Devon Schmidt
Jul 13, 2018 · 12 min read

Unmasking The Truth About Mold

It all started in the first apartment that I ever moved into. The Warwicks (it even sounds creepy). It was an old apartment, but the rent was cheap so I said who cares. Little did I know what would be in store for me in apartment 306. Every time there was a heavy rain, water would seep through the cracks where the outward-facing wall met the ground due to an uneven foundation. As I was sound asleep, water would creep in and coat my bedroom floors. I thought nothing of it at first; I grabbed some towels and shoved them against the wall hoping to stop the flood. Luckily, it did. What I didn’t know is that all that water that the towel was collecting was slowly seeping into the floor and wall around it. This happened multiple times as it was a rainy season that year. Over time, the black mold began to appear on the walls. I called the apartment management and they never did anything about it.

*Picture source: https://brokeassstuart.com/blog/2016/06/29/what-to-do-if-your-apartment-has-mold/*

My nose was always stuffy and throat was always scratchy any time that I was in that room. Fortunately, the allergy symptoms would magically disappear when I wasn’t near it. I took matters into my own hands and went straight to the wonderful world of Google. I found that bleach could solve my issue fast and fairly easily for a small fee of $5. I thought, “wow that’s great! All my problems are solved!” WRONG!

I poured a mixture of bleach and water on the floors and walls that had been overruled by the mold. To my surprise, the black mold completely disappeared (or so I thought). Not only did I exposed myself to a toxic chemical like bleach, but I was still being exposed to the mold as well. Here’s a fun fact! Bleach cannot fully remove mold in wood surfaces because wood is porous. Who knew? So this means that the mold can spread its roots deep into the porous surface to guarantee its survival. So on top of breathing in mold spores, now I was also breathing in the toxic chemicals that come from bleach. There was nothing I could do. My allergies continued until I moved from that horrendous place.

My curiosity about mold has only grown since then because it has been a constant annoyance in my life. Molds are found in almost every environment and grow indoors and outdoors; it is most common in warm and humid climates (www.cdc.gov). This furry substance will thrive anywhere that has a lot of moisture and warmth. Almost everyone has had to deal with mold problems, but we aren’t as concerned about it as we should be. Most people that encounter mold in their apartments don’t ever do anything about it. And if they do, they are usually putting bleach on it which is also something we should be concerned about using. This piece was motivated by my many encounters with mold and the allergies that come with it.

The reason that I never really cared to do anything about it was because I honestly didn’t think it was dangerous. The biggest problem with mold and our interpretation of it is that there is a lot of different information out there. Some say that mold is dangerous and advise to find other methods besides bleach to remove it. Others say that it is not dangerous, but if you do have it and it bothers you, to use bleach. This inconsistent information is posted on mainstream sites and TV so it is hard to know what to trust.


The Washington Post spoke with the “moldman” A.K.A. Nelson Barnes, who said “using a mixture of detergent and bleach to remove mold [works best] (Kathy Orton, 2013).” In another article, Universal Health News proposes that “cleaning products like bleach produce volatile compounds (which become airborne) that can be inhaled, irritate the lining of the respiratory tract, and cause inflammation, which facilitates infection (UHN staff, 2018).

Examples like that are exactly why we never know what to believe! That can be so frustrating, but the goal here is to give you the necessary information and you can use it to the best of your knowledge to make a conclusion about mold. Dealing with mold can be a nuisance, but there are other, safer ways to remove it. It’s not only gross-looking, but it’s bad for your health and your children’s health.

Mold is everywhere in the environment. It is inside, outside, in our walls and buildings, our clothes, HVAC vents, and many other places. Almost everything we own is susceptible to the unpleasant sight of moldy stains and the odors that come along with it. Typically, mold can be found in areas where it rains frequently or floods often because the levels of moisture are high. Texas is a great example of this because it is in the plains where the ground is flat and easily floodable. One of the worst places to live if you are susceptible to mold is Dallas. Quest Diagnostics’ report listed Dallas as #1 with a 21% “mold sensitization rate”. This means that of the collected blood samples from Dallas residents, 21% had an allergic reaction to mold (Allergies Across America, 2011). You are probably surprised to hear that mold is extremely common in toddlers all the way up to seniors. It can pretty much affect anyone and everyone. Some people may be more susceptible to mold allergies, but that is hard to predict. The effects of mold can be hard to prove because there are many factors that play into certain health problems.

Although we have been well aware of the minor negative effects from mold such as coughing and wheezing, their have been new studies that reveal more threatening issues as well. Mold is not taken very seriously, but it is something we should be concerned about. I remember when I thought it wasn’t a big deal, but it didn’t take much convincing once I saw the data. It’s definitely alarming that something we encounter almost everyday can potentially have a harmful effect on a child’s respiratory health.

There are many types of mold — the most common being:

  • penicillium,
  • aspergillus,
  • cladosporium,
  • and stachybotrys (E. Bloom, L.F. Grimsley, 2009)

Note: Not all mold is toxic, but the most toxic is the stachybotrys strain, also known as black mold.

