MOLD. This four letter word covers thousands of species of fungi. It’s everywhere - literally. “Molds are a natural and vital part of the world; and they exist in every nook and cranny,” note Dr. Gary Ginsberg and Brian Toal, authors of What’s Toxic, What’s Not.
Clorox Cleanup works well to remove mold from painted woodwork and tile. Handyman Doug Zimmerman is wearing an N85 mask, but passed on the gloves and goggles for this small area. Insulating the pipes under the sink might prevent recurrence. It’s on his “Honey-Do” list, which he claims grows faster than mold.
Mold reproduces through tiny spores that float through the air, indoors and outdoors. When the spores are on a damp area, they start to grow. In a few short days, they can multiply into a colony that is visible to the naked eye.
Mold does have its uses. Penicillin, which inhibits bacterial growth, is cultured from a rare variant of Penicillium notatum spores. Brie and Camembert cheeses are supposed to have a downy white mold coating on the surface. However, few varieties of foodborne molds, under the right conditions, can produce poisonous mycotoxins. When you see heavy, furry looking mold growth on food like bread, jelly, salty cured meats such bacon that has a high moisture content, keep in mind that the mold probably also has grown branches underneath the surface, and may also be harboring nasty bacteria. Throw it out.
Most people find the sight and musty smell of mold inside their home to be unpleasant. Fortunately, casual contact with mold typically does not make people sick. However, when places are damp for extended periods of time, unhealthy quantities of mold can grow. About 10 percent of people are sensitive to mold. They suffer from reactions ranging from allergies, to irritation to chronic sinusitis. (Source: Ponikau 1999)
In addition to thriving on food, mold can grow on wood, paper, sheetrock, ceiling tiles, clothing, curtains, and carpets. It can also grown inside heating/air conditioning duct work and filters. The common denominator is moisture. Mold can take hold during very humid weather or around water leaks, or in the bathroom. “Mold is not the sign of a dirty house, but a sign of one that is too damp,” say Ginsberg and Toal.
Mold is usually not particularly toxic and can usually be removed. “Many common species of mold produce toxins under the right conditions,” according to Ginsberg and Toal, “but the levels you encounter indoors (even in extremely moldy homes) are too low to be a toxic threat.” The prestigious Institute of Medicine of the National Academies concluded that the literature does not support an association between mold (including a black mold called Stachybotrys atra that tends to grow on porous cellulose surfaces like fiber-based ceiling tiles, which the media has associated with infant lung hemorrhage) and toxic effects, but did say further study is warranted.
You cannot eliminate all mold and mold spores inside homes, schools or the workplace. There are no numerical health standards for mold in indoor air. Testing is often inconclusive, and does not really tell you how to clean mold up. You must control the moisture that mold needs to thrive. They key is to find and stop the source of water. See next weeks’ article for mold mop up tips.
CAPTION: When making certain cheeses like Roquefort, Gorgonzola, Stilton and Blue Cheese, Pencillium roqueforti mold spores are intentionally introduced to ripen it. Wikimedia Commons photo.
Bet Zimmerman is a Certified Environmental Professional. Pam Salois is a GreenIrene ecoconsultant. See archived articles at www.ourbetternature.org
MOPPING UP MOLD - Part II
This article was written by Pam Salois and Bet Zimmerman
Mold is not just gross. It can contribute to health problems like allergies, asthma or sinusitis. Mold needs moisture to grow. In order to get it out of a house or building, you need to find out where the moisture is coming from. It might be from a leaky roof or plumbing, cracks around windows, or groundwater getting into the basement.
One basic tool to decrease mold growth inside a home is to keep the humidity level in the 30-60% range. If you have a chronically damp basement, try a dehumidifier. Keep gutters and drains clear. You may need a waterproofing contractor if the house was not properly graded.
Proper ventilation inside the home is key to controlling mold and indoor air quality. While those new weatherproof windows will help reduce energy bills, they may also allow moisture from human activity to accumulate. If your house is too weather tight, you may need to occasionally crack a window to get some fresh air inside to dry things out. To help reduce indoor humidity, vent dryers to the outside. Use bathroom exhaust fans during and after showering and bathing. Use exhaust fans in the kitchen while cooking. Insulate pipes to prevent condensation.
After sudden flooding, the key is quick action. Mold typically won’t grow if you dry the area out within 24 to 48 hours. Bring salvageable carpets, furniture and books to a dry area to air them out. Ventilate affected rooms and crawl spaces with open windows and a fan, and use a dehumidifier.
When mold growth is extensive, a professional should be called in. If not much mold is visible, and affected area less than about three feet square, you can probably clean it up yourself. Get nonporous gloves, goggles and an N95 respirator or mask (an inexpensive white face mask you can buy at a hardware store.) Wear them at all times while working on the problem.
To remove mold from small areas on hard surfaces, water and a mild detergent will work. A spray of one part 3% of hydrogen peroxide to 3 parts water is another option. Some people claim that natural ingredients like tea-tree oil, grapefruit-seed extract and vinegar work as well as chemicals to clean up mold.
Use a wet vac or vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter (which you can rent or buy) on soft or porous materials like carpets. Items such as curtains, bed linen and clothes can be washed in the washing machine and dried immediately. Some moldy items, such as insulation and ceiling tiles, should be removed and replaced.
Sometimes mold causes health problems, but you cannot see where it is growing. A potential indication of a mold problem might be if a person does not feel well inside a building but feels better as soon as they leave. Common symptoms of mold allergies are akin to hay fever, with itchy, watery eyes, nasal congestion and breathing problems.
Mold can grow inside a wall where you cannot see it (e.g., on insulation that got wet due to a leak in the roof.) A professional may need to be called in to find the source of the problem. They have moisture meters to test hidden spaces for moisture content. Less obvious water sources like leaks and condensation may require professional assistance. Most states do not license mold-removal contractors, but contractors should have formal training on mold inspection and removal. Some use a biocide to kill mold, but its effectiveness is not proven. Since biocides can be toxic, be sure to ventilate the area thoroughly after they are used. You don’t want the cure to be worse than the disease.
Jay Noe from our local helpful hardware store - Eastford Building Supply - emailed me about another solution to control mold. It is called Concrobium. Jay has used it at his old house and was happy with the results.
Concrobium creates a sort of invisible antimicrobial shield that prevents new mold growth. It does not contain bleach, ammonia or Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). Instead it has inorganic salt/polymer solution. Concrobium doesn’t smell, but it does help eliminate musty orders associated with mildew.
This product can be used on sheetrock, plaster, painted walls, wood, metal, and tile. (Moldy ceiling tiles should be thrown out.) If you’ve used bleach in the past, wipe the residue off first with warm water and detergent, dry, and then spray on Concrobium. After use, wipe off any residue with a clean cloth or paper towel.
Both do it yourselfers and pros can use this product. No special controls, ventilation or protective equipment are required for handling. See www.concrobium.com for more information. It comes with a money back guarantee. We’re going to give it a try, as our damp fieldstone basement keeps causing mold problems upstairs.
Spray and Forget is another product used to remove moss, mold and other things that grow on a roof. Jay says "It is great. We stock it in a super concetrated form that works off your garden hose. We have ordered it for direct application with a pump sprayer. Apply it and leave it for the rain to do the rest. Not instant results but does do a good job."