Are you wondering what all the hype is about toxic mold? Have you experienced a mold exposure and find yourself wondering what comes next? Are you concerned that your indoor environment may be causing you problems?
A Beginner’s Guide to Toxic Mold
I am not a toxicologist, medical professional or indoor air specialist. I am a mother who has experienced a toxic mold exposure and seen first hand what hidden toxicity can do to children as well as adults. If you’d like to know more about our family’s journey, see our Timeline of Events.
While mold is ubiquitous to our environment, not all mold is created equal. Just like species of the mushroom family, some species are harmless, others poisonous.
Not all mold situations are catastrophic. When found early and appropriately remediated, environments can be restored and health maintained. Some people are more tolerant of the effects of mold than others. There is no one-size fits all when it comes to toxic mold.
However, all indoor water damage must be taken seriously. Wherever you are on this journey, you are wise to be asking questions.
1. What is mold?
Mold is part of the kingdom of fungi, a distinct kingdom that is neither plant nor animal. Fungi is identified by a genus name and a species name. For example Aspergillus, a genus can be further classified as a species with the name Aspergillus Versicolor or A. Versicolor.
Mold causes biodegradation of natural substances, such as food or building materials. Problematic species of mold found in indoor environments also release mycotoxins as a means to survive and multiply. These mycotoxins are carried on the mold spores and have been implicated in numerous health issues as they are readily absorbed by the intestines, airways and skin.
Mold can either be viable or non-viable. Viable means the spores are capable of reproducing. Non-viable are dead spores, but because the cell walls break apart and release toxins, are still considered hazardous.
2. Where do I start?
This is an overwhelming question, especially in light of the varying opinions you’ll find on the internet. The article “Where Do I Begin?” offers an overview of testing procedures and pathological signs of mold illness.
If you have a simple surface mold issue, see Got Surface Mold? 10 Natural Solutions.
3. What if my spouse, friend or family member thinks I’m crazy for thinking mold can make people sick?
That’s OK. I thought the same thing at one point. Trust your instincts and allow yourself to think outside of the box.
4. How can I test my home, office or school for mold?
It’s difficult to get a complete picture of any indoor environment with one test. Plates purchased from the hardware store are the least effective way to check your environment. Sometimes a combination of air testing, dust sampling, and tape lifts will tell the story. You will more than likely need to hire a hygienist for extensive testing. The ERMI test, (or HERTSMI test) can be done without a hygienist. Dust sampling is an excellent place to start. MomsAWARE sells both of these tests at their online store.
5. If we have mold, does it mean we will have to leave our home and all of our possessions?
The types of mold and the extent of the problem will be determining factors. Not every situation requires drastic action. However, many times a fresh start is a good idea.
6. What kind of medical testing can be done to determine if mold is doing us harm?
Sometimes your intuition is the best test. If you have a mold problem in your home and are experiencing health issues, you can trust your instincts that the two are related. Testing your environment is often a good step. The article “Where Do I Begin?” offers a list of labs and tests to see if the environment is directly impacting your health.
7. Is it OK to use bleach to remove mold? How can I remove surface mold safely?
Bleach is not a suitable solution to either surface mold or mold hidden behind walls. In addition to the hazardous vapors, chlorine bleach can aggravate an existing mold situation. Chlorine bleach does not kill mold; it merely takes away the color. Appropriate cleaning agents for surface mold include white vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, borax, tea tree oil, grapefruit seed extract and liquid detergent.
Aerobiological Solutions offers a comprehensive remediation plan here.
8. How do I detox from mold? Are there doctors who treat mold illness?
There are some physicians who are aware of the connection between toxic mold and health. All agree that mold avoidance is key to recovery. Many advocate an anti-fungal diet. Some prescribe toxin binders like cholestyramine. Many alternative health care practitioners can help with the detoxification process.
9. Our basement has flooded – how can we avoid a toxic situation? How do we find a reliable mold remediator?
The key is quick action. Simply spraying a chemical will not solve the problem. Mold can grow within 48 hours. Stop the water intrusion as soon as possible and begin the drying process immediately. If you see mold growth, consult a mold remediation company for safe removal.
10. Where can I find legal help?
Because of the confusion surrounding the issue of toxic mold, it can be difficult to obtain knowledgeable and reliable legal assistance. As yet, there is no official federal “mold law,” which creates obstacles when trying to recoup losses.
Our family’s legal action was short lived due to a mold exclusion clause in our builder’s insurance plan. However, others have sued successfully.
11. Can you suggest other resources?
Mold & Mycotoxins: Current Evaluation and Treatment 2016, by Dr. Neil Nathan
Is Your House Making You Sick, by Andrea Fabry
Camp Like a Girl: Finding Health and Wellness in Nature, by Sara Riley Mattson
12. How is your family now?
We have improved dramatically since leaving our home in 2008. The kids are working, going to school, and involved in a variety of activities. Our chemical sensitivity has considerably improved. We do experience lingering effects and expect to do so. We remain in Arizona, living with 5 of our children.
Many others have survived severe toxic mold exposures. See momsAWARE’s Mold Survival Stories.
Listen to a 30 minute summary of the above at The Connecting Place: