The term, “Toxic Mold” refers to what is also commonly known as Black Mold. This became a well-known buzz word in the 1990s for two reasons. First, in 1994, a low-income area of Cleveland, Ohio was flooded by heavy rains. Most of the residents of that area were not in an economic position to remediate the resulting mold and were thus forced to live in unhealthy environments. A few months after this great flood, hospitals began receiving many patients, most of whom were children, that presented with severe symptoms including bleeding from the lungs.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) was notified by the hospital and after investigating, they found the common denominator for these children was that they were all living in homes infested with stachybotrys chartarum, which is also referred to as Black Mold or Toxic Mold.
Around this same time period, another story surrounding Black Mold gained media attention because a wealthy woman living in Dripping Springs, Texas sued Farmers Insurance Group for their lack of proper mold remediation following severe water damage that occurred to her 22-room house. She claimed that her entire family was severely and adversely affected by the mold and was awarded a settlement of $32 million dollars. Farmers appealed and the settlement was eventually reduced to $4 million dollars, but the entire house had to be bulldozed.
These events created an awareness of Toxic Mold. Stories and claims started popping up everywhere and many insurance companies were significantly impacted financially. Since that time, insurers have changed their policies and presently, most either exclude mold coverage or have small limits on the amount of coverage that they do provide.
Toxic mold has been around for eons, but these cases shed a light on some of the serious medical conditions that could be caused by it. This type of mold had no common name prior to these events occurring and speculation is that the name was coined by the legal profession.
How is Toxic Mold Different Than Other Types of Molds?
There are nine common indoor molds and Toxic (Black) mold is one of them. All of these molds can cause health problems, but Toxic Mold grows very quickly. It has the distinct characteristic of being black, though sometimes it is a very dark green color. Other types of mold can be all different colors, one of which is gray, but Toxic Mold is most commonly dark black in color. It also has a very distinct musty smell. It may look furry and may grow in clumps or colonies.
Because of how rapidly it grows, it can quickly create an unhealthy indoor environment. Depending on where the mold is located, it may not be visible, so occupants may not be aware that they have a problem until it’s out of control. With that said, other types of mold are also harmful to human health in these types of conditions but it was Black Mold that started the “mold crisis” of the 1990s.
Just as dangerous, are mold by-products called myotoxins that are created by the presence of mold. These include dust mites and other substances that become airborne.
A History of Mold
Mold has been around forever. It’s actually a fungus and, to date, over 300,000 different species of fungi have been identified. The Environmental Protection Agency defines mold as “a type of plant that has no leaves, flowers, or roots.” Mold reproduces by emitting spores into the air and spores can remain dormant for many years.
Mold plays a very important role in ecology. It feeds on and decomposes dead matter such as leaves, plants, and trees. It has been referred to as “Mother Nature’s garbage disposal.” It thrives in damp and wet conditions. Mold and other fungi can also be beneficial (think antibiotics, yeast, etc.).
Mold pretty much lives everywhere in nature. It releases spores into the air which can look similar to dust particles, though they may not be visible at all. It gets into our homes through open doors, windows, air conditioning units, and any other openings. We also carry spores in on our clothes and bodies. Our pets bring them in too. As these mold spores float through the air, they will congregate to damp or wet areas, settle in, and start to grow. Mold must have moisture in order to reproduce.
Prior to the 1940s, indoor walls were made out of plaster instead of drywall. Plaster is a sealed, slick surface and mold was less likely to infiltrate it. Mold also likes to take up residence on paper type products such as old newspapers, magazines, and books. Because drywall is a paper type product and is porous, molds find it a particularly hospitable environment.
Types of mold change with weather conditions, temperature fluctuations, and the seasons. It’s impossible to eradicate it completely, but there are many things we can do indoors to keep its numbers to a minimum.
How Does Mold Affect Health?
