Mold is a fungus. Fungi are “ubiquitous” or they are everywhere.
What is the difference between Mold and Mildew?
Mold and mildew may have similar characteristics but they are different kinds of fungi. Mold is a type of fungus that produces growth on moist and decaying surfaces. It can grow on leather, clothing, ceilings and food. Mildew also grows on moist surfaces. It is generally found in bathrooms and bathtub grout and sometimes smooth stone window sills. It generally stains the surface however sometimes it can gray or white fuzzy substance. If it stains the area like a grout area it is generally not going to get into the air. A recent swab test of a bathroom grout reveal zero for molds on the lab report. If it does aerosolize then it can act as an inhalation irritant just like pollen or dust.
How do most molds affect people?
Molds are usually not a problem indoors, unless mold spores land on a wet or damp spot and begin growing. Molds have the potential to cause health problems. Molds produce allergens (substances that can cause allergic reactions), irritants, and in some cases, potentially toxic substances (mycotoxins). Inhaling or touching mold or mold spores may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. Allergic responses include hay fever-type symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, and skin rash (dermatitis). Allergic reactions to mold are common. They can be immediate or delayed. Molds can also cause asthma attacks in people with asthma who are allergic to mold. In addition, mold exposure can irritate the eyes, skin, nose, throat, and lungs of both mold-allergic and non-allergic people. Symptoms other than the allergic and irritant types are not commonly reported as a result of inhaling mold. Research on mold and health effects is ongoing. For more detailed information consult a health professional. You may also wish to consult your state or local health department.
What is a toxic mold and why is it different than other molds?
Mold is a fungus. Fungi are “ubiquitous” or they are everywhere. They use nonliving organic material (like building materials) as a source for nutrients and for growth and reproduction just we as humans use food and water for our existence. During the digestion process fungi secrete enzymes in the nutrient source to break down the complex compounds of the material into simpler compounds so they can digest them easier. This is similar to what happens to food as we digest it and the acid in our stomachs start to break it down.
The digested nutrients are classified into two categories; Primary and Secondary Metabolites. Primary metabolites assist in producing energy to grow and reproduce. The second metabolite is call MYCOTOXIN
Not all molds produce mycotoxins. In fact only several do.
Mycotoxins are the mold’s defense mechanism. Because other molds are competing for the food source the bad molds compete for the food source using the mycotoxins. How the mycotoxins attack other molds goes in a scientific depth not needed here however they do produce toxic, immunosuppressive and carcinogenic substances. These substances not only attack other molds they can attack humans.
Mycotoxins can cause a variety of short term as well as long-term health effects, ranging from immediate toxic response to potential long term carcinogenic effects. Symptoms due to exposure to mycotoxins include but are not limited to dermatitis, cold and flu symptoms, sore throats, headaches, fatigue, diarrhea and impaired or altered immune functions.
Mycotoxins are very small and cannot be detected visually and with a standard mold test. There are several Mycotoxins that can go airborne. These are Ochratoxins, Aflatoxins and Trichothecenes.
The good news they are Doctors who can test to see if these three mycotoxins are in your body by taking a blood and urine sample. If they are can they be tested in your home where most likely they were generated from? Yes they can.
When we test for mold spores they may or may not show up in an air sample. The right conditions are needed for the mold to release it spores. However if the mold is one of the toxic molds the Mycotoxins will show up no matter where the mold is growing or whether it is visible or not.
There are five categories of toxic mold. They are Cladosporium, Penicilium, Fusarium, Aspergillus, and Stachybotrys. Some of the species included in these categories may only cause hay fever-like allergic reactions, while others can cause potentially deadly illnesses. All five of these mold families can be found lurking indoors, in damp spaces. Each has its own particular characteristics that can greatly affect whatever organism or material it contacts. Indoor mold is not always obvious. Mold can manifest on hidden surfaces, such as wallpaper, paneling, the top of ceiling tiles, and underneath carpet.
The toxin produced by Stachybotrys chartarum is the most deadly. It has been tied to diseases as minor as hay fever, to those as serious as liver damage, pulmonary edema, and in the most severe cases, brain or nerve damage and even death. It has also been linked to severe illness in infants. Those with compromised immune systems, small children, and the elderly are highly susceptible to illness when they come in contact with this species of mold. Some symptoms associated with exposure to Stachybotrys include:
nasal and sinus congestion
central nervous system issues
aches and pains
Cladosporium, Fusarium, and Penicillium
These mold families have been connected to illnesses such as nail fungus, asthma, and also infections of the lungs, liver, and kidneys. Additionally, Fusarium may cause gastrointestinal illnesses, and even illness which affect the female reproductive system. Chronic cases of Cladosporium may produce pulmonary edema and emphysema.
The least serious of the toxic mold groups, the Aspergillus mold family consists of over 160 species. Only 16 of those cause illness in humans, none of which are fatal if treated.
Toxic molds produce chemicals during their natural growth that are classified as toxins or poisons. The types that have been found to have profound effects on human health, are given the label of "toxic mold."
Toxic molds are all very dangerous if allowed to grow inside the home. Proper precautions should be taken to prevent and eliminate their growth. These measures should include eliminating every material that nourishes the molds, such as old remodeling materials left in a basement. Also, never try to determine the type of mold in your home. Contact a professional to test any mold colony you may find, and consult with your family physician.
Do you have to see Mold for it to be a Problem?
The answer is no. The bible for Mold Remediation is the IIRCR S520 manual. Mold conditions in a building are rated into three (3) conditions.
Condition 1: This is described as an indoor environment that has a normal fungal ecology (all facilities have some mold)
Condition 2: This is an indoor environment which is contaminated with settled spores. Generally these spores cannot be seen so they can only be detected with testing.
Condition 3: This is indoor facility that is contaminated with the presence of actual mold growth and associated spores. Actual growth includes growth that is active or dormant, visible or hidden.
Unfortunately the general public is mostly only aware of Condition 3.
Condition 2 may have the same health concerns as Condition 3 depending on the inhabitant’s immune system and the type of Mold it is. Remember under the right circumstances Condition 2 spores can develop into condition 3.
It is important to dry water damaged areas and items within 24-48 hours to prevent mold growth. If mold is a problem in your home, clean up the mold and get rid of the excess water or moisture. Fix leaky plumbing or other sources of water. Wash mold off hard surfaces with detergent and water, and dry completely. Absorbent materials (such as ceiling tiles & carpet) that become moldy may have to be replaced.
See our mold guidance at www.epa.gov/mold
Damp Buildings and Health
For information on damp buildings and health effects, see the 2004 Institute of Medicine Report, Damp Indoor Spaces and Health, published by The National Academies Press in Washington, DC. You can read a description of the report and purchase a copy at http://fermat.nap.edu/catalog/11011.html
For more information on mold, see our website at www.epa.gov/mold