive detergents, chemicals, bleach and extreme temperatures. Invisible to the natural eye, mold spores typically require between 400 and 600X magnification to identify. It is has been said that 250,000 mold spores can fit on the head of a pin. A visible patch of mold the size of a quarter can represent literally billions of mold spores.
Molds reproduce by releasing spores. Airborne mold spores are literally everywhere – all the time, continually floating in and out of the buildings we all live and work in. Generally speaking, every day levels of mold spores floating in and out of buildings is not a problem unless there is dampness somewhere in the building. When airborne mold spores come in contact with wet or damp construction materials, such as wood, drywall, cabinets or carpet, they colonize (settle). When mold spores colonize on a surface they can grow and spread rapidly, significantly multiplying indoor spore levels, giving off a variety of odors, and exhibiting hundreds of different colors and textures.
People react differently in their sensitivity to airborne mold spores. The elderly, children and those with respiratory problems and compromised immune systems, are the most vulnerable to ill health effects of mold. However, even healthy individuals may have adverse reactions to high concentrations of mold in their environment. Such reactions may include the following:
Unfortunately, homes and buildings provide an ideal breeding environment to support colonized mold growth. To reproduce, colonize, and grow, mold spores require:
Sources of indoor moisture:
Along with moisture sources, conditions that help trigger mold growth include:
-> How Does Mold Grow In My Home or Workplace?
Once mold spores settle in your home, they need moisture to begin growing and digesting whatever they are growing on. As long as there is no dampness, excessive humidity or water intrusion sources, indoor mold growth should not occur.
There are molds that can grow on wood, ceiling tiles, wallpaper, paints, leather goods, clothing, furniture, carpet, drywall and insulation. When materials get wet or damp because of high indoor humidity, which is often caused by indoor humidifiers or excessive moisture in locations such as concrete slab, roof leaks, plumbing leaks and flood areas, conditions are often ideal for indoor mold growth. Indoor mold growth can also occur from sprinklers contacting exterior walls over time, or from still water next to or under a structure. Realistically, it is almost impossible to rid all airborne mold spores from an indoor environment; however, you can prevent mold from growing indoors by controlling moisture.
-> How Can I Be Exposed to Mold?
Illness from mold exposure can only occur in one of three ways: (1) through absorption into skin; (2) ingestion; or (3) inhalation. While it is never good to have mold growing indoors, if it is, you are not necessarily exposed to a health risk just because it’s there. Nobody gets sick looking at mold on a wall. But when molds are disturbed, their spores may be released into the air. You may then be exposed to the spores through the air you breathe. Furthermore, if you directly handle moldy materials, you can be exposed to mold and mold spores through contact with your skin. Eating moldy foods or having hand-to-mouth contact after handling moldy food is yet another way you can be exposed. With the exception of children who don’t know any better, most people would not intentionally touch mold or knowingly ingest it. But disturbing mold can easily send billions of spores in the air and create an immediate health risk within an enclosed indoor environment.
How is Mold Disturbed?
An action as simple as cleaning mold that is growing on a surface will send spores airborne. Other ways include:
-> How Do I Know if I Have a Mold Problem?
You may have seen white thread-like growths or fuzzy blue-green clusters or small black specks on surfaces in your house, or smelled a “musty” odor. Obviously, if you see mold or smell mold indoors, you have a mold problem. However, you can’t always rely upon your senses to tell if you have a mold problem. Hidden mold can be growing inside wall, floor, or ceiling cavities long before being detected.
Remember that all indoor mold growth is caused by some form of water intrusion. Have you ever had a flood, a toilet or bath tub overflow, a roof leak, a slab leak, a plumbing leak, a hot water tank leak, or even a freak accident like a fish tank break open? Does water pool under or next to your house? Has water from sprinklers ever been spraying on your building for a long time? All of these things cause indoor mold problems. If you answered YES to any of these questions, it is possible that you have a mold problem.
Common places to find mold are in areas where water has damaged building materials and furnishings. Mold can also be found growing along walls where warm moist air condenses on cooler wall surfaces such as inside cold exterior walls, behind dressers and headboards, and in closets where articles are stored against walls. Rooms with both high water usage and humidity such as kitchens, bathrooms, laundry rooms and basements are often havens for mold. If you notice mold or know of water damaged areas in your home, it is time to take action to control its growth. It’s time for a certified professional mold inspection.
-> How Can I Control Mold Growth In My Home?
Fix any moisture problems in your home:
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