Information & Resources
Mold is part of a diverse group of single-celled organisms called fungi that includes mushrooms, molds, mildews, smuts, rusts, and yeasts.
When the ideal environment is present: moisture, oxygen, favorable temperatures and the right amount of nutrients; mold can begin to grow. Mold can obtain moisture from standing or pooling water, condensation or straight from the air. Mold feeds off of organic matter, which many household items and building materials are made from, such as wood, paint, drywall, wallpaper, hardwood flooring, insulation, carpet and carpet pad, baseboard, fabrics, clothing, food and the many other items containing organic matter.
Mold has different appearances depending on the species, stage of growth and what it's growing on (it's nutrient source). Mold often has a wooly, fuzzy appearance and can be a range of colors from black to green to gray and white.
There are thousands of different types of mold. The most common types are typically grouped into one of following three categories depending on human response to exposure: Allergenic Molds, Pathogenic Molds or Toxigenic Molds. The affects of mold can vary from person to person, so these classifications are only applicable to a majority of situations, but not all.
Mold grows in colonies (seen as clusters). On the outer surface of the colony small portions of mold called spores can become detached and become airborne. This spreading of spores into the air can also occur when the colony dies from lack of moisture or nutrients. Airborne spores can spread throughout an area when there is any movement of air or circulation, or when direct contact is made and they're carried to a new location. Carriers for mold can include human skin or clothing, animals, furniture and other household items that are in contact with the growth. Once airborne, they can either reach a new location and settle, reach a new location with nutrients and moisture and start a new colony or become inhaled or ingested by humans or animals.
Exposure through inhalation is the most direct contact of exposure, next to eating or drinking contaminated items or skin contact. Inhalation of mold spores can bring about health concerns for many individuals who are sensitive to mold or have allergies, who have been exposed to mold for a long period of time or those who have come into contact with toxigenic mold that can release harmful mycotoxins into the air.
For those with sensitivities or allergies to mold, the reaction to exposure can be mild to severe, depending on the person's age, health status, concentration of mold being exposed to and the type of mold they're being exposed to. For many, the symptoms are similar to that which they experience with allergies:
- Sinus/nasal congestion
- Runny nose
- Scratchy or itchy throat
- Difficulty breathing/shortness of breath
- Wheezing and coughing
- Itchy or watery eyes
- Sensitive or itchy skin; skin rash
- Sinus infection
Often constant or prolonged exposure can lead to an uncomfortable living situation and the potential for further health complications.
For those with health conditions where their immune system is compromised, there is a great risk of exposure. These are individuals with cancer, undergoing chemotherapy or dialysis, HIV-AIDS or other conditions that weaken the body's resilience to infection.
It is still speculated and being studied that long-term exposure or exposure to concentrated forms of mold can lead to such conditions as lung infection and cancer.
Read more about testing and inspecting for mold here.
Asbestos is a mineral fiber that has been used commonly in a variety of building construction materials, mostly from the early 1900s through the 1970s. Although its use in some materials continued through the 1980s. Most of its use was for building insulation or as a fire-retardant in a variety of building materials and household items.
Common items and materials containing asbestos:
- Steam pipes, boilers or furnace ducts that are insulated with asbestos-based blankets or paper tape
- Asbestos clothing or blankets that resist heat or fire
- Resilient vinyl/asbestos floor tile
- Flooring felt
- Cement sheet, millboard, roll board or paper used as insulation around furnaces and wood burning stoves
- Door gaskets in furnaces, wood stoves or coal stoves
- Wall and ceiling acoustic coatings/soundproof coatings
- Textured paints
- Asbestos cement roofing,, roof coating, shingles or siding.
- Faux or artificial logs, ashes and embers sold for use or with gas-fired fireplaces
- Automobile parts such as automatic transmission components, clutch facings, disc brake pads, drum brake linings and brake blocks
When asbestos-containing materials are damaged or disturbed by wear-and-tear, repair, remodeling or demolition activities, microscopic fibers become airborne and can be inhaled into the lungs, where they can cause significant health problems.
The most dangerous asbestos fibers are too small to be visible. After they are inhaled, they can remain and accumulate in the lungs. Asbestos exposure may cause mesothelioma, asbestosis or lung cancer.
Symptoms of heavy or long-term asbestos exposure is similar to that of lung cancer or pulmonary disease/fibrosis and include:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Chest pain all the time or while occupying the property
- Deformity of the fingers or toes, typically caused by the lack of oxygen from the lungs due to asbestos inhalation
- Bluish tint of the skin caused by lack of oxygen absorption through the lungs.
- Weight loss or achy joints or muscles.
Read more about testing for asbestos here.
Other asbestos resources: Asbestos; Asbestosis; Asbestos Mesothelioma
Lead has long been recognized as a harmful environmental pollutant. It is a toxic metal that was used for many years in products found in and around our properties. Lead, in dust form, can also be emitted into the air from disturbed lead paint and buildings materials, or from motor vehicles and industrial sources. Lead can also enter drinking water from plumbing materials that contain lead. Lead does not have a taste or smell if inhaled or consumed through water.
Lead can affect practically all systems within the body. Higher levels of exposure can cause convulsions, coma, and even death. The effects of lead exposure on fetuses and young children can be severe. They include delays in physical and mental development, lower IQ levels, shortened attention spans, and increased behavioral problems.
