Mold Questions and Answers
Edward M. Eveld
Protect Your House from Mold
With help from Jay Portnoy, chief of allergy medicine at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., and allergist Jeffrey Wald, here’s a primer about mold.
Q: What is mold?
A: It’s a fungus, of which there are many species. For the most part, molds are saprophytes, which means they grow best on dead or decaying organic matter.
Q: Where do molds grow indoors?
A: Molds need oxygen, moisture and something to grow on, the more organic the better. So they’re attracted to wallboard, wood, cardboard boxes, paper, furniture and carpets. Moisture sources can be anything from leaky pipes to high humidity. Carpets on concrete basement floors are likely suspects because they inevitably get damp. “Carpeting is ambrosia to molds,” Portnoy says.
Q: What is it about mold that bothers people?
A: Several things. Molds produce volatile organic compounds which, besides creating a musty smell, are irritants to many people. Molds also can release chemicals that are toxic to humans and cause respiratory, neurologic and intestinal problems. Molds produce spores that become airborne and, once inhaled, can cause allergic reactions such as hay fever and sinusitis. They can even begin growing in the lungs and cause infection.
Q: What does mold look like?
A: Basically, like a stain. Inspect for dark spots on walls, ceilings, window trim, furniture, carpet, clothes, boxes and personal papers. But mold also can be hidden, in places such as walls or ventilation systems.
Q: Won’t mold be obvious by the smell?
A: The smell can be obvious, but people living in houses with mold sometimes become desensitized.
Q: How do I get rid of the mold?
A: First, eliminate the moisture source, such as leaky pipes. Contaminated materials — such as wallboard and wood — likely will have to be removed and replaced. Mold can get deep into porous materials, so cleaning with bleach will not kill it.
Seek assistance from professionals, such as environmental consultants who have expertise in mold or fungus removal.