Mold. It’s been around since the beginning of time. It survived all the upheavals in the tectonic plates. It sat back and watched evolution take place. It outlived the dinosaurs. It will probably outlive us. It may even exist on other planets. But what is it? How does it get in a house? And, more importantly, how do you get it out so you don’t get sick?

Good mold

Mold gets a bad rap of late, but good mold does exist. Penicillium is the typical “blue” mold found on food. Bread that sat too long in the pantry typically develops penicillium. In fact, as the name implies, the very tasty blue cheese is derived from this particular strain of mold. In this day and age, cheese makers now add a commercially reproduced and freeze-dried culture, but originally, penicillium was procured from dark, damp caves and adding to the cheese. The distinctly blue Roqueforts were then stored and aged inside the same caves. Blue cheese is not alone in the good mold department. Many cheeses have an element of mold to them and, to some food connoisseurs, a piece of cheese is not edible until it has a nice coating of mold on it.

And, let’s not forget the world’s first and best antibiotic: penicillin. Alexander Fleming is credited with discovering that penicillium killed colonies of bacteria in 1929. He learned that it killed many disease-causing bacteria and realized the potential, if it could be mass-produced. That didn’t happen until World War II, when there was an urgency to do so to help the injured troops. By 1948, Andre Moyer was granted a patent to mass-produce penicillin in order to battle a number of diseases.

Bad Mold

If there is good mold, there must be bad mold as well, right? So much more needs to be understood about mold but with all the different strains, that may never happen. There are experts who advise that some mold is fine – harmless, while other molds, particular the infamous “black mold”, is bad. They advise testing to see which kind of mold you are encountering. On the other hand, the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention does not feel that is necessary to test to determine what type of mold you have. They do not see the need to differentiate. In fact, the CDC says all mold should be removed, regardless of the genus.

Aspergillus, Alternaria and Cladosporium are the most common indoor molds. In 2004, the Institute of Medicine released a report that confirmed what many had already suspected: indoor exposure to mold can cause coughing, wheezing and upper respiratory problems in healthy people. Certain populations are particularly vulnerable, including infants, the elderly and those with an already compromised immune system. Aspergillosis is particularly invasive and can be seen on CT scans of the lungs. In acute cases, it spreads via the vascular system and destroys tissue.

Stachybotrys atra. Yes, that’s the one. Black Mold. It’s not as common as the others but it is out there. The greenish-black mold is drawn to high cellulose materials and excessive dampness and humidity, much like the conditions seen in a water-damaged home. Construction materials that have been damaged in a flood or water leak are prime breeding grounds for black mold. The real issue with Stachybotrys atra is that it produces myocotoxins. These are toxic to human cells and have been known to wreak havoc on the vascular, digestive, respiratory, reproductive, immune, urinary and nervous systems.

How Does It Get In?

There are over 100,000 known types of mold throughout the world. Mold and mold spores are everywhere. They can pass through all but the finest air filter. Mold can enter your home through the heating and air conditioning systems, through open windows and doors or by attaching to you, your family and your pets. Once inside, if it finds a moist spot, it will grow. Once it lands, it sets down roots and colonizes. A single spore can rapidly turn into an overgrown colony in no time. Damp pipes, leaky roofs, even house plants are all likely targets. In fact, mold will grow on anything that it can feed on, including construction materials like wood, drywall and carpet.

A secondary issue that is causing the World Health Organization some concern is the fact that both dust mites and bacteria thrive in the same damp conditions. This combination could lead to even bigger health problems in poorer countries.

So, What Can You Do To Remove Mold?

While both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention both suggest removing small areas (less than 3’ x 3’) of mold with an application of bleach, it is always advisable to be cautious. Use gloves, protective clothing and a mask to protect yourself. Do not assume that what you see is the only mold. It could be under the tiles on the floor. It could be in the insulation behind the wall. And, while bleach is recommended by those in the know, they fully admit that it may not kill all the spores. The mold may return. A better idea would be to hire a professional. Professional mold removal is referred to as mold remediation.

The chief concern of everyone involved is those spores. The general public may just think that removing mold is as simple as donning a drywall mask and physically carrying the affected material outside to an awaiting dumpster. Remember: mold is a survivor. The spores will once again become airborne and find another spot to set down roots – another plant, the carpet, your lungs. As in any sort of remediation process, it needs to be removed carefully to prevent further or recurrent damage.

The Real Estate Market

The struggling economy and weak housing market has led to an explosion in both foreclosed homes and the mold population. Banks and other lienholders have hired management companies to clean and lock their investments up tight. But, in doing so, they have inadvertently caused unimaginable damage. Most people assume that if the house water supply is shut off then the mold problem is circumvented. Nothing could be further than the truth. Dampness and moisture are a concern but the bigger culprit is ventilation. A house needs to breath. Every home has moisture in the air naturally and, once a house is shut tightly, the mold can grow.

In fact, more than half the foreclosed homes on the market today have mold damage. The numbers are only expected to increase. Depending on which reports you read and what market you are referring to, there is a 6 month to 24 month supply of homes for sale. Many of those are foreclosed and locked up tight with little ventilation – a perfect breeding ground. Wise realtors now require that clients and co-workers sign waivers before entering homes – just in case.

Prevention is the Best Medicine

Obviously, preventing mold from gaining a foothold in the first place is the best option. It is not as hard as would be expected. The CDC makes the following suggestions for preventing all types of mold in your home:

  • Do not install carpet in bathrooms;
  • Remove any wet or flooded carpets as soon as possible;
  • Always clean bathrooms with mold-killing products;
  • When re-painting, look for new products with mold-inhibitors added;
  • Be sure you have proper ventilation, including attic vents and exhaust fans in kitchens and bathrooms;
  • Use a dehumidifier when it is humid outside;
  • Keep the humidity level of your home between 40 – 60%.

No one has all the answers regarding mold, not even the CDC or the WHO. It will come in your home. And, without proper humidity levels and adequate ventilation, it will take hold. Know the facts and take action before it gets unmanageable.

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