The Science Behind Mold: Understanding the Fungi & How to Tackle It

By Jackie Edwards

Molds are a diverse fungi group that have been on the Earth for millions of years. Even though they can approximate bacteria in size, molds are eukaryotic organisms, meaning that their genetic material is enclosed within a specialized membrane that lies in the interior of the organism. Mold plays a fascinating role in the decomposition of organic material, but it also poses a health threat to humans who inhale mold spores in the air, leading to a range of respiratory illnesses.

Understanding The Fungi

Although there are many variations of mold, all molds are fungi that are microscopic in size. Like all fungi, molds derive energy not through photosynthesis but through the organic matter on which they live, meaning that mold needs a food source and moisture in order for the fungus to reproduce. Molds reproduce by releasing spores, which contain the genetic material necessary for the formation of a new organism. These spores can float through the air and, if landing in a hospitable moist environment, can germinate to form a new mold. Put simply, then, mold is caused by excess moisture, which is why surface mold arises in damp homes or places where moisture accumulates, such as the bathroom or kitchen sinks.

Health Effects of Mold

Mold is a natural part of the environment and plays an important part in nature by breaking down dead organic matter such as fallen leaves and dead trees. However, mold becomes a problem when it grows indoors, because the fungi is associated with various health risks for humans, particularly humans with asthma or a mold allergy. Public health research from the University of Berkeley has found that of the 21.8 million people reported to have asthma in the U.S., approximately 4.6 million cases are estimated to be attributable to dampness and mold exposure in the home. Because of their minute nature, the health dangers of inhaling mold come from mold spores in the air or, in cases of rotten produce, mold spores that grow on the surfaces of the food we eat.

Getting Rid Of Mold

To cope with indoor mold, bleach and scrub surfaces where mold appears. Bleach kills mold spores, effectively preventing the fungi from spreading. You will also want to shampoo linens (eg., curtains, towels) where mold can live in and shampoo carpets with a bleaching agent. Large-scale instances of mold on the wall can be remedied through mould-killing paint, which bleaches and kills the spores before masking them from your new property. Finally, sodium bicorbonate (or baking soda) is an effective, safe and low-cost mold killer. Place a bowl of baking soda in your home to gather moisture and discard and replace when the powder turns clumpy.

Mold is an important phenomenon across many ecosystems, albeit not one that most homeowners want to find lurking on surfaces after a rainy day. Fortunately, though, mold fungi are easily treated with a bleaching agent and can be controlled to protect vulnerable humans from respiratory distress.

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