- Yeasts – Yeasts are mono-cellular fungi that typically grow and reproduce by simple budding.
- Mold – Molds are multi-cellular fungi. They are microscopic and typically grow and reproduce by a process called apical reproduction. Unlike yeasts, molds exist in characteristic vast networks.
- The most prolific growth of mold occurs on food and other purely organic materials like fallen leaves or natural fibre clothing. Mold is one of the biggest contributors to food spoilage in the United States.
- Unchecked mold growth on walls of a building is aesthetically and hygienically unpleasant. Moreover, in due course of time, it can cause serious structural deficiencies in the building. These range from cracks in walls to structural collapses. Quite predictably, mold growth in a house or any building for that matter significantly reduces the resell value of that property.
- Presence of molds in a significant colonies indoors greatly deteriorates the quality of overall indoor environment by way of airborne spores and foul odor.
- Although there’s very little scientific evidence that molds can themselves cause serious health issues, it’s widely held that molds have the potential to trigger a number of health hazards in humans.
What Makes Molds Grow?Mold growth, both outdoors and indoors, is quite common. In suitable and conducive environment, molds have enormous reproduction and multiplication capabilities. Outdoors, where there’s no limiting factor or bottleneck to their growth, molds are known to sweep entire forest floors within a few rainy weeks. Indoors, however, it takes a certain set of encouraging conditions for molds to settle, grow and reproduce. As noted earlier, mold spores can remain airborne or lie dormant on indoor surfaces for prolonged periods. Just as they are exposed to correct set of conditions, they establish themselves and begin reproducing at a rapid pace, soon forming sizeable colonies. For molds to grow indoors, four basic criteria (necessary and sufficient, when accounted for in tandem) need to be met. Under these conditions, molds can commence the exponential growth phase in as few as 24 hours. These are outlined below:
- Mold Spores
- Availability of Organic Matter
- Excessive Moisture
- Undried clothes or soggy carpets
- Water leakage in pipes
- Inefficient drainage
- Seepage of rainwater in building walls and ceilings
- Damp basements
- Faulty HVAC systems (poor ventilation and humidity control)
- Indoor Temperature
Potential Signs of MoldGrowth of molds indoors should always be kept in check to make sure that further complications, in regard with health and otherwise, don’t arise. There’s no better way to achieve this than getting rid of mold before it grows into obdurate colonies that are sometimes resistant to even extreme measures like pest control or other chemical remedies. However, it’s not always easy to say with confidence whether a certain building or a house is infected by mold unless there is an irrefutable visual evidence. A certain set of prognostic observations, hence, needs to be resorted to, in order to confirm the presence of mold infestation. Here are some potential signs of mold infestation indoors. It should be noted that despite not exhibiting the following signs, mold colonies are known to exist and thrive. These symptoms are, hence, only indicative and not exhaustive.
- Visual Confirmation (visible growth)
- Mold Odor
- Persistent Dampness
- Passive Signs (Health Symptoms)
Common Types of MoldThere are estimated to be millions of species of fungi – a large number of which is made up by molds. These various mold species differ from one another in aspects like life span and favorable growth conditions. However, there are a handful of mold species that particularly thrive in indoor environment. They are found in plenty all over the globe. Some of them are outlined below.
- Class A
- Class B
- Class C
|Color exhibited||Name||Hazard Class||Potential health hazards|
|Pink (in streaks, dots, sun-burst or random patterns)||Fusarium and/or Gibberella||A||Can produce toxins that, upon ingestion, can affect livers, kidneys and stomach lining; along with causing serious birth defects and unusually rapid weight loss.|
|Black (fibrous, smooth and slimy)||Aspergillus||A||Less toxic than Fusarium. Can cause mild nausea, vomiting or flu-like symptoms upon ingestion. Inhalation is mostly risk-free.|
|White (dotted with black)||Diplodia||C||Often found in dairy products, these molds are not known to create toxins.|
|Mineral blue/sea-blue/white||Penicillium||B||Not known to produce toxins. They are, in fact, used in many medicines and dairy products. Capable of causing temporary allergies.|
|Brown and/or black||Alternaria||B||Not known to create toxins. However, they are widely held responsible for respiratory allergies and conditions.|
Mold Clean-up GuidelinesIt has been fairly accepted globally that indoor mold infestation is hazardous to human health. However, it is quite difficult to quantify this potential. Research in this area is still ongoing in various universities and institutions around the world. A direct result of this inadequacy when it comes to quantification is that there are no explicit guidelines from health and safety governance bodies like Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) about indoor air quality at residences or workplaces in regard with mold infestation levels or airborne mold spore concentration. Contrary to popular belief, however, mold clean-up involves a lot more than simple ‘scrubbing and scraping’. In fact, scrubbing and scraping only leads to extensive contamination of other surfaces (walls, ceilings, furniture etc.) by releasing unusually high number of mold spores in the air. Similarly, using biocide to kill mold does not suffice. Even dead masses of molds contain toxins and other chemicals that can, in the long run, be a cause of various allergies in humans. The first and foremost mold clean-up measure should ideally be correcting the cause of excessive moisture as detailed below:
- If the mold infestation is around leaking pipes or stagnant water (including wet flooring and basement flooding), the first clean-up step should be to fix leakages. Professional plumbing assistance should be sought to avoid the recurrence of molds in the future.
- If the mold infestation is on and around the walls or ceiling, the likeliest cause of excess moisture is water seepage from the roof. By seepage proofing the roof, mold outbreak can be significantly reduced.