The common component in all types of mold is a term referred to as mycotoxins. Mycotoxins are produced by microfungi and organic compounds that are capable of causing disease and death in humans (J.W. Bennett, 2003). Scientists that study the health effects of molds on humans have discovered two types of mycotoxins from indoor mold samples: aflatoxins and trichothecenes. When children and people with compromised immune systems breathe in, eat, or have mold-to-skin contact, the mycotoxins can cause negative symptoms.

BUT!! More research needs to be done to find out the exact human health problems associated with mycotoxins. There is little knowledge on this currently (Graham A. Colditz, 2007).

Aside from that, the majority of studies show that their are at least minimal side effects from mold in general. Some studies even show that their can be more serious impacts to your health, especially if you’re exposed at a young age. In one case, a group of scientists did a study on 6-year olds to assess the impact of early childhood exposure to indoor molds on cognitive function. In the experiment, Jedrichowshi and his team followed 277 Polish babies for 6-years to determine if there was a connection between mold and cognitive function. While their are many factors that contribute to lower IQ scores and impaired cognitive function, indoor mold attributed to significantly lower IQ scores (Jedrichowshi, 2011).

That study was EXTREMELY limited as it only followed 277 babies. Doing experiments like that can be really expensive and that is why there is so little information on these sorts of things.

This next study is one that I found reliable and gave a good overview of how mold can affect your respiratory tract:

The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI) reviewed patients from an allergy and asthma center with the diagnosis of toxic mold exposure — We’re talking black mold toxic. If you’re wondering what the review entailed… The data considered was based on symptoms, physical examinations, skin prick/puncture tests, and intracutaneous tests (whatever that means). It’s worth noting that this was a very small scale study with only 65 participants.

The results concluded that there were a variety of symptoms that patients exhibited:

Symptom type

% that exhibited symptom

rhinitis

62%

cough

52%

headache

34%

central nervous system symptoms

25%

fatigue

23%

respiratory symptoms

34%

A whooping 33 of the 65 patients had skin reactions to molds (B Ronan O’Driscoll, 2005). Am I the only one that finds this shocking?? This study is yet another example of why we should be concerned about the effects of mold on our health.

Another aspect of mold that I want to point out is the link between mold exposure and multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). MCS is a disorder where you develop sensitivities to things that you were never sensitive to before. This could be anything from perfumes to food to clothing. It can become very serious to your physical and mental health when you feel that you cannot leave your house due to these new sensitivities. In a podcast from Cellular Healing, Dr. Daniel Pompa discusses the link between mold exposure and multiple chemical sensitivity. Dr. Pompa says that the biggest problem with mold sickness is that a lot of times people just don’t know. They go to doctors where they are prescribed an assortment of medicines, but it never solves the issue. The reason it can be so hard to diagnose what the cause is, is because there are so many possibilities. Below is the full podcast for listening:

As I mentioned before… Some studies conclude that there is still not enough evidence to say that mold causes these negative health impacts. The Encyclopedia of Cancer and Society has also published an article about toxic mold. It stated that “it is unclear what kinds of health hazards molds pose to humans, and scientists continue to work on answers to questions about mold being a possible cancer-causing agent (Encyclopedia of Cancer and Society, 2007).”

It’s tough to establish hard evidence because there can be so many contributing factors to cancer and other health problems; this creates a lot of grey areas on the issue.

Regardless if you are less prone or more prone to mold allergies, it is never considered safe. Mold allergies pollute homes and buildings causing sickness among the people that spend the most time there.


So how can you deal with mold?

Well… There are many aspects of dealing with mold such as:

  • testing for mold,
  • getting rid of mold,
  • and preventing mold.

With current technology, there are mold testing kits that can be used by any adult. The biggest downfall of these kits are that they only tell you if you have mold or not. They will not specifically tell you what kind or how to get rid of it. If you’re experiencing symptoms and think that they are related to mold and you can’t physically see it, then this might be an option. Below is a video of symptoms you can experience.

In the case where you do have mold, you would have to send the samples off to a lab to determine the strain. Sometimes, the samples go to labs that are not accredited so the results can be inaccurate. In the lab, the scientists put the sample under a microscope and can tell by the chemical make up what type of mold it is. Although there is no evidence that the mold test kits work 100% of the time, they are still promoted — basically being useless. In one case, a man tested for mold in his house using multiple different test kits, only to find that they all said different things (Terri Parker, 2015). The other option is hiring a service to come and inspect for the mold. This method can be costly and potentially more dangerous due to the risk of letting someone into your home.

If you didn’t get it from reading that… Here’s some advice… NEVER buy a mold kit, it is a huge waste of money. It’s not that hard to spot mold and treat it yourself, but if you don’t feel like doing it yourself then you better call a professional.

Many risks can come along with getting rid of mold as well. Most people seem to think that killing mold usually requires harsh chemicals like bleach to effectively remove it. BUT IT’S NOT TRUE!! People are constantly working to innovate an alternative to these harsh chemicals that is more eco-friendly and less toxic to human health. The method to create something like this would require lab work to test different oils and antibacterial products on mold. The focus would be on killing the toxic parts of the mold such as the mycotoxins within it.

