Mold’s Effect on Individuals

Most commonly, molds affect many people by allergenic reactions. Symptoms include nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, sneezing, wheezing, and skin irritation. However, many people report more severe reactions to mold. These symptoms go beyond the basic skin and respiratory irritations to include fever, and asthmatic attacks. Chronic lung disease, such as obstructive lung disease, develop mold infections inside of the lungs. The 2004 Institute of Medicine found evidence to link upper respitory diseases to otherwise healthy individuals.

Mold in lungs.

More information available at Center for Disease Control.

The European World Health Organization

In October, 2007, European specialists met in Bonn in order to discuss the problem of microbial pollution. Indoor pollution is caused by hundreds of species of bacteria and fungi, but most particularly filamentous fungi—mould. The Guidelines for Indoor Air Quality: Dampness and Mould discusses the most recent scientific evidence on health problems caused from mould which concludes that exposure to indoor pollution causes increased respiratory problems, allergies, and asthma, as well as agitation of the immunity system. This document also discusses common conditions in which mould thrives  and ways to control it. The best way to avoid health issues due to microbial pollution is to prevent excessive moisture from accumulating visible or within walls and foundations.

European Health Minister at 60th regional meeting in Moscow (September, 2010)

More Information available at World Health Organization.

Why is Mold Growing in My Home?

In a natural environment, mold is part of the nature’s cyclical process. Mold works to break down organic material, which is great if you are creating homemade organic mulch for your garden. However, in your home, this is not necessarily a good thing. Mold reproduces by microscopic airborne spores. When these spores blow into the house and land on dusty surfaces or organic material (wood, paper, fiber, clothe, etc.), they continue to cultivate. Warm moist areas are best at culturing mold, but any form of moisture will work.

Wet conditions favor the development of fungal blights of tomato. Mold is everywhere.

(Photo available from ISU Plant Disease Clinic)

Information found at Environmental Protection Agency.

Testing For Mold

Are there reliable tests to indicate the presence of mold?

Almost all of us already have two effective mold detectors: our eyes and our noses. If black or green discoloration is noticed that is fuzzy in appearance and is in a location that is damp or had been damp, it is almost certainly mold. If a building smells musty, there probably is mold somewhere; the mold may be on boxes stored in a basement or in walls or in the crawl space. If you want to find mold, look for the presence of water or a location where water was likely to have been. If there is still any question about whether the black stuff is mold, have a reliable laboratory examine the material. All you need to know is whether mold is seen when the material is examined under the microscope.

An increasing number of companies are offering “air testing for mold.” On the surface this seems like a reasonable thing to do. The problem, however, is that the results of most air sampling for mold are meaningless for two reasons. Air sampling for mold was not developed to determine if an environment was safe or had a dangerous level of mold in the air. Air sampling was developed to help identify the location of a hidden reservoir of mold. If the source of mold is already identified, air sampling does not provide additional meaningful information. Furthermore, safe or toxic levels of air borne mold have not been established. An individual air sample for mold provides a “snapshot” of what was in the air during the few minutes of sampling. The results may not be indicative of the amount of mold that is in the air during most of the day.

Air sampling for mold should be done either to obtain an answer to a question that cannot be answered without the air sampling or to obtain data as part of a research project. The Center for Disease Control (CDC), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists do not recommend routine air testing for mold.

About the Author

Dr. Nathan Yost, MD is a Principal with the Building Science Corporation, a building and construction consulting firm. Over the last twenty years, Dr. Yost has been a home builder, and a medical doctor specializing in respiratory illness. NAR has hired Dr. Yost on a contractual basis to provide its members with information and analysis on the scientific aspects of mold and moisture issues. The information contained in this FAQ is strictly the opinion of Dr. Yost, does not reflect NAR policy, and should not be construed as medical advice.

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Illinois Dept. Of Health article
Should I have my home or business tested for mold?

IDPH does not recommend testing for mold (see the fact sheet “Indoor Environmental Quality: Testing Should Not Be the First Step”). If mold growth is visible, testing is not needed to identify what type or level of mold is present. Mold testing also is not typically useful in determining what steps to take for cleanup.

If you can see or smell mold, testing is usually not necessary. It is likely that there is a source of moisture that needs to be fixed and the mold needs to be cleaned or removed. Even if testing is done, no standards or guidelines exist to judge acceptable amounts of mold. Testing cannot determine whether health effects will occur.

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What Causes Mold Growth?

The primary cause of mold growth is water. Mold does need food such as paper, building products, paper, boxes, fabrics etc. but mold can also grow and feed on dust. Because of this mold can grow in an empty basement where there is only cinder blocks as in the images below.

This most important factor in mold growth though is water alone. This is because mold can grow on, yep, mold! If you remove the water supply the mold will die rather quickly, but if you remove the food (drywall, cellulose, fabrics etc.) the mold will still grow in the residual mold. This is but one of the reasons that mold remediation begins with treating the water intrusion.


Is the use of dehumidifiers a solution to interior moisture problems?

Honest answer. No.

