What is the truth about toxic mold? Can it be hazardous to our health? Why all the fear-mongering?
5 Myths About Toxic Mold
Myth #1: Mold is everywhere.
While it’s true that mold is an essential part of nature, it is not true that mold exists everywhere indoors. If this were true, why would mold remediators exist? Why fix it if mold is not a big deal? Simply look at the black stain on a ceiling and it instinctively draws a feeling of unrest.
Natural molds found outdoors are not necessarily the same as molds found indoors. Stachybotrys, for example, is a greenish-black mold that grows on high-cellulose materials such as fiberboard, gypsum board, and paper. Growth occurs when there is water damage, excessive humidity, water leaks, or flooding. Stachybotrys can be found outdoors, especially in hay piles, but is certainly not found “everywhere.”
Myth #2: Mold isn’t a problem in dry climates.
Problems can occur in homes in both humid and dry climates. Mold needs only food, water, temperature, and time to grow. Given the food we provide via drywall and the water via indoor plumbing, we have the potential for toxic molds to grow in any climate.
What’s more, dry climates often rely on air conditioning for months at a time. Toxic mold can easily grow in cooling equipment and air ducts if not managed properly. Flat roofs, common in some states with arid climates, are more prone to leaks and water intrusion than slanted roofs.
Myth #3: Mold can’t hurt you.
Just like certain types of mushrooms are poisonous, the same is true for species of mold. When considering the potential for harm, it’s important to consider the role of mycotoxins. According to a study reported by the National Institutes of Health:
Mycotoxins are secondary metabolites produced by microfungi that are capable of causing disease and death in humans and other animals. Because of their pharmacological activity, some mycotoxins or mycotoxin derivatives have found use as antibiotics, growth promotants, and other kinds of drugs; still others have been implicated as chemical warfare agents.
While the emphasis in scientific literature tends to focus on mycotoxin exposure due to food contamination, mycotoxins in the indoor environment can wreak havoc on the immune system. Mold exposure is more than an allergic response; it is a form of poisoning. Consider this list of more than 300 studies compiled by the late Dr. Jack Thrasher and Dr. Irene Grant linking exposure to toxigenic contaminants found in water-damaged buildings with adverse health outcomes.
Myth #4: Just throw bleach on it.
Chlorine bleach’s ion structure prevents the chlorine from penetrating porous materials such as drywall and wood. Mold’s enzyme roots grow inside the porous materials, rendering the bleach ineffective. The water component of bleach, however, does penetrate the drywall or wood, which fosters further mold growth.
Thus, contrary to popular belief, bleach can actually make a mold situation worse. But because chlorine bleach tends to discolor or whiten the surface being treated, the building occupant may be led to believe the problem is solved—until the mold reappears.
Myth #5: Fix it yourself or call an expert.
Either of these scenarios has the potential to do harm. Small mold growth in an isolated area may be a doable project for an experienced DIYer, but the hazardous nature of toxigenic mold requires caution. Proper containment is essential when addressing a mold problem, as well as proper removal of the contaminated items.
When our family discovered mold in May 2007, we called the least expensive “experts” we could find. The company blew fans on the exposed walls, further contaminating the home and resulting in critical illness in the family. (Read our story here.) You are the expert when it comes to your health. When interviewing a prospective remediator, remember that they stand to gain from your business, so you may or may not get an objective perspective. (For more on hiring a remediator, see How to Choose a Mold Remediation Company.)
For more, see A Beginner’s Guide to Toxic Mold or listen to the podcast Is Your House Making You Sick? Toxic Mold Basics: