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Overview – What is Mold?

Mold:  Mold is a fungus that eats and grows on and in damp, moisture, or wet organic matter such as animals, humans, plants, wood, other cellulose-based building materials, and paper.

Mold decomposes dead matter. Without it, there would be no decay of dead leaves on the forest floor, and the environment would soon be overwhelmed by dead plant material. For mold grow, it needs organic matter such as leaves, wood, paper, cloth, carpet, leather, wood, drywall, PLUS moisture. Mold grows by digesting, and thereby destroying, what it grows on, and it can therefore seriously damage books, rugs, walls and even the structure of a house, making it dangerous to occupy.

What are Molds?

Molds are microscopic fungi that live on plant or animal matter. No one knows how many species of fungi exist but estimates range from tens of thousands to perhaps three hundred thousand or more. Most are filamentous organisms and the production of spores is characteristic of fungi in general. These spores can be air-, water-, or insect-borne.

What are some of the common indoor mold species?

  • Cladosporium

  • Penicillium

  • Alternaria

  • Aspergillus

  • Mucor

Molds can be black, white, red, orange, yellow, blue, violet, or brown.  Sometimes, soot or salt stains on masonry or concrete can be mistaken for molds.  Add a drop of bleach on the stain-if it loses color, it may be a mold.

Where are molds found?

Mold are found in virtually every environment and can be detected, both indoors and outdoors, year round. mold  growth is encouraged by warm and humid conditions. Outdoors they can be found in shady, damp areas or places where leaves or other vegetation is decomposing. Indoors they can be found where humidity levels are high, such as basements or showers. Mold are also found indoors as well as outdoors. mold spores can be found virtually anywhere inside the home. When the right conditions are present, spores will germinate and mold will grow. Spores are like microscopic seeds ;lightweight, unseen, traveling through the air.  Usually, the types of mold spores found in a house are similar to those occurring outdoors, as they have either been tracked in or blown in through open windows and doors.

Mold doesn’t always present a health problem. In order for mold to affect people living  in a house, they must either touch it or breathe it in.  While some people appear to be quite sensitive to a mold , others are not. Some experience wheezing, stuffy nose, eye or throat irritation. Allergic reactions (like hay fever) are the most common symptoms.

  Those with specific sensitivities may include:

  • People who already have allergies or asthma;

  • Those with weakened immune system (such as cancer patients and those returning from hospital- they can be susceptible to infections);

  • Infants and young  children; and

  • Older people (especially those with emphysema or other conditions that affect their breathing.

According to the Institute of Medicine’s Committee of the Assessment of Asthma and Indoor Air, mold may be lead to worsening r of asthma in susceptible people. We do not know, however, whether mold can cause asthma in otherwise healthy people. Many theories have been raised to explain in why asthma rates have been increasing mold, including mold people spending mold more inactive time indoors, houses being  built with less ventilation, increasing mold use of cool-wash  cycles (cold water does not effectively remove allergens), and widespread use of carpeting ld, among mold other reasons. Most of these theories have been adequately supported through mold well-controlled scientific studies.

Mold  is often a sign of dampness. Dampness also supports dust mites, which are known to cause and worsen childhood asthma. Dampness should be avoided, particularly in rooms where people spend a lot of time (for example, in basement bedrooms).

If you can see or smell mold in the house, steps should be taken to find the source of the excess moisture and clean up and remove the mold. Mold can appear as patches or speckled growth, and it may smell musty. Examples of obvious moldy conditions include discolored carpeting d on uninsulated cold, damp basement floors or flood-damage molded drywall. Common sense should prevail, with the focus not on mold but on returning  the house to a dry condition.

Mold can be seen as a warning  sign that a water problem exists and needs to be fixed. If dampness or water damage is already a problem, repairs should be made so that mold doesn’t keep coming  back.

It is not necessary to identify the type of mold in order to fix the underlying  moisture problem.

