8 Facts and 8 Myths That May Change the Way You Think About Mold and Your Health
By Cesar Collado
The majority of topics I write about focus on the removal of mold for when it is making you sick in your home and in your body. Micro Balance Health Products can be effectively used to clear your sinuses of mold and mucous, while the EC3 portfolio of products is safe, all-natural, botanically-based solutions that can be used to maintain a mold-free environment and reduce the fungal load in the air you’re breathing at home. Today, I want to focus a bit more specifically on mold itself, and why such diligent measures should be taken to understand what mold is, why we should prevent it from thriving in our indoor environments, and why protecting our health should include antifungal measures.
Mold is a remarkably resilient organism that can cause allergies (allergen), infection (pathogen), or toxicity (mycotoxin). Fungal infection can take a variety of forms: on the skin, sinuses, lungs, stomach, fingernails, and toenails, or on any exposed membranes in the eyes, mouth, or in open wounds. Mycotoxins, secondary metabolites excreted by some molds, if present inside the body at certain levels, can be toxic to the brain and other organs, and can disrupt many bodily functions. A fungal infection in the bloodstream can be fatal.
Given the extreme consequences of prolonged mold exposure for human health, knowing more about mold and “Mold Hygiene” are essential factors to both having a healthy home and leading a life of wellness. Thus, here are 8 facts and myths that may change any casual thinking you may have about mold.
- The Largest Living Single Organism on Earth is a fungus that occupies some 2,384 acres. Located in eastern Oregon, it occupies 4 square miles and the root system is 10 square miles. (shown above), It is called Armillaria ostoyae and it is edible.
- Individual mold spores are less than 4 microns in size– They are so small that as many as 250,000 spores can fit on a pinhead and a person can inhale as many as 750,000 of these spores per minute.
- Disruption of even small mold colonies can result in millions of spores being released into the immediate air.
- Preventative measures for the growth of fungi that produce potent mycotoxins is an important consideration when facing indoor water damage or flooding. Consider the following about these toxic fungi:
- They are seldom abundant in outdoor ambient air.
- Most toxic exposures occur from the indoor growth of toxin-producing fungi related to excessive moisture and ‘man-made’ building materials.
- There is a growing body of evidence that indoor mold issues such as water damage to building materials have a much greater propensity to harbor toxic mold and mycotoxins. Drywall, particle board, upholstery, and carpet absorb and maintain moisture while serving as a significant food source for mold. Mold can begin to reproduce in as little as 24-48 hours unless properly removed and/or dried with proper equipment.
- Mycotoxins on living molds are wet and sticky and usually do not become airborne. Dead mold is actually more dangerous because when the mold dies and breaks down, the dried up chemical mycotoxins are easily released into the air and can attach to dust and float freely in the air. The toxins remain Volatile Organic Compounds (“VOCs”).
- Mold can be 10-1000 times more toxic when inhaled versus ingested or absorbed through the skin. In tests on animals, toxic black mold mycotoxins have been found to be 40 times more toxic when inhaled compared to when ingested.
- Fungi such as Candida are part of our natural gut flora. Diets of excess simple carbohydrates or regular use of antibiotics can create a hospitable environment for candida to flourish and overtake the gut and digestive tract. This often results in yeast infections elsewhere on the body as well. Fungal sinus infections and yeast in the mouth (Thrush), Vagina, and nails are common.
- A candida infection that spreads to the bloodstream can be fatal. Invasive candidiasis is a common bloodstream infection seen in hospitals. This is also referred to as fluconazole-resistant fungi affecting approximately 50,000 patients each year. Mortality is approximately 30% (CDC estimate).
- “You almost never a need to spend money on mold testing or inspections once you are certain that you see visible mold.”False! This quote actually came from a mold remediator website and is practiced by many remediators. The fact is that many mold remediators have little to no training in mold biology, removal, and safety. The result of hiring an ineffective remediator can be catastrophic. If not properly contained, treated, and removed mold will return and/or can further contaminate your entire home and HVAC system. And, because certification requires little training–OSHA offers a 2-hour online course, and a professional can get certification to be a Mold Inspector, Mold Remediation Contractor, or Micro Health Safety Technician—there are, unfortunately, many people calling themselves professional mold remediators who do not understand the health repercussions of mold or how to create truly healthy indoor environments. Get the right kind of mold help by:
- Seeking out a professional with a significant background in Mycology, Building Science, or Bau-Biology;
- Asking lots of questions and making sure lots of testing occurs both before and after remediation work is complete.
