By Eric Pilgrim | Fort Knox NewsNovember 4, 2019
As Fort Knox housing officials continue to encourage concerned residents to report any issues of mold they find in their homes, they also want residents to understand the truth about molds in Kentucky.
For instance, there are lot of different molds in the environment -- the Ohio River area has a higher than usual concentration of them -- and no life threatening molds have been discovered in any of the homes at the installation.
"As long as you clean mold and mildew as soon as you see it, you shouldn't have any issues," said Mary-Ellen Correia, Housing Division chief at Fort Knox Directorate of Public Works.
Dr. James Stephens agrees.
"If you have mold and you see mold, clean it, but it is not at a point like everyone thinks how mold is," said the chief of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Ireland Army Health Clinic on Fort Knox. "Just because you have a little mildew in your bathroom doesn't mean you're going to get sick. If you look around your house, I don't care how clean you think you are, you're going to find mold someplace.
"It's a natural process, it's a natural species in the world, and Kentucky is horrible for it."
Kentucky is in fact so famous for mold growth on homes, said Stephens, many of the historic estates built over a century ago were painted black to camouflage it.
Scientists speculate that more than 200,000 different molds exist in the world. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published a white paper on molds and how they react to damp climates.
"There is always some mold everywhere -- in the air and on many surfaces," according to the CDC.
According to the research, the most common indoor molds are cladosporium, penicillium, aspergillus, and alternaria, none of which are the potentially deadly stachybotrys chartarum, also known as stachybotrys atra -- a greenish black mold that can grow on high-cellulose, low-nitrogen materials like fiberboard, sheetrock, paper, dust and lint. The vast majority of molds, however, live and grow outside of homes in Kentucky, especially in moist areas.
Stephens said people also often confuse mold with allergies. Even more complicated, mold can trigger allergies.
"We're the worst place in the nation for all allergies. You come in, and you have a lot of mold in the house, and you're somebody who already has allergies, it will trigger those allergies," said Stephens.
He said people also get confused and scared about deadly mold because of its common name: black mold.
"Everyone talks about the quote-unquote 'black mold,' but mold changes colors depending on the stage of growth or how old it is," said Stephens. "It can be black, green, gray or white. Think about a piece of bread. It starts off whitish, then turns greenish and even turns black if you let it sit there for long enough. Pumpkins, squash, tomatoes all do the same."
Despite the mountain of information available dispelling myths about molds, many people remain concerned about the molds and mildew that form in their homes.
Because of this, Correia said industrial hygiene officials at the installation, along with housing officials and officials at Knox Hills, have taken steps to inspect and test homes where mold spores have been suspected of growing.
To date, more than 1,800 homes have been checked. Of those, residents in 103 said they had mold. Of those, 14 homes were looked at more closely. Industrial hygiene officials recommended four of those homes for testing, three of which revealed elevated levels of mold.
"Out of those, none of them had the stachybotrys, which is considered the bad black mold," said Correia.
Knox Hills officials moved residents out of the homes that were tested, also moving some residents with additional health considerations who voiced concerns about persistent allergies in their homes. Correia said the mold was successfully removed in all the affected homes.
Preventive measures remain the most effective way to deal with mold.
The CDC suggests there are some practical ways to keep mold spores from growing in homes. The following are a list of the recommendations:
• Keep humidity levels as low as you can -- no higher than 50% -- all day long. An air conditioner or dehumidifier will help you keep the level low. Bear in mind that humidity levels change over the course of a day with changes in the moisture in the air and the air temperature, so you will need to check the humidity levels more than once a day.
• Use your air conditioner or a dehumidifier during humid months.
• Be sure the home has adequate ventilation, including exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathrooms.
• Use mold inhibitors which can be added to paints.
• Clean bathrooms with mold-killing products.
• Do not carpet bathrooms.
• Remove and replace flooded carpets.
Correia also offered some advice.
"You need to keep moisture levels low by wiping down wet areas and utilizing your exhaust fan in bathrooms," said Correia. "Close the bathroom doors and let the exhaust fan run for several minutes until the steam dissipates. This should keep mildew and molds at bay."
Correia urged residents who suffer from allergies to be seen by health officials, and for those who have a lot of mold to continue reporting issues. Those with concerns can call the Housing Division at 502-624-8350, the Installation Operations Center's 24/7 hotline at 502-624-1160, Knox Hills residence offices, IRAHC at 502-624-6236 or the Environmental Health Response Registry at 800-984-8523.
"'Please don't suffer in silence," said Correia. "If you have any concerns, please call in a work order to Knox Hills and give the Housing Division a call; we'll be glad to come out and take a look."