No matter how sunny it is in the Hamptons today, the wet weather that’s hit the East End may be wreaking havoc in darker places—like your basement. “Nothing spurs the growth of molds like a recent flood—molds start growing in four days,” say our friends at Mildew Busters. “If not quickly eliminated, molds can multiply the flood damage.” For tips on to how to protect yourself and your home, we asked Mildew Busters for some expert insights.
The Question: I can see what I think is black mold on the walls in my basement, and when I go down there is a musty smell that makes me sometimes sneeze. Should I be concerned? Are there specific health problems I should be worried about?
The Answer from Mildew Busters: The documented health problems associated with mold exposure fall into four categories:
Allergy. Infection. Irritation. Toxicity.
Mold spores are so small (5-10 microns) that they evade the protective mechanisms of the nose and upper respiratory tract. Allergic reactions are the most common effect: runny nose, itching eyes, rashes. The other common effects of exposure to molds include wheezing, flu-like symptoms, chronic sinus infections, nosebleeds, fever, shortness of breath, headaches, dizziness, inability to concentrate, fatigue and respiratory infections.
Mold spores can trigger or aggravate asthma, particularly in children. The incidence of allergies and asthma has doubled in the last decade, which has been linked to the increase in airborne molds in modern “energy efficient” homes. One in five Americans suffers from allergies. The other health effects include hypersensitivity pneumonitis, reaction to mitological volatile organic compounds, opportunistic infections and micotoxic reactions. Some pathogenic molds even affect the central nervous system or suppress the immune system.
Persons at greater risk for adverse health effects are the elderly, infants and children, pregnant women, people with a compromised immune system or existing respiratory conditions such as allergies, multiple chemical sensitivity and asthma. While allergic reactions may be the most common health-related problem of exposure to molds, a 1999 Mayo Clinic study shows that molds cause most of the chronic sinus infections that inflict 37 million Americans each year.
The Question: I’ve never seen mold in my basement before, so why is it there now? And can I just wash it with bleach to get rid of it?
The Answer: Because of the huge amount of rain we’ve had on the East End in the past two years, mold in basements and houses has become a major issue. The water table is very high, and with water having no place to go it often will find a crack or opening in your basement walls or floor and leach through or puddle up. Once this happens, and you have excessive moisture in the air of your basement, mold growth will begin and quickly thrive.
You usually see it first on the rafters on the ceiling or walls where there is or has been moisture. A common misconception is that washing mold with bleach will kill it. This isn’t true, and in fact is dangerous. Bleach kills the pigment in the mold, making it invisible, but it does not actually kill the mold, so within months it will return—often in larger areas than before. Also, putting bleach on certain types of mold causes it to release a toxic gas that is very dangerous and can damage your sinuses or even render you unconscious. So stay away from bleach and mold.
Instead, you should call a specialist who can kill the mold using a nontoxic mildicide. A specialist can pinpoint the areas where moisture is coming in with moisture meters and then patch cracks in the walls and/or floor with hydraulic cement before waterproofing your walls and floors so that moisture in your basement is a thing of the past—along with mold. Applying an encapsulation solution (which is also nontoxic) will keep mold from coming back for at least three years.
Have mold-fighting questions or other home-care concerns for the specialists at Mildew Busters? You can visit Mildew Busters at www.mildewbusters.com or send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. You may even see them answered in a future Ask the Expert!