By Terrance BellMarch 5, 2019
FORT LEE, Va. (March 5, 2019) --Do you shower without running the ventilation fan?
Do you opt for open windows versus air conditioning to cool your dwelling down when it's warm outside?
Do you have leaky roofs, indoor faucets or appliances?
Answering yes to any of these questions associated with increased moisture levels within a home also means a greater chance for mold growth, which could put occupants at risk for health problems, according to Capt. Rachel Querido, Chief of Environmental Health, Kenner Army Health Clinic.
Often called upon to conduct industrial hygiene and environmental health inspections at installation workplaces, Querido said moisture is the most critical factor behind the development and spread of the fungi commonly known as mold.
"You can find it indoors, outdoors and on food anywhere around the world," she said. "It is typically produced when there is a prolonged presence of moisture and humidity. That is essentially how it grows."
Mold is part of the natural environment and is not usually a detrimental health issue outside of a confined space, according to the U.S. Army Public Health Center website. The fungi reproduces via microscopic spores floating in the air and landing on wet surfaces. With respect to appearance, household mold varies in description. It may be fuzzy in texture, raised or flat, and colored yellow, green or black. It also may range in size and shape.
Cleaning up mold is where residents need to be particularly careful, Querido said, because any sort of contact releases unseen plumes of spore particles that when breathed in can cause infections or allergy-like symptoms. Wearing a filtration mask is advisable for small cleanup jobs like grout areas and tile surfaces around tubs and sinks. She raises a caution flag for growth patches of 10 square feet or more.
"At that point, you're going to be dealing with a lot of mold spores, and it's probably better to let the professionals handle it," she advised. "Just keep away from it and don't touch it with your feet or hands."
The presence of mold in a home does not automatically mean its occupants are at risk of getting sick. "Only about 10 percent of the population is actually allergic to it," Querido said. "That's when you will see people suffer from itchy eyes, runny noses, sore throats and sneezing. In some rare cases, if you have a severe allergic reaction to mold, you could have asthma."
Allergic reactions may be immediate or delayed, according to the Army Public Health Center website. Also, there is no conclusive evidence that one color of mold is more toxic that others.
The following home care tips will hinder mold growth, according to the APHC:
• Run the bathroom fan or open the window when showering. Use exhaust fans or open windows whenever cooking, running the dishwasher, etc.
• Clean and repair roof gutters regularly.
• Use air conditioners and/or de-humidifiers when needed.
• Act quickly to clean up leaks or spills. If wet or damp materials are dried 24-48 hours after a leak or spill happens, in most cases mold will not grow.
• Keep air conditioning drip pans clean and drain lines unobstructed and flowing properly.
• Keep indoor humidity below 60 percent (may require the installation of a dehumidifier if it is not already part of the home's HVAC system).
• Vent appliances that produce moisture such as clothes dryers, stoves and kerosene heaters.
• Increase ventilation or air movement by opening doors and/or windows, when practical (not while the air conditioning is on). Use fans when needed.
If mold is already present, it must be cleaned and the moisture problem fixed, otherwise it will return, according to the APHC. Querido cited this example:
"If you find it on a wall, it could be that you have a (leaking) pipe behind the surface that allows the mold to grow," she said.
There also may be other signs mold is growing in a space, added Querido.
"If you don't see it, and you think you could have a potential problem, it's probably because you're smelling it," she said. "That would be an indication you have some hidden mold growth and that usually requires a trained remediation professional for cleanup."
To remove mold on hard surfaces, wear protective gloves and a mask and use a scrub brush soaked with detergent or soap solution, recommends the Occupational Safety and Health administration. Thoroughly dry the area once it's clean.
Bleach is not recommended for mold because the chlorine does not have the penetration power to destroy the roots of the fungi and the water in the solution takes longer to dry, which encourages additional mold growth.
For porous surfaces such as subfloors, carpets, drywall, etc., the molded area should be cut away, the OSHA guidelines recommended.
Those experiencing recurring or expanding mold growth in their installation barracks should contact the facility manager for assistance. Housing residents can submit a work order by calling 804-733-1558 and choosing option 3.
Further information on this topic can be found on the APHC website at phc.amedd.army.mil/topics/workplacehealth/ih/Pages/Indoor-Air-Quality-Mold.aspx.