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Molds in the Environment

What is mold?

A mold is a microscopic fungus that grows and lives on plant or animal matter or on non-organic objects. Most molds are made up of filaments and reproduce through the production of spores, which spread by air, water, or insects. There are many thousands of species of fungi. Common indoor molds include:

  • Alternaria
  • Aspergillus
  • Cladosporium
  • Mucor
  • Penicillium

Molds are found everywhere in the environment, both indoors and outdoors, and throughout the year.

Reactions to mold:

Molds cause allergic symptoms in many people. Common reactions to molds include nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, or wheezing when breathing.

More severe reactions may occur among workers, such as farmers, who are exposed to large amounts of molds in occupational settings, including fever or shortness of breath. Mold infections may occur in the lungs of persons with obstructive lung disease.

How to decrease mold exposure:

  • outside, avoid areas that are likely to have mold, such as:
    • compost piles
    • cut grass
    • wooded areas
    • damp, mossy areas
    • greenhouses
    • antique shops
  • inside:
    • keep humidity levels between 40 percent and 60 percent
    • ventilate showers and cooking areas with exhaust fans
    • use an air conditioner or a dehumidifier during humid months
    • do not use carpet in susceptible areas such as bathrooms or basements
    • dispose of, or thoroughly dry and clean, objects that accidentally become wet such as carpets or upholstery
    • fix leaks in roofs, walls, and/or plumbing to eliminate moisture
    • add a mold inhibitor to paint when painting
    • use mold-killing products to clean bathrooms

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), one of the most serious results of water damage from a hurricane or severe floods are molds. Molds can grow within 24-48 hours after water damage and continue until proper measures are applied to stop it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states molds can be recognized from sight, wall or ceiling discoloration, and/or a bad odor or musty smell.

FEMA and CDC warn returning to water damaged homes after a disaster may pose serious health threat, especially to people who already have preexisting respiratory conditions, pregnant women, children, elderly, and those persons with immuno-compromised diseases.

FEMA and CDC have developed specific guidelines for clean-up of water related disasters.

Click here to view the
Online Resources of Environmental Medicine

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