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Given enough time, all buildings sustain water damage. We call this “water history.” Roof leaks, plumbing leaks, flooding, humidity and condensation issues are all normal occurrences. These occurrences can happen when a building is brand new or even during construction. More often, they occur later but whatever the case, they are inevitable. They can also develop in HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems. 

Mold is always present in our environment. Spores are always floating around in the air. The levels of mold you would find outside or in a building that doesn’t have mold issues is referred to as “normal fungal ecology.” Sometimes these levels can get quite high, which is why the news channels track mold on their daily allergy report. Mold growing within the envelope of a building is a different matter. 

Mold needs oxygen, organic matter (wood, leaves, paper, glue, etc.) and moisture to grow. Because normal fungal ecology and oxygen are always present and our buildings typically contain plenty of organic material, moisture is the only factor we can really control. If building materials get wet and stay wet for long enough (typically around 48 hours), mold can grow on their surfaces. Oftentimes, mold is hidden because during water events, moisture will enter cavities (walls, under cabinetry, etc.) where it cannot dry quickly. Although surfaces can be dried fast, the cavities stay wet longer, sometimes resulting in mold growth.

When the source of the moisture is corrected, the mold dries out and becomes brittle. The spores and other parts of the mold can easily break off from the colony and find their way to the interior through air pathways in walls, ceilings, etc. These air pathways need only be the width of a human hair to allow plenty of room for these microscopic particles to pass through. This means that something like an electrical outlet or a canned light can easily be a pathway for mold hidden nearby. Buildings are most often under negative pressure, which means air flows from the outside in. There are other pressure differentials such as when HVAC systems turn on and begin to pull in air. These pressure differentials are more than powerful enough to pull particles into the rooms that people occupy. 

If mold levels indoors are higher than normal, they have the potential to cause allergic reactions as well as toxic reactions. Many different genera (families) of mold can trigger symptoms. All molds contain beta-glucans and many mold species can produce mycotoxins, which are just a couple of things that can trigger toxic reactions. Allergic and toxic reactions are numerous. Different individuals react differently to what they are exposed to. Some won’t react at all. Other, more sensitized people will react very easily. It’s extremely difficult to identify all the different molds that are present and we should always realize that it’s rarely about one source. Rather, it’s about how all the sources, large and small, add up to equal the total mold burden of an environment. 

There are other organisms such as actinomycetes and endotoxins (both bacteria) that can make people sick. Research on these is in its early stages. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are chemicals commonly found in toxic levels in indoor environments. Building materials, cleaning supplies and other sources can off-gas VOCs. CO2 levels caused by lack of ventilation can cause symptoms commonly mistaken for mold illness. Again, everything adds up.

Once an individual is removed from a toxic environment, it can be a process to remove the toxins from their bodies. Mold and mycotoxins can also be found in food, so diet also needs to be considered. Exposure can cause chemical trauma to your limbic system, causing individuals to get stuck in a sort of “fight or flight” mode. Many “brain retraining” programs have emerged to help people rewire their limbic systems to return to a more balanced, restful state.

In short, the road for individuals from sickness to health can be a long and complicated one. To increase the chances of success, it is crucial to work with physicians and other health professionals who have experience in helping people recover from toxic exposure. Correcting problems in the indoor environment is just one piece of the puzzle but it’s an important one. That’s the piece we focus on. 

Quite simply, the way to begin correcting air quality issues is to identify areas of water damage (known and unknown), assess whether there is a mold presence and if so, remove the mold. We never recommend trying to “treat” or “kill” the mold with any chemicals or other products. Sometimes, the mold that has made its way to the living spaces causes significant contamination of the contents and other surfaces of rooms and it may be necessary for this to be addressed as well. Click HERE to learn more about our services.

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