Using alternative methods to kill mold might take longer than the chemical-filled methods, but might still prove to be effective. A few products used to naturally remove mold are tea tree oil, vinegar, and hydrogen peroxide. Vinegar, also known as acetic acid is reported to have an antimicrobial effect on fungi in various applications. In one example, vinegar vapour application was demonstrated on fruits to prevent the germination of conidia of fruit decay fungi. It showed to prevent against penicillium specifically in strawberries, apples, and stone fruit (Senthaamarai Rogawansamy, 2015). This study helps to conclude that there are natural ways to remove mold.

Preventing mold is another aspect of protecting yourself from the harmful components of mold. Here are some ways to prevent and minimize exposure to mold:

  • Air purifiers,
  • Moisture absorbers,
  • And mold blocker sprays.

Studies support multiple prevention methods, including air filtration, as way to improve outcomes in the treatment of allergic respiratory diseases (James L Sublett, 2011). A recent study conducted by Roy A, surveyed more than 3,700 adults with asthma and examined the association between preventive asthma care and air purifiers. Air filtration was the 4th most commonly used strategy at 27.4%, preceded only by no smoking (80%), no pets (53.9%), and washing sheets in hot water (43.2%) (Roy A, 2010). I think this effectively shows the correlation between preventative methods and feeling healthier.

The eco-friendly version would be a package-free bar that contained a film that would protect against moisture damage. It could be applied to any surface and wouldn’t contribute to indoor air pollution. Mold can sometimes be unavoidable, but the idea is to reduce exposure to it as much as possible.

Citations:

Why You Should Never Use Bleach To Clean Mold. (n.d.). Retrieved July 1, 2018, from https://www.rhinohide.com/blog/never-use-bleach-to-clean-mold

Orton, K. (2013, October 25). Mold: What every homeowner fears but probably shouldn’t. Retrieved July 1, 2018, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/realestate/mold-what-every-homeowner-fears-but-probably-shouldnt/2013/10/24/3af5cd0c-3810-11e3-8a0e-4e2cf80831fc_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.93a1f47d8c7f

Bennett, J. W., & Klich, M. (2003, July). Mycotoxins. Retrieved June 23, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC164220/

Toxic Mold. (2007). In G. A. Colditz (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Cancer and Society (Vol. 3, pp. 910–913). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications. Retrieved from http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX2660500642/GVRL?u=txshracd2598&sid=GVRL&xid=950bee7f

Vesper, S. J., & Haugland, R. A. (2004). Mold Pollution. In R. M. Stapleton (Ed.), Pollution A to Z (Vol. 2, pp. 52–54). New York: Macmillan Reference USA. Retrieved from http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX3408100166/GVRL?u=txshracd2598&sid=GVRL&xid=81d02700

Parker, Terri. “How Effective Are Mold, Allergy Test Kits?” WPBF, WPBF, 13 July 2017, www.wpbf.com/article/how-effective-are-mold-allergy-test-kits/1317098.

Cleaning up Mold in Your Home. (2011). In A. L. Sutton (Ed.), Health Reference Series. Allergies Sourcebook (4th ed., pp. 489–494). Detroit: Omnigraphics. Retrieved from http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX1727900137/GVRL?u=txshracd2598&sid=GVRL&xid=261c863e

Rogawansamy, S., Gaskin, S., Taylor, M., & Pisaniello, D. (2015, June). An Evaluation of Antifungal Agents for the Treatment of Fungal contamination in Indoor Environments. Retrieved June 19, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4483703/

Jedrychowski, W., Maugeri, U., Stigter, L., Jankowski, J., Butscher, M., Mroz, E., . . . Sowa, A. (2011, October 24). Cognitive Function of 6-Year Old Children Exposed to Mold-Contaminated Homes in Early Postnatal Period. Retrieved June 19, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3758954/

R., J., M., S., P., S., A., C., . . . G. (2007, May 01). Neuropsychological exploration of alleged mold neurotoxicity | Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology | Oxford Academic. Retrieved June 19, 2018, from https://academic.oup.com/acn/article/22/4/533/3039

https://www.questdiagnostics.com/dms/Documents/Other/2011_QD_AllergyReport.pdf

O’Driscoll, R., Hopkinson, L. C., & Denning, D. W. (2005, February 18). Mold sensitization is common amongst patients with severe asthma requiring multiple hospital admissions. Retrieved June 19, 2018, from https://bmcpulmmed.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2466-5-4

Sublett, J. L. (2011, July 20). Effectiveness of Air Filters and Air Cleaners in Allergic Respiratory Diseases: A Review of the Recent Literature. Retrieved June 23, 2018, from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11882-011-0208-5

Roy, A., & Wisnivesky, J. P. (n.d.). Comprehensive use of environmental control practices among adults with asthma. Retrieved June 23, 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20929597

Treeusable 2018

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Devon Schmidt

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Treeusable 2018

Healthy products for healthy people and planet

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