- Another cause of excess moisture indoors is poor ventilation or malfunctioning HVAC system. Letting fresh air in and stale air out can easily stabilise the indoor humidity. If humidifiers are used to maintain humidity indoors, it needs to be checked if they are properly functioning. However, if any of the occupants of the house/building suffer from dry skin problems or other dermic ailments associated with dry air, proper medical advice should be sought before lowering indoor humidity levels below 45%.
- If the mold has infiltrated porous surfaces like rugs, carpets or furniture cushions, it is best advised to get rid of the materials altogether as mold spores tend to stay dormant inside the pores and future infestation is a strong possibility in such cases.
Mold Clean-up ProceduresThere exist a number of mold clean-up procedures to exterminate and remove mold infestations, along with pre-empting potential future recurrences with preventive measures. The plan of action for mold removal typically depends upon:
- Type of the building (residential/industrial/commercial/public)
- Scale of infestation (small/medium/large)
- Nature of molds (toxic/non-toxic)
- Period of infestation (small/medium/large)
- Affected materials
Containment of Affected Areas by MoldAs noted earlier, there are no Federal guidelines dictating the treatment of mold affected buildings/areas. However, there are in place some standard norms that most professional mold removal companies operate with. These are discussed below. Small Sized Isolated Areas
- Small sized isolated areas that have been affected by mold are relatively easier to deal with. These include small patches on walls, ceilings or flooring.
- As long as the affected area is equal to or lesser than 10 sq. ft., regular maintenance team of the building is authorized and expected to carry out the task of mold removal – provided that at least 2 members of the team are duly trained in health and safety at residential places. They need to be well adept in the use of protective gears and proper management of relevant equipment under the concerned OSHA standards.
- Regarding the use of protective gear, OSHA guidelines that dictate the same are to be strictly followed.
- Everyone except the maintenance staff is expected to stay away from the affected area while the mold removal operation is ongoing. It’s not quite necessary to evacuate adjacent rooms, but susceptible individuals should be asked to stay away from the site of operation. This set includes infants, chronically ill patients, convalescents, and people with compromised immunity and other respiratory conditions.
- Affected areas should be thoroughly cleaned with simple soap solution and washcloth, post operation. It should, if the need be, displayed with a sign to indicate its wet status.
- Areas ranging from 10 to 30 sq. ft. are often regarded as moderately sized isolated areas. These areas require somewhat more intense servicing than small sized isolated areas.
- Duly trained members of the regular maintenance staff of the building can carry out mold removal operations for mid-sized areas.
- Evacuation of the entire building is not necessary. However, all the inhabitants near the affected area should preferably be evacuated, with special emphasis on infants, chronically ill patients, convalescents, and people with compromised immunity and other respiratory conditions.
- Prior to the commencement of mold removal operations in areas of this size, all the other surfaces nearby (walls, furniture, carpet etc.) should be covered with regular plastic sheets (to be disposed of later).
- There are many commercially viable techniques available to suppress the rousing of dust and other finer particles. These methods (misting, gelling, to name a few) should be used to minimize the contamination of indoor air that is anticipated in the process of mold removal.
- Heavily affected materials or objects (especially porous surfaces) that cannot be cleaned should be disposed of in a way described before the operation begins.
- Once the active operation is over, entire area should be allowed to dry off. Using industrial vacuums to clean off all the surfaces is generally recommended by experts as a method of reducing the peaked count of airborne mold spores.
- Areas measuring over 30 sq. ft. are generally classified as large sized in terms of environmental maintenance. If a large sized area is infested by mold, it is strictly advised that only professionals who are trained and experienced in handling bio-hazardous materials/chemical and microbial treatments should be entrusted with the task.
- All susceptible people (as defined earlier) should be asked to stay away from the site of operation for the duration of operation. Clearly visible signs warning non-members of the maintenance team to stay away from the site of operation should be displayed.
- Large sized areas often cause a lot of infection to adjacent areas. In fact that’s how small sized areas turn into large sized affected areas. Hence, while treating large sized areas for mold infestations, every care should be taken not to get adjacent areas affected by way of contamination. Polyethylene sheets can be used to sheath the adjacent surfaces so that newly released mold spores or other contaminated debris doesn’t come into direct contact with these surfaces.
- Another important thing to consider is to shut off all the ways in which contaminated debris or mold spores could get disbursed in the adjacent areas/rooms of the building. This includes temporarily sealing off vents, ducts, air conditioners and exhaust fans.
- The use of professional and industrial methods to prevent the rousing of contaminated debris/dust/mold spores is a must in such operations. Misting and gelling are two examples of such methods.
- It must be ensured that the whole area under operation is cordoned off prior and post operation for at least 3 hours. During this time, use of industrial vacuums is recommended to clean up the operation site and make it safe for human occupation again.
- All the collected material including dead mold mass and other contaminated debris should be disposed of in a manner explained earlier in this section.
- Acute infestation of mold typically occurs in areas that have been either abandoned or not frequented by people.
- Acute infestation is generally spread over large areas. It is fundamentally different than regular mold infestation in that areas of acute infestation can potentially be dangerous for the very structure of a building.
- Acute infestation manifests itself in thick continuous bedding of mold. Some professionals refer to as a mold farm.
- Operations at such acutely infested sites should not be undertaken by non-professionals. Health and safety audit of the building needs to be carried out at least 24 hours before the commencement of the operation.
- Duly qualified, trained and experienced bio-hazard technicians and microbial environment specialists must make for a part of the team that conducts the operation.
