The Truth About Mold In Your Home - Part 1
Mold is everywhere in the air we breathe in all but the most highly purified and isolated environments. Mold spores and other mold products continuously float around in the exterior air and infiltrate our homes through open doors, windows, gaps in our home’s vapor barriers and hitch-hike on our clothes, hair and pets.
These fungi only grow when there is a source of moisture available within the home. Forget the news media talk about “Black” mold and “Toxicity”. Very few of us are ever exposed to high enough levels of toxic mold to cause any permanent or even transient harm. The most common symptoms of mold exposure are allergies, asthma, and recurring bacterial sinus infections.
The biggest problem we find in mold investigations is that not all people are allergic to the same varieties of mold. It is not uncommon for one member of a family or of the office staff to be miserable and no one else has any symptoms. Imagine the sheepish looks when the doubters learn that the person’s complaints of migraine headaches, burning eyes, dripping sinuses etc were not just the nagging complaints of a hypochondriac. The good news is mold problems are usually easy to repair by simply correcting the moisture problem and removing the damage or simply cleaning the dirty materials affected by the mold growth.
Mold and bacteria are what keeps mother nature’s trash from cluttering the entire planet with yesterday’s growth. Most of the molds we commonly find in our homes are the same molds that break down plant detritus outside our doors. The reason for this is that we tend to use natural materials in the construction of our homes and believe it or not, many synthetics are affected by mold just as natural fibers like paper and wool are affected. Since mold needs water to grow, we experience problems with mold growth when we have uncontrolled moisture in our homes. This uncontrolled moisture opens the door to our household plant materials such as wood paneling, 2x4s in our walls, wall paper and sheetrock paper and other natural materials to become food for mold.
Black molds so commonly bemoaned by the news media, are referring to molds that produce myco-toxins. It is important to understand that these myco-toxins are the defense mechanism these fungi use to defend their territory. If you take a simple view of mold, consider it a plant without chlorophyll (chlorophyll gives the plant the ability to convert sunlight into energy). You can break up our common indoor mold problems in to two common types of mold, fast growing and slow growing. Fast growing molds usually do not have myco-toxins. They simply grow so fast by inefficiently taking advantage of any easily available food supply.
In the great outdoors, this is the sugary sap in leaves and woody plant materials. Unfortunately for these fast growing molds (think of them as the barbarian horde) when they run out of these easy to find foods they starve because they can not digest the rest of the plant. So they die in the middle of a buffet table full of foods made from complex sugars they can’t digest. Slow growing molds are like chemical engineers or farmers.
They have the ability to break down complex sugar compounds like cellulose to produce simple sugars, they can then use these metabolized compounds for food but first they have to get established and during this time they must carefully husband their easily found foods until they get their factories built and start making the complex simple. This is much more efficient but it takes much longer to prepare their lunch machine than those neighboring “heathen” who would devourer all the available food stores before the more efficient molds can get established.
To slow down the barbarians, they salt the ground around their colony with something to slow or inhibit the barbarians from moving into their territory. Hence, myco-toxins. Each leaf, branch and seed (hypha, mycelial fragment and spore) contains a toxin specific to that species or genus of fungus. When these toxins make contact with water, the toxin leaches out of the molds into the neighboring environment to inhibit other molds from encroaching on their territory. If this is a leaf under a tree outside your home or a piece of bread or fruit inside your kitchen, the area immediately around the toxic mold spore becomes salted earth to all other molds except the species that emits that particular toxin.
When a toxic mold spore or toxic fragment of mold enters the human body as it does every day of your life, the toxin is released into your body when it contacts water. Fortunately, unless we are exposed to very high levels of these toxins the human body can render these toxins into inert or at least less harmful chemicals and excrete them without any short or long term debilitating effects.