Toxic mold, also known as black mold, is a term that garnered a great deal of concern within the US within the past decade. There were news stories with headlines like The Seattle Times ' “Toxic mold traps Redmond condo owners” (2010) and stories that showed pictures of a woman wearing a hazardous materials suit while sitting in her home.
But what exactly is toxic mold and should you be concerned?
According to the Centers for Disease Control, “toxic mold” is an inaccurate term because the molds themselves are either toxic or poisonous. They note that the so-called toxic molds function the same as other common molds in that they may produce mycotoxins. According to the UK's Food Standards Agency, mycotoxins are chemicals produced by molds as a defense. They are found in common foodstuffs such as cereals, coffee, apple juice, nuts, dried fruits, and more.
Mold is always in homes. Of course, different homes will have different concentrations. Consider that mold needs moisture to thrive. It becomes easy to understand that regions with high humidity, such as Houston and Galveston, will have much higher concentrations of mold than cities like Phoenix.
So how dangerous are black mold's mycotoxins?
The CDC says that there is no causal link between reports of toxic mold in homes and the few reports that they cause unique or rare heath conditions. But while they may not produce unique health problems, they can be problematic for people who are sensitive to them for a variety of reasons. Again, it is important to note that this applies to all molds that produce mycotoxins, not just the particular varieties found in homes. (The UK's Food Standards Agency set limits on how much can be present in food.)
People with allergies, lung disease or similar health issues are at an increased risk for suffering from the effects of mycotoxins, as are those who suffer from asthma. People who are otherwise healthy but who are sensitive to mycotoxins may also develop symptoms of upper-respiratory tract problems. Symptoms include coughing and wheezing.
What should I do if I think I may have health problems caused by toxic mold in my home?
If you are experiencing health problems and think toxic mold in your home is the cause, see your doctor. The symptoms thought about by exposure to mycotoxins are shared by other causes and only a doctor is qualified to determine what the root cause is.
The CDC recommends a “common-sense” approach for managing mold in homes: take routine measures to prevent it from becoming a problem. For example, fix leaks and make sure to dry areas that are prone to condensation.
What should I do if I have toxic mold in my home and I want it removed?
If the area is small and on a hard surface, you can usually clean it with just soap and water. However, larger areas may require hiring a professional restoration company to do the job.