What is Black Mold?
Black mold can be a serious problem. But knowing how to identify, prevent and eliminate black mold can keep your home healthy.
The term "mold" refers to a number of fungi commonly found on wet materials or food. There are thousands of species of mold and they can grow on a wide variety of surfaces. Mold produces spores, which are like seeds. New mold colonies grow from the spores. Mold is common in homes and other buildings. Actually, there is always a little mold in the air and on many surfaces in your home, because mold will grow anywhere moisture exists.
Black mold, or Stachybotrys chartarum (also known as Stachybotrys atra) is black or dark green in color. You may see it called toxic black mold, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this term is not accurate. The black mold itself is not toxic, but the spores it produces can cause health problems for many people. There are other molds that resemble black mold. The only way to confirm what type of mold colony you have is to have an expert assess it.
What causes black mold
Because mold is almost everywhere, both indoors and outside, the microscopic mold spores may enter your house. They may come through doors, windows, heating or cooling systems, or on you or your pet. Once inside, mold needs constant moisture to grow. If you have water damage, excessive humidity or damp areas, mold will quickly grow. This may occur within 48 hours. These conditions can arise in a number of ways, including:
- Flooding from storms, rivers, or other bodies of water
- Leaks or storm damage around doors, windows or walls
- Roof leaks from ice dams, blocked gutters, or roof damage
- Sewer back-ups, leaking pipes, or other plumbing problems
- Moisture in basements or crawl spaces due to inadequate drainage
Health Risks of Black Mold
According to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of mold allergy vary from one person to another. There may be a wide range of symptoms. These may be constant, or differ according to your living or working conditions. Symptoms may be affected by humidity or inadequate ventilation.
Symptoms of a mold allergy include:
- Itchy eyes, nose and throat
- Nasal congestion
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Watery eyes
- Dry, rough skin
Mold can have an adverse effect on many health conditions. Recent studies have also linked mold exposure to the development of asthma in some children. Some people may be more vulnerable to health problems related to mold exposure. People such as infants and children, pregnant women, the elderly, people with existing respiratory conditions, or those with weakened immune systems may be more quickly or severely affected. Anyone with special health concerns, such as chronic respiratory disease, should consult a doctor about possible mold exposure.
Preventing and Treating Black Mold
Prevention is the best approach to dealing with black mold. In general, mold grows anywhere that water, dampness or excessive moisture exist. Mold begins with moisture, so to prevent mold, clean up any moisture immediately and fix water damaged areas as soon as possible. Simple habits, such as running the bathroom fan or opening a window after showering, or drying the kitchen sink and countertops after doing the dishes and help in the battle against mold growth. If you live in a warm or humid climate, avoid vinyl wall coverings, which can trap moisture.
Your basement is especially mold-prone. As part of your routine cleaning, regularly clean basement areas and make sure they are dry. Inspect your home regularly for signs of roof or plumbing leaks and get them fixed before they can cause problems. Keep your gutters clean and in good repair. Make sure your house has proper drainage by ensuring that the ground slopes down and away from the foundation. Maintain the drain lines and drip pans on your air conditioning unit.
Also look for signs of condensation, which happens when the air has too much water and cannot contain it. There are three primary causes of condensation:
- Relative humidity. Some sources of humidity, such as dryers or exhaust fans, should be properly vented to the outdoors. In warm, humid weather, use air conditioners and dehumidifiers. You may wish to use a dehumidifier in areas such as basements. For optimum conditions, keep your indoor humidity below 45 percent.
- Inadequate ventilation. Proper ventilation helps keep humidity down. There should be air movement and an exchange of indoor and outdoor air. Furniture should be kept slightly away from the walls so that condensation and mold cannot build up behind it.
- Temperature. Condensation occurs when warm, humid air, which holds more moisture, comes into contact with a cool surface, such as a window. The moisture then condenses into water. This can often be seen on single-pane windows. The water condenses and leads to rot on the wood frames and sills and the walls to blister. Improperly insulated exterior walls can lead to condensation problems. Cold water pipes should also be insulated.
When you notice a small around of mold on a hard surface, in spots such as bathrooms or kitchens, scrub it off with dish soap and water. Then dry thoroughly and clean or discard any cloths used for cleaning. When inspecting your home, use your nose. Mold frequently has a strong, musty odor. If you smell it, you may have a mold growing nearby.
If you have an area which is flooded, remove the standing water as quickly as possible and clean or replace water damaged items. Anything which has been wet for over 48 hours is likely to have mold growth and should be replaced.
If you have extensive water damage, signs of mold, or suspect a mold issue, you should consult a professional. More than one type of mold may be present. Regardless of the color or type of mold, it should be treated with caution. Protect your health and prevent further damage.
At ATP Environmental Solutions Specialists, we are here to help you. For questions or to arrange a convenient, on-site assessment contact us.