A recent study by the Institute of Medicine found that household mold can cause coughing, wheezing and a number of respiratory problems, but said there was no evidence of a link to more serious issues, such as cancer and neurological problems.
Still, the number of mold litigations is on the rise, and many people are convinced that mold is destroying their health.
"If you're sensitized to the mold then actually it is quite serious," says mold expert Jeffrey May, author of "The Mold Survival Guide," on The Early Show. "But very often people get upset by seeing just the mildew on a window. And some companies actually take advantage of that concern."
The key to stop mold from growing he says is not just to take a sponge with bleach on it and take it off, but to figure out the conditions that brought it on. "Controlling the moisture, controlling the relative humidity is really key," May tells co-anchor Rene Syler who admitted she has mold problems in her basement.
"Most people won't fess up. Dehumidification is important," May says. "There are machines that suck air through the basement. You have to buy a dehumidifier. It's a cost."
And if you have children who are asthmatic, May says, having a dehumidifier is essential.
Asked about the types of mold, he notes most are black, though there is such thing as black toxic mold.
"The real issue with mold is allergy," May explains, "It's this mold that you can't see often that makes people sick. It's mold growing in carpet, mold growing in basements and carpets, or even mold growing in air conditioning and heating systems. That's really what gets people sick."
Read an excerpt from "The Mold Survival Guide":
You are reading this book, so you are probably worried about
mold. Perhaps your basement has a musty odor or there are fuzzy
dark patches on a bedroom wall, or perhaps you or someone in your
family has mold allergies.
What is mold, and what can you do to prevent mold from growing
in your home? This book will answer these and many other questions
you have about mold.
And speaking of questions, who are we, to be writing about mold?
First, I'm a home inspector. Years ago, before people purchased a
house, they looked around, and if they liked what they saw, they
plunked down a deposit. They took their chances with the condition
of the heating system, foundation, and roof. Today, buyers are more
sophisticated, and most buyers hire a professional to do a home inspection
before making a final commitment to a new home. A pre-purchase home inspection that follows the Standards of Practice of the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI) is very thorough, systematic, and informative, providing details about the home's construction, condition, and maintenance. In the fifteen years I have been in the profession, I have come to know thousands of homes, many more intimately than I cared to, and I have seen again and again how minor neglect can lead to decay and the need for costly repairs.
I wasn't always a home inspector; I was educated as an organic chemist (B.A. Columbia, M.A. Harvard). In addition, I am a certified indoor air quality professional (CIAQP); I have taken microbiology courses and trained other indoor air quality professionals. In my air quality work I combine a commitment to science and health with an interest in teaching and in solving building mysteries, such as mold and odor problems.
In the 1970s, when I was a high school physics and chemistry teacher, Sam Bass Warner, the parent of one of my students, gave me a microscope in a handsome case made of light-colored wood with a beautiful grain. The case had a comfortable black handle at the top and a hinged door with a jewelry-box lock at the front. Tied to a string on the handle was a small key. The microscope was nestled inside the box, held in place by curved brackets covered with green velvet.
I must admit I liked the case a lot, but the microscope didn't seem that special at the time, because I was more interested in molecules than cells. But I was also allergic to house dust, and I had two little children with asthma. One day it occurred to me that the microscope might help me discover if something in the dust was causing my family's problems. My first peek through the eyepiece revealed an invisible world, and I was hooked.
I now own three more microscopes, three digital cameras, and half a dozen air samplers. I can trap unseen particles from the air and view them on a computer monitor. I have personally investigated over 750 buildings and collected and analyzed over 15,000 air and dust samples. In the many hours I have spent bent over one microscope or another, I have learned what air and dust can contain: spores, pollen, pet dander, insect body parts and droppings, feather fragments, tire particles, soot, skin scales, cornstarch granules, cellulose fibers from clothing, wool dander from rugs, and pigment
particles from spray-painting and laser printers, to name just a few.
In my lab I have microscope slides full of mold spores and petri dishes covered with mold growth. Despite my mold allergies, I am fascinated by the intricate beauty of growing mold. Fluffy blue or brown colonies fan outward like spreading drops of ink; black mold creeps beneath the petri dish's nutrient surface, dark bulges erupting here and there. Once I noticed a symmetrical colony of greenish mold turning dark as it was overrun by the explosive growth of another furry white mold. Under the microscope the "victim's" spores looked as if they had been smashed and cracked open by the aggressor.
Mold spores come in an amazing variety of shapes: some are round, some oval, and some spiral shaped. Some have smooth surfaces, and others have barbs. The number of spores produced by some mold colonies seems infinite, and the spores and the structures that bear them are arranged into a microscopic architecture with a never-ending web of order and complexity.
As a scientist I am interested in mold, but as an indoor air quality professional I am convinced that in over 80 percent of the houses I have investigated, elevated levels of mold spores in the air were responsible
for some of the coughing, sneezing, runny noses, and breathing difficulties people were experiencing.
I am not a doctor and will not be giving medical advice; nor would I ever tell anyone to disregard medical advice in favor of environ-mental measures. If you are experiencing allergy or asthma symptoms in your home and you wonder if mold is the cause, see a physician. I would also discourage those who have mold allergies, or who live in households with people who have such sensitivities, to carelessly disturb what they believe might be mold growth.
Many people who react to mold suffer in silence not only their symptoms but also the unsympathetic attitudes and even disbelief of family members and friends. Understanding is key. Learning more about mold will help persuade disbelievers, convince sufferers that they are not imagining things, and turn everyone involved into more able warriors in the battle against this indoor contaminant.
The foregoing is excerpted from "The Mold Survival Guide," by Jeffery C. May and Connie L. May. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from The Johns Hopkins University Press