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Problems with Mold
by Dr. Oneida Cramer

Black mold, in particular Stachybotrys, has been blamed for a number of health problems and has aroused heated controversy over homeowner mold insurance policies. In the wake of a nine-fold increase in the cost of claims in just one year, State Insurance Commissioner Jose Montemayor, recently issued an order restricting mold coverage for Texas homes. Yet, only 0.2% of Texas homeowners reportedly made claims for mold damage. Most people opt to clean up?a relatively simple process that can effectively eradicate many molds.

?There are at least 300,000 molds, half of which are black,? said allergist, Richard Wasserman, M.D. ?But only one of those has been possibly related to some serious illness other than allergy and asthma.?

?Mold is ubiquitous in our environment,? said Allergy, Air, & More owner Jim Rosenthal. ?Every breath we breathe, like pollen count?every day, 365 days a year, you?ll find mold or fungus in the pollen count. From an allergy perspective, a lot of different molds can be unhealthful and can be allergenic. One of the best things you can do for mold is to clean the area; bleach and water (one part bleach to 10 parts water used every two weeks) is an excellent killer of mold.?

?Still, you clean everything in the house; wipe down the countertops,? Rosenthal said. ?Then you open the door, and you have a pollen count going into your house.?

?You want to make sure the humidity doesn?t get really high, (especially when using the old humidifiers),? said Rosenthal. ?You don?t want humidity to get above 50% --that?s probably one of the biggest problems.? An easy way to monitor humidity is with a humidity gauge at a cost of $26.95 for a battery-operated portable model that gives a reading every five seconds and can be taken from room to room.

?If you don?t have dampness, you won?t have mold problems,? Wasserman said. ?The people who are at greatest risks from mold problems in (this area) are people who have standing water when it rains?people whose lots are not well drained. We live in a flood plain, and much of it has been cemented over.? The water that collects on a lot can cause dampness in the house and/or create a problem for pier and beam construction, something easily detected by looking at the sub-floor. ?If you see what looks like mold?black-green-gray stuff?you have a problem. If you don?t see it, you don?t.?

?Other sources (of mold) are leaky roofs (if the leak wets the walls or ceiling and is a persistent problem),? Wasserman said. ?Then you can have mold growth behind a drywall or in the insulation above the ceiling. If you?ve had a leaky roof repaired and also repaired the dry wall, there is still a chance of mold behind the wall. And for sensitive people, that could be a problem.?

Overflowing commodes or pipes to the dishwasher or washing machine, a leaky shower pan, anything that wets areas, which are not supposed to be wet, can cause mold growth. Note especially that once carpet has been soaked, it will never be mold free, according to Wasserman. So, carpeting is not recommended for the bath.

Wildly fluctuating air temperature can also cause mold growth; for instance, single pane glazing or sweating windows will allow moisture to collect on sills and around the margins of the windows. An air conditioner with a wide set point control, where the house becomes very cool before the air conditioner turns off and is allowed to warm up considerably before it turns on again, can get condensation in the air conditioning vents. This moisture will promote mold growth.

?While we?re on the subject, there is no scientific evidence that duct cleaning does any good, and we specifically recommend against it,? Wasserman said. However, if the drain to the outside air conditioner condenser coil gets plugged, mold can grow around the coil, and every time the air conditioner turns on, the mold blows into the house ?That would be something you would want your air conditioning professional to look at?to see that you have a free and open drain from your cooling coil.?

Landscaping can aggravate or alleviate mold problems. For instance, trimming the trees around the home allows sunlight into the interior, which helps reduce mold growth. On the other hand, bringing plants in doors may introduce a mold problem.

?If you compost, whatever you?re composting should be away from the house,? Wasserman said. ?Similarly, at this time of the your, if you have a child who is allergic, you don?t want to rake up all your leaves into a big pile and have him jump around because the damp leaves are moldy.?

?In the holiday season, some people have a lot of trouble with live Christmas trees,? Wasserman said. ?People are only allergic to true pollen. No one is actually allergic to a Christmas tree. But Christmas trees that are cut and brought to the garden center are wet down repeatedly to keep them fresh until they are sold.? Basically, spraying the trees with a hose to make them damp promotes the growth of mold, and people are allergic to the mold on the tree. ?Those kind of people will do better with artificial trees, which collect dust mites.?

Vacuuming?artificial Christmas trees need to be vacuumed (not necessarily every year) but periodically when unpacked, depending upon how they?re stored. Although artificial trees are much less of a problem than live Christmas trees, people still sometimes have trouble with allergies when they decorate the artificial tree.

Do not store firewood in the home; firewood may harbor mold. Even lighting a fire can create problems for children with asthma. Wasserman advises they stand away from the fireplace because a mistake in opening the damper or a flash back can trigger a significant asthma flare from particles of smoke. Once the fire is established and there?s a good draft with no smoke, proximity to the fireplace should not pose a problem for anybody.

Among other mold control measures listed by Allergy, Air & More are avoiding down and foam rubber pillows and mattresses, having the clothes dryer properly vented to the outside, using the exhaust fan in the bath and the vent-a?hood in the kitchen, and not building a bedroom below ground level.

High efficiency air filters with the central heater and air conditioner and regularly replacing these filters, especially when starting up a unit that has been idle, maintains the optimum quality in indoor air, according to Rosenthal who also advises a HEPA vacuum with high efficiency bags for cleanup. These products capture all particulate matter above a designated size.

-by Dr. Oneida Cramer
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