Other symptoms commonly associated with elevated or long-term lead exposure include:
- Hearing problems
- Muscle and joint pain
- High blood pressure and hypertension
- Memory and concentration problems
- Nerve disorders
Lead is commonly found in paint products for houses, toys and other items prior to 1978. While in recent years lead has been found in the paint of toys made in foreign countries, lead paint for buildings has been highly regulated. However, many homes and businesses that had been painted with lead paint prior to the ban may still have remnants of the lead-based paint underneath a current coat or on the currently showing coating.
The following is a list of materials and other sources that may contain lead:
- Paint used for the interior or exterior of buildings prior to 1978.
- Drinking water for homes that use older lead piping or lead-based soldering materials used for plumbing.
- Older toys and furniture
- Older food and liquid storage containers, or decorative items, made from lead crystal, lead-glazed pottery or porcelain.
- Soil that has been contaminated by lead from disintegrated lead paint, plumbing or other building materials.
Read more about testing for lead here.
Other Lead Resources: Lead; Lead Paint; Lead Poisoning
Radon is an invisible and odorless radioactive gas that is produced from the decay of uranium that is found naturally in nearly all rock and soils. Radon is a form of ionizing radiation and a proven carcinogen. Radon is commonly found in the outdoor air and in the indoor air of all types of buildings. While some areas of the country have higher levels of radon gas in their air than others due to increased uranium deposits, the gas can be found everywhere in the United States and other parts of the world.
Radon can intrude any type, size or age of building and result in an elevated indoor radon level. Radon typically enters a home or building through the ground to the air above. It enters a property through cracks or other holes in the foundation. Radon can also enter a home through well water. Radon that enters a building is often trapped inside, where it gradually builds up in concentration.
The affects of radon exposure usually occur over a long period of time. Radon is the number one cause of lung-cancer for those who don't smoke. Smokers or those with pre-existing respiratory conditions are at a much higher risk of complications from radon exposure.
Symptoms of long-term and/or elevated exposure to radon resemble that of lung cancer and similar respiratory conditions. These can include:
- Persistent coughing that doesn't get better and is does not get better with medicinal treatments
- Persistent wheezing
- Difficulty breathing/shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Recurring respiratory infections such as pneumonia or bronchitis
- Coughing up blood.
Health authorities like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Surgeon General , the American Lung Association, the American Medical Association, and others agree that we know enough now to recommend radon testing and to encourage public action when there are elevated levels inside their property.
Read more about testing for radon gas here.
Other Radon Resources: Radon; United States Radon Map
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs are emitted by a wide array of products and building materials. Organic chemicals are widely used as ingredients in everyday items. VOCs are also emitted by vehicles, machinery, manufacturing facilities, refineries and other locations that create, use or process VOC-containing substances. These VOC emissions can affect both the indoor and outdoor air.
VOCs are often confused with "smells" or fumes from chemicals. While these odors or fumes may be VOCs, not all VOCs have a detectable odor or scent. Most are odorless, invisible and are only noticed through testing or when health problems arise.
Some of the most common products containing VOCs include:
- Paints and lacquers/paint strippers
- Pesticides and herbicides
- Glues and adhesives
- Permanent marker and other inks
- Degreasing solutions and cleaning chemicals
- Photographic solutions
- Copier and printer inks and toners
- Hobby products
VOCs can exist in your indoor environment and could be adversely affecting your health or the health of those around you. The health affects of VOC exposure can occur in the short- or long-term, depending on the chemicals present, the concentration of the chemicals in the air and environment, and the type and condition of the individuals who are exposed to them. A person exposed to higher concentrations of VOCs could be experiencing certain adverse health affects without fully realizing it.
Some of the potential health affects of exposure include the following (these can occur in an immediate and noticeable fashion, or after a long period of exposure):
- Loss of coordination/dizziness
- Eye, nose or throat irritation
- Memory loss
- Behavior and learning problems
- Slow or stunted growth by a child
- Allergic skin reaction
- Damage to the liver or kidneys
- Damage to the central nervous system
Read more about testing for volatile organic compounds here.
VOC Resources: Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
Over 90% of the United States gets it water from publicly managed water systems (municipalities) that are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A majority of the remaining population get their water from smaller systems that are often managed by local governments. In some places, privately owned water systems or wells provide the water for individual households or neighborhoods.
While the EPA regulates drinking water, there have been a variety of situations where drinking water has become polluted due to human error, natural disaster or poor planning. The EPA is responsible for regulating around 170,000 public water systems. These systems range in size from large cities to area campgrounds.
Some figures about the public water systems in the United States:
- In 2009, it was reported that approximately 20% of the nation's public water systems had violated drinking water regulations. In some areas, drinking water contained highly elevated levels of arsenic, radon and bacteria.
- In 2004, the EPA randomly tested drinking water on airlines around the country and found that 15% of the aircraft had water that tested positive for the coliform bacteria at a level that could adversely affect human health.
- The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that each year 19.5 million people in the United States become ill as a result of contaminated drinking water.
Enforcement is difficult so it is up to the consumer to ensure that the water they're drinking is safe. Failure to do this can expose you and your family to the risk of microbial conditions such as intestinal disease and bacterial infection or chemically-induced conditions such as poisoning or bodily degradation from long-term exposure.
There are various contaminants that can affect our drinking water. Common contaminants that in higher levels can cause harm include:
- Bacteria / Coliform
- E. coli
Read more about testing water for contaminants and other substances that affect quality here.
Water Quality Resources: Water Quality
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