Posted 4-17-02

The Effects of Indoor Mold: Separating Fact From Fiction

Most everyone would agree that it's not fun, it's not welcomed and it serves no purpose. In the April 10 edition of the Orange County Register, reporter Lisa Liddane suggests that indoor mold is increasingly being blamed for a variety of common health problems; ranging from allergies to asthma to respiratory difficulties.

The problem has become so substantial, in fact, that two California laws have been passed to research what levels are unacceptable and to evaluate the most effective means to dispose of it, according to Sandy McNeal, a research scientist for the environmental and occupational disease control division at the Department of Health Services. Liddane further reports that not all molds can cause health problems, nor are all health problems necessarily mold-related. Thus, to help separate fact from fiction, the following are a few basic questions answered by McNeal and Dr. Jay Portnoy, from the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Imunology.

Q: What is mold?

A: Mold is a type of fungus. They produce tiny spores to reproduce. When these spores land on damp areas indoors, they may begin growing. They can grow in areas that are not readily visible, such as between furniture and walls. You can control indoor mold growth by controlling the moisture in your home.

Q: Are all molds harmful to health?

A: Some have greater potential to be harmful than others. A less common type of mold, Stachybotris chartarum, may produce compounds that have toxic properties, which are called mycotoxins.

Q: Can the amounts of mold be measured in the home?

A: Yes, they can. There are several ways to measure mold in a home, including evaluating a sample of dust from the home and studying the amount of mycotoxins—toxic products—mold produces.

Q: What have studies shown about health problems that mold exposure can cause?

A: Studies have shown mold exposure can trigger allergic reactions, asthma and respiratory difficulties. Symptoms include wheezing, difficulty breathing and shortness of breath; nasal and sinus congestion, irritated eyes, a dry, hacking cough, irritated nose or throat and irritation. There are anecdotal reports linking mold exposure to headaches, memory problems, mood swings, nosebleeds, body aches and pains, fevers, dizziness, fatigue and forgetfulness, but further studies are needed to make more accurate conclusions

Q: Why does the severity of effects vary from one person to the next?

A: The reasons are not known. Some people are much more susceptible, including infants, young children, the elderly, people with previous respiratory problems and allergies and people with a weak immune system.

Q: What should I do if I suspect mold exposure is affecting my health?

A: You can take the following measures: (a) If you are aware of an area contaminated with mold, clean it with dish detergent mixed with water and wipe off the mold. Killing the mold with bleach and water is not the first step, however. When the mold dies and dries up, air currents or physical handling can cause spores to become airborne and can adversely affect you. (b) Wear protective clothing, including rubber gloves and a respirator designed for particulate removal (available at hardware stores). (c) If the contamination is severe and cannot be removed by cleaning, you may need to replace the contaminated part. (d) Check and repair any moisture
seepage or leaks. If symptoms persist, ask your primary care physician for a referral to an allergist who may determine if you
are affected by mold exposure and can treat you appropriately. Check with the environmental health department of your local university and community college to get a referral to a reputable environmental health specialist who can visit your home.

Q: Where can I get more information on indoor mold?

A: Interested parties may visit the following websites:

Environmental Protection Agency: www..epa.gov/iaq/pubs/moldresources.html#Basic Mold

California Department of Health Services Indoor Air Quality Program: www.cal-iaq.org