Mold (American English) or Mould (British English) is part of the natural environment. Outdoors, molds play a part in nature by breaking down dead organic matter such as fallen leaves and dead trees; indoors, mold growth should be avoided. Molds reproduce by means of tiny spores. The spores are invisible to the naked eye and float through the air. Mold may begin growing indoors when spores land on moist surfaces. There are many types of mold, but all require moisture for growth.
Molds are ubiquitous, and mold spores are a common component of household and workplace dust. In large amounts they can be a health hazard to humans, potentially causing allergic reactions and respiratory problems.
Some molds produce mycotoxins that can pose serious health risks to humans and animals. “Toxic mold” refers to molds which produce mycotoxins, such as Stachybotrys chartarum. Exposure to high levels of mycotoxins can lead to neurological problems and death. Prolonged exposure (for example, daily exposure) can be particularly harmful.
Symptoms of mold exposure may include nasal and sinus congestion; runny nose, eye irritation; itchy, red, watery eyes, respiratory problems, such as wheezing and difficulty breathing, chest tightness, cough, throat irritation, skin irritation (such as a rash), headache, and persistent sneezing.
Infants may develop respiratory symptoms as a result of exposure to Penicillium, a fungal genus. Signs of mold-related respiratory problems in an infant include a persistent cough or wheeze. Increased exposure increases the probability of developing respiratory symptoms during the first year of life. Studies have indicated a correlation between the probability of developing asthma and exposure to Penicillium.
Mold exposure has a variety of health effects, and sensitivity to mold varies. Exposure to mold may cause throat irritation, nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, cough and wheezing and skin irritation in some cases. Exposure to mold may heighten sensitivity, depending on the time and nature of exposure. People with chronic lung diseases are at higher risk for mold allergies, and will experience more severe reactions when exposed to mold. Damp indoor environments correlate with upper-respiratory-tract symptoms, such as coughing and wheezing in people with asthma.
Causes and Growing Conditions:
Molds are found everywhere, and can grow on almost any substance when moisture is present. They reproduce by spores, which are carried by air currents. When spores land on a moist surface suitable for life, they begin to grow. Mold is normally found indoors at levels which do not affect most healthy individuals.
Because common building materials are capable of sustaining mold growth and mold spores are ubiquitous, mold growth in an indoor environment is typically related to water or moisture and may be caused by incomplete drying of flooring materials (such as concrete). Flooding, leaky roofs, building-maintenance or indoor-plumbing problems can lead to interior mold growth. Water vapor commonly condenses on surfaces cooler than the moisture-laden air, enabling mold to flourish. This moisture vapor passes through walls and ceilings, typically condensing during the winter in climates with a long heating season. Floors over crawl spaces and basements, without vapor barriers or with dirt floors, are mold-prone. The “doormat test” detects moisture from concrete slabs without a sub-slab vapor barrier. Some materials, such a polished concrete, do not support mold growth.
Significant mold growth requires moisture and food sources and a substrate capable of sustaining growth. Common building materials, such as plywood, drywall, furring strips, carpets, and carpet padding provide food for mold. In carpet, invisible dust and cellulose are food sources. After water damage to a building, mold grows in walls and then becomes dormant until subsequent high humidity; suitable conditions reactivate mold. Mycotoxin levels are higher in buildings which have had a water incident.
Mold is detectable by smell and signs of water damage on walls or ceiling, and can grow in places invisible to the human eye. It may be found behind wallpaper or paneling, on the inside of ceiling tiles, the back of drywall, or the underside of carpets or carpet padding. Piping in walls may also be a source of mold, since they may leak (causing moisture and condensation).
Spores need three things to grow into mold: nutrients – cellulose (the cell wall of green plants) is a common food for indoor spores; moisture – To begin the decaying process caused by mold; time -mold growth begins from 24 hours to 10 days after the provision of growing conditions.
Mold colonies can grow inside buildings, and the chief hazard is the inhalation of mycotoxins. After a flood or major leak, mycotoxin levels are higher even after a building has dried out.
Food sources for mold in buildings include cellulose-based materials such as wood, cardboard and the paper facing on drywall and organic matter such as soap, fabrics and dust-containing skin cells. If a house has mold, the moisture may originate in the basement or crawl space, a leaking roof or a leak in plumbing pipes. Insufficient ventilation may accelerate moisture buildup. Visible mold colonies may form where ventilation is poorest and on perimeter walls (because they are nearest the dew point).
If there are mold problems in a house only during certain times of the year, the house is probably too airtight or too drafty. Mold problems occur in airtight homes more frequently in the warmer months (when humidity is high inside the house, and moisture is trapped), and occur in drafty homes more frequently in the colder months (when warm air escapes from the living area and condenses). If a house is artificially humidified during the winter, this can create conditions favorable to mold. Moving air may prevent mold from growing, since it has the same desiccating effect as low humidity. Molds grow best in warm temperatures, 77 to 86 °F (25 to 30 °C), although growth may occur between 32 and 95 °F (0 and 35 °C).
Removing one of the three requirements for mold reduces (or eliminates) new mold growth: moisture; food for the mold spores (for example, dust or dander); and warmth since mold generally does not grow in cold environments.
HVAC systems can produce all three requirements for mold growth. The air conditioning system creates a difference in temperature, encouraging condensation. The high rate of dusty air movement through an HVAC system may furnish ample food for mold. Since the air-conditioning system is not always running, warm conditions are the final component for mold growth.