Black mold (Stachybotrys chartarum) is the common name of a group of molds which grow in damp or humid conditions. Black mold can easily establish itself in businesses or homes when those conditions are present. It presents a health hazard to humans because of the microscopic spores it releases into the air to reproduce, much as plants release pollen. If you inhale or swallow these spores, they can cause persistent sneezing and coughing, as well as irritation to your eyes, nose, and throat. If you are exposed to a high concentration of spores for a long period or repeatedly, you may suffer more severe symptoms such as rashes, nausea, and hemorrhaging in the lungs or breathing passages. Black mold spores can also worsen some existing conditions such as asthma or allergies. If left untreated, mold can even compromise the structural integrity of buildings by rotting and weakening wooden beams.
Custodians, contractors, and cleaners are at particular risk of exposure. Black mold on a visible surface looks like a proliferation of black and grey blotches or patches. If the mold is not visible, the symptoms above may be your only clue that it’s there.
The best way to avoid poisoning by black mold is to stop it from developing in the first place. It’s impossible to prevent a few spores from getting into your home or workplace altogether, but you can eliminate the conditions that enable the mold to take root and grow, by minimizing dampness and moisture. In a home, keeping the bathroom vent fan running during and after a shower will help. If you live in a humid region, use an air conditioner or dehumidifier. If you have a leak, spill, or water damage, be sure to dry up residual moisture as part of cleaning up the problem.
Floods, such as several parts of the US have recently experienced, create ideal conditions for large-scale mold growth. If your work includes any kind of clean-up or inspection in areas which have been flooded, or if you’re returning to your residence after a flood, be aware of this risk.
If black mold has already established itself, you can usually clean up a small amount of growth on a hard surface by using a mix of water and bleach. When working with bleach, make sure you have plenty of ventilation, use protective gloves and eyewear, and don’t mix it with other chemicals or cleaners (this can produce toxic fumes). Add no more than one cup of bleach per gallon of water. This method works well with sites like bathroom tiles. Any tools you use in the process, such as sponges, should be bagged and thrown away as they may be contaminated.
Mold can also grow in more intractable places, such as in carpets or even inside walls (mold is a fungus, not a plant, so it can grow even in the total absence of light). If you have an extensive infestation, or suspect you have one but can’t locate it, call a professional inspector. Mold inspector safety training includes expertise at finding, assessing, and removing mold growth without putting people in the area at increased risk of spore exposure or inadvertently letting the growth spread further. The inspector can take samples for lab testing to determine what type of mold you have and how best to eradicate it. With a professional inspection, you can be sure you know where the problem is and how big it is.
Treatment of a serious mold problem can involve removal and replacement of contaminated materials such as carpets and drywall. Be knowledgeable and prepared by getting training as a Mold Inspector. You can then recommend precautions to prevent the problem from recurring!