ABCs of Mold

Chronicle OnLine

The very mention of mold causes the average person to cringe.

When it’s found on bread, people quickly throw it out. When they see it on their shower curtain, they are careful not to rub against it. The discovery of mold at the vacant JCPenney at the Crystal River Mall has ramped up the discussion.

Sarah Ellis, Citrus County family and consumer science extension agent, said based on her knowledge of the situation, the former store was the perfect breeding ground for mold to form. However, given what she knows, Ellis said she would not be reluctant to shop at the mall or eat in the food court.

“If the doors are shut and no ventilation is going out into the mall, it should be contained,” Ellis said. “If they start opening up the store to the mall without fixing it, then there could be a problem.”

Here is a primer on mold that will help educate people and perhaps alleviate some concerns.

Q: What is mold?

A: Molds are types of fungi. They grow in the natural environment. Tiny particles of molds are found everywhere in indoor and outdoor air. In nature, molds help break down dead materials and can be found growing on soil, foods, plants and other items. Molds are also very common in buildings and homes.

“It’s spore-producing, it’s living, it’s airborne and it’s everywhere,” Ellis said.

Q: How does mold grow?

A: Mold needs moisture to grow. Indoors, mold growth can be found where humidity levels are high, like basements and showers. It thrives in conditions where the environment is wet, dark and full of stagnant air.

Molds produce microscopic cells called “spores” that are spread easily through the air. Spores can also be spread by water and insects. Live spores act like seeds, forming new mold colonies when they find the right conditions.

Q: How can mold affect me?

A: Health effects associated with airborne mold exposure are allergic reactions, eye and respiratory irritation, infection and toxicity. About 10 percent of the population is allergic to one or more types of indoor or outdoor mold. However, it must accepted that mold exposure is inevitable in the world in which we live.

Q: Is mold considered toxic?

A: The term “toxic mold” is misleading. Molds may produce substances called mycotoxins that modify their environment. Some of these substances are useful as antibiotics; others are potentially harmful, especially if eaten. However, there is little evidence that breathing mycotoxins in mold-contaminated buildings represents a health hazard.

Q: Can mold affect people with asthma?

A: Such people who are sensitive to molds could have an asthma attack triggered by either indoor or outdoor exposure.

Q: What is a safe level of mold in the air?

A: At present, Ellis said there are no specific state or federal guidelines to designate safe or unsafe levels of mold exposure. Except in buildings with extensive mold growth, the amount of mold found in indoor air is usually much less than what is found outdoors.

Q: When should I evacuate because of mold?

A: Evacuations should be rare. Those cases where evacuation may be warranted include spaces undergoing mold removal activity and spaces that are occupied by sensitive populations, such as infants, elderly, the immune-suppressed, and those with medically confirmed symptoms related to mold exposure.

Q: Does the type of mold determine the cleanup plan?

A: No. The current guidance from federal agencies and professional organizations is that mold growth in indoor environments should be controlled in a proper manner regardless of the type of mold.

Q: How can I tell if remediation (cleaning) has been effective?

A: The source of moisture responsible for the mold growth must have been corrected. No visible mold or related odors should remain in the work area. For projects where extensive mold growth was identified, work should have been done under containment conditions. The work area should have been thoroughly cleaned using wet methods such as wet wiping with a detergent solution and by vacuuming with a HEPA vacuum.

Q: How do you test for mold?

A: While testing can be useful in some cases, deciding what to do about mold should be based primarily on visual assessment, knowledge of the building structure and the history of water damage in the building. Mold levels within a structure are highly variable and large sample number is required to obtain meaningful data.

Q: How does mold get inside a home or building?

A: Mold is present outdoors and can enter buildings in many ways, such as when windows and doors are open and people are entering and leaving. Depending on the effectiveness of the building air cleaning devices, outdoor fungi can be removed somewhat from the air stream.

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