- Other procedures for such operations are similar to the ones applicable for large sized isolated areas.
- Operations in acutely infested sites usually tend to generate considerable volumes of contaminated debris. This is because abrasive plans of action (friction, scaling, de-plastering or polishing) are often warranted in such operations.
- Hence, it is best advised to completely evacuate the adjacent areas to minimize the probability of accidental inhalation of mold spores or other infected fine particles by non-protected individuals.
What to Wear when Cleaning Mold Affected AreasCleaning up mold colonies is not a task that comes without its own perils. To begin with, it must be conceded that the concentration of mold spores just around and over the surface of mold colonies is, quite predictably, extremely high. This means that using personal protective gear while cleaning up mold from indoors – irrespective of the size of the infestation – is highly recommended. Mold colonies tend to have a considerable aggregation of by-products and in some cases, even toxins. Hence, handling the clean-up procedure with utmost care in order not to come directly in contact with mold is important. This becomes an even more pressing issue when the procedure being opted for mold removal involves one or more destructive/invasive/intrusive techniques. These typically include de-plastering, creating and exploring wall cavities, friction, scrubbing and scraping. During these activities, a bulk of contaminated debris is generated and often, left airborne. Therefore, such procedures should be undertaken only by experienced professionals. The summary of what one should wear while cleaning up mold is presented below.
- Skin Protection
- Hair Protection
- Eye Protection
- Respiratory Protection
- Partial Respirators
- Full Sized Respirators
- N-95 Masks
- N-99 Masks
- N-100 Masks
Summarizing Personal Protection Strategies during Mold Clean-upThe following table summarizes various personal protection strategies to be used during mold clean-up operations at various scales. Table 3: Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) Guidelines for Mold Clean-up Operations
|Minimum||Gloves and full sleeved clothing||Any sort of headgear that covers hair||Protective goggles||N-90/N-99/N-100 masks|
|Limited||Gloves and disposable overalls||Any sort of headgear that covers hair or swimming caps||Protective goggles||Full face respirators|
|Full||Gloves and disposable overalls||Protective headgear that accompanies hoods/masks||Protective goggles||Full face respirators with HEPA negative pressure|
- Every personnel on-site (regardless of their participation in the operation) should dispose of the disposable protective gear in a fashion described earlier.
- All non-disposable protective gear should be disinfected duly, at least twice. Use of saline water along with a chemical disinfectant (alcohol based, or otherwise) is recommended.
- All personnel should take a thorough wash (preferably a shower) and clean themselves with a mild disinfectant soap or an anti-bacterial body gel.
- The site of operation should be left undisturbed for at least two hours, or until it is fully dry again.
Signs of a Successful Mold Clean-upAlthough it’s often left to guesswork, ensuring that a mold clean-up operation has been successful is one of the most essential steps in making a place mold free. There are certain benchmarks with which one can assert with confidence that a particular mold clean-up operation has been completed successfully.
- Upon immediate completion of the operation, there should be no signs of visible mold at the site of operation. Persistent mold colonies tend to re-attach the previous sites of infestation due to inefficient or non-thorough removal of mold colonies. Hence, all such colonies should be thoroughly exterminated by the end of a clean-up operation.
- Within a few hours of the completion of the operation, there should be no leftover mold odor present at the site of operation. If there is a hint of mold odor present, it could well mean that the operation hasn’t managed to get rid of all of infestation.
- At least 3 weekly and 3 monthly on-site inspections are recommended by qualified maintenance professionals after the completion of a mold clean-up operation. These inspections should assess the state of moisture at the site of operation and if there is any new mold growth present.
- If the residents/occupants of the building are satisfied with the operation and there have been no unusual health concerns, it is a good enough sign to state the mold clean-up operation has been successful. This should be regarded as a rule of thumb as no guidelines or instructions regarding this have been issued by OSHA or NIOSH.
Mold Clean-up: Tips and Techniques for HouseholdsIn a majority of households, people come across mold in one form or another, at various scale and in various places. Granted that mold renders the looks of a building ungainly, it is often persistent and what’s even worse, it poses health concerns for the people who reside in the building; it’s not always necessary to panic and seek the help of professionals. Minor mold infestations (the ones that typically appear suddenly and in very small patches) can be treated if necessary caution in maintaining one’s own safety is taken.
- Locating Mold
- Keeping Mold Away
- Keeping the building well ventilated
- Regular maintenance
- Timely disposal of waste matter
- Low humidity
- Mold on Fabric
- Tea Tree Oil
- Mix a cup of tap water and a cup of tea tree oil together.
- Pour the resultant (immiscible) mixture in a spray bottle.
- Shake it vigorously to temporarily emulsify the mixture.
- Then spray it generously over the spotted infestation of mold.
- If you don’t see results in 24 hours, repeat the procedure for two more days. If the mold colony is still persistent, you may need to seek professional help.
- Clove and Pepper Oil
- Grapefruit Seed Pulp
- Household Vinegar
Who Should Do Mold Clean-Up?Minor infestations of mold colonies can be easily tackled by some strategic planning and methods as explained earlier. However, whenever the mold outbreak is persistent, larger in area and considerable in thickness, professionals needs to be consulted. Before moving on to discussing who should do the clean-up, it would be well in order to take a look at who cannot. Following factors should be taken into consideration while takin up mold clean-up at home:
- Mold clean-up should never be undertaken by individuals with weak immune system/impaired immunity as a result of diseases like HIV AIDS or cancer.
- People with sensitive health should not be allowed to clean-up the mold.
