Toxic Mold - Run for the Hills!
By David Burry, M.S.
I remember playing in the basement of my house as a child. As in many unfinished basements it was damp and rather cool all year. Thinking back, I remember small patches of mold and mildew in various areas where water had permeated during a particularly heavy rainstorm. There was no fear associated with the siting, nor did I feel my health was in peril due to these menial black and green patches. It was viewed as a natural biological phenomenon and had been for thousands of years prior to my discovery.
Last week, I made a visit to a rather wealthy client in the east end of Louisville . While visiting with him in his million-dollar home, he emotionally relayed a saga about an associate at work who was renovating his house, discovered large areas of mold due to a water leak and had to remove copious amounts of drywall. The mold had infiltrated into the associate''s house and, in retrospect, had caused an allergic reaction to a family member. My client had discovered a small one-square-inch patch of mold on a windowpane in his 6,000-square-foot house and he though he would be dead by Friday; this all occurred on Thursday. This appears to be the common fear associated with our newly discovered, but veteran, member of the biological community.
WHAT IS MOLD?
What do you say we bring everyone up to par on "the blob" of the 21 st century? Mold belongs to the family of fungi; they are neither plant nor animal and are ubiquitous in the environment. Fungi are consumed as food (blue cheese, mushrooms) and also utilized in the medical community as antibiotics and immuno-suppressants. The fungi family is composed of mold, mildew, mushrooms and yeast. Mold makes up the largest component of this happy clan with more than 60,000 species. It shares the characteristic with its team members of being able to grow without sunlight. Just provide moisture, the right temperature, a nutrient source and a viable seed known as a spore and you will have one "happy camper."
Most mold produce airborne spores, thus spreading much like dandelions in our yards. Mold colonizes in long chains of cells known as hyphae (the stem of the dandelion); these hyphae produce the spores leading to reproduction. The hyphae measure between a hefty two and 10 microns and can''t be seen with the unaided eye. Most mold obtain nutrients for metabolism from dead, moist organic materials or substrates such as dust, wood, paper, furnishings, soil, food or even some types of paint and plastics. An indoor temperature range from 65 -76 degrees Fahrenheit accompanied by a humidity level of 60 percent is optimal for growth of most fungi.
In every family there seems to be a black sheep whose main goal is to wreak havoc in the community. In the fungi family this would be the toxigenic mold. These guys are ubiquitous in the air and soil throughout the world. Some of their names are Aspergillus, Penicillium and Cladosporium among others. They produce a metabolite called mycotoxins. The reported effects of these nasties have ranged from immunosuppresion to cancer. The human response depends on the specific toxin, the concentration of that toxin and your own personal sensitivity. Severe health conditions from this type of mold are rare and would most likely occur in extreme cases. However, almost all types of mold can cause allergic reactions in sensitized individuals.
Now how does mold make its way into your house or business? The majority of infiltrations appear to occur through the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system. Although this occurs predominately in larger commercial-size units, I have seen it in residential homes. This is almost always the result of a bad maintenance program or neglect of the system. Stagnate water or condensation will accumulate, inviting unwanted visitors to set up house. Usually a regular maintenance/cleaning program will stifle any unwanted mold build-up. Secondly, if you have any type of water leaks or spills occurring on a regular basis, this would be a prime suspect for mold infiltration. Many times individuals are unaware of a small pipe leak and surprise! you have a new houseguest. Stop the leak and you will stop the mold. Another prime candidate is the humidity level in your home or business. The use of humidifiers or other devices producing condensation provide a perfect breeding ground for mold to get a strong foothold in a particular location.
WHAT TO DO?
Now tomorrow if you venture into your kitchen and see a small green patch of mold, should you vacate your home never to return? If you see mold growing in your house or office structure or sense a musty odor, you should investigate it carefully. A small patch may signify a larger infestation not visible to the eye. This would also signify a moisture source within the structure that needs to be remedied. The most significant mold problems will usually occur in your HVAC system and should be dealt with promptly. If you do discover a small patch of mold growth isolated to a particular area, i.e. the shower, a good scrubbing with bleach will usually do the trick.
If someone in the office or home is experiencing an allergic reaction or if you smell a musty odor but can''t isolate the origin, an expert in the field of indoor air quality would most likely need to be contacted to seek out the infiltrator. Many professionals will perform air sampling or take wipe samples throughout the areas of concern. If you are aware of mold growth and can pinpoint the extent of contamination, this type of sampling is an unwarranted step. Although in some cases, such as to mitigate health concerns of the occupants, if litigation is involved, or if the insurance company requires proof, this would be considered prudent.
David Burry is co-owner of Greenleaf Management Inc., a Louisville-based consulting firm specializing in environmental health, workplace safety and wellness. David, a graduate of Trinity High School, has a B.S. in industrial risk management and a M.S. in environmental health, coupled with 16 years in the environmental/occupational health industry. You may contact David at 502-297-8783 or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his web site at www.greenleafmanagement.com. David and his wife, Linda, enjoy hiking, bicycling and scuba diving.
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