Mold is a fuzzy-looking fungi that grows on damp, porous surfaces such as wood, plaster, wall board, flooring and behind ceiling tiles. Humans come into contact with mold in three chief ways: inhalation, eating moldy food or through contact with the skin.
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Mold in homes is apparently quite common. A 1994 Harvard University School of Public Health study of 10,000 homes in Canada and the United States found that half had water damage and mold. Areas of the country with a lot of moisture such as Florida, Oregon, Texas and Louisiana often experience infestations of milder molds like helminthosporium and cladosporium. However, even milder forms of household mold have been blamed for many health problems, including chronic sinus infections, upper respiratory infections and an increase in asthma cases.
The amount of mold required to initiate symptoms varies greatly from person to person and is dependent upon your respiratory system or immune system. Though not all household mold is toxic to humans, there are several strains that are associated with serious illnesses and health risks.
Allergic Responses to Mold
Breathing in mold spores can cause an immediate sneeze or a delayed allergic reaction, as long as six hours later. Respiratory reactions may include coughing, sneezing, nasal congestion or infections, wheezing and difficulty breathing. Other common symptoms are watery or burning eyes, headaches, diarrhea, vomiting, intestinal bleeding, skin rashes and tiredness.
Toxic Black Mold
A mold becomes toxic when it multiplies and sends dangerous mycotoxins into the air. The most toxic and dangerous molds for humans are stachybotrys (black mold), penicillium and aspergillus. Toxic molds have been linked to memory problems, brain damage, cancer of the kidneys, esophagus and liver, and leukemia. Toxic molds can weaken your immune system and even damage cellular and DNA structure, resulting in recurring major illnesses, infertility, miscarriage, and birth defects.
Black mold has been the subject of hundreds of legal settlements and sizable awards around the United States against builders, insurers and corporations. An Eagle Lake, Florida woman who had contracted pneumonia six times in a year and a half due to mold in her new house was awarded $903,000 by a jury. An employee of a computer company suffered permanent and irreversible damage to his inner ear and vestibular system, resulting in a permanent loss of balance. A North Carolina jury awarded him $1.6 million for his injuries, and $200,000 to his wife for loss of his company and services.
How Household Mold Forms
The secret to formation of mold is water; without moisture mold cannot form nor spread. Mold is likely to be present in any place in your home where water has been sitting for 24 hours or more. Stachybotrys typically grows in moist environments on materials high in cellulose such as wallpaper, ceiling tile, stacks of paper, insulation and wood. However, any area of your home soaked with water is likely to allow toxic mold to form. Moisture may also be trapped behind shower walls, in carpets, under toilets or cabinet sinks, behind ceiling tiles, and in or around air-conditioning and heating ducts or joints.
To Prevent Mold Infections
To reduce opportunities for mold in your home, clean and sanitize refrigerator drip trays, garbage pails, humidifiers and air conditioners regularly. Make sure your bathroom is well ventilated with a working fan or open window. Inspect attics and crawl spaces, furniture cushions, foam pillows and mattresses, closets, basement walls and air conditioning ducts for moisture often. Take immediate corrective action to eradicate all water leaks and moisture. Clean away mold as soon as it is visible. Use a soapy detergent and water solution that contains an anti-fungal such as chlorine bleach (1 cup per gallon of water). Rubber gloves should be worn to protect your skin from exposure to the mold. Dry the cleaned area thoroughly and dispose of all cleaning cloths.