- Individuals who have a recorded and known history of respiratory ailments and/or allergies should not be allowed to undertake mold clean-up operations.
- Children and elderly should not be allowed to undertake mold clean-up operations as they are most susceptible to forming new allergies as a result of accidental inhalation of mold spores.
- Individuals with any kind of skin condition including allergy spurts like dermatitis should refrain from cleaning up indoor mold.
How Much Does Mold Testing or Removal Cost?It’s difficult to put forth an exact cost of mold testing, inspection or removal in a particular household. The costs incurred in mold removal typically depend on the following factors:
- Extent of mold outbreak – size of the colonies
- Places of infestation – walls, ceilings, bathrooms, outer surfaces, kitchen etc.
- Nature of the place – household or business
- Severity of mold – species and toxicity
- Time it takes to complete the procedure
- Service provider should have prior experience in handling, inspecting and exterminating most species of indoor mold.
- Their services should include complete packages – from inspection to removal. If it’s difficult to find a contractor that offers both inspection and removal, it is recommended to split the operation between two different service providers.
- They should be able to certify that your household or business center has been inspected and treated for mold inspection as per the norms set up by your local state offices.
- They should be able to carry out destructive testing and remediation if need be.
- They should be certified by due agencies (both federal and state) to carry out bio-hazardous operations in areas of human occupation. The Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC) is one of the premier certification program for such professionals. Certifications from the IICRC speak highly of the contractor’s competence.
- They should perform all the operations in stringent compliance with guidelines set up by the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
How do Molds Affect You?It is an undisputed fact that molds have a potential to affect the lives of people that they come in contact with. This impact can be varied. It ranges from the shabby looks that they render the building to weakening the structural integrity of the building itself and from causing mild allergies to extreme discomfort that follows through respiratory ailments and in rare cases, these impacts can be fatal in the long term. The effect that mold can have on different individuals is different. It all basically boils down to the state of the health of the individual in question. Those who have compromised immune systems are most likely to get affected by the presence of mold in house and mold spores in the indoor environment. There’s no way to tell if an individual will get affected in a certain way by a certain species of mold because molds, on their own, have very restricted damage potential. The real impact they have on humans is through conditions they help trigger – either through their physical being (allergens) or through their chemical emissions (by products, toxins and proteins). Misdiagnosis of mold related ailments and physical discomforts is quite common throughout the world. Most medical practitioners do not consider indoor air as the primary source of pathogens and prioritize the diagnosis based on more pressing fronts. This invariably results in delayed diagnosis and hence, delayed treatment. A simple mold allergy, thus, can result into something that would need to be treated like a major disease – wasting the patient’s time, energy, money and peace of mind; not to mention compromising their health.
How Mold Affects Individuals with Weak Immune SystemIndividuals with weak immunity, as stated earlier, are the easiest of targets for molds. Such individuals form a perfect host for the pathogenic traits of various domestic molds, thus allowing them to make temporary settlements in their own bodies. The commonest way for molds to manifest their impact in such individuals is through symptoms like wheezing, coughing and persistent cold. These symptoms, admittedly, do not readily lead their way towards a correct diagnosis and hence, mold can get enough time to extend the damage. It can range from simple cough that naturally wanes and disappears as the personal immune systems fights the actions of mold spores inhaled or ingested. When this fails, typically in people with chronic cases of asthma, other pulmonary ailments and weakened or impaired immunity arising from natural deficiencies or other diseases like cancer and AIDS. Usual treatments for such major diseases involve chemotherapy, phototherapy, radiotherapy, transplants, infusions and heavy drugs – all of which factors contribute to the debilitation of patients’ immunity. Young children and elderly are also at the highest risk of these infections as their immune systems are yet to develop or naturally weakened, respectively. Mold can not only create discomfort through such symptoms, it can also worsen the already present diseases. For example, chronic patients of asthma, when exposed to high concentrations of airborne mold spores, were found to suffer from heightened and more regular asthma attacks that, in some unfortunate cases, grew to be chronic. Similarly, in many cases, mold inhalation is the prime reason for the development of allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis. Even though ABA in itself isn’t potent enough to cause long term damage to the patient’s lungs, it can certainly cause extreme discomfort for the period of affectation. More importantly, ABA further damages the immune system, leaving the patient vulnerable to the attacks from other viruses and pathogens.
