Mold: a silent killer

by  Senior Airman Christina Bozeman
94th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

8/14/2012 – DOBBINS AIR RESERVE BASE, Ga. — Mold is alive, and mold is sneaky. It doesn’t even need a constant source of water to sustain life, which isn’t a very comforting fact. Mainly all it needs is a wet or damp surface to be a menace.

Mold can be in your walls, shoes or on your food, and those are just places you can see. What about hidden places, like under carpets, in the attic and appliances? All molds aren’t toxic, but if left to grow, they can be. So, how do we prevent this fuzzy troublemaker?

Mold and mildew are both types of fungus. Even good mold like the Penicillium Species, used to make penicillin, is a bad mold. Mold is often gray or black, but it can be orange, green or white.

“No one knows how many species of fungi exist but estimates range from tens of thousands to perhaps three hundred thousand or more,” said Christine Englemann, 94th MSG, chief bioenvironmental engineer. “Molds grow best in warm, damp, and humid conditions and spread and reproduce by making spores”

The infamous black mold is talked about and feared the most. Black mold is used to describe a slimy, greenish-black substance. This mold is known as Strachybotrys chartarum and more often as Strachybotrys atra; this particular mold can pose a serious health risk, although not all are lethal.

It’s been a contributing factor to illnesses such as asthma and bronchitis and has also been linked to death of babies from respiratory bleeding. Black mold is wet and slimy in appearance and would smear on the area if touched. Not all molds need such a moist setting.

“Mold spores can survive harsh environmental conditions, such as dry conditions, that do not support normal mold growth,” said Englemann.

Don’t let this seemingly harmless and stationary nuisance fool you. Mold spores are very easily transported to different areas by attaching themselves to various hosts, such as people, animals, shoes and can even enter through open doors and windows.

Spores from dried mold are very dangerous and should be cleaned with caution. You should never scrape or scratch at dried mold as the spores would then be released into the air and pose an inhalation risk. A respiratory mask and eye protection are necessary and adequate clothing to prevent skin contact is recommended.

“Molds produce allergens (substances that can cause allergic reactions), irritants, and in some cases, potentially toxic substances (mycotoxins),” Englemann said. “Inhaling or touching mold or mold spores may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.”

Preventing mold can be a challenge, but it isn’t impossible.

Do not tolerate standing water, ignored spills and leaking appliances or fixtures in your home. Easy steps to denying mold a happy home is to keep the humidity level in the house between 40 percent and 60 percent, use an air conditioner or a dehumidifier during humid months, adequate ventilation, including exhaust fans. If you catch mold in time, it won’t be a problem.

However, if mold is ignored, it can be a pesky and hard to get rid of tenant. In a relatively small area, it can’t be eliminated with mold cleaner or a simple 10 percent bleach solution.
Always wear protective gear, such as gloves and masks, when cleaning areas affected by excessive mildew or mold. A larger infested area will require a professional to be called.

It doesn’t matter what kind of mold is living in your home; it must be removed immediately. If you’re lucky, the musty odder it gives off will be a prime indicator. But if not, then vigilance is the only way refuse its unwanted presence.

“People spend a large part of their time each day indoors: in homes, offices, schools, health care facilities, or other private or public buildings,” stated Englemann. “The quality of the air they breathe in those buildings is an important determinant of their health and well-being.”

Being prepared and knowing that mold is a serious issue is the first step in combating it and being mold-free.