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Black Mold 101

Black Mold 101: Is Black Mold Dangerous and What are the Signs of Exposure?

The two words every homeowner dreads hearing are “black mold”, and for good reason: there has been a lot of scare-mongering by the media in recent years. What exactly is black mold? What are the signs of black mold growth? Is it really as concerning as it’s been made out to be? Read on to find the answers to these questions and more.

The Discovery of Black Mold

Stachybotrys chartarum, more commonly known as “toxic black mold” or simply “black mold”, describes a collection of microfungus. It was first discovered in Prague in 1837 by a Czech mycologist named August Carl Joseph Corda, who found the mold growing on the surface of an indoor wall; it wasn’t until almost 150 years later when the term “black mold” became a part of the vernacular of homeowners. In the 1990s, mainstream media started reporting on the presence of black mold in homes throughout the United States, claiming that it was almost an epidemic, of sorts. While governmental health organizations across the globe do consider black mold harmful, the severity of the danger is a topic that has long been up for debate.

Black Mold Panic

Though black mold had been identified for more than a century and there’s no doubt that it existed long before it was formally discovered, it wasn’t until the final decade of the 20th century that the fear surrounding the fungi really ramped up. In 1993, a strange medical mystery occurred that caught the entire country by surprise. In Cleveland, 10 infants were diagnosed with a condition known as bleeding lung syndrome. The cause of the so-called outbreak was investigated by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and it was determined that “toxic black mold” was to blame. The mold that caused the infants to develop bleeding lung syndrome developed as a result of standing flood water in their homes.

After the initial proclamation, the CDC issued a statement that the connection between black mold and the bleeding lung syndrome that affected the infants. Despite the update from the governmental health organization, the damage had already been done. The nightly news, radio news channels, and newspapers took the story and ran. They constantly broadcasted the initial proclamation the CDC made (and conveniently neglected to give the updated report that the organization made indicating that the connection between black mold and the cases of bleeding black lung was unproven), the fear and panic set in, and homeowners across the country became paranoid. To add fuel to the fire, stories of properties that were damaged by water and black mold growth became a constant, and thus, the fear and cause for concern grew even more.  The controversy still exists today, nearly three decades later.

Black Mold Explained

As mentioned above, the term “black mold” describes Stachybotrys chartarum, a specific species of just one of many different species of black molds. Aspergillus niger is another example of black mold; in fact, there are some 60 known species of black mold. This, this term is really a misnomer. With that said, we’ll focus on Stachybotrys charatrum, as it is the type of black mold that is referenced.

This species of mold is called “black”, as it contains melanin, which gives the fungus its dark coloring. The melanin serves a specific purpose, as it protects the mold colony from the damaging effects that oxidization that can experience in the environments they exist in.

Is Black Mold Common?

All molds – including black molds – require five key ingredients in order to thrive:

  • Moisture
  • Oxygen
  • Warmth (temperatures above 32 degrees F)
  • Darkness
  • Food

While all species of molds can grow both outside and inside, black mold tends to survive best indoors. It’s most commonly found in cellulose-dense structural materials that are exposed to water damage or that experience high humidity or condensation levels on a constant basis. Unlike other species of mold, which can thrive in locations that moderate moisture content, black mold needs very high moisture levels in order to thrive; for example, most species of mold can thrive in locations where moisture levels are between about 35 and 70 percent, while Stachybotrys does best in locations where the average humidity level as about 90 percent.  It grows very slowly and it usually doesn’t stand up to well to other types of molds. With that said, black molds will generally only be found in locations in your home where the humidity content is high; however, other species of molds can certainly grow in more areas throughout your house, as they don’t require as much moisture to thrive.

Where does Black Mold Grow Inside a Home?

As previously noted, black mold grows on building materials that have a high cellulose content and in locations where the relative humidity level is very high on a constant basis. A study that was conducted in 2004 found that Stachybotrys grew the best when relative humidity levels were about 97 percent, which suggests that the higher the relative humidity level in your home, the greater the risk of black mold growth. While you might be pleasantly surprised to find that the relative risk of black mold growth is lower than you initially thought, it’s important to be aware that there isn’t a chance that mold won’t grow inside your home, as other species of molds can grow and thrive in locations where the humidity levels are lower.

So, where might you find black mold growth inside your home? Any location where the relative humidity is considerably high, there is a chance that black mold growth could develop. Although, high moisture levels isn’t all that black mold needs to grow. It also requires nutrition. Like all species of mold, black molds feed on cellulose or organic materials; anything that is made of naturally occurring plant fibers, in other words, such as drywall, wood, insulation, linens, papers, books, and even clothing and shoes. Further qualities that make for ideal growing conditions for black mold growth include adequate air flow, little to no disruption, and relative darkness and very minimal ultraviolet light, as the sun’s UV light kills most species of mold, including Stachybotrys chartarum.

