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Reports of increases in chronic breathing problems such as asthma, and news coverage of devastating damage caused by mold in hurricane disaster areas, have made us more aware of mold.
Mold is an old problem getting new attention as researchers learn more about its effects on humans and human environments.
People with sensitivity may experience a number of symptoms when exposed to mold spores: stuffy nose, sinus and throat irritation, coughing, wheezing, eye irritation and skin reactions. Mold is most dangerous to those who suffer from severe allergies, asthma, lung disease or weak immune systems. Because of this, as a public health service, mold counts have been added to weather reports.
One mold strain, Stachybotrys, was initially suspected as a cause of lung lesions and deaths in young children; but studies so far have been inconclusive, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The problem with Stachybotrys and certain other molds is not due so much to the allergic qualities of the spores, as the mycotoxins they produce as they grow.
Mold grows from spores that are present in the air and on surfaces inside and outside your house. If you have mold sensitivity, you can reduce exposure to the spores by staying indoors on days when mold counts are high, by removing indoor carpeting (particularly in places where moisture is common, such as bathrooms and cellars), and by using high-quality air filtration systems inside your home. But unless youre willing to live in a bubble, youll never be able to fully avoid mold spores.
For most people, mold spores cause few problems. That is, until the spores have found the kind of environment in which they can grow. What mold needs most of all is moisture. Youll often find it spreading wherever roofs, windows or water pipes have been leaking. It can be a problem in cellars and other areas where flooding occurs. And although it seems to grow on nearly any surface if moisture is prevalent, it prefers paper, cardboard, ceiling tiles and other cellulose products from wood or wood pulp. It can live in dust, paint, insulation, drywall, carpet and fabrics.
If mold occurs in your home, it indicates you have a moisture problem. The solution may be as simple as increasing ventilation in areas such as bathrooms, and cleaning with mildew-eliminating products. Or it may require the repair of damaged roofs and windows, and the replacement of leaky pipes. Flooding basements can be among the most difficult problems to solve. But if allowed to grow unchecked, mold is dangerous to humans and it can utterly destroy a building, its contents and its value.
From the Oct. 25-31, 2006, issue