Symptoms and AllergiesIt is through allergies that molds make known their presence and their impact on one’s health. These allergies are difficult to trace back to mold unless the mold colonies indoor are distinctly visible or easily detectable. They can range from irritation to inflammation. Commonly affected parts of a human body are eyes, skin, scalp and respiratory system. Eyes and skin can be affected by way of allergies that can either be temporary or persistent. Temporary allergic reactions like swelling of the eyelids, watery eyes, itchy eyes, red eyes, painful eyes, rashes on the skin , scratchy skin and substantial increase in scalp problems (dandruff, for example) are quite frequently observed throughout the world, wherever there is high concentration of airborne mold spores indoors. More serious reactions may include excessive bloating of skin, widespread rashes that don’t wane on their own within 24 hours of appearance. Other common health concerns associated with indoor molds are all related to the respiratory system. There is always some concentration of airborne mold spores in every environment, irrespective of whether it’s indoors or outdoors. This concentration, however, peaks substantially if there is a presence of indoor mold colonies. These colonies release millions of mold spores in the indoor environment every day. Inhalation of these spores doesn’t remain, in such cases, an accident – it becomes a foregone conclusion. Inhaling mold spores can trigger all sorts of allergic reactions in one’s respiratory system. Coughing is the most profound reaction caused. Depending upon the intake of mold spores by an individual, the seriousness of cough related symptoms does vary. In healthy individuals, such cough symptoms reduce and disappear all within 24 hours. In other cases, these symptoms tend to be more persistent and cannot be dealt without medical attention. Sneezing is the instant reaction of human body to inhalation of fine particles. Hence, inhaling a large dose of mold spores from an indoor environment can cause sudden and continuous bursts of sneezes among sensitive or allergy prone individuals. These outbreaks of sneezes tend to wane and disappear as the concerned individual moves to an environment with significantly lower concentration of airborne mold spores and other fine particles. Along with coughing and sneezing, inhalation of mold spores also sometimes results into dry and parched throat. These symptoms are similar to any common flu symptoms. As mold spores are adsorbed on the inner surfaces of the throat, reflex actions cause consistent bouts of dry throat. On similar lines, inhalation of mold spores, in almost every case, results in a runny nose and itchy nasal cavities. Again, these symptoms resemble the common flu and cold symptoms starkly. For healthy individuals, most of these symptoms do tend to disappear following simple actions such as moving to another room, letting the stale air out and fresh air in or turning on the HVAC system. Even though household indoor environment cannot create enough sustenance for most species of molds, it is an entirely different case altogether when one is to discuss occupational mold hazards. Individuals who are continuously exposed to high concentrations of airborne molds for prolonged periods (typically in occupational environments like greenhouses, stables, farms, gardens, furniture companies, paper companies and warehouses) pose a high risk of developing hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HP). Hypersensitivity pneumonitis is a form of respiratory disorder that often manifests itself through persistent bouts of vigorous coughs and a sudden shortness of breath. HP, for most people, tends to be acute and short lived. In this form, an individual can experience chest pain, deep cough and nausea. In some rare cases that result from decades of sustained exposure to mold spores, HP can be chronic and difficult to treat. It can even lead to permanent scarring of lungs and extreme reduction in the strength of lungs, as can be identified by shallow breathing cycles and difficulties in performing daily tasks like climbing up the stairs. In this form, HP resembles asthma quite keenly.
More Serious Symptoms of Mold InfectionIf not diagnosed and treated correctly, prolonged exposure to more airborne mold spores can lead to more serious outcomes. Many individuals who have been diagnosed with mold infection have complained about constant headaches that they mistook for hypertension or eyesight related problems – even migraines in some cases. Similarly, prolonged and continued exposure to airborne mold spores is known to trigger sudden nose bleeds and panic attacks that follow such instances. Since airborne mold spores primarily enter the body of the host through inhalation, respiratory tracts are affected first. Symptoms like difficulty in breathing, chest pain and throat pain are some of the symptoms of respiratory tract and/or lung infection due to mold spores. If mold spores are allowed to be hosted anywhere in the respiratory systems, there are high chances that, upon successful establishment, they will spread in other parts of the host’s body triggering symptoms like diarrhoea, vomiting and excessive sweating – all of which invariably result in severe dehydration and cramps. Another condition that follows such mold triggered dehydration is the feeling of nausea. Many patients suffering from mold infections complain about the feeling of sickness, nausea and constant fatigue that just cannot go away despite lengthy resting periods and intake of energy drinks or supplements. Mold infestation thus spread to the GI tract and gastric system as a whole can further create serious complications. Growth of mold inside intestines is often known to cause ailments like chronic indigestion, constipation, inflammatory bowel disorder (IBS) and loss of appetite. In other symptoms, sudden weight loss and hair loss is known to be linked indirectly to acute mold infection. Weight loss often follows dehydration and loss of appetite and is not known to be an isolated symptom. Hair loss is linked to scalp infection or scalp dermatitis. In some cases, neurological disorders have also resulted indirectly from habitual mold spores inhalation or ingestion. These include temporary short term memory losses and false pain alarms in the central nervous system. Swollen glands – especially in the upper half of the body – are also characteristics of prolonged exposure to airborne mold spores. Other symptoms that have been linked to such exposures, but not exclusively accepted or confirmed, include temporary sexual deficiencies and bladder infection. Persistent pain in joint, muscles and ligaments are also known to accompany severe mold infections.
Rare and Complicated Cases of Mold InfectionExtremely complicated cases of mold infection arise from prolonged exposure to very (and uncommon) exposure to ultra-high concentrations of airborne mold spores. Such cases are quite uncommon and are a direct result of lack of hygiene and maintenance at the workplaces and households. If left untreated for a period of days, many species of household molds can easily penetrate beyond the immune system of a human body. What results is a breakdown of central immunity, leaving the body vulnerable to other diseases that further debilitate one’s health. Some particular species of indoor molds can produce high concentrations of toxins (mycotoxins) that are easily absorbed in the blood. High levels of these toxins in bloodstream can lead to long term (permanent) memory loss and/or paralysis. Cancer is also believed to be a direct result of such mycotoxins. Permanent injuries to lungs, called pulmonary hemosiderosis, are also believe to result. Other assorted conditions that can be directly tracked back to prolonged and acute exposure unusually high levels of mold spores include various gastrointestinal diseases, cardiac conditions development and deterioration, complications during pregnancy and even brain damage, in the rarest of rare cases.
