What is black mold? How does it spread? Is black mold harmful? What can I do about it?
Black mold has been with us for millennia. It was identified as a health risk as far back as biblical times. In the book of Leviticus, people were instructed to remove black mold-covered stones from their homes.
Left unchecked, black mold is a real health risk. On the other hand, there are some common myths about black mold. In this article, we separate the wheat from the chaff. Point out how to identify this potentially dangerous substance. And provide tips on evicting black mold from our living spaces.
Black mold: What it is…and isn’t.
Let’s start by getting our facts straight: Not all black mold is black. And not all mold that’s black is black mold. So, if all that is true, what exactly is black mold?
The scientific name for black mold is Stachybotrys Chartarum. One of thousands of mold types, black mold’s slimy, dark greenish-black appearance stands out from most other kinds of fungi. Black mold often has a distinct, musty aroma that clues us in to its presence – even if we can’t see it.
Many people believe black mold is the most dangerous kind of mold. While black mold can certainly be a health hazard, it is subject to a good deal of misinformation and hype. For example, “toxic black mold” is another term used to describe mold that might make us sick. This is an overstatement on several fronts.
First, when you spot mold that appears to be black, you can’t tell by looking at it whether it’s toxic or not. Second, other varieties and colors of mold can be harmful, too. Some mold types are capable of creating substances that may be toxic or poisonous. But the reality is that mold is all around us. The trick is to figure out if the mold in your environment is the kind that might make you sick.
Where does mold come from?
Mold spores are microscopic, so you can’t see it when it comes inside. It may travel through the air and enter through doors and windows. Or migrate through your heating or air conditioning units. Or hitch a ride indoors by landing on humans and their pets.
Once inside, mold spores take up residence and begin to grow. This can be just about any place. Inside a leaky roof or rusting pipe. In your bathroom, kitchen or laundry area,
Behold the black mold diet.
While black mold loves the outdoors, today we are concerned with mold that camps out inside our homes. Black mold grows in a variety of places, but has a special affinity for everyday building materials you may find indoors. In particular, mold’s ravenous appetite feeds on items that have plenty of cellulose, with a minimum of nitrogen. Favored meals include organic substances found in moisture-laden drywall, carpeting, insulation or even sub-flooring. Mold also snacks on things like dust, wallpaper, upholstery and fabric. It’s not a picky eater!
Rather than running to the restroom, when mold dines, it has a habit of spewing spores into the air. Sometimes, when these spores are ingested or breathed, they may create an allergic reaction, or even make us sick.
What are the symptoms of black mold allergies and illness?
Black mold is most likely to cause respiratory symptoms. These can run the gamut from coughing and wheezing to eye irritation, runny nose, itchy throat and skin rashes. The longer we live around black mold, the more potentially serious the symptoms are.
Black mold exposure can cause headaches, tiredness, and even chronic fatigue. In the long term, living with black mold can lead to adverse health effects. Sufferers may experience feelings of nausea and vomiting. In addition, there are well-documented reports of bleeding in the lungs and nasal passages.
Some of us are more vulnerable to mold allergies and illness than others. People with immune system problems, the elderly, and children are favorite targets. Certain studies have identified a connection between mold exposure at an early age and childhood asthma.
Rarely, mold illness can lead to extremely serious health conditions including psychiatric problems, and even brain damage.
Black mold: Now you see it, now you don’t.
Black mold may appear in places that tend to stay wet, like bathtubs, shower curtains and window sills. But, like the tip of an iceberg, mold very often lays low. It might be trapped beneath soft surfaces like carpeting – or hard surfaces such a tile or wood floors. This kind of mold is hard to see – and can be a challenge to eliminate.
How do I know if it’s really black mold?
It’s hard to know if that dark, slimy stuff on the wall of a laundry room or basement floor is black mold…some other variety of mold…or mold’s cousin, mildew. The one way to determine what it is – and if it might be harmful – is to have it professionally assessed.
Getting rid of mold can be trickier than it looks. Attempts at cleaning moldy surfaces can wind up spreading mold spores around and making the problem worse. So, the best plan is to practice preventive measures — like trying to keep surfaces that typically get wet clean and dry.
Black mold in black and white.
Black mold is a common kind of fungus that is often found in many homes. When you see something that looks like it might be black mold, or should that distinctive musty smell hit your nostrils, it’s smart to contact a professional and discover if it’s a toxic substance that could sicken you or your family.