Molds are a type of fungi found throughout the natural environment. Fungi are a large and diverse class of microorganisms that live on organic nutrients. In nature, they play an important role in the breakdown of dead organic matter. Certain varieties of fungal spores contain mycotoxins (fungal toxins) which we can breathe. Pathogenic or toxic molds can cause serious health effects – especially in persons with decreased immune function or life threatening disease.
Molds become problematic when they are found in excessive amounts in the indoor environment. Like most fungi, the majority of molds reproduce by producing spores in large numbers in the fruiting bodies. These microscopic spores develop on hyphae (threadlike filaments) that project up into the air above the food source, thus making them easily airborne.
Because they are so small, mold spores can be carried indoors on clothing, pets, and shoes, or enter through open doors, windows, and ventilation systems. It is impossible and impractical to attempt to eliminate all indoor molds, but it is necessary to prevent their significant accumulation and growth.
In order to grow and survive, molds need moisture, a nutrient base, and a temperature range between 40 – 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Under the right conditions, spores can feed on wood, paper, carpet, soil, plants and fabrics. Any dirt on these surfaces can provide additional nutrients for spore growth.
Mold cannot be identified by sight and there are thousands of species of mold. Collecting samples and having them analyzed by a laboratory is the first step to identifying if there is any cause for concern.
Mold is everywhere; it is not uncommon to find it in any home. It enters through open doorways, windows, heating and air conditioning systems. Spores in the air outside attach themselves to people and animals, bringing mold indoors. Once inside, the spores will begin to grow if they land on places where there is nutrient and excessive moisture.
Some mold problems are obvious – you will see it growing. You can also look for areas that are consistently wet, or have been wet due to flooding, leaky plumbing or roofing, and areas of high humidity such as bathrooms, laundry rooms and kitchens. Other mold problems are not so obvious. If you do not have any visible mold but your home has a damp, musty smell or visible water stains, mold could be growing in areas you cannot see, such as in wall cavities or the duct work of heating/cooling systems.
Look for visible signs of mold growth and signs of excessive moisture or water damage. The earlier a problem is detected the better – mold activity can begin as soon as 24 hours after a water event. Search areas with noticeable moldy or musty odors. Search behind and underneath materials such as carpets and padding, wallpaper, vinyl flooring, sink cabinets, furniture, pictures or stored items, especially things placed near outside walls or on cold floors. Check around air handling units for stagnant water, and keep these units serviced with regular cleaning of ducts and air filters.