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What to do about mold…

The Health Hazards of Indoor Mold

Molds are naturally occurring organisms in the ecosystem, interacting with many biological systems. Continually floating wherever the air directs their tiny spores, sometimes molds begin to colonize and grow exactly where they are not wanted – inside the home. While some molds are harmless, many varieties of mold can produce dangerous toxins, which, if concentrated indoors, create serious health hazards. Completely eliminating molds is impossible, but preventing their growth indoors is necessary for creating a healthy living environment.

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What Health Problems Can Mold Cause?

Notorious for causing many to suffer a minor stuffy nose or itchy eyes, molds can also trigger much more serious allergic reactions, which may include hives, swelling, and difficulty breathing. People who suffer from asthma should be particularly wary of mold, as airborne spores may provoke an asthma attack. Dangerous molds may release toxins that are inhaled to cause, in serious cases, life-threatening respiratory events. Lisa Castlebury, of the Systematic Botany and Mycology Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, cites Stachybotrys chartarum, or black mold, as a special concern for toxin production, causing severe diseases in humans and animals. Molds should be dealt with promptly and carefully to mitigate the possibility of such health concerns.

Where Does Mold Grow?

The most common surfaces that play host to mold include wood, carpet, and food, but moisture is the key element that allows mold to flourish. Controlling moisture indoors is foundational in mold prevention; using a dehumidifier significantly reduces the risk of cultivating dangerous fungi, with a healthy indoor humidity level being 30%-60%, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. The US EPA also suggests thoroughly drying wet materials within two days, making sure buildings are properly ventilated, and promptly addressing any source of moisture, including condensation and leaks. It is important to check carpeting and other upholstered items for moisture and mold, especially in humid climates. Flooding can be an unpredictable cause of the buildup of mold and other dangerous microorganisms; taking steps quickly to promote drying in the building, while also discussing future steps with insurance and emergency agencies, are good immediate courses of action after a flooding emergency. Being conscientious in mold prevention can preserve both homes and peace of mind.

What Can I Do About It?

Preventing mold is highly preferable to treating it, but sometimes prevention’s time has passed and mold has already taken hold. Removal or cleaning of molded materials can be dangerous and should be approached with cautionary measures, such as wearing gloves and a mask covering the mouth and nose. For cleaning non-porous surfaces, the US EPA suggests thoroughly washing the contaminated item with an appropriate detergent and drying it fully; if the molded item is porous, the safest choice is to replace the molded material. While fungicides are available for purchase, these are only recommended for small areas of mold contamination. Widespread mold, such as mold growing in the walls of a home, should be removed by a professional, as disturbing the body of mold or the surrounding area may release a high concentration of airborne toxins. There are some cleaning companies that specifically specialize in mold removal, and others that also offer it as a service. Check local listings for companies offering mold removal or prevention, especially after a major event such as a flood or fire. With the dangers of mold, prudence would suggest calling a trained, equipped professional to assess any mold concern. Being prevention-minded and cautious with mold is the best way to remain safe and healthy.

Lena Carson is an interior designer and published home repair writer from Tucson, Arizona. She specializes in HVAC maintenance, furniture design, and plumbing topics.