Mold Infections at a GlanceFollowing table summarizes various impacts that molds generally have on people. Table 4: Various Health Hazards Caused Directly/Indirectly by Indoor Molds
Impact of Mold Exposure: Common MisdiagnosesMany experts believe that mold exposure symptoms and diseases are quite routinely misdiagnosed in the United States. According to the National Treatment Centers for Environmental Diseases (NTCED) and Mayo Clinic, there are roughly 55 to 60 million Americans who regularly suffer from sinusitis caused directly or indirectly by indoor mold. What’s more interesting is that almost all of these patients (96%, to take help from the numbers published by the NTCED) are diagnosed wrongly by medical practitioners. The fact of the matter is that misdiagnosis can not only delay the prognosis, it invariably delays the right treatment – in a way stripping the patients of their fundamental right to being in a good health. Here are some of the commonest misdiagnoses for mold related sicknesses.
- Asthma and Emphysema Family
- Chronic Sinusitis
- Chronic Bronchitis
Ways to Reduce Allergies Triggered by MoldIf you are sensitive to fine particles and already suffer from respiratory or pulmonary allergies, you will be at the highest risk of developing more lasting and persistent forms of these allergies because of exposure to high concentration of airborne mold. However, there are a few simple ways with which one can limit their exposure to mold and other allergens. A few lifestyle changes and a few precautionary steps are all it takes to virtually shield yourself from mold related allergies and a level of discomfort that follows.
- Knowing when to be careful
- Knowing where to be careful
- Knowing what to avoid
- Alcoholic Beverages: Alcohol is basically a fermented liquid. By this definition, its roots can be easily traced back to fungi and bacteria. That’s why, it’s important to stay away from alcoholic beverages or at least consume them with in strict moderation, if you happen to be a sensitive individual toward molds and allergies.
- Dairy Products: Dairy products usually contain a high number of bacteria and fungi species. Even though almost all of these species (found in fresh products) are innocuous (in some cases, even helpful) for human bodies, people with weakened immune system or high sensitivity towards mold infections should try to find alternatives to dairy products for daily consumption. Fermented dairy products or dairy associated products like sauerkraut, cheeses and yoghurts should especially be avoided.
- Subterranean Fruits and Vegetables: Most people who are sensitive to mold infection are known to be allergic to subterranean fruits, vegetables and pulses. These include cabbages, radishes, groundnuts, potatoes and sweet potatoes. Similarly, high carbohydrate grains like corn and barley can also contain various mold species lodged onto them. However, since it’s impossible to not include all these foods in regular diet, it’s recommended that processed forms of these foods (such as pickled radishes or microwaved potatoes) should be preferred to raw forms. This will help you stay away from mold species without having to sacrifice a major portion of what makes regular American meals.
- Knowing how to manage your health
Mold Sickness TreatmentTreating mold sicknesses is a fairly straightforward practice that usually involves an antibiotic or a combination thereof to selective attack the resident mold species. However, the biggest roadblock is presented in the form of misdiagnoses, as discussed in details earlier. If not diagnosed correctly, mold infections can grow to be worse and further complicate the matters. Hence, a successful and quick diagnosis is the best way to move forward while dealing with mold infections and subsequent treatments. Mold infections have pretty vague symptoms that can overlap or mimic a number of other similar conditions. When faced with these symptoms, it becomes necessary to point out facts (like changed lifestyle, travels, new food, new house, new workplace etc.) to the medical practitioner you are seeking advice from. Some common methods undertaken by medical practitioners, allergists and general physicians all around the world to get an insight into the nature of infections and allergies are described below.
- Physical and Superficial Examination
- Skin Testing
- Blood Testing
- Serious GI conditions (chronic indigestion, constipation, IBS etc.)
- Recorded history of being allergic to CSM and its constituent drugs
- Ongoing courses of drugs like leflunomide (for arthritis, joint pains, paralysis, rheumatisms etc.)
- During pregnancy
- Common Cold Medicines
- Anti-Infection Vaccines
Mold Toxins (Mycotoxins)There are many species of indoor molds and not all of them are deemed to be toxic. However, certain species of mold, especially the ones classified as class A or B in terms of potential to cause health hazards, are toxic in nature. This toxicity is imparted to these mold due to chemicals that they tend to form. These chemicals are called mycotoxins. The term mycotoxin is a portmanteau formed by two words myco (Greek) meaning fungus and toxins. Mycotoxins are generally typical to various species of molds and these species can be easily identified with the existence of these characteristic mycotoxins. However, a given species of mold does not necessarily produce a single mycotoxin. Mycotoxins are mostly found in complementary groups in which one prominent mycotoxin can characterize the mold species. When compared on a toxicity to weight ratio basis, mycotoxins are some of the most toxic substances on the planet. However, since mold species do not tend to form relatively lower quantities of these, their ability to cause health hazard to humans is limited. This is not, by any means, to say that mycotoxins are not lethal. In some cases, continued exposure to mycotoxins is known to be debilitating and even fatal. To put it in the simplest of terms, mycotoxins are products of life processes of mold species – especially the metabolism processes. There are two primary categories of mycotoxins. The first, and certainly more toxic, includes mycotoxins that are formed as a result of primary metabolism processes. Primary metabolism processes for any organisms are the ones through which they carry on their life cycle. This involves procuring food, processing it, distributing energy across their cell structure and discard the non-useful substances. Primary mycotoxins are always found in higher concentrations as compared to secondary mycotoxins. Secondary mycotoxins are formed as a result of secondary metabolism and survival processes. These processes, per se, are not essential for the life cycle of mold species. The fact that secondary mycotoxins are still existent can be attributed to the added survival and defence mechanism that they impart to the mold colonies. Primary mycotoxins are, as mentioned briefly earlier, characteristic of mold species, whereas secondary mycotoxins are more or less characteristic of environment that the mold grows in. Organic matter that they are decomposing, temperature, humidity are some of the factors that can determine which secondary mycotoxins are formed in mold colonies. Many people quite naively consider mycotoxins as secondary mold structures. Mycotoxins are not organisms in themselves. They are just chemicals that molds and other fungi, intentionally and unintentionally. Mycotoxins are not specifically designed to attack competing species or more evolved organisms. In this aspect, they are quite opposite to other natural venoms and toxins like snake venom or jelly fish poison. However, it has also been observed that in more ‘threatening’ environment, the production of mycotoxins by molds increases substantially. In a way, mycotoxins are the only entities that resemble the defence mechanism of molds and yeasts. Just as mold tries to get settled in a host’s body, it has to overcome the resistance from the host’s immune system. Perhaps, this is why mycotoxins are produces in a much higher concentration in hosts’ body than outside of it. Mycotoxins have a wide array of effects on humans. These effects depend primarily upon the health of the receptor (host), concentration of mycotoxins, duration of impact and secondary factors like the potency of complementary mycotoxins formed by the same species of mold. Complex effects with contradictory symptoms can be observed in hosts if more than one species of mold comes in contact with them. In such case, it is not only difficult to identify the source of damage, it is also challenging to treat such contradictory mycotoxins in isolation. There are estimated to be thousands of mycotoxins and their variants present in nature, only a handful can be encountered in indoor environments, some of which are discussed below.
