Indoor Air Quality AKA The Fungus Amungus
After a heavy rainstorm, you discover four inches of water in your office, or finished basement, and have no idea what to do – or even where to start. The first and most important thing is: don’t panic.
In part one of this series, I will explain what mold is, how it gets into your business or home, and the basic measures you can take to eliminate or control the growth of mold.
First, what is it? Mold is a microscopic, living organism—a fungus—that exists throughout all parts of the world. Recent studies have identified as many as 400,000 types of mold, but only 50 are found locally. Occasionally, rare species are found in the Northeast, but these are typically brought into the area via contaminated produce, machinery, or shipping containers.
Of the common mold types, only a few can cause serious health issues. The reactions or allergies that some people have to mold result from mold by-products known as “mycotoxins,” which produce the smell associated with mold. When we see mold growing, it is not a single organism, but a colony that contains tens of thousands of organisms.
In order to grow and produce the mycotoxins that can be harmful, mold needs three things:
- Mold spores must be present – Mold is found everywhere and it travels through the air in its spore form. Mold is found even in the cleanest of homes and offices. Do-it-yourself test kits merely confirm that mold is present. If air testing is needed to determine whether an area is contaminated with mold, it should be done by a trained professional using calibrated equipment.
- Food source – Different types of mold will “eat” different types of materials. Some types prefer sheetrock, some prefer cloth or clothing, and others grow best on wood. Since the food sources can never truly be eliminated to prevent mold growth, it is critical to focus on and control the third element, moisture.
- Moisture – Mold has a very difficult time growing when the relative humidity is less than 50%; it needs moisture, like humans, for digestion and other life functions. By eliminating leaks, removing accumulated moisture, and reducing the relative humidity – mold growth can be stopped.
However, when mold does not get enough moisture, it reverts to a spore form that protects it from dying. This means that even when moisture is eliminated, or reduced, the mold spores are still there – staying viable until moisture levels rise enough to let them grow. To illustrate this point, ancient mold spores were found inside Egyptian pyramids and began growing once moisture was present.