While most people know and understand that mold of any kind isn’t a good thing, until and unless you’ve dealt with a major infestation of the stuff, you may not fully appreciate just how bad it can be. In this article, we’ll cover all the basics about Black Mold, and answer the most common questions people have about it.
What Is Black Mold?
It might surprise you to know that what people refer to as “Black Mold” isn’t just one thing. The mold is actually a fungus from a genus of fungi called Stachybotrys, which contains more than fifty different closely related species of molds. Of these, there are two in particular, Stachybotrys chartarum, and Stachybotrys chlorohalonata, which are collectively referred to as Black Mold (or sometimes “Toxic Black Mold).
What Causes Black Mold?
As with other types of mold, Black Mold is quite hardy and a colony can take root and grow just about anywhere, but there are two things it loves better than anything else, moisture and cellulose. Unfortunately, both of these things are extremely common, and even worse, they’re extremely common in homes, which is why you so often hear builders and contractors talking about it, and the potential dangers Black Mold can pose. Make no mistake though, the stuff will grow just about anywhere. In fact, NASA recently had to delay an important launch of materials and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) because a colony of Black Mold was found growing in several supposedly sterilized cargo bags!
What Does Black Mold Look Like?
Here are some pictures of the stuff that will help you recognize it if it is present in your home
What Does Black Mold Smell Like?
Sense of smell is relative, of course, so if you ask different people what Black Mold smells like, you’re likely to get a variety of answers. There are some common themes, however, and the three most common descriptions are that it smells of rotting wood, rotting paper, or more colorfully, like dirty, wet socks. In any case, it’s not exactly a pleasant odor, and you’ll definitely recognize it as something that just doesn’t belong in your home!
How Long Does It Take For Black Mold To Grow?
The exact time frame varies on a number of conditions, not the least of which is the climate (especially the level of humidity/amount of moisture in the air), and the material it’s growing on. Black Mold in homes is especially fond of drywall and carpet, and on those materials, a colony can take hold in as little as 24 to 48 hours, although at that point, it will be too small to see.
In another 24 to 48 hours, the colony will probably have grown large enough that you’ll begin to detect the telltale odor, and in almost every case, you’ll smell it before you see it. Within about a week, however, it will be large enough that you definitely won’t be able to miss it, and if left unchecked, it will continue to grow and spread quickly.
What Does Black Mold Do To You?
Black Mold affects different people differently. The symptoms are wide-ranging and diffuse. Not everyone will exhibit all of the symptoms we’ll describe below, and in fact, some people who come into contact with Black Mold won’t get sick from it at all.
Obviously, the concentration and duration of the exposure plays a role here. If you’re working in an area with a large, well-established mold colony (trying to clean it up, for example), then your risk is much greater than if you catch the colony while it’s still small.
Age, health, and preexisting conditions also play a big role. The CDC has noted that the elderly, the very young, and people with pre-existing respiratory conditions like asthma and COPD are at significantly greater risk then people in other categories.
Note that in cases of extreme exposure, Black Mold can kill, but these instances are quite rare. That does not mean, however, that the mold won’t hurt you. On the contrary, it can make you quite sick, and while the effects of the mold will slowly fade once you’re no longer exposed, some of the effects can be permanent, depending on your level of exposure and how susceptible you are to it. For instance, if the mold compromises your immune system, while you will recover, your immune system may never again be quite as strong and robust as it once was. If it damages your lungs, you will recover, yes, but your lungs may be somewhat weaker than they were before your exposure. For these reasons, it’s important to minimize your exposure and if you do get sick, to seek treatment immediately. Here are the various symptoms you may encounter, broken out by the major symptomatic categories.
Overwhelmingly, these are the symptoms people see manifest after exposure to a black mold colony, because most people wind up breathing some of the mold spores in, simply by being in close proximity to the colony. These symptoms begin innocently enough, but continued prolonged exposure will make the symptoms get progressively worse.
Initially, you’ll notice an itchy or runny nose, and perhaps some difficulty breathing. If you remain in the area and continue to be exposed, these problems may worsen until you begin experiencing wheezing and coughing and nose bleed. Your throat may become quite sore, and your gums may also begin to bleed.
From here, things get progressively worse, and in cases of extreme exposure, Black Mold spores can cause pulmonary edema, which is swelling of the lungs, or a pulmonary hemorrhage, which is bleeding of the lungs. If your exposure progresses to this stage, while you will eventually recover, your lungs are likely to be permanently damaged or scarred, and you’ll never regain your lost lung capacity. In other words, black mold can make you very sick!
Symptoms of the Skin
These are the second most likely see if you are exposed, because aside from inhaling spores, the second most common means of exposure is direct contact. In these cases, the biggest symptom is inflammation. Your skin will be red and irritated. The longer and more intensive your exposure, the worse this irritation can become, elevating to an outright rash, and even to the formation of blisters. Minimal exposure may leave you with the feeling that your skin is “crawling” or a slight itch, but if you leave the area of the mold colony, both of these will fade fairly quickly.
Symptoms of the Eyes
While most people don’t really think of their eyes as being a pathway into the body, Black Mold is an opportunist, and can gain entry and cause damage to any soft tissue, your eyes included. Limited exposure may cause runny or watery eyes that will be bloodshot for a time after you leave the area of the mold colony. Prolonged exposure can lead to blurry vision, jaundice, which is a yellowing of the eyes, and in the worst cases, permanently damaged vision. Again, while you will recover from prolonged exposure, the loss of vision is likely to be permanent.
The CDC is quick to point out that Black Mold isn’t actually toxic, and that’s true. However, having said that, Black Mold produces trichothecene mycotoxins, and these are neurotoxic. Essentially, these kill neurons in the brain, which can cause impairment of mental ability.
Note that neurological symptoms almost never manifest with casual or incidental contact with a black mold colony. These are symptoms that typically start to appear with prolonged exposure. Even so, it underscores the very real risks that black mold presents. So if you’re wondering if black mold can kill you, the answer is yes it can.
Symptoms in this category begin with confusion and that feeling of “brain fog” people sometimes get, although in this case, the brain fog never quite