Mold – Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

By October 30, 2008 No Comments

The Phylmar Group, Inc.

Please feel free to use this straight forward dialog to address issues dealing with mold in your organization:


1. What are molds?

Molds are simple, microscopic organisms, present virtually everywhere, indoors and outdoors. Molds, along with mushrooms and yeasts, are fungi and are needed to break down dead material and recycle nutrients in the environment. For molds to grow and reproduce, they need only a food source – any organic material, such as leaves, wood, paper, or dirt— and moisture. Because molds grow by digesting the organic material, they gradually destroy whatever they grow on. Sometimes, new molds grow on old mold colonies. Mold growth on surfaces can often be seen in the form of discoloration, frequently green, gray, brown, or black but also white and other colors. Molds release countless tiny, lightweight spores, which travel through the air.

2. How can I be exposed to indoor molds?

Everyone is exposed to some mold on a daily basis without evident harm. It is common to find mold spores in the air inside homes, and most of the airborne spores found indoors come from outdoor sources. Mold spores primarily cause health problems when they are present in large numbers and people inhale many of them. This occurs primarily when mold growth is active within homes, offices or schools where people live or work. People can also be exposed to mold by touching contaminated materials and by eating contaminated foods.

3. What can cause mold growth?

Molds will grow and multiply whenever conditions are right—sufficient moisture is available and organic material is present. Some common sources of indoor moisture that may lead to mold problems include:

• Flooding

• Leaky roofs

• Sprinkler spray hitting the outside walls

• Plumbing leaks

• Overflow from sinks or sewers

Warping floors and discoloration of walls and ceilings can be indications of moisture problems. Condensation on windows or walls is also an important indication of a potential problem.

4. What symptoms are commonly seen with mold exposure?

Molds produce health effects through inflammation, allergy, or infection. Allergic reactions (often referred to as hay fever) are most common following mold exposure. Typical symptoms that mold-exposed persons report (alone or in combination) include:

• Respiratory problems, such as wheezing, difficulty breathing, and shortness of breath

• Nasal and sinus congestion

• Eye irritation (burning, watery, or reddened eyes)

• Dry, hacking cough

• Nose or throat irritation

• Skin rashes or irritation

Headaches, memory problems, mood swings, nosebleeds, body aches and pains, and fevers are occasionally reported in mold cases, but their cause is not understood.

5. How much mold can cause these health effects?

It depends. For some people, a relatively small number of mold spores can trigger an asthma attack or lead to other health problems. For other persons, symptoms may occur only when exposure levels are much higher. Nonetheless, it is prudent to remove visible mold growth and eliminate the cause of the excess moisture.

6. I’ve heard about toxic molds that grow in homes and other buildings. Should I be concerned about a serious health risk to me in my work environment?

The hazards presented by molds that may produce compounds that have toxic properites (mycotoxins) should be considered the same as other common molds that can grow in your house or workplace. There is always a little mold everywhere – in the air and on many surfaces. There are very few case reports that toxic molds (those containing certain mycotoxins) inside homes or offices can cause unique or rare, health conditions such as pulmonary hemorrhage or memory loss. These case reports are rare, and a causal link between the presence of the toxic mold and these conditions has not been proven. A common-sense approach should be used for any mold contamination existing inside buildings and homes. The common health concerns from molds include hay-fever like allergic symptoms. Certain individuals with chronic respiratory disease (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, asthma) may experience difficulty breathing. Individuals with immune suppression may be at increased risk for infection from molds.

7. What is Stachybotrys chartarum (stachybotrys atra)?

Stachybotrys chartarum (also known by its synonym Stachybotrys atra) is a greenish-black mold. It can grow on material with a high cellulose and low nitrogen content, such as fiberboard, gypsum board, paper, dust, and lint. Growth occurs when

there is moisture from water damage, excessive humidity, water leaks, condensation, water infiltration, or flooding. Constant moisture is required for its growth. While Stachybotrys is growing, a wet slime layer covers its spores, preventing them from becoming airborne. However, when the mold dies and dries up, air currents or physical handling can cause spores to become airborne. At present there is no environmental test to determine whether Stachybotrys growth found in buildings is producing toxins. There is also no blood or urine test that can establish if an individual has been exposed to Stachybotrys chartarum spores or its toxins.

8. How can we detect mold?

We suspect that mold is present if we see discolored patches or cottony or speckled growth on walls or furniture or if we smell an earthy or musty odor. We also may suspect mold contamination if mold-allergic individuals experience some of the symptoms listed above. Air sampling can be used to evaluate the airborne concentrations of mold. However, few standards exist for judging what is an acceptable quantity of mold. The results of any air sampling requires an expert to evaluate and interpret the results.

9. How do you prevent mold from entering the work environment during a remediation?

Special mold containments should be established in each area undergoing mold removal to prevent the release of mold into the general work environment. Vacuum systems are used inside the containments to make sure any mold that is released in the air during remediation is captured before leaving the containment. Remediation workers wear protective equipment to prevent exposure to the mold while working in the containment.

10. How will I know it is safe to return to my work area after a remediation is completed?

After remediation is completed, a visual inspection of the work area will be performed to make sure the mold has been removed. In addition, air samples inside the containment and in the adjacent work area outside of the containment will be collected. The indoor airborne mold concentrations must be less than outdoor levels before associates are allowed to return to work in the area.

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