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Mold Frequently Asked Questions

Mold is described as "a surface growth of fungus, especially on damp or decaying matter". There are thousands of species of molds. Outdoors they live in soils helping to breakdown organic matter. Indoors they can grow on virtually any substance when moisture is present. Mold is a benefit to have for various reasons, like penicillin. Mold can also cause severe health problems. Mold in your home is not uncommon, or such a bad thing, as long as it does not get to a dangerous level.

Is mold in your home?

The key ingredients for mold are, moisture, food, and warm, dark places. A home consists of many readily available places for mold to grow. These are some examples of nutrients that a home consists of: wood, drywall, textiles, stored material, carpets, floors, ceilings, ceiling tiles, bathrooms, mattresses, insulation materials, shower stalls, air conditioners, refrigerator drip pans, etc. Water infiltration or penetration at any time during a homes construction or occupation at any time past or present could have everlasting effects. Depending on the climate, or time of year, heat will always be a factor in your living conditions. When all these conditions are met, molds begin to form.

Why would mold be in your home?
The explanations of how it happens to your home, or the one you might purchase, could be one of many on a along list. If you have ever had a leaky pipe, leaks in the roof, or a toilet overflow, you know first hand that these things can be very messy. You usually only see half of the water damage because water can soak up into walls, in carpets, baseboards, etc. If items or materials are not dried properly within 2-3 days, mold can begin the growing process. Mold likes to grow inside walls, or behind bathroom fixtures. Unfortunately, these places are not accessible to properly remove water once they have gotten wet, or for an individual to see, once mold starts. An air conditioning system and the ductwork are among many places to find mold. Inside an air handler unit it is dark and wet, with constant temperature changes. When the fan starts, mold spores can easily get airborne, invading the ductwork, and then you. The more modern your home is, the more chances you can get toxic mold conditions. The reason for this, newer homes since the 1970's have been built more energy efficient, not allowing as much ventilation as years before. When there has been water damage of any kind in a home built since the 1970's, it doesn't have a good chance of drying out. There are extensive drying procedures for walls and carpet when they have become wet, but they are time consuming and expensive. Most consumers are not aware of the health risks associated with mold. For these reasons, most people will try drying it themselves. By not comprehending the extent of the damage, and not correcting the problem, it will cause greater damage later.

Can mold affect your health?
Inhaling toxic mold spores is one way you can get sick. They are so small they invade the protective mechanisms of the nose and respiratory tract. The other way is direct contact. There are thousands of molds that exist, but only a few dozen can cause health problems. Mold can irritate the eyes, nose and breathing passages. Symptoms of irritation could include burning eyes, nasal congestion, coughing, and runny nose. Allergic reactions to mold could include itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, cough and wheezing. Airborne molds have been linked to the increase of incidence of allergies and asthma, which has doubled in the last decade. Some molds create toxins, which can cause serious illness, skin irritation, respiratory problems, and effect the immune and nervous systems. Mold affects people with weakened immune systems such as, the elderly, individuals with HIV or any immune deficiency problem, and patients receiving chemotherapy. Pregnant women and children are also at serious risk of infection due to mold toxins. There are a number of mold types that are black in color. These are common in houses, mostly in basements and bathrooms. Black molds can cause serious illness. They produce mycotoxins, which are extremely potent and are the most deadly type. Stachybotrys and Memnoniella are two types of mycotoxins. Large amounts of mycotoxins are carcinogenic, and have been known to cause kidney cancer. Medical research continues to come out with new and updated findings. Some say, we have only scratched the surface of what potentially could be a serious issue that has been overlooked for years.

If you choose to hire a contractor (or other professional service provider) to do the cleanup, make sure the contractor has experience cleaning up mold. Check references and ask the contractor to follow the recommendations in EPA's Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings, or the guidelines of the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists.

If you suspect that the heating/ventilation/air conditioning (HVAC) system may be contaminated with mold, consult the EPA's “Should You Have the Air Ducts in Your Home Cleaned?”  before taking further action. Do not run the HVAC system if you know or suspect that it is contaminated with mold - it could spread mold throughout your home.

If there has been a lot of water damage, and/or mold growth, consult the EPA's Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings. Although focused on schools and commercial buildings, this document is applicable to other building types.

For more information, read the EPA's  A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture, and Your Home.

The above information is provided as a public service by the Environmental Protection Agency for educational purposes.