Some people are more sensitive to mold than others. There are those who are never affected by mold, but there are also people who are allergic to mold. Mold spores are prevalent enough in the environment that they are included in the pollen count reports that we see on the nightly news. For those who are allergic, symptoms can last all year long and don’t necessarily abate like they might for someone who has a particular tree or grass allergy.
The most common symptoms associated with exposure to mold are upper-respiratory and include:
- Nasal stuffiness
- Burning or watery eyes
- Chest tightness
- Shortness of breath
- Sinus infections
The Mayo Clinic conducted a study in 1999 that showed that most chronic sinusitis is CAUSED by fungus and mold. Prior to this study, only 10% of sinusitis was thought to have been fungal related so this was a significant finding and helped explain why these chronic conditions are so difficult to treat. To read more about this study, click HERE: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/09/990910080344.htm
Folks who have pre-existing conditions such as Chronic Pulmonary Obstructive Disease (COPD), Asthma, Emphysema, and other chronic lung diseases are much more susceptible to mold related infections, especially if exposed to it for long periods of time.
Children are also more likely to react. Any indoor infested building or home can also CAUSE asthma in those who previously did not have it. It is extremely dangerous for people who have immunosuppressed diseases to be around toxic mold since they are much more likely to suffer complications.
Long-term exposure can also lead to skin irritations and rash, chronic fatigue, lung disease, migraine headaches, confusion, memory loss, body aches, and light sensitivity. Complications from reactions to mold can also lead to death.
Where is Toxic Mold Most Likely to be Found?
- Bathrooms and kitchens especially around tubs, sinks, and commodes
- Crawl spaces
- Window sills
- Air conditioning/heating ducts
- Potted plants
- Dirty laundry
- Air filters
- Walls and floors that are exposed to moisture through condensation, water damage, or seepage
- Carpets and rugs
- Wood floors
- Areas around pipes
The list is endless however the most common denominator is moisture. Mold also commonly grows on the outside of houses in eaves, ceilings, walls, porches, etc., especially if you live in a humid environment.
There are varying methods to eliminate toxic molds and I will cover some of those here, but it’s important to note that you also need to use common sense in your approach and when making a decision to call in a professional.
If your home or business has suffered water damage and mold is extensive, it’s best and safer to call in a professional. If you are a Do It Yourselfer, then you will want to take the following precautions:
- Seal any openings to prevent spores from spreading throughout the building by using heavy plastic and duct tape.
- Position fans so that they direct air outside.
- ALWAYS wear a respirator rated for Black Mold spores.
- Make sure that all exposed areas of your body are covered.
- If the areas that you are dealing with are porous such as dry wall or insulation, remove them completely and do not try and clean.
- Vacuum any other areas to remove as many spores as possible; dispose of vacuum bag immediately afterwards or empty and disinfect canister.
- Use soapy water and a sponge or scrub brush to remove visible mold.
- Use bleach or a commercial Toxic Mold remover to finish the job and disinfect
- When finished, put all materials used in a heavy weight trash bag and dispose of it immediately.
- Remove and wash clothes immediately with Borax (which will kill mold spores).
- NOTE: wood supports, joists, etc., MUST be treated and allowed to dry completely before replacing drywall or insulation. Otherwise, the mold is going to grow back inside the walls.
If desired, you can also have mold tested by a professional if you need to determine exactly what kind of mold you are dealing with. Or, you can buy a kit, do the testing yourself, and send it off to the designated lab. However, many times it doesn’t matter WHAT type of mold it is because it is all treated mostly the same way.
General Tips for Controlling Mold in the Home
- Reduce moisture in the air by using the air conditioner or a dehumidifier. Set your fan on auto, not “on” as that will bring humidity into the house or building.
- Purchase an air purifier which will trap mold spores and keep air quality clean.
- Add insulation to exterior walls, around windows and doors, and around pipes to control condensation as needed.
- Keep air conditioner drip pans clean and change air filters frequently.
- Dry any wet areas within 24 hours to prevent mold from forming.
- Use fans.
- Keep furniture pulled away from walls to the extent that’s possible to increase air flow.
- Use exhaust fans in the bathroom after showers or baths and in the kitchen when cooking.
- Check, empty, and clean your refrigerator drip pan. This is often overlooked.
- Be mindful of any leaks around pipes, tubs, faucets, toilets, etc. and remedy as soon as problem is noticed.Don’t let damp towels or other laundry pile up on floors or in the laundry basket.
- Make sure crawl spaces and other hidden areas are well insulated and ventilated.
- Keep gutters clean and free of debris.
- Rent a power washer once a year and wash outside areas of house to include walls, ceilings, gutters, patios, and sidewalks.
- Get rid of old newspapers and magazines which can harbor mold.
- Clean and vacuum on a regular basis.
- Clean and disinfect the inside of your trash cans inside the house.
If you locate mold that has dried, use a spray bottle to moisten it before cleaning so that you don’t spread dry mold spores throughout the air.
Remember, the number one priority is to prevent mold by reducing moisture.
Best Cleaning Products for Eliminating Toxic Mold
The first product that comes to mind when you are dealing with mold or mildew is bleach, with ammonia coming in at a close second. Keep in mind that while these products are effective, they are also both harsh chemicals that are toxic in their own right. And always remember that if ammonia and bleach are mixed together, the fumes create a gas that can be deadly. (This chemical mixture was actually used as a toxic gas during World War II.)
Regardless, if you are using bleach or ammonia in your everyday cleaning, always wear a mask and glove up to avoid any skin contact.
Fortunately, there are safer alternatives that are just as effective as bleach or ammonia which include:
- Vinegar will kill 85% of varieties of mold spores. It is non-toxic to humans and pets and the smell will dissipate within 1 to 2 hours after heavy use. When cleaning mold or mildew with vinegar, put it in a spray bottle at full strength. Spray surfaces and let sit for about an hour and then go back and clean with a sponge or scrub brush as needed. Rinse with water after cleaning. You can purchase vinegar in different strengths at a hardware store. (Grocery store vinegar is a 3% solution). “Cleaning” vinegar is available as a 6% solution, and horticultural vinegar, for weed control, is much higher. Use the 6%.
- Borax is only toxic if it’s swallowed and emits no toxic fumes. Use 1 cup per gallon of water. Borax is a wonderful product since it’s also a mold inhibitor and natural deodorizer. It can also be used as an insecticide, herbicide, and fungicide. Use a scrub brush and wipe excess moisture when finished. Additionally, Borax can be used in laundry to sanitize clothing.
- Hydrogen Peroxide is anti-fungal, anti-viral, and anti-bacterial and doesn’t harm the environment or humans. Use the standard 3% solution, spray areas to be cleaned, wait 10 minutes, and then wipe up. Hydrogen Peroxide can also be mixed with vinegar to be more effective on stubborn areas.
- Baking soda is ultra-mild and harmless to people and pets. Add ¼ T. to a spray bottle of water and spray on affected areas. Use a scrub brush to clean. Baking soda does leave a residue so make sure and rinse well after use.
- Tea Tree Oil is one of the most effective cleaners of mold, however, it is also one of the most expensive, though a little goes a long way. While not unpleasant, it also does have a strong smell which some people may not care for, however like vinegar, the smell will dissipate after drying. Add 1 teaspoon per 1 cup of water and use a sponge or a brush to clean. There is no need to rinse since tea tree oil is both an anti-fungal and an anti-bacterial and will help to keep mold and mildew from forming.
- Grapefruit Seed Extract has the same properties of tea tree oil but it’s almost odorless. Use 10 drops of oil per cup of water.
- You can also use a detergent and water solution to remove mold and mildew. Keep in mind though that it does not kill mold spores, so you would want to follow this with an application of something that does.