- T-2 Group of Toxins
Why mycotoxins are difficult to act againstHuman immune system tries to act against every unknown body and chemical that enters the body. However, the cases can be quite complicated against mycotoxins (as can be against all toxic substances). Central immune system finds it difficult to identify mycotoxins as foreign chemicals. Many mycotoxins resemble enzymes and proteins that are regularly produced in human body by glands and organs. Furthermore, these mycotoxins are mistaken by the central immune system for useful proteins and enzymes. This makes getting rid of these chemicals by natural means all the more difficult. Mycotoxins are often circulated in the blood stream and very little percentage of their concentration is actually thrown out of the system by way of excretion.
How Mycotoxins can be dealt withHowever clichéd it may sound, the only and most effective way of acting against mycotoxins is to not allow them the opportunity to enter one’s body. Regular maintenance of the buildings and taking up precautionary measures can greatly reduce the risk of indoor mold infestations. This automatically rules out the possibility of mycotoxic interactions. Once infected, the only way to counter mycotoxins is to bind them together by means of external medication. Drugs like CSM have the ability to get attached to mycotoxins and thus allow the immune system to recognize them as foreign sets of substrates that need to be excreted.
Microbial Volatile Organic Compounds (mVOCs)Microbial volatile organic compounds (mVOCs) are highly volatile compounds that are produced during the metabolism cycles of molds. These compounds, as they are generated, readily evaporate due to their volatile nature. Since these compounds typically carry strong odor with them, mold growth is associated with their odor that resembled musky, earthen smell. In most species of molds, mVOCs have typically common organic functional groups like benzene rings and aldehyde carbonyl bonds. mVOCs are only produced when the metabolism cycle of molds is active and functional. In another words, mVOCs are vital signs of existence and life of molds. Whenever there is that characteristic strong odor is present about mold colonies, it can be taken for granted that such colonies are functional, alive and growing. There is no reported study confirming that mVOCs, by themselves, are capable of any health damage to individuals living or residing in the close vicinity of mold colonies. However, their smell can be nauseating and dizzying, if indulged with for long hours. Nasal irritation and respiratory inflammation are also experienced by many people who come in contact with mVOCs. These tend to dissipate on their own when the contact becomes non-existent. Even after the mold colony is cleaned up, mVOCs ‘hang about’ indoors if proper and effective ventilation cycle is not carried out. Following table collates a few of the common mVOCs that accompany indoor mold growth. Table 5: Commonly Experienced Indoor mVOCs and Corresponding Functional Groups
Mold PreventionMold prevention is the only sure-fire way of staying away from mold infections and a hoard of diseases that follow. With enough care and regularity of maintenance, allowing no breeding ground indoors for mold species is not a herculean task. Here are a few easy tips that can help you keep your household or workplace fresh, clean and free of nasty mold colonies.
- Marking Problem-prone Areas
- Keeping It Fresh
- No Stagnant Water or Condensation
- Maintaining Indoor Air Quality
- Garden Care
Testing and Sampling for MoldThe first step towards successful clean-up of indoor mold is mold detection. It’s not always the case that mold grows quite obviously on the front facing wall of the living room. Mold often tends to grow in places that are not easily accessible and hence experience quite less human contact and maintenance. In instances where mold is not obviously noticed (visually or by smell), need for more technical methods of mold detection arises. The best way of confirming or ruling out the presence of indoor mold is by laboratory testing and sampling. That being said, it should first be understood when sampling and testing is really necessary.
- When is Testing or Sampling for Mold Necessary?
- When moisture seepage in walls and/or ceiling is apparent
- When there is untraceable musty smell that won’t go away
- When one or more occupants of the building/workplace develop sudden allergies or sickness
- When maintenance of the building has been long overdue
- From Where should the Indoor Air be Sampled?
- Bathrooms and toilets
- Attics, garages, basements
- Garden (if the experts deem it fit)
- How should Solid/Liquid Samples be collected?
