Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on March 10, 2003. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
Breathe easier by reducing mold sources
By Laura Whelan
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Recent high-profile instances of toxic mold found in homes have raised fear in many Mississippians, but any mold growth in the home should be seen as a possible health threat.
"All molds have the potential to cause health problems," said Beth Miller, assistant professor of human sciences in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at Mississippi State University. "They produce allergens, irritants and in some cases, potentially toxic substances.
"Toxic mold is not a recent outbreak, although it has been in the news lately," Miller explained. "It is receiving a lot of exposure, especially in humid areas like Mississippi that are more prone to mold problems."
Black mold in particular has been targeted as a dangerous substance, but Miller said use of the term "black mold" is deceiving, since most molds are black.
"All homes have mold spores in the air, and some even have the so-called black mold, or Stachybotrys chartarum, which may cause health problems," Miller said. "But to date, no test has proven an association between this mold and particular health symptoms.
"Consider the dangers of molds that could contain toxins the same as other common molds that grow in a house," she said.
Molds reproduce by tiny, airborne spores, and they grow indoors wherever excessive moisture accumulates. A home contaminated with mold would have discolored patches or speckled growth on walls or furniture and an earthy, musty odor in the house.
Inhaling or touching mold or mold spores may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. Allergic responses include hay fever-type symptoms, like sneezing, runny nose, red eyes and skin rash. Mold exposure can irritate the eyes, skin, nose, throat and lungs of both mold-allergic and non-allergic people, and it can trigger asthma attacks in mold-allergic individuals with asthma.
Individuals who suspect they are suffering these symptoms due to mold exposure should consult a physician, and then take steps to eliminate mold from their home.
"The key to mold control is moisture control," Miller said. "It is impossible to get rid of all mold spores indoors because they float in dust particles in the air, but mold will not grow if moisture is not present. If there is mold growth in a home, it can be cleaned off surfaces with a weak bleach solution. Strong chemicals or biocides, substances that destroy living organisms, are not recommended for mold removal unless used by a professional."
After cleaning the mold, resolve the moisture problem so that the mold will not return. Keep the humidity level in the house below 50 percent, and use a dehumidifier in humid months. Make sure the home has adequate ventilation, including exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathrooms.
If a home sustains water damage, dry damaged areas within 24 to 48 hours to prevent mold growth and to remove and replace flooded carpets.
"Toxic mold is typically hidden in the home - in rotted wood, under carpet or behind wall paneling," Miller said.
"Investigating hidden mold problems may be difficult and will require caution when potential sites of mold growth could be disturbed. For example, removal of wallpaper can lead to a massive release of spores if there is mold growing on the underside of the paper. If there is a possibility of a hidden mold problem, consider hiring an experienced professional," Miller advised.
Contact: Beth Miller, (662) 325-7689