What is Mold Exposure & Where Does it Come From?
Water is a wonderful thing. The existence of life forms depends on the presence of water. Roughly two thirds of the human body is water. But water also provides the ideal environment for the growth and proliferation of certain pathogens. Mold is one of those pathogens.
Mold is a type of fungus that grows everywhere, both indoors and outdoors. In order to grow and thrive, mold requires moisture; warm, damp, and humid environments are ideal. There are hundreds of different varieties of mold that can invade and survive in indoor environments.
All molds are potentially toxic to humans. Their level of toxicity depends on certain factors:
- The particular strain of mold
- The presence of mycotoxins
- The degree of exposure to the mold
- The duration of the exposure
- Our own particular genetic make-up
- Other underlying health conditions
- The strength of our immune system
Molds reproduce through their spores, which are like microscopic seeds that can be carried long distances outside in the air currents. They are everywhere and easily enter buildings and the bodies of people. If they find their way into a cold or dry environment, mold spores can live indefinitely. However, once moisture is introduced, these spores can develop into mold fungus.
Some forms of mold are potentially more dangerous to human health and are referred to as 'toxigenic' molds. These strains of mold produce microscopic toxins, known as ‘mycotoxins’. These mycotoxins are normally spread through the mold spores. Mycotoxins are some of the most toxic substances to be found in nature. They can remain viable for years and are very difficult to render harmless. It takes a half hour at a temperature of 500 degrees to destroy them, for example. Many types of air filters are ineffective in removing them. Mycotoxins can enter the body through breathing, eating, through our eyes, and our skin.
Indoor Air Pollution
Most people spend a significant portion of their time each day indoors. Along with our time at home, we work in offices, we go to schools, and we visit private and public buildings. Access to healthy air, free from outdoor and indoor pollution, should be considered a basic human right. The quality of the air we breathe in our indoor environments is an important determinant of our health and well-being. Exposure to dark, damp indoor environments where mold has developed can ultimately lead to a wide array of human health problems.
According to the World Health Organization, “Indoor air pollution – such as from dampness and mold, chemicals and other biological agents – is a major cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide…” Within certain types of environments, such as residences, day-care centers, retirement homes, and health facilities, indoor air pollution caused by mold exposure affects population groups that are particularly vulnerable due to age or health status. This especially includes people with respiratory complaints. But exposure to mold can cause health problems for anyone, regardless of underlying health conditions.
The proliferation of indoor molds is facilitated through a combination of prolonged dampness and lack of adequate ventilation. Indoor environmental dampness should be considered the primary risk factor. This risk factor is increased in geographic regions that experience high levels of humidity, such as coastal areas and river bottoms, like Florida and New Orleans. Mold can flourish on almost any indoor material, including clothing, furniture, rugs, and construction materials. However, certain materials are considered to be less receptive to mold growth, especially materials that do not allow for moisture absorption and accumulation. There is little consideration, in building codes and standards throughout the world, to construction material preferences that help control and prevent the accumulation of excess moisture and dampness.
Most moisture enters buildings through the circulation of the outside air and the activities of the building occupants, like cooking, cleaning, and bathing. But some moisture results from occasional events like heavy rains, snow melt, water leaks, and flooding. Allowing some surfaces to become cooler than the surrounding air can also promote the accumulation of condensation and dampness.
The following checklist will help provide a guide for inspecting the indoor environments in which you live, work, and play, in order to help identify existing problem areas and potential problems areas.
Previously Flooded Basements (moldy flooring and carpeting, moldy wallboards, moldy furniture and stored items, and moldy cardboard boxes).
Leaky Kitchen and Bath Plumbing (under sinks, around and beneath overflowing toilets, behind shower walls, shower curtains and rugs, behind and under tubs and spas, laundry tubs, around ice-maker refrigerators, walls near outside hoses, behind and beneath dishwashers).
Construction (improperly installed door and window jams, leaky roofing, rotting wood, damp insulation, around HVAC venting, and beneath vinyl flooring).
Furnishings (carpeting, especially previously flooded, furniture near a source of moisture of dampness, damp clothing, bedding, curtains, and linens, mattresses that were previously flooded, and potting soil).
Kitchen (refrigerator interior, food in refrigerator, rubber seals for liquid containers, coffee makers, sponges, towels, and wood cutting boards).
Moldy wallboard, ceiling tiles, carpeting & padding, office chairs, bathrooms, kitchen & break areas, and potting soils.
Bathrooms, showers & locker rooms, pool areas, musty, damp basements, stored books, files, cardboard cartons, cafeteria & kitchen areas, and college dorm rooms.
Autos, RVs, & Boats
Previously immersed auto, auto carpeting & upholstery, leaky windows & sunroofs, and contaminated air conditioning, ventilation, & air filters.
Mold Exposure Prevention
Mold and mold spores are everywhere. We cannot avoid them. The most effective way to avoid mold exposure, or limit mold exposure, is by taking preventive measures. The first prevention measure is to ensure, as much as possible, that the environments we spend most of our time in are clean and dry and are not already contaminated.
The second prevention measure is to support our body’s immune response capacity with a healthy diet, exercise, and strategic dietary supplementation. Anyone can be adversely affected by exposure to mold. Even a healthy person, with an otherwise functional immune system, can be adversely affected. The consequences that people can experience from mold exposure depend on many factors, such as the amount of mold or mycotoxins that enter the body. However, if and when we are exposed, we want a strong, vital immune system to help fend off the invader.