However, for other purposes, such as for insurance claims for flooding (check with AMERIND Risk Management Corp.; see Partnerships), or for evidence in Imminent Threat cases, or to document the effectiveness of cleaning, samples are often collected. If you decide in favor of sampling, consider having it done by qualified staff in tribal Environmental or Health Departments, Indian Health Service, or by an outside consultant, such as an industrial hygienist (see How to Get Special Help/Finding Equipment). Often, the local Health Department can make recommendations

More valuable than sampling is the survey for evidence of water damage and the extent of mold that can be seen. Those who are familiar with construction and home maintenance may be best qualified to do this type of work. Typically, the survey includes an inspection for sources of moisture coming into the home; for example, defects in construction (poorly installed windows, roof, or exterior siding; improperly laid foundations; absence of vapor barriers) or plumbing leaks. In many cases, mold grows inside walls or in other hard-to reach locations. It is often necessary to pull up carpet, crawl under the house, and inspect ceiling spaces. Flashlights, mirrors, borescopes, and moisture meters are the tools of choice (see Equipment in How to Get Special Help/Finding Equipment). It is important to know about past water damage, because hidden mold may be an ongoing problem. Review whether the home has had flooding, roof leaks, plumbing problems, or other damage. Be very careful not to disturb mold behind walls – without adequate precautions, pulling walls apart is not a good idea. Non-destructive methods are much better. For example, a borescope can be inserted into a small hole in the wall and used to survey internal conditions to see whether there has been water damage or mold growth.


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, or wheezing. 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. People with chronic illnesses, such as obstructive lung disease, may develop mold infections in their lungs. 



How can people decrease mold exposure?

Sensitive individuals should avoid areas that are likely to have mold, such as compost piles, cut grass, and wooded areas. Inside homes, mold growth can be slowed by keeping humidity levels below 50% and ventilating showers and cooking areas. Mold growth can be removed with commercial products or a weak bleach solution (1 cup of bleach in 1 gallon of water). In situations where mold exposure is unavoidable, sensitive people should wear a tight-fitting face mask.

Specific Recommendations:

  • Keep the humidity level in the house below 50%.

  • Use an air conditioner or a dehumidifier during humid months.

  • Be sure the home has adequate ventilation, including exhaust fans in kitchen and bathrooms.

  • Add mold inhibitors to paints before application.

  • Clean bathrooms with mold killing products.

  • Do not carpet bathrooms and basements.

  • Remove or replace previously soaked carpets and upholstery.

What areas have high mold exposures?

  • Antique shops

  • Greenhouses

  • Saunas

  • Farms

  • Mills

  • Construction areas

  • Flower shops

  • Summer cottages

I found mold growing in my home, how do I test the mold?

Generally, it is not necessary to identify the species of mold growing in a residence, and CDC does not recommend routine sampling for molds. Current evidence indicates that allergies are the type of diseases most often associated with molds. Since the susceptibility of individuals can vary greatly either because of the amount or type of mold, sampling and culturing are not reliable in determining your health risk. If you are susceptible to mold and mold is seen or smelled, there is a potential health risk; therefore, no matter what type of mold is present, you should arrange for its removal. Furthermore, reliable sampling for mold can be expensive, and standards for judging what is and what is not an acceptable or tolerable quantity of mold have not been established.

A qualified environmental lab took samples of the mold in my home and gave me the results. Can CDC interpret these results?

Standards for judging what is an acceptable, tolerable, or normal quantity of mold have not been established. If you do decide to pay for environmental sampling for molds, before the work starts, you should ask the consultants who will do the work to establish criteria for interpreting the test results. They should tell you in advance what they will do or what recommendations they will make based on the sampling results. The results of samples taken in your unique situation cannot be interpreted without physical inspection of the contaminated area or without considering the building’s characteristics and the factors that led to the present condition.

Some additional information on fungi and fungal diseases at the CDC Web site:

CDC/NCID Division of Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases: Fungal Diseases

NIOSH publication: HISTOPLASMOSIS: Protecting Workers at Risk

Emerging Infectious Diseases article: "Emerging Disease Issues and Fungal Pathogens Associated with HIV Infection" by Neil M. Ampel, M.D. University of Arizona College of Medicine, Tucson Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Tucson, Arizona, USA

Emerging Infectious Diseases article: "Coccidioidomycosis: A Reemerging Infectious Disease" by Theo N. Kirkland, M.D., and Joshua Fierer, M.D., Departments of Pathology and Medicine, University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, San Diego, California, USA

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