MOUNT VERNON — Growing concerns about the health effects of mold exposure have been featured in headlines and news stories across the country.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, mold spores continually waft through the indoor and outdoor air. When they land on wood, paper, carpet, drywall or any other damp area, they begin to reproduce rapidly, and, to survive, digest whatever substrate on which they are growing.
The EPA has warned that mold can have serious health effects for people, especially those who are sensitive to mold due to an allergy to the spores, or a pre-existing respiratory condition such as asthma.
Jim Fridrich, a sanitarian with the environmental health division at the Knox County Health Department, said exposure to mold, which is a fungus, can lead to hayfever-like symptoms in sensitive people.
“It can trigger asthmatic conditions in people with asthma, and certain people are allergic to the spores,” he explained.
A runny nose, congestion, sneezing, watery eyes, headaches and fatigue are all possible symptoms which can develop from mold exposure.
Fridrich said he believes there are at least two reasons why mold is more of a problem today.
“The first is leaks,” he said. “We’ve had a little more leakage in recent years due to ice damming, and I think our homes aren’t in as good of shape because people have had a harder time taking care of them, especially the rentals.”
Fridrich said another reason mold is becoming a more frequent problem is the lack of ventilation in homes today.
“We spend a lot of time trying to make our homes insulated and energy efficient,” he said.
Certified home inspector Terry King of King Inspection Services in Mount Vernon, said he sees mold problems in homes with poor grading, where water collects against the foundation, causing mold to grow in basements. He said the problem can be compounded when gutters and downspouts fill up, collecting more moisture.
The key to controlling mold is controlling moisture.
“Mold needs two things: it needs food and water to grow,” King explained. “If you take one of those things away, you can usually get rid of it.”
Fridrich said a 10 percent bleach solution is one way to get rid of visible black or dark spots of mold. He warned that gloves should be used when using this solution, because it can be irritating to the skin.
King said he does not do official inspections for mold because the state of Ohio does not have any standards for mold.
“There’s no licensing or certification standards in Ohio for mold,” King said. “So I look for the cause of mold, which is moisture.”
The health department can provide residents with information and answers to questions if they believe they have a mold problem. However, Fridrich said, the health department does not have any jurisdiction to force homeowners to correct a mold problem, or to require landlords to clean up mold at rental properties.
“We can’t order a landlord to fix it, and a lot of these problems come from rental homes and landlords that don’t want to fix it,” Fridrich said. “There are some good landlords out there and there are some who don’t want to spend any money.
“The only thing we can really do is talk with them and give them some advice,” he said.
King said he doesn’t recommend having expensive testing done to determine what kind of mold is growing in a home. Any mold should be removed, no matter what the species.
“If you see it, get rid of it,” he said. “And get rid of the moisture and poor ventilation so it doesn’t grow back.”
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend routine sampling for molds. Because people who are sensitive to mold are susceptible to health effects no matter the species, the CDC recommends having mold removed, no matter what kind is present.