Thursday, September 26, 2013

An Introduction to Mold

Mold can be found almost anywhere and can grow on any surface as long as oxygen and moisture are present. It classifies as part of fungi and is able to survive by ingesting plant materials and organic resources needed for plants, such as water. The most common places for mold to grow are bathroom tiles, window areas where moisture is present, foods, and insulation. Mold growth and spores cannot be eliminated entirely indoors but can be controlled by monitoring the indoor moisture intake, as high humidity leads to mold formation because of the amount of moisture in the air.

Mold can result in several health effects, including headaches, allergens, odors, asthma attacks and hypersensitivity pneumonitis (developed from short or long-term exposure to mold). The symptoms depend on the age, sensitivity of certain individuals and the duration of exposure to mold. Mold has also been found to cause common skin diseases, such as athlete's foot and other conditions. In homes, corner areas of rooms tend to be higher in mold formation because the humidity at the area is higher than the adjoining areas. Mold consists of mold spores, which are present in indoor and outdoor surfaces. Some spores are easily transferred into the air, while others stick to the walls and are removed by contact. Mold gradually destroys the material it grows on, so the best way to maintain a building or surface is by removing the mold immediately.
                                                                                                                                     Mold growing on decaying wood
outdoor mold forming on wood from moisture
Mold Toxins (Mycotoxins)
Molds produce toxins called mycotoxins and are found within mold spores. Exposures to mycotoxins can be from inhaling, ingestion or contact with skin. There have been more than 200 mycotoxins found in mold spores. These particular mold spores are commonly found in abandoned buildings with high moisture content.

The most studied and recognizable mycotoxin is called Aflatoxin B1 and is produced by molds "Aspergillus flavus" and "Aspergillus parasiticus." This mycotoxin is known to be a carcinogen and has been linked to liver and lung cancer. Aflatoxin B1 has been found on human contaminated food, such as peanuts and grains, but not commonly found in buildings or indoors.

Not all molds can produce toxins and some produce mycotoxins in certain environmental conditions. Other chemicals produced by molds are airborne and are known as microbial volatile organic compounds (mVOCs). These are common reasons for the odors associated with mold. Certain exposures to these odors result in headaches, nausea, dizziness and fatigue. Glucans, small fragments of mold cell walls, are a reason for irritation or allergic reactions in lungs and/or airways. Organic Dust Toxic Syndrome (ODTS) results from long exposure or elevated exposure to glucans. Buildings and indoor surfaces routinely should be inspected for mold formation and controlled by monitoring moisture intake and humidity.

Mold inspection courses train individuals the basics about mold and how to become an inspector. If you are a health professional or interested in becoming a mold inspector, take a course with Green Education Services.