Examples of locations where black mold is commonly found indoors include:

  • On the drywall, wood, insulation, and other high cellulose materials that are situated around sweating pipes
  • Cabinets underneath sinks
  • In the attics and crawl spaces underneath leaking roofs
  • On the sills and frames around windows with high condensation levels
  • Underneath and around dishwashers
  • Underneath and around hot water heaters
  • Underneath and around washing machines

Rooms where black mold growth commonly occurs include:

  • Bathrooms
  • Laundry rooms
  • Kitchens
  • Basements
  • Attics
  • Garages

What are the Symptoms of Mold Exposure?

All species of molds, including Stachybotrys chartarum, spread via spores. Those spores are released into the air and they float around until they find an ideal location that meets the requirements that black mold needs to thrive – very high moisture levels, relative darkness, warmth, oxygen, and a source of nutrition – and the spores will then land, set up shop on the surface of the substrate, and begin feeding, reproducing, and growing. Once black mold starts growing, it produces spores, those spores are released, and the cycle continues.

Exposure to the airborne spores that black mold releases does pose the risk of some health complications; however, not everyone is affected by the spores. Individuals who suffer from allergies or who have been diagnosed with chronic respiratory conditions, such as asthma or COPD, for example, as well as those with weakened immune systems, are more susceptible to block mold. That is not to say, however, that those who do not suffer from allergies or respiratory health conditions will not suffer side effects as a result of being exposed to black mold. Symptoms of black mold exposure include:

  • Coughing
  • Nasal congestion
  • Red, itchy, irritated eyes
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Skin irritation
  • Sore, scratch throat
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Cognitive impairment, such as forgetfulness, brain fog, and difficulty concentrating
  • Worsening symptoms associated with chronic respiratory conditions
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Sleep disturbances, including difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep
  • Imbalance
  • Reduced blood circulation
  • Swelling
  • Digestive health issues
  • Vision disturbances
  • Muscular pain and joint discomfort
  • Neurological complaints

The cause of the side effects that are associated with black mold exposure are thought to be the result of the compounds that fungus releases. These compounds are known as mycotoxins, and they are believed to be toxic in nature. Do note, however, that this connection still has not been proven and it is still a hotly debated topic. A research study that was conducted in 2017, for example, concluded that there was no evidence that indicated exposure to black mold causes any specific health complications.

How to Detect Black Mold

You can detect black mold by inspecting your home yourself. Look for clusters of mold growth, particularly in areas where the conditions are warm and very damp. Remember that while it may be dubbed “black”, that does not necessarily mean that all black molds are dark in color. While the clusters may be blackish, they can also appear greenish. You might also notice that your home has a damp, stale, musty odor. Check the cellulose materials that have been exposed to significant amounts of moisture – a leaking pipe, flooding, or poor ventilation, for example.

It is important to note that black mold growth may not always be visible or detectable to the average homeowner. It can grow within the walls of your home, for example. Therefore, it would be highly beneficial to hire a mold inspection professional to determine if black mold is growing in your home.

Why Hire a Mold Inspection Professional?

Why should you consider hiring a mold inspection professional? Because, as mentioned, black mold isn’t always easy to detect; it can grow in inconspicuous locations, completely unbeknownst to you. The sooner black mold is detected, the better, as you can then have it eliminated from your home before it spreads and causes even more damage to your home and increased adverse health effects.

In other words, hiring a mold inspection professional will not only help you avoid the potential health complications that exposure to black mold can cause, but it can also prevent structural damage to your home.

What to Expect During a Professional Mold Inspection

During a professional mold inspection, a licensed, certified, and trained technician will perform a thorough assessment of your house. They will begin by conducting a visual inspection of the areas where black mold growth is most likely to occur, such as in bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, basements, and attics, around pipes, under cabinets, and around plumbing fixtures and appliances that use water or produce condensation, such as hot water heaters, dishwashers, and washing machines.

If any mold growth is found, the technician will collect surface samples. They will also take samples of your indoor air. The samples will be sent to an accredited laboratory, where it will be assessed to determine the severity of the mold growth. The mold inspection company will shared the findings of the visual inspection and the surface and air samples with you, and based on those findings, they will make recommendations to properly eradicate the problem.

If the problem is minor, you could attempt to remove it yourself; however, do note that you will need to make sure that you completely remove it, otherwise it will continue to spread, and you need to take the necessary precautions to protect yourself. When black mold is disturbed, the spores that it contains will be released, and the spores are what cause the adverse health complications that can occur as a result of black mold exposure. If you are not confident in your abilities to fully and safely remove the mold, or if the problem is severe, hiring a professional mold remediation company may be in your best interest. A professional will employ the proper and proven techniques and strategies to safely and fully remove the black mold that is growing within your home, thereby reducing your risk of being exposed to the toxic spores that it releases.

Contact Mold Inspection and Testing Today!

If you’re looking for a reputable, affordable, and reliable mold assessment professional, contact the team at MI&T! With more than a decade of experience, a proven track record of success, and serving more than 50 major metropolitan areas, you can count on our crew to accurately identify presence of black mold growth in your home

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