Dehumidifiers pull moisture out of the air. If there is a moisture problem: AC condensation or imbalance, plumbing, roof or foundation leak, unsealed drainage system, foundation overpour, or any other issues causing interior moisture or dampness then these problems should be dealt with directly. If a space requires a dehumidifier then it has a definite moisture problem that should be addressed first.

Dehumidifiers will not remove puddles of water from a floor or dry out wet carpet and should only be used if other moisture prevention measures have failed.

Can Moldy Carpet Be Cleaned?

This is a very common question asked by homeowners that have experienced a flood.  Carpet is pretty easily cleaned and is made of mostly plastic fibers and plastic can not rot, but there are some materials that can. The answer is dependent on a few points.

  1. If the carpet has got to the point after to many wet/dry situations that it is actually brittle then it is not really salvageable.
  2. Did the carpet get really wet or just the pad. If it was mostly the pad then just pull the carpet off the pad and replace the pad.
  3. If the mold has stained the carpet a blackish color it may be possible to fully clean it, but it will not be possible to restore the original color.

And finally, is it really the carpet that is what smells? Sometimes cleaning the carpet does not remove the smell if there is wet or moldy drywall, furniture, boxes, luggage etc.

How Does a Basement Flood?

The most common point of entry of water into a basement is through the cove seem. This is the seam where the footer sits on top of the wall as show below.

This ‘cove seam’ where the separate sections (the footer and the wall) are poured at different times (the footer is poured first). This is the way all belowground foundations are built. The problem is that this always leaves a small seam where the two footer (first pour) and the wall (second pour) meet. As water stands outside the foundation as in the picture below, it penetrates through this seam. This is why most foundations are damp/wet across the entire wall floor seam (cove seam).

The problem in most finished basements is when you place drywall and framing on these same problem outside walls. It is a recipe for instant mold.

Water is a very small molecule (see Amazing Water). One of the smallest actually. Trying to seal these walls off with painting products or trying to dry out the rooms with standing water using dehumidifiers is not possible.

What Is Mold Remediation?

Mold remediation is often considered the removal of mold from walls, furniture etc. and this is correct, but there is more. The following article from NC State University outlines how resolving the source of moisture is the primary step to mold remediation.

The following was taken from the page

Factors That Produce Mold Growth

Although molds can be found almost anywhere, they need moisture and nutrients to grow. The exact specifications for optimal mold growth vary by the species of mold. However, mold grows best in damp, warm environments. The availability of nutrients in indoor environments rarely limits mold growth because wood, wallboard, wallpaper, upholstery, and dust can be nutrient sources. Similarly, the temperature of indoor environments, above freezing and below the temperature for denaturing proteins, can support mold growth, even if the actual temperature is not optimal (8).

The primary factor that limits the growth of mold indoors is lack of moisture. Substantial indoor mold growth is virtually synonymous with the presence of moisture inside the building envelope. This intrusion of moisture might be from rainwater leaking through faulty gutters or a roof in disrepair, from a foundation leak, from condensation at an interface (e.g., windows or pipes), or between a cold and a warm environment. Water also can come from leaks in the plumbing or sewage system inside the structure. Studies of mold growth on building materials, such as plywood, have found that mold grows on materials that remain wet for 48–72 hours (8). Flooding, particularly when floodwaters remain for days or weeks, provides an almost optimal opportunity for mold growth.

To summarize, mold remediation is not cleaning mold, but actually taking the steps to prevent any moisture from re-entering the molded area. This step of prevention can be attained by foundation waterproofing, repairing failed gutters or spouts, AC condensation problems, roof leaks, plumbing leaks. Rarely is ‘sloping the ground away from the house’ an adequate solution. The problem is nearly always in the ground not on the ground.

Mold Benefits?

There are many different types of mold, but not all of them are harmful. In fact mold is pretty helpful a lot of the time. Mold breaks down dead substances and deposits them back into the ecosystem. For example if a tree dies in the woods the mold would break it back down in to soil. Also we eat some molds such as mushrooms. Finally, molds help us create antibiotics such as penicillin and many others. Many say we could not live without mold. Although there are many ways in which mold helps us there are also many molds that are extremely harmful and should be taken very seriously.

What should you do when mold is discovered?

None of us want mold in our houses, but what do you do when it does show up?  Unlike many things mold is basically impossible to prevent. Just because it is impossible to  prevent, doesn’t mean you can stop it when it starts. Mold needs water to live so therefore you must eliminate it’s water source. Sometimes water comes from a leaky roof or a countless number of other things.

Fighting Gray Mold

As a gardener I have seen gray mold destroy plants that were once the picture of health. Destroying strawberries and potatoes that I had much better plans for. What can be done about this determined pathogen? Fungicides make me nervous and moldicides too. Brown University chemist David Cane now has an answer for us.

Mold. Is It Unhealthy?

There has been for some time a debate about whether mold is in fact unhealthy. This debate is mostly among people that have never worked with or around mold. Mold is definitely unhealthy. Even on a small level mold can cause respiratory irritation, inflammation.

Here are a few recent articles discussing the health affects of mold.