- Mold Inspector reports are conclusive. False! Mold testing is an inexact science where numerous technologies can be used to estimate mold counts via air samples. Unless the inspector brings a microscope and has mycology training, everything is just an estimate. Mold test plates, however, although primitive, provide accurate biological and visual testing to determine the presence of mold.
- You can eat food that has mold as long as you cut it off at least 1 inch from the mold. False! While this may be true for cheeses, cured meats, and possibly firm vegetables, Most moldy food should be discarded, and the area where it was stored should be disinfected.
- Mold can be cleaned from drywall and painted over. False! Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to remove mold from drywall, so drywall that has mold on it should be cut out and replaced.
- Porous materials aren’t entirely solid, even if they appear solid to the naked eye. Materials like drywall have very tiny holes, or pores, in them, much like the pores in your skin. Microscopic mold spores can remain unseen in the pores of the drywall, even when the drywall appears free of mold. It’s similar to the way dirt or oil can be trapped in the pores of your skin, even if you don’t see it.
- Many contractors and homeowners have been known to attempt to paint over mold only to discover that in a few months the mold has either poked its way through the paint, or the paint has started peeling off.
- You should use bleach to clean and disinfect mold. False! Bleach is generally not recommended as a fungicide (mold killer). It works by dousing the mold in toxic levels of the chemical solution.
- Humans are susceptible to bleach’s damaging toxic properties.
- Mold spores have microscopic “roots” that penetrate porous materials and seek nutrients. These “Hyphae” can grow into the material and will maintain themselves for future growth, even when the surface mold is killed. Similar to weeds, unless all the roots are killed or all are removed, they grow back.
- Bleach is generally a water-based solution but does not penetrate porous materials. This means that water penetrates only the surface, giving moisture to the roots of the mold, which will happily begin to grow again.
- Removing large amounts of mold is not dangerous. False! It is recommended that removing mold from more than 10 square feet requires a professional. Proper safety steps are critical in mold remediation for a variety of reasons:
- While regulations do not exist for the removal of mold, mold remediation should be treated the same as asbestos abatement. Disturbing mold releases millions of spores into the air. These spores can harm the individuals removing the mold and can contaminate an entire home or building. This is especially true if it gets into the ventilation system.
- Large areas of mold usually require extra precautions and can require very complicated procedures and precautions. Even a common, usually harmless mold can be a health issue when there is a lot of it.
- Whether you are removing mold yourself or hiring a professional, the use of proper safety equipment and sealing off the remaining areas if the home is imperative.
A disposable body suit, gloves, goggles, foot covers, and an N95 respirator mask can be purchased at any Home Depot for little money.
- Vents, doorways, ceilings, etc. are sealed with plastic sheets and tapes. Proper control of the airflow and use of industrial strength air scrubbers will filter or can divert any air that may have a mold count.
- If your remediator is not practicing safety guidelines along with mold testing, when providing an estimate, that may be a clue that they might not know what they are doing. Ask questions and do not be afraid to say “No thank you!” Your health is at stake.
- Sunlight is the best disinfectant. True and False! The ultraviolet rays and the warmth of the sun can disinfect many clothes and household items. However, clean is not the same as sterilized. Placing shoes or drying laundry outside can be beneficial due to the sun’s disinfecting powers; however, humidity, mold, and pollen counts must be considered. Large items that are not easily dried, such as carpets and curtains, can benefit from the sun’s disinfecting powers as well.
- Mold in a non-conditioned crawlspace or basement is not an issue in the home. False! Your home breaths like a person. There are physical science aspects of the home that allow mold under the home to penetrate the entire home. This is called the “Stacking Effect.” When moisture or water meets dust and dirt, mold can flourish. Dampness under your home must be addressed or the mold will seep into the subfloors, then mold spores can travel upstairs all the way into the attic. Dehumidification is critical. It is best to have a professional address the problem as contamination can be at extremely unsafe levels when humidity is part of the equation.