- Adequate protective gear (described earlier) should be donned.
- Approximate 1 sq. inch of solid surface with undisturbed growth of mold should be cut/scalped/trimmed/plucked/torn from the object.
- Such sample should be placed in double layered and non-permeable plastic bags (preferably with zip locks).
- Time, date and place of collection should be noted on this bag (preferably with a photograph).
- Same procedure should be adopted for liquid. About 5 to 10 mL of molded liquid surface should suffice for testing.
- This liquid sample can be stored in a plastic bottle or sampler.
Hidden MoldMold prevention can be hindered quite significantly if there’s no mold to be seen. However, if the mold is making its presence felt through smell or sudden allergies and sicknesses, there is a good chance that hidden mold is up and thriving somewhere inside the building. Spotting hidden mold is not as easy as it sounds. Mold can grow in the most unthinkable of places – even beneath wallpapers. Of course, nobody would go about their houses scraping wallpapers to check for mold. That’s why, knowing where to look for hidden mold becomes important. Here’s when active mold search campaign should be undertaken to confirm and locate the presence of hidden mold:
- Damp, musty, mold-like smell that doesn’t seem to dissipate
- Allergies among occupants of the building
- Poor and stale indoor air quality
- A feeling of nausea upon entering the indoors
- Wall cavities
- Under the floorboards
- Behind wallpapers
- Beneath ceiling plaster/tiles
- Under the carpet
- Inside the mattresses
- Behind curtains
- Inside HVAC units and ducts
- Beneath bathroom tiles/flooring panels
- On the walls of attics/caches/garages/basements
- Under the kitchen sink and deep inside cabinets
Mold ResourcesMold is not an uncommon problem in the United States. There are a number of guidelines available from the authorities, both Federal and State, regarding mold prevention and clean-up at households, workplaces and community centers. Following table summarizes all relevant mold resources for easier access, understanding and references. Table 6: Mold Resources
|Resource||Name and Link|
|Environmental Protection Agency||Indoor Mold Guide|
|Department of Housing and Urban Development||Household Mold Guide For Indian Countries|
|Environmental Protection Agency||Moisture Control Guide for Construction|
|Office of Native American Programs (A Study Report Presented to the Congress)||Mold Problems in Native American Houses|
|Environmental Protection Agency||Mold Guide For Schools and Workplaces|
|Centers for Disease Control and Prevention||Dealing with Environmental Molds|
|Centers for Disease Control and Prevention||FAQs Regarding Household Mold Species|
|New York City Department of Health||Understanding Mold|
|Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification||Maintenance and Damage Reparation Techniques|
Flooding and Mold InfestationWhen a building suffers from flooding, an acute mold infestation is a more or less certainty. Floods bring with them all of the conditions that mold spores find ideal to settle, grow and reproduce rapidly in. These are:
- Flood affected households or commercial buildings remain damp not only for the duration of the floods, but long after the floods have receded, as well. Persistent dampness on such a high scale is nothing but an invitation for various species of molds.
- Whenever there’s a flood, buildings with basements are the first and the most to suffer. Floodwater that enters basements is very difficult to get rid of. Moreover, being underwater for days – in some cases, weeks on end – surely provides an ideal breeding ground for molds.
- Everything that is stored in houses/building gets wet because of floodwaters. This includes carpets, mattresses, linens, furniture, windows, walls, food stocks, clothing – everything that mold can potentially feed on with ease!
- Fast Response
- Removing the bulk of floodwater
- Dealing with the Dampness
- Deciding what to keep and what to discard
- Cleaning a flooded house
Mold: Where it can growIt’s quite normal to have a certain concentration of airborne mold spores at all times – both outdoors and indoors. However, mold becomes a real headache when it starts to grow indoors. Mold can virtually feed on every organic matter. Even synthetic material with just some traces of organic matters (synthetic fibres, for example) are known to be used by molds as their ‘food’. Therefore, to understand what really drives mold spores to choose a certain place for their colonies, we have to take a look at where mold species can grow and reproduce. Ø Mold on Glass Among the conditions that are of foremost importance for mold to grow anywhere, the availability of decomposable organic matter is one. Glass, per se, is not an organic material. Chemically speaking, glass is just a compound of silica formed under extreme temperature and pressure condition. Despite this being the fact, mold can be observed to grow on glass in some cases. This primarily happens because of a fine layer of organic matter that tends to grow on the surface of glass (especially window glass) over time. As dirt and dust settles on glass, so do other organic matters like bacteria, food particles, smears of skin oil from human contact and so forth. Even this fine layer of organic matter is enough for mold spores to grow on. This is the reason why mold can be observed to grow on glass. Unlike fabric or wooden materials, mold growing on glass can be quite easily removed. Since there is not much to feed on for mold on glass, the colonies of molds growing on glass are inherently small in size. So, just a simple and strong wipe with a washcloth dipped in household detergent should suffice to get rid of mold growing on glass. However, if the mold has also spread on adjoining materials (window sills, curtains etc.), it is better advised to seek professional mold clean-up help. Following precautions should be taken while cleaning mold on glass:
- Mold clean-up should not be carried out without gloves.
- For minute mold infestations on glass, respirators won’t probably be needed. However, if available they should always be used. If respirators aren’t available, simple cotton kerchief or napkin should be used to cover your nose.
- Bleach or other chemicals shouldn’t be used without prior professional experience or in the company of elderly, convalescent or infants.
- Dry Freezing
- Sun Drying
- Air-tight Packaging
- Pressure treatments
- Use of preservatives