The idea of black mold is alarming enough, let alone seeing something you suspect is black mold in your home. As is so often the case, however, knowledge is power — including the power to calm fear and deal with a current or potential problem head-on. Here's what you need to know about black mold, the health problems it can cause, and what to do if you think you have it in your home.
Black Mold: What is It?
Stachybotrys chartarum, commonly known as "black mold," is a mold that's often black in color (but it can be green-ish or gray as well) and can grow in homes in humid or damp areas. The mold feeds on "organic materials in common household materials like drywall, carpet, insulation or sub-flooring that have been exposed to moisture," as HGTV describes.
As the mold proliferates, it can release toxic substances. It is these that cause health problems. The CDC explains it this way: "The term 'toxic mold' is not accurate. While certain molds are toxigenic, meaning they can produce toxins (specifically mycotoxins), the molds themselves are not toxic, or poisonous."
However, though the release of mycotoxins does not always occur, the possibility that it can is reason enough to take care of any mold problem (black or not) right away.
Identifying Black Mold
Black mold growing in a visible area is easily seen. However, sometimes you may not be able to see a mold problem that's occurring behind your walls or in your insulation, for instance. In these cases, you would smell a mold problem and then need to investigate where exactly it is as well as the moisture source that's causing it. SFGate says, "Just follow your nose. A musty, earthy smell, like dirt and rotting leaves, is a telltale sign of mold's presence. Stachybotrys smells especially strong."
Testing for Black Mold
You can have your mold tested to find out exactly what kind it is. Cost varies, but you can expect to pay hundreds of dollars to determine the type of mold.
There are also black mold testing kits, available at the hardware store or on Amazon, that you can purchase for around $35-50. With this DIY route, you take samples from a suspected affected surface, then send off to be tested in a lab.
Black Mold Exposure Symptoms
Symptoms of exposure to black mold are similar to symptoms that can occur with exposure to many types of mold. Most commonly, these symptoms include coughing, sneezing, itchy eyes, and irritated throat and nasal passages. Exposure to black mold has also been reported to cause chronic fatigue, headaches, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. Those with allergies to mold are of course more likely to be affected by mold exposure.
As is usually the case, children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems are at greater risk of experiencing adverse reactions to mold. Black mold exposure may cause asthma in children who live in an infested environment, and can cause pneumonia in older, susceptible individuals. Fungal infections can also occur upon exposure to mold.
Cleaning Black Mold
Black mold, as well as any other mold that you find growing in your home, should be cleaned immediately. Mold on hard surfaces can be cleaned with "commercial products, soap and water, or a bleach solution of no more than 1 cup of bleach in 1 gallon of water," per the CDC's recommendation.
Any time mold is being cleaned, non-porous gloves and eye wear should be worn, along with a mask. Open doors and windows for air circulation. These EPA guidelines, though intended for commercial buildings and schools, can also provide some helpful information about cleaning up mold.
Black Mold Removal
Any porous material that has become moldy should be thrown away. This includes ceiling tiles, drywall, and carpet. In cases of extensive mold damage, professional mold remediation specialists should be called in to do the job. Even dead mold can cause health problems, so the affected are needs to be thoroughly cleaned and dried.
To ensure that the mold doesn't re-grow, the source of the dampness or moisture must be addressed. This means locating and fixing any leaks or broken pipes that are causing the situation, before replacing other material and furnishings.
The bottom line is that though "toxic black mold" is a buzz phrase we've all heard and fear, black mold is not necessarily more dangerous than other molds. Any mold growth in the home can be potentially dangerous and should be addressed swiftly and thoroughly.