About Mold

  • What are Molds?

    Molds are simple, microscopic organisms, present virtually everywhere, indoors and outdoors. Molds, along with mushrooms and yeasts, are fungi and are needed to break down dead material and recycle nutrients in the environment. For molds to grow and reproduce, they need only a food source – any organic material, such as leaves, wood, paper, or dirt— and moisture. Because molds grow by digesting the organic material, they gradually destroy whatever they grow on. Mold growth on surfaces can often be seen in the form of discoloration, frequently green, gray, brown, or black but also white and other colors. Molds release countless tiny, lightweight spores, which travel through the air. Some of the most common indoor molds are Cladosporium, Penicillium, Aspergillus, and Alternaria.

  • Can mold become a problem in my home?

    Molds will grow and multiply whenever conditions are right — when sufficient moisture is available and when organic material is present. Be on the lookout in your home for common sources of indoor moisture that may lead to mold problems:

    • Flooding
    • Leaky roofs
    • Sprinkler spray hitting the house
    • Plumbing leaks
    • Overflow from sinks or sewers
    • Damp basement or crawl space
    • Steam from shower or cooking
    • Humidifiers
    • Wet clothes drying indoors or clothes dryers exhausting indoors

    *Warping floors and discoloration of walls and ceilings can be indications of moisture problems. Condensation on windows or walls is also an important indication, but it can sometimes be caused by an indoor combustion problem. Have fuel-burning appliances routinely inspected by your local utility or a professional heating contractor.

  • Should I be concerned about mold in my home?

    Yes, if indoor mold contamination is extensive, it can cause very high and persistent airborne spore exposures. Persons exposed to high spore levels can become sensitized and develop allergies to the mold or other health problems. Mold growth can damage your furnishings, such as carpets, sofas and cabinets. Clothes and shoes in damp closets can become soiled. In time, unchecked mold growth can cause serious damage to the structural elements in your home.

Health Effects

  • How am I exposed to indoor molds?

    Everyone is exposed to some mold on a daily basis without evident harm. It is common to find mold spores in the air inside homes, and most of the airborne spores found indoors come from outdoor sources. Mold spores primarily cause health problems when they are present in large numbers and people inhale many of them. This occurs primarily when there is active mold growth within a home, office or school where people live or work. People can also be exposed to mold by touching contaminated materials and by eating contaminated foods.

  • What symptoms are commonly seen with mold exposure?

    Molds may produce health effects through inflammation, allergy, or infection. Allergic reactions are most common following mold exposure. Typical symptoms that mold-exposed persons report (alone or in combination) include:

    • Respiratory problems, such as wheezing, difficulty breathing and shortness of breath
    • Nasal and sinus congestion
    • Eye irritation (burning, watery, or reddened eyes)
    • Dry, hacking cough
    • Nose or throat irritation
    • Skin rashes or irritation
  • How much mold can make me sick?

    It depends. For some people, a relatively small number of mold spores can trigger an asthma attack or lead to other health problems. For other persons, symptoms may occur only when exposure levels are much higher. Nonetheless, indoor mold growth is unsanitary and undesirable. Basically, if you can see or smell mold inside your home, take steps to identify and eliminate the excess moisture and to cleanup and remove the mold. To be prudent, infants less than one year of age should not be exposed to chronically moldy, water damaged environments.

  • Are some molds more hazardous than others?

    Allergic persons vary in their sensitivities to mold, both as to the amount and the types to which they react. In addition to their allergic properties, some indoor molds, such as Fusarium, Trichoderma, and Stachybotrys, may produce compounds that have toxic properties, which are called mycotoxins. Mycotoxins are not always produced, and whether a mold produces mycotoxins while growing in a building depends on what the mold is growing on, conditions such as temperature, pH, humidity or other unknown factors. When mycotoxins are present, they occur in both living and dead mold spores and may be present in materials that have become contaminated with molds. While Stachybotrys is growing, a wet slime layer covers its spores, preventing them from becoming airborne. However, when the mold dies and dries up, air currents or physical handling can cause spores to become airborne. At present there is no environmental test to determine whether Stachybotrys growth found in buildings is producing toxins. There is also no blood or urine test that can establish if an individual has been exposed to Stachybotrys chartarum spores or its toxins.

  • Who is at greater risk when exposed to mold?

    Exposure to mold is not healthy for anyone inside buildings. Therefore, it is always best to identify and correct high moisture conditions quickly before mold grows and health problems develop. Some people may have more severe symptoms or become ill more rapidly than others:

    • Individuals with existing respiratory conditions, such as allergies, chemical sensitivities, or asthma
    • Persons with weakened immune systems, such as people with HIV infection, cancer chemotherapy patients, and others with chronic diseases
    • Infants and young children
    • The elderly
  • Will my health or my child’s health be affected, and should we see a physician?

    If you believe that you or your children have symptoms that you suspect are caused by exposure to mold, you should see a physician. Keep in mind that many symptoms associated with mold exposure may also be caused by many other illnesses. You should tell your physician about the symptoms and about when, how, and for how long you think you or your children were exposed.

Detection Of Mold

  • How can I tell if I have mold in my house?

    You may suspect that you have mold if you see discolored patches, cottony or speckled growth on walls or furniture or if you smell an earthy or musty odor. Evidence of past or ongoing water damage should also trigger more thorough inspection. You may find mold growth underneath water-damaged surfaces or behind walls, floors or ceilings.

  • Should I test my home for mold?

    The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment does not recommend testing as a first step to determine if you have a mold problem. Reliable air sampling for mold can be expensive and requires expertise and equipment that is not available to the general public. Owners of individual private homes and apartments generally will need to pay a contractor to carry out such sampling, because insurance companies and public health agencies seldom provide this service. Mold inspection and cleanup is usually considered a housekeeping task that is the responsibility of homeowner or landlord, as are roof and plumbing repairs, house cleaning, and yard maintenance.

    Another reason the health department does not recommend testing for mold contamination is that there are few available standards for judging what is an acceptable quantity of mold. In all locations, there is some level of airborne mold outdoors. If sampling is carried out in a home, an outdoor air sample also must be collected at the same time as the indoor samples, to provide a baseline measurement. Because individual susceptibility varies so greatly, sampling is at best a general guide.

    The simplest way to deal with a suspicion of mold contamination is: If you can see or smell mold, you likely have a problem and should take the steps outlined below. Mold growth is likely to recur unless the source of moisture that is allowing mold to grow is removed and the contaminated area is cleaned.

General Clean-Up Procedures

The following is intended as an overview for homeowners or apartment dwellers. We recommend that you consult EPA and other documents listed in the Environmental Publications section.

Elements of the Clean-up Procedures

  • Identify and eliminate sources of moisture.
  • Identify and assess the magnitude and area of mold contamination.
  • Clean and dry moldy areas – use containment of affected areas.
  • Bag and dispose of all material that may have moldy residues, such as rags, paper, leaves, and debris.
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