Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Mold: A "Growing" Problem

Mold and mildew are terms generally used to describe a distinct group of living organisms that appear as black, gray, green and even red growth. Mold thrives in areas of high humidity. It grows on organic materials such as paper, textiles, grease, dirt and soap scum. Mold spores float throughout the house, forming new colonies where they land. Mold and mildew are actually different members of the fungus family but can be used interchangeably for our purposes.

Mold grows on surfaces in masses of branching threads that resemble dense cobwebs, and individually these threads can produce hundreds of thousands of spores in four to nine days. These spores then move about in air currents or by adhering to insects or animals or water. Although omnipresent and able to form new colonies wherever they land, spores of different mold species seem actually to be quite fussy about where they will and will not grow. The green mold that grows on an orange peel, for instance, will not grow on an apple or a damp carpet or in a human lung. Active mold can be any color, depending on its species and the substance on which it is growing.

The quantity of mold fragments and spores needed to cause health problems varies from person to person. Besides inhalation, people can become exposed to mold through skin contact and eating moldy food. Toxic molds can produce several toxic chemicals called mycotoxins that can damage your health. About 15 million Americans are allergic to mold. The most common reactions are flu-like symptoms and asthma. In high concentrations, mold fragments, spores, and mycotoxins can trigger symptoms even in individuals who have no allergies. Those with chronic lung or immune problems are at risk for more serious reactions like fever, lung infections and a pneumonia-like illness. When mold grows indoors in moist organic materials, building occupants may begin to notice odors and suffer a variety of health problems associated with mold exposure.

The U.S. Government's Centers for Disease Control (CDC) does not recommend routine sampling for molds. Since the susceptibility of individuals can vary greatly either because of the amount or type of mold, sampling and culturing are not reliable in determining your health risk. Furthermore, reliable sampling for mold can be expensive, and government standards for judging what is and what is not an acceptable or tolerable quantity of mold have not been established.

Molds aren’t just a nuisance or a health hazard; they actually serve an important role in nature by helping to break down organic matter. Mold and mildew can grow anywhere–indoors or outdoors–wherever there is enough moisture and oxygen to keep them alive. Since you can’t eliminate oxygen, the best way to control indoor mold or mildew is to reduce indoor moisture.

Homes, apartment buildings, schools and commercial buildings are all much more energy-efficient than they were 20 years ago because they are better sealed against outside elements. Just as they seal the weather out, they seal in whatever moisture is generated inside, whether it's from water leaks, condensation from air conditioning or steam from the shower and stovetop.

Mold requires 3 basic elements to grow- moisture, warm air, and a food source. Depriving mold of any of these three items will limit, and in some cases prevent it from growing entirely. Places with excess air moisture like laundry rooms; bathrooms and basements are served well by keeping them ventilated or using a dehumidifier. The best way to control mold growth is to reduce moisture levels throught the house by repairing any plumbing, roof or window leaks or drips. When water leaks or spills occur indoors, act quickly. If wet or damp materials or areas are dried 24-48 hours after a leak or spill happens, in most cases mold will not grow. Keep air conditioning and refrigerator drip pans clean and the drain lines unobstructed and flowing properly. Cobwebs and dust act like spore traps. Airborne mold spores get caught in them and can begin to grow. Vacuum and clean regularly to remove possible sources of mold growth, especially behind refrigerator and other appliances that are not always included in routine vacuuming. Do not store materials such as paper, books, clothes, or other possible sources of food for mold in humid parts of your home.

If mold is on hard, non-porous materials like tile or floors, the surface can be washed with a household detergent or disinfectant, then treated with bleach to kill any remaining mold or mildew, rinsed and dried thoroughly. A mixture of 1 part of chlorine bleach to 4 parts water can be used. Bleach should only be used in well-ventilated areas. Greener cleaners for removing mold include a 50/50 mixture of hydrogen peroxide and water. Once the surface has been removed of mold, you can keep the surface clean with Red Juice. Regular cleaning of a surface with Red Juice helps prevent the growth of mold spores, even on your fruits and vegetables. Mold on porous surfaces such as wallboard, drywall and particleboard are difficult to clean. These moldy materials are good hosts for mold. Particle board contains bonding agents with sugars in them--a preferred meal for mold; and the paper on dry wall will quickly fuel mold growth with the slightest moisture. These materials usually need to be discarded rather than cleaned.

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