Molds are a type of fungi that are a constant and natural part of the environment. The tiny spores that are the method of reproduction travel easily through the air until they land in a moist and relatively draft free environment that will sustain growth and more reproduction. Inside of buildings where there is high moisture and relatively little movement of air, molds will settle in.
Molds thrive on a variety of materials, mostly paper, wood, carpet and organic materials, especially food. They engage in digestive processes that produce enzymes. Humans can develop reactions from the byproducts of mold digestion or from the spores, themselves.
The reactions include asthma, allergic reactions and other respiratory problems. There may be severe dermatitis, immunosuppression and even cancers.
Molds are not toxic in themselves. The issue is mycotoxins that are produced during certain mold’s metabolising processes. Not all molds have toxic mycotoxin production. Mycotoxin illness is more often than not associated with food that is mold infested. But mycotoxins contained in the spores can also induce illnesses ranging from mild to severe in nature. In most cases, major colonies of mold are required to induce severe reactions, but free floating natural levels of mold can also cause illness in sensitive individuals.
The most toxic mold of public notoriety and concern is Stachybotrys chartarum (also known by its synonym Stachybotrys atra). It is a greenish-black mold that thrives on high cellulose, low nitrogen organic material, such as gypsum board, fiber board, paper, dust and lint. This mold is neither plentiful, nor is it rare. This mold requires both lots of moisture and constant moisture from floods or ongoing problematic situations that are likely to be so obvious that they are re-mediated. The two main illnesses associated with this mold are acute idiopathic pulmonary hemorrhage and memory loss.
But all molds should be eradicated, or the conditions that allow mold production should be remediated when discovered, whether the molds produce mycotoxins or not.
The problems of identifying mold reactions lie in the confusion of other indoor pollutants, such as animal dander, dust mites, and the metabolic output of roaches, for example.
With the vast numbers of humans spending large amounts of time indoors, the moisture associated with human respiration, damp or wet areas that develop, high humidity in air conditioning, condensation on equipment and pipes and other sources of wetness, the environmental consequences of mold buildup are of major concern.
Energy efficient structures in bitterly cold or very hot areas are good at retaining a tolerable indoor temperature, but are equally efficient at retaining humidity. As a result, mold issues are on the rise, unless fresh air is allowed to flow through for a period of time every day, or dehumidifiers are used. In Germany, for example, it is required in most of the airtight, cinderblock homes to open the windows for an hour a day, or mold will build up with alarming speed. The windows have to be opened for an hour a day even in the coldest part of Winter!
Humidifiers that are used to introduce moisture in air conditioned structures or in arid regions, such as Arizona, have reservoirs that can host molds. Flooding, carpet installed on surfaces, such as concrete, that wick moisture from the ground, leaking plumbing, and HVAC systems, which can have reservoirs of moisture are other ways to introduce mold sponsoring moisture that can be hard to detect.
In regions that are hot and humid, more open structures allow the flow of fresh air throughout the structures to keep mold from establishing. Fresh air flow is considered to be a major enemy of mold, which needs, in addition to a moist area, a structure, such as clothing, hair or another surface to latch onto for transport or for colonization.
Mold can never be completely eliminated in the air, but there are ways to reduce the high moisture environments that allow mold to settle and to begin eating and digesting. Reducing relative humidity in the air to below 50 percent by increasing air circulation and using dehumidifiers is one practice that prevents the ever present mold from reproducing. Otherwise, there are ways to reduce or eliminate the chances that mold will have to grow, and to eradicate mold. The citations below are gateways to help in getting rid of mold!
US EPA, “Indoor Air Pollution: An Introduction For Health Professionals”
US EPA, “Mold”
Centers For Disease Control And Prevention, “Facts about Stachybotrys chartarum and Other Molds”