What are Molds?

Molds are microscopic fungi that live on plant and animal matter. Molds can be found almost anywhere; they grow on virtually any substance when moisture is present.

Molds produce tiny spores to reproduce, just as plants produce seeds. Mold spores waft through the indoor and outdoor air continually. When mold spores land on a damp spot indoors, they may begin growing and digesting whatever they are growing on in order to survive. Some molds can grow on wood, paper, carpet, foods and even dynamite.

There is no practical way to eliminate all molds indoors; the way to control indoor mold growth is to control moisture.

  • Mold truly is everywhere but that's a good thing. Mold performs a needed function in our natural environment. That is the breakdown of organic materials, especially cellulose (plant products, and wood), so that these substances can be naturally reused in the environment.
  • Not all people are affected to the same degree from mold. Some people are very resistant to molds effects and others are very sensitive. However, mold may cause health problems in certain individuals. Molds may be allergenic, toxic (poisonous), or may cause infections. The allergenic effects are the most common. Toxic effects are rare but may occur from certain molds under certain conditions. Infections very rarely occur in healthy individuals and are generally found only in hospitals among immune compromised individuals.
  • Mold needs liquid water to complete its life cycle. High humidity is only a problem when the moisture condenses (becomes liquid) on a cool surface. A good rule of thumb is control the moisture, control the mold.
  • Mold grows best in areas where there is very little fresh air and no sunshine. Basements, crawl spaces, closets, and inside walls are places where mold can flourish.
  • Testing for mold, in your house or building, is a good way to determine the how much mold is there or what kinds of mold are present. If you see what appears to be mold in your living space, if you believe someone is having a health problem from mold or if you are conducting a mold remediation (cleanup) project, mold testing should be performed.
  • Testing should also be done to evaluate the success of a mold remediation effort. This is often referred to as “Clearance Testing”All mold testing and air quality testing should be carried out by a certified mold inspector (CMI) and proper protocol and chain of custody procedures should be followed for all samples taken.

How do molds affect people?

Some people are sensitive to molds. For these people, exposure to molds can cause symptoms such as nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, wheezing, or skin irritation. Some people, such as those with serious allergies to molds, may have more severe reactions. Severe reactions may occur among workers exposed to large amounts of molds in occupational settings, such as farmers working around moldy hay. Severe reactions may include fever and shortness of breath. Some people with chronic lung illnesses, such as obstructive lung disease, may develop mold infections in their lungs.

EPA's publication, Indoor Air Pollution: An Introduction for Health Professionals, assists health professionals (especially the primary care physician) in diagnosis of patient symptoms that could be related to an indoor air pollution problem. It addresses the health problems that may be caused by contaminants encountered daily in the home and office. Organized according to pollutant or pollutant groups such as environmental tobacco smoke, VOCs, biological pollutants, and sick building syndrome, this booklet lists key signs and symptoms from exposure to these pollutants, provides a diagnostic checklist and quick reference summary, and includes suggestions for remedial action.  Also includes references for information contained in each section. This booklet was developed by the American Lung Association, the American Medical Association, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the EPA. EPA Document Reference Number 402-R-94-007, 1994.

Allergic Reactions - excerpted from Indoor Air Pollution: An Introduction for Health Professionals section on: Animal Dander, Molds, Dust Mites, Other Biologicals.  

"A major concern associated with exposure to biological pollutants is allergic reactions, which range from rhinitis, nasal congestion, conjunctival inflammation, and urticaria to asthma. Notable triggers for these diseases are allergens derived from house dust mites; other arthropods, including cockroaches; pets (cats, dogs, birds, rodents); molds; and protein-containing furnishings, including feathers, kapok, etc. In occupational settings, more unusual allergens (e.g., bacterial enzymes, algae) have caused asthma epidemics. Probably most proteins of non-human origin can cause asthma in a subset of any appropriately exposed population."

Because mold and mildew release mold spores in the air that can float throughout the house, severe allergic reactions such as watery eyes, runny nose and sneezing, nasal congestion and fatigue, can occur. When mold starts to reproduce inside a home, it can eat away at the structure, can cause thousands of dollars in damage, and may possibly make family members sick from mold exposure. There are several mold cleaning, prevention, and mold removal methods to deal with this persistent problem.

There may be no warning of a mold problem in your home or business until someone becomes ill. Mold can hide in thousands of places at any time of the year; basements, attics, bathrooms and any other place that shows evidence of moisture are a few common problem areas. A key fact to remember is mold isn’t always visible; this is why it’s important to have a thorough mold inspection done by professionals.

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