Mold Hazards Are Preventable

Claudette Reichel  |  3/15/2005 7:44:49 AM

We hear a lot about toxic mold. In the right conditions, molds multiply and can release enough spores in the air to cause health problems, according to LSU AgCenter housing specialist Dr. Claudette Reichel.

“Molds can be especially harmful to those with asthma, allergies, illnesses and other susceptibilities,” the LSU AgCenter housing specialist says, adding, “Some people are much more sensitive to mold than others.”

There are many types of molds. Reichel says all molds are considered a health hazard, but some types also produce various mycotoxins that are carried in the spores. Health effects vary widely and are difficult to isolate in a clear cause-and-effect relationship. Some of the possible effects indicated by scientists include asthma, allergic reactions, suppression of the immune system, various lung problems and possible neurological effects.

The housing expert says the mold in the news a lot is stachybotrys chartarum. It is not your common mildew. It is a greenish black, slimy mold that grows on cellulose material, such as wood and paper that has been saturated a long time - generally from flooding or leaks. It is not the only indoor mold that produces mycotoxins, but has gotten a lot of attention because of suspected relationships with pulmonary hemmorage in infants and neurological damage.

A mold problem means a moisture problem. If you prevent materials from staying wet for longer than a day or two, you prevent mold. So, the key objective should be moisture control.

Moisture and mold problems often come from common and obvious sources. Water leaks - of the roof, walls or plumbing - are a good example. Walls should be constructed with a “drainage plane” behind the siding, because all walls leak sooner or later. Also, wall systems dry to the air-conditioned interior in our climate, so inside wall surfaces should not have a vapor barrier. That means avoid vinyl wallpaper.

Moisture comes from less obvious sources, too:

  • Moisture migration through the slab or subfloor. The ground should slope away from the house. It’s helpful to cover the ground in a crawl space with plastic sheeting.
  • Oversized air conditioners. Their cycles run short, so they don’t dehumidify sufficiently. Bigger is not better. Get a load calculation when buying an A/C.
  • Exhaust fans that dump into the attic or under the house. You need generous ducts to the outdoors and tight dampers.
  • Air infiltration. This is worsened by leaky ducts in the attic causing the home to draw in make-up air from gaps in the building. Make sure that duct leaks are sealed with mastic, not duct tape.

Free information about mold cleanup and additional resources are available from the EPA Indoor Air Information Clearinghouse online at www.epa.gov/iaq/ or by phone at 1-800-438-4318.

Healthy home information is also available from your parish LSU AgCenter office and extension agents. In addition, refer to the Health & Safety section of Family & Home on the LSU AgCenter website.

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