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Indoor Mold and Illness: A Primer

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

By Jason Earle Google+

It seems to be common knowledge that living in a moldy home, or working in a moldy workplace, is not good for people. But what is it about mold that’s bad for us, and why?

There have been numerous studies aimed at answering this question and, while no single study tells the whole story, taken in aggregate they confirm much of “common knowledge.”  It’s enough, at least, to silence the “mold deniers,” those who scoff at the idea that indoor mold exposure can make people sick. That is, if they’re paying attention.

It’s really a matter of indoor air pollution, which the US EPA says can be up to 100 times worse than the outdoor air in the dirtiest cities. And that’s mainly because our homes and buildings don’t breathe like they used to; they’ve been made too airtight, in the name of energy savings.

Here’s a clip of an article we published in the Fall issue of our seasonal magazine, Habitat Quarterly:

Indoor air pollutants commonly include skin and hair cells from people and any animals in the house (aka “dust”); volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted by various plastics, adhesives, textiles, finishes and cleaning products. Also in the air are mold spores, mold parts and microbial volatile organic compounds (MVOCs) produced by mold. If there is mold growth in the house, these substances will continue to intensify.

Some molds also emit substances called mycotoxins. A good example is penicillin, the first antibiotic, which was derived from the mycotoxins of the penicillium fungus, a common mold. Most modern antibiotics are derived from, or based on, mycotoxins. Ironically, medical science knows little if anything about what those mycotoxins might do to people. But they know they’re deadly to bacteria.

As homes in the US became more airtight and energy-stingy, they also became more prone to moisture problems. Just as there’s no such thing as a waterproof watch (they’re “water resistant”), there’s no such thing as a waterproof house. Water will find its way in, either through leaks, plumbing failures, spills, or as water vapor that condenses when conditions are right.

With that invading moisture comes the rising probability of mold growth, and the risk of the indoor air becoming a far greater threat to health. Medical science has begun finding the links between indoor mold growth and our health, and doctors are beginning to recognize that home indoor air quality is a factor that must be investigated for their patients who don’t respond to treatment.

Mold assessment experts tell us that even blind spaces such as wall cavities, crawl spaces and attics can gain moisture via condensation, and mold can grow unseen. All mold needs is relative humidity of more than 50%, the same temperature range people can tolerate, and food, meaning anything organic, such as wood, paper, fabric, and even dust.


To read more about the scientific studies that have been done to indict mold as the culprit in many human illnesses, you can read the reposted version here on 1800gotmold.com.

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