The effect of mold on health is big news these days. We hear more and more about families moving from their beloved homes or being forced to spend thousands of dollars for mold remediation just so they have somewhere healthy to live.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) more than 100 million Americans live with dangerous toxins in their homes. That’s a lot of people risking their health due to mold or other toxins. What’s more is the removal of mold can be difficult and costly. Estimates are that to test for mold in an average sized home in the United States it will cost more than $1,000–costs not usually covered by insurance companies.
Mold isn’t something to take lightly either. The health problems that mold can cause are of real concern. As the evidence mounts about the dangers of molds, more and more families as well as government agencies are taking notice. Some are even taking action.
In a recent 2007 study published in The American Journal of Public Health a link between mold and depression was found. In this study led by Brown University epidemiologist, Edmond Shenassa, the team actually set out to disprove the association between mold and depression reported in several studies out of the United Kingdom.
However, the team found a link between homes with mold and residents with symptoms of depression after studying data from more than 6,000 European adults. Depression is the latest health problem from dangerous, sometimes deadly mold in the home.
Are you concerned about mold in your home or workplace? Have you ever suspected your health or that of someone in your family is suffering from exposure to mold?
Don’t worry; despite the dangers of mold there are steps you can take to protect yourself and family from these dangers. I’ll tell exactly what to look for and what to do if you suspect a problem.
First, let me tell you a little bit about mold and why it can be so toxic.
Toxic Mold: What You Must Know to Protect Your Family
Mold has been around since the beginning of time making up twenty-five percent of the earth’s biological materials. Molds are essential in the progression of life on our planet contributing to the decomposition of organic materials.
When most of us think of mold (or did ten years ago) a picture of old bread with green edges would often come to mind. However when it comes to the indoor air quality of your home, mold on old bread isn’t what you need to worry about.
The mold found in many homes across the country is microscopic fungi that grow on any host surface. Although mold prefers to grow and even thrives on certain surfaces like paper, cloth, wood, etc, it can grow just about anywhere if the conditions are right. This means mold could even grow on concrete or glass. They are survivors and very adaptable, easily able to not just survive but thrive in many home environments.
Most often molds found in the home are caused by some type of water damage or brought in from the outside to grow and flourish. Indoor flooding, leaking pipes or windows, and leaking roofs all are common causes of indoor mold.
The dangerous or toxic molds are those molds that produce mycotoxins. Mycotoxins are known to cause allergic and other adverse health reactions in animal species.
In small amounts molds are generally not harmful. When the levels grow unchecked the spores become airborne. This is where the potential health problems arise, especially in susceptible individuals.
Common Symptoms of Mold Exposure
While not everyone will react to even the most toxic mold in their homes many people will. Reactions vary from person to person even amongst family members. Here are some of the most common physical problems associated with mold exposure:
- Eye irritation (red, itchy, watery)
- Nose irritation (itchy, runny, bleeding)
- Throat irritation (itchy, scratchy, hoarseness)
- Respiratory infections or other problems including coughing up blood
- Flu-like symptoms
- Liver damage
- Impaired immune system function
All of these symptoms have been observed in individuals who were exposed to mold. Other symptoms may exist. Reports of animals exposed to mold in laboratories show their symptoms to include those listed above but also show:
- Kidney damage
- Reproductive cycle disruption
This last group of symptoms (to date) has not been documented to be seen in humans from exposure to mold but have shown up in laboratory animals exposed to mold.
Each person’s reaction to mold largely depends on their current state of health. Those who already have compromised health such as HIV/AIDS or have a respiratory problem such as asthma may be more susceptible to health problems.
If you or someone in your family has been suffering with these symptoms but have been unable to find the cause it may be time to consider mold as a factor. The first thing to do is to think about whether or not there have been any floods or leaks in your home before the onset of these symptoms. If so, check the area where the flood or leak was to see if you can visibly detect any mold.
Sometimes it’s difficult to know one hundred percent if mold is causing your issues. Mold can lurk behind wall boards, under carpets, and hide in the most unsuspecting of places. Be a detective and be persistent. Mold is a serious problem and if you think it’s a culprit in your home don’t let the issue go until you’ve found out for certain. Once you do know the next step is to take immediate action.
How to Effectively Rid Your Home of Mold: Testing and Remediation
There are no federal or state laws dictating or directing the proper cleanup of mold or even how much exposure is safe. However, a few states have recently started to address the issue by making information about mold dangers, symptoms, and proper clean up available to the public via pamphlets and websites.
When it comes to testing for mold most experts say it’s simply not worth the expense. Not only are mold tests in their infancy and unreliable, there are so many types of mold that a test could show the home is mold-free when indeed mold is present. These experts recommend that home owners skip these costly tests and proceed immediately to clean up if they’ve found or strongly suspect mold. The type of mold found does not dictate how remedial clean up is done.
New York City’s Department of Health was the first government agency to devise a clean up plan for mold. The United States EPA has made available a remediation plan for schools and commercial buildings and guidelines for homeowners too. The guidelines are very general and provide very little about hidden molds but rather recommend the homeowner contact a professional. The EPA site explains how to find someone to hire for this type of service.
General Guidelines for Cleaning Up Mold in the Home:
- Be sure to completely clean up and dry water from any leaks or floods within 24 – 48 hours.
- Scrub mold off surfaces with a natural tea tree oil-containing detergent and water. Apple cider vinegar is also good to use to kill mold.
- Discard any item that is porous or ones that you cannot completely remove the mold.
- Do not paint or caulk over moldy surfaces.
- Contact a professional mold removal company if needed.
What to Wear When Cleaning Up Mold:
- You don’t want to breathe in mold so it’s essential you wear an N-95 respirator available online or at some hardware stores.
- Wear gloves to cover all exposed skin on hands and arms
- Wear goggles to protect eyes.
Mold is a serious health problem for some people, in some homes or offices. Despite the fact that this public health problem is just coming to the mainstream’s notice doesn’t mean it hasn’t existed for years – actually thousands of years.
Did you know that in the Old Testament, specifically Leviticus 13 and 14, God tells his people that if they have mold in their homes they should burn them to the ground?
In Leviticus 14:45 God says, “A house desecrated by mildew, mold, or fungus would be a defiled place to live in so drastic measures had to be taken. “
That’s not the only time mold and the serious health implications it carries is mentioned in Leviticus. Check it out for yourself and see.
When it comes to health problems and mold it’s sometimes difficult to know for certain. The most you can do is make your best educated guess and then take action. If mold is the cause of your health issues you’ll be rewarded for taking action sooner than later.
Dr. Axe's Action Steps
- Review the mold exposure symptoms. Do you or any of your loved ones have these and have been unable to trace the cause?
- If you suspect you have mold in your home take action by following the above guidelines.
- Discard any mold contaminated items and thoroughly clean your home from visible mold.
- Visit the EPA website and educate yourself about how to deal with hidden mold.