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Frequently Ask Questions: Toxic Mold

What is mold?
What does it look like?
What harm can it do?
Is mold dangerous to humans?
How do I know if I have a mold problem?
I heard about toxic molds that grow in homes and other buildings. Should I be concerned about a serious health risk to me and my family?
How can I stop mold from spreading?
How can I save moldy possessions?
Are there any circumstances where people should vacate a home or other building because of mold?

What is Mold?

Mold, a common term for fungus, attacks organic materials such as paper, books, cloth, photographs, and leather. Mold grows from spores, which are everywhere in our environment. Usually these spores are inactive, but they will germinate when the relative humidity exceeds 70 percent. Temperatures above 65 degrees increase the likelihood of mold growth.

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What does it look like?

Active mold growth is slimy or fuzzy and is usually green, black, orange or purple. Inactive mold is dry and powdery and may be white. In early stages, the mold may look like a fine web; in full bloom it looks bushy. Mold spores spread easily; they are carried by air currents, pets and people.

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What harm can it do?

Active mold "digests" organic materials such as cloth book covers or the cellulose that composes paper. It can also make permanent stains.

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Is mold dangerous to humans?

It can be hazardous to people with respiratory problems. Only a few species are toxic, but many can cause allergic reactions or irritate skin. If you handle moldy materials, work outdoors when possible and wear protective clothing: respirator mask with filter, disposable plastic gloves and clothing you can wash in very hot water or discard. If you are concerned about the toxicity of the mold, your local hospital can refer you to a mycologist.

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How do I know if I have a mold problem?

The presence of mold can usually be seen or smelled if is present in large amounts. Smaller infestations may require professional cleaning or testing in order to detect.

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I heard about toxic molds that grow in homes and other buildings. Should I be concerned about a serious health risk to me and my family?

The hazards presented by molds that may contain mycotoxins should be considered the same as other common molds which can grow in your house. There is always a little mold everywhere - in the air and on many surfaces. There are very few case reports that toxic molds (those containing certain mycotoxins) inside homes can cause unique or rare, health conditions such as pulmonary hemorrhage or memory loss. These case reports are rare, and a causal link between the presence of the toxic mold and these conditions has not been proven. A common-sense approach should be used for any mold contamination existing inside buildings and homes. The common health concerns from molds include hay-fever like allergic symptoms. Certain individuals with chronic respiratory disease (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, asthma) may experience difficulty breathing. Individuals with immune suppression may be at increased risk for infection from molds. If you or your family members have these conditions, a qualified medical clinician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment. For the most part, one should take routine measures to prevent mold growth in the home.

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How can I stop mold from spreading?

   1. Work Fast. Under the right conditions, mold can spread and grow quickly.
   2. Lower the humidity and temperature. Remember that mold cannot grow in low relative humidity and low temperature. Open the windows if outside humidity is lower than inside; otherwise, use air conditioning. Install dehumidifiers and empty them often.
   3. Isolate any moldy objects. Seal moldy trash in plastic bags and remove them immediately. Objects you can save should be dried or frozen as soon as possible. Freezing inactivates mold.
   4. Keep the area clean. Mold may remain on shelves and in cupboards where valuables were kept. Clean these surfaces with a disinfectant such as Lysol, and then increase air circulation in the room. Use fans only after moldy objects are removed and all display and storage areas are clean.
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How can I save moldy possessions?

   1. Air dry them away from other objects. Spread out papers, stand books on end and fan the pages open. Use blotting materials like clean towels or absorbent paper between layers of cloth or paper. Increase air circulation with a fan, but don't aim the fan directly at the objects.
   2. If you can't dry the objects quickly or you have a large quantity, you can freeze books, documents and small textiles until conditions are right to dry them. Do not freeze moldy photographs.
   3. Although ultraviolet light can be damaging, brief exposure to sunlight can stop mold growth and aid drying. Exposure should not exceed 30 minutes.
   4. Clean the mold only after it is dry and inactive. Very gently wipe or brush away the mold residue. Work outdoors if possible and always wear protective clothing and a respirator.
   5. Avoid harsh cleaning products and bleach; they can ruin objects. Never vacuum fragile items. Use a household vacuum cleaner outdoors, since the exhaust will spread mold spores.
   6. Be sure display and storage areas are free of mold before you return any clean object to its proper place. Re-inspect the objects from time to time for any new mold growth.
   7. Valuable artifacts and photographs should be handled by a professional conservator. If you would like a free referral for a conservator, you may contact the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, 1717 K Street, NW, Ste. 301, Washington, D.C. 20036; (202) 452-9545; fax;(202) 452-9328.
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Are there any circumstances where people should vacate a home or other building because of mold?

These decisions have to be made individually. If you believe you are ill because of exposure to mold in a building, you should consult your physician to determine the appropriate action to take.

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