When you hear about mold, most people will think of black mold and its toxic effect. People are afraid of it, especially when it is in the house. But what is mold exactly, and why are we afraid of it?
What is mold?
Mold is a fungus. Another class of fungus is yeast, which we use to make bread and alcohol. The third class is mushrooms, which we consume. There are hundreds and thousands of types of molds. Some release toxins into the air, while others don’t. Molds are both indoor and outdoor, so there is no way to get rid of them completely. Mold grows by sending out branches, hyphae. The mold starts as a spore and extends its hyphae. Mold grows in colonies and can grow through paint and paper, depending on the material. If one side is dry and the other is wet, it can still grow and extend through the paper.
Walk into history
Mold has lived with us for centuries. In the Bible, “leprosy of the wall” was written and acknowledged. By the priest’s order, the people were evacuated from their homes for seven days. All the doors were closed shut, and no one could enter. After seven days, the priest would return and inspect the house. If the “leprosy” were still there, the affected stones would be removed and taken outside of the city. In other words, the mold would be removed and taken to “the dump.”
The mold guideline wasn’t written until 1993. Below is the rough timeline:
1993 New York guidelines
1994 Saratoga Springs
1994 International Mold Workshop in Baarn, Netherlands
1995 Health Canada Guide
1996 Society of Indoor Air Quality (isiaq.org)
1999 American Conference of Industrial Hygienists Bioaerosols Committee (acgih.org)
2001 EPA Guidelines for School and Commercial Buildings
2003 OSHA Safety
2008 IICR Standard and Reference
2009 World Health Organization’s guideline
2015 IICR updated
Mold “hysteria” started with Ballard-Allison’s case where she had water damage in her 22 room mansion. Slow leaked allowed toxic mold to develop. Her family was sensitive to the toxin. The husband acquired poor memory while the son coughed up blood, leading to lung damage. She sued the insurance company. At that time, the insurance company still paid for mold damage. Initially, she was awarded $32 million. Eventually, after the insurance company’s rebuttal, the court reduced the settlement amount to $4 million. Ballard had the home bulldozed. Her story was reported on the 48-hour show on September 28, 2000. After the report, mold lawsuits skyrocketed.
In 2001, there was more than 10,000 mold litigation. In November 2001, a case in California settled for $2.7 million. The lawsuits in Ca, Tx, NJ, and other states popped up. Insurance companies stopped writing and renewing homeowner policies in some states. There is a limit of $5000 mold coverage per policy. Insurance companies have also placed exclusions.
Mold Growth Requirements
How does mold grow? Mold needs to be present in the first place. As we know, mold spore is everywhere, both indoors and outdoors. In addition to the mold spores, the spores need a food source (organic material). Some examples are wood, paper, drywall, insulation, natural fibers, plants, potting soil, paints, starch in wallpaper, paste, caulk. The optimal temperature is 32-122 degrees Fahrenheit. However, some species adore warmer and colder weather. Some can even grow on ice! Water supply is a must. Without water, the spores go dormant. Once there are food, water, and optimal temp, the spores will need time to grow. It takes the spores about 8-12 hours to start growing and as little as two days for us to see it with our naked eyes.
Mold toxicity, Illness, and Symptoms
Black mold, Stachybotrys, releases toxins in the air and is dangerous to humans. However, not all molds are black molds. Not all molds are toxic. Some individuals are more sensitive than others. People with allergies or asthma can have symptoms. Their asthma can flare, requiring more medications. Other health detriments could be hypersensitivity pneumonitis, opportunistic infections, severe respiratory infections. Mild symptoms could be headaches, sore throat, cold and flu-like symptoms, fatigue and malaise, upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, athlete’s foot, dermatitis, and internal bleeding. Mold can make people ill but not kill them.
When in doubt, seek expert help to distinguish if you have a mold problem and what type of mold your house has. This concludes part 1 of the Mold series. Please read the following article on how to inspect and prevent mold (part 2).