Toxic Mold - Fact or Fiction? 

Much has been said recently about the problematic effects of mold growth on the indoor environment. Some would have you believe that mold is of little concern, while others, such as some in the media, are nearly hysterical. The truth lies somewhere in between. Mold or fungi have been with us since the beginning of time and place a vital role in the ecology of the planet. In fact, there are those that believe that the tenth plaque that God place upon the Egyptians in biblical times was a fungus known as Stachybotroys Chartarum. There are certain interpretations of the Bible that give instructions in the chapter of Leviticus, to remove molds from buildings and their contents. 

Why is Mold Such a Problem Today?

Mold Growth in wallMold growth behind paneling
The answers here are rather complex, but many of the problems begin with the way in which a building is built in comparison to how they were built in past generations. Buildings today are built "tight" to help conserve energy, therefore buildings don't breathe the way they once did. If moisture accumulates inside a building, it is more likely to become trapped and not dry out. This moisture can be as easy to detect as a sudden and accidental discharge into the building or as difficult as determining vapor diffusion through improperly constructed wall systems. Many building materials used today such as engineered wood products, drywall and wallpaper provide excellent food source for these organisms to thrive. Insulated walls and ductboard can become heavily contaminated. The adherence to the Uniform Building Code may also be problematic as construction techniques utilized in the cold Northeastern U.S. may not be suitable to the warm and humid Gulf Coast areas. Simply because a building's design may work in New England, does not mean that it will work in Texas.

Should I be concerned about mold in my home or office? 

Mold Growth in wallMold growth under a "floating floor"
Mold is a naturally occurring part of a healthy ecology. It is common to find mold spores in the air both outside and inside your office or home. In fact, most of the mold that you find indoors comes from outside. The spores are carried in by the air currents and some are deposited in the interior of the building, while the bulk of the spores are carried out of the building by the same air currents. Generally, as long as the indoor mold spore levels are no higher than outdoor levels there are few adverse reactions to the mold. However, according to most experts, as the amount of mold becomes more extensive or mold spore levels become elevated, it can cause allergic reactions, asthma episodes, infections, and other respiratory problems. Mold can also cause structural damage to buildings.

What are the health concerns surrounding fungus? 

Mold Growth in wallMold growing under a Cabinet
Unfortunately, the science has not been fully developed in this regard. Documented symptoms of mold exposure can range from simple allergy type reactions to hypersensitivity or respiratory difficulties. How much exposure is required to bring on symptoms varies from individual to individual. Past or extended exposures may cause a weakened resistance to exposure. Individuals with compromised immune systems, pregnant women and infants are particularly at risk. If you feel that you may be having adverse reactions to molds, seek the advice of a qualified medical doctor.

Does Mold Go Away After You Kill It?

Unfortunately the answer is no. Mold fragments can be the source of allergic reactions. Some molds produce what are known as "mycotoxins" which remain on the organisms even after they are dead. Removing water source is vital to the controlling mold growth, but the organisms will remain in place in a dormant state simply waiting for the right conditions to return.

How much mold does it take to make me sick?

Mold Growth in wallMold growth in the interstitial wall space
That's a difficult question to answer. It's like asking how much sun it takes to cause sunburn. It varies from person to person. For some it takes very little exposure to cause an adverse reaction. A recent news article talked about a little girl that could not be in direct sunlight. To do so would result in severe blistering. On the other hand, some people can be in the sun for long periods of time without any adverse reaction. Also, when someone is severely sunburned, he or she becomes more sensitive, in other words, it takes less exposure the next time to create the same reaction. Likewise, exposure to mold can make someone more sensitive to it. Once a person is removed from the exposure, the reactions tend to diminish. While sun is primarily a dermal exposure issue, with a potential for heat stress, adverse reactions to mold exposure can be dermal or internal due to ingestion or respiration. As a general rule, when you see mold the moisture problem needs to be resolved and the mold removed. 

Are some people at greater risk than others?

Mold Growth in wallMold on walls from water leak
High levels of mold are not healthy for anyone inside a building. Those individuals that appear to be at higher risk are infants, elderly, immune compromised (those with HIV infection, liver disease or undergoing chemotherapy), pregnant women and individuals with existing respiratory conditions, such as allergies, multiple chemical sensitivity and asthma. If you have concerns about your health, you should consult a physician for advice. 

Does it matter what kind of mold is found in my home?

The reaction to the amount and types of molds in a home will vary from person to person. Some molds will produce mycotoxins, or toxins produced by molds. Simply spraying a mildewcide on mold will not remove or inactivate the mycotoxins that have already been produced. An adverse reaction from non-viable (dead) mold or mold spores can still happen. Not all molds produce mycotoxins all the time. And it may take a lot of mold to produce enough of a dose of mycotoxin to produce a poison. The amount of mycotoxin required to create a reaction has not clearly been established. Tolerance to these mycotoxins again varies from person to person.