Mold - What is it?
Mold is the common name given to a huge family of tiny microorganisms. Mold, fungi, algae, and bacteria are often grouped together and called micro-flora or "tiny life forms." An estimated 50,000 out of an estimated 300,000 molds have been identified. The presence of mold and their numbers can be greatly amplified in a moist and humid environment where mold can thrive. There are many common molds found inside and outside buildings, but it is in enlarged numbers that mold creates adverse health conditions.
What conditions cause mold growth?
Molds spores and mold growths require three ideal conditions to grow and thrive: moisture, food, and temperature. Moisture, or high humidity, can be caused by several factors such as water from leakage, sewage back up, or condensation. Different molds relish various organic food sources. The paper layer in sheetrock walls is a favorite food, as is wood, carpet backing, soap scum, and dust. Just about anything humans, bugs, or animals eat can be a food source for molds as well. Most molds like the same temperature as humans, thriving between 68 and 86 F.
Mold growth can start within 24 hours of water damage. Most molds prefer dark, stagnant, and moist air, so the inside of a wet wall or under flooring are favorite spots. These are the prime conditions for mold and bacteria to thrive and multiply. Removing or changing one of these growth conditions will prevent new mold growth. However, with existing mold, changing the conditions may only make the mold go dormant (go to sleep) where it is ready to rapidly start new growth when conditions are again right.
Molds are the ultimate survival mechanisms, having existed and flourished for eons. Molds arenÕt malicious, just incredibly effective at surviving. To understand molds, what causes them, and why molds can be a problem, a brief discussion about molds is appropriate. One may think of a mold organism as a microscopic dandelion since molds grow similarly to a dandelion.
A dandelion seed, or a mold spore, floats or is carried to a suitable growing spot. Mold spores start growing within 12-24 hours of proper growth conditions, which is why Steamway/Disaster Restorations hurries to dry out water damaged structures and contents quickly and thoroughly, to help limit mold growth. The seed, or mold spore, germinates and starts putting out roots, or hyphae, in order to get nourishment and moisture. Dandelion plants pick up nourishment form the soil. Molds and fungi excrete digestive enzymes that dissolve their organic food source (your sheet rock or carpet) so nourishment can be absorbed through the moldÕs hyphae. . The dandelion likes good soil, moisture, good temperature, and sunshine.
Mold likes a good food source (even the dust on a window is enough food for mold) , moisture, good temperature, and generally detests sunlight. The dandelion/mold grows and thrives well as long as conditions are correct.. Dandelions form stems and leaves, molds form hyphae and mycelium. While growing, the dandelion/mold makes byproducts of metabolism just like animals breath out stale air and have excrement. In mold, some of these byproducts are called microbial volatile organic compounds (m.v.o.c.) and may contain toxins (mycotoxins).
Eventually the dandelion will propagate and flower, which makes seeds. In mold, the flowers are called fruiting bodies and the seeds are called spores. Eventually the seeds/spores float away on a gust of air or are spread around by contact of some kind. The spores can float for days, as the spores are microscopically small, and are virtually everywhere in low numbers. Some spores will land on prime growing conditions, while others can wait hundreds of years for proper growing conditions.
In a heavily affected mold situation it is possible to have a "mold bloom" where all the molds bloom and send out spores at the same time. Reports stated the mold bloom created so many mold spores the building looked as if a bag of flour had been throw into the air and settled, creating a visible fine layer of mold spore dust everywhere. The mold spores were so thick you could write your name in them. This situation put several healthy young adults into the hospital. The author here has seen mold contamination in houses so severe that all the walls appeared to have been painted black. In another mold loss, a wooden chair was so covered in a fine green mold that it appeared at first glance to be green velvet fabric instead of wood. These are extreme cases. Adverse physical reactions can start at spore levels that can only be detected by laboratory testing.