This fact sheet provides information regarding health concerns related to mold exposure. It also provides general guidelines about mold detection, cleanup, and removal of mold contaminated materials.
What is Mold?
Molds are microscopic organisms found virtually everywhere both indoors and outdoors. Molds are types of fungi that live on plants, foods, dry leaves, wood and other organic materials. Mold spores are tiny structures that are the reproductive part of the microorganism. A group of mold spores can be seen by the naked eye. The spores often look velvety or powdery, and appear in colors ranging from pale white, yellow, orange, or green, to dark brown or black. The spores are very tiny and light weight, allowing them to travel through the air. Sometimes some mold spores can cause allergic symptoms similar to those caused by plant pollen.
Mold needs two things to grow:
- A wet or damp environment.
- Food sources such as leaves, wood, paper products, wall board, insulation materials, ceiling tiles and other organic based materials.
Should I be concerned about mold in my home?
Yes. The Institute of Medicine released a comprehensive review of the scientific data on the relationship between damp or moldy indoor environments and adverse health effects. The committee found certain respiratory problems are associated with indoor mold specifically, or with the many factors related to building dampness. It is important to remove mold from hard, nonporous surfaces, and to discard porous items that are contaminated with mold, because even the dormant spores can cause allergic reactions and other respiratory problems. Mold may also cause structural damage to your home.
Can mold become a problem in my home?
Yes, Mold needs moisture to grow. These are major sources of indoor moisture that can cause mold problems:
|- Flooding||- Backed-up Sewers||- Plumbing leaks|
|- Leaky Roofs||- Humidifiers||- Ice dams|
|- Damp Basements||
- Moisture from combustion appliances, such as Furnaces or Stoves
How am I exposed to indoor molds?
Mold is found everywhere, both outdoors and indoors. It is common to find mold spores in the air in Vineyard homes. Mold spores may cause health problems when they become airborne and are inhaled. People can also be exposed to mold through skin contact and eating, although the health risks are expected to be minimal.
What are possible health effects?
Typical symptoms (alone or in combination) reported by people exposed to mold may include:
|Wheezing, Breathing Difficulties||Asthma Attacks||Post Nasal Drip|
|Dry, Hacking Cough||Sore Throat||Headaches|
|Watery, Burning Reddened Eyes||Nasal and Sinus Congestion|
|Shortness of Breath||Skin Irritation|
Note: These symptoms are not specific to mold exposure. They can also be caused by other conditions such as colds or other allergies. Consult your physician concerning your symptoms.
How much mold does it take to make me sick?
It depends, for some people a few mold spores can cause health problems; for most people, it takes much more. If you have a health condition that you believe is related to mold, you should consult with your physician and take steps to eliminate the cause of excess moisture and remove the visible mold.
Who are at increased risk when exposed to mold?
Exposure to large amounts of mold inside buildings is not considered a healthy environment. Visible mold should be cleaned up as soon as possible (within 2 days). It is then important to quickly identify and correct any moisture sources before mold levels increase and health problems develop. The following groups of people are reported to be at higher risk for adverse effects due to mold exposure:
- Infants and Children
- Immune compromised patients (people with HIV infection, cancer, autoimmune disease, liver disease, anyone receiving chemotherapy)
- Individuals with existing respiratory conditions or sensitivities such as allergies and asthma
Are some molds more hazardous than others?
All molds are potentially harmful. Some of the natural by-products of mold metabolism are chemicals that can cause irritation or allergy. Some molds under certain conditions can produce chemical substances/compounds called "mycotoxins" and can be hazardous. Exposure to mycotoxins may present a greater hazard to occupants than exposure to allergenic or irritative mold by-products. Mycotoxins have been found in agricultural settings, in foods, and indoor spaces of homes and office buildings. Health effects observed in humans vary with a person?s health status, the specific mold by-product, the amount of exposure, and the route of exposure. However, in most instances it is far more important to eliminate mold and remove moisture sources than to spend time and money counting and identifying what type of molds are present.
What about "black mold" (Stachybotrys)?
Stachybotrys chartarum (SC) has received much media attention. It is a greenish-black, oily looking mold that grows on materials with high cellulose and low nitrogen content (sheetrock, wood, paper, etc.) that are constantly soaked with water. Constant moisture is required for its growth. It is less common than other mold species, but it is not rare. All mold should be treated the same with respect to potential health risks and removal. Regardless of its type, all mold should be promptly removed. Medical research regarding mold exposure and health effects is ongoing.
Should I test my home for mold?
It is not recommend to test as the first step to determine if you have a mold problem. Mold sampling can be very expensive. Moreover, there are no air standards for indoor mold levels. If you can see or smell mold or mildew, you have a moisture and mold problem. The first step is to identify the moisture source and correct it. Then it is important to clean and dry the moldy area immediately. Air testing rarely affects the final recommendations.
If sampling is done, normally a combination of bulk samples (carpet dust, discolored sheetrock) and air samples is recommended. Airborne mold assessments require sampling equipment not available to the general public. Outdoor mold samples should always be collected during the same sampling time to compare with indoor results. It is critical for the lab to identify the species of mold in the samples as well as to provide number counts. Numbers alone are not useful.
If you are a tenant in a rental home or apartment, speak with your landlord about suspected mold and moisture problems. If the problem is serious, you may want to contact your local health department and building inspector. You also have the option of filing a petition with the district court under RSA 540-A:4.
Should I clean my home or hire a professional?
The first decision is whether to hire a professional or do it yourself. If the job is too large or you are allergic to mold spores or feel your health has been affected, consider using a professional cleaning company.
How do I clean mold in my home?
Identify and remove the source of moisture. This could include improving ventilation, using a dehumidifier, and repairing leaking roofs or plumbing leaks. After the moisture source has been eliminated, begin the cleanup and drying out process. Purchase a hygrometer from your local hardware store. This instrument reads the humidity level. Be sure to keep the humidity level below 50 percent.
Porous materials that can not be dried and thoroughly cleaned should be discarded. This may include ceiling tiles, sheetrock, plaster, wood products, and carpets. If there has been flood damage, replace all sheetrock and insulation damaged by water up to at least 12 inches above the high water mark. When handling moldy materials, wear personal protective equipment. A dust mask is appropriate, but a respirator with a HEPA filter is the most effective protection against breathing airborne spores. Eye protection and rubber gloves should be worn.
Non-porous materials such as plastic, glass, and metal should be cleaned with detergent and hot water. NEVER use straight bleach or mix bleach with other cleaning agents. A bleach solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water may be lightly sprayed on the surface and allowed to dry. Ventilate the area well and wear rubber gloves and eye protection.
What can I save? What should I toss?
Use your best judgment. If the material absorbs water, it is considered porous. Porous materials should be thrown out. Materials such as hard plastic, glass, and metal are non-porous and can be cleaned.
For more information on all the above visit:
US Environmental Protection Agency: www.epa.gov/iaq
US Center for Disease Control: www.cdc.gov