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What is Mold?

What is Mold? Mold Development and Health Issues

What is Mold? Mold Development and Health Issues


Mold, the exasperating scourge that permeates household and office alike, is perhaps one of the most complex living things when it comes to understanding its nature, the ways in which it grows, and how harmful it can be to health and the buildings that shelter us.

Mold, one of the most common types of fungus, can grow just about anywhere where moisture and organic material come together, indoors or out. It disperses itself through microscopic spores, or tiny reproductive cells, carried along by air currents and dust particles whose sharp edges can facilitate the meeting of spores and favorable surfaces. Mold plumps up and attaches itself to a moist niche in only 24 hours to 48 hours, if conditions are right. It can persist in the fissures of cement and pipes or the indentations of the human lung. Few will deny that it is an enemy of the proper indoor environment.

Mold exposure generally causes upper-respiratory tract symptoms in almost everyone, but aggravates allergies and asthma; and those with immune suppression can develop serious infections. Nasal stuffiness, irritation of the throat, coughing or wheezing, and skin irritation are common reactions. In occupational high-exposure environments, more serious symptoms have been reported. Long-term health effects include respiratory diseases, which some research has shown are more likely in those chronically exposed to mold growth.

The first way to prevent mold is to contain it before it appears: control indoor humidity, provide good ventilation, repair leaks quickly, and keep damp areas completely dry within 24-48 hours. Wipe it up promptly. Clean regularly, and specify mold-resistant building materials during construction.

Not all molds pose equal dangers, but a number of common species, notably of the genera Aspergillus, Cladosporium, Penicillium and Stachybotrys (aka ‘black mold’) have been implicated in a spectrum of adverse health effects. Though each species varies somewhat in terms of what it prefers to grow on and the kinds of health threat it might pose, these differences underscore the need for accurate identification and remediation.

Given the extensive and significant legal and ethical ramifications for landlords, employers and institutions, ensuring occupants’ health and safety often requires specific actions. Those trying to decide what to do can turn to a variety of laws and regulations that dictate what actions, if any, should be done to remediate mold, report it to various authorities, or disclose its presence.

Essentially, mold is more than a nuisance, it’s a health hazard and, as we’ve shown, thoughtful, systematic approaches to management and mitigation are required. For all the reasons we’ve described, growers and end-users should recognize a duty to understand the conditions conducive to mold growth, educate themselves and others about health risks associated with mold, and take preventative steps to limit both of these outcomes. It’s time to follow the lead of countries that have already passed legislation governing mold and its management, and recognize that our legal and ethical obligation is to safeguard the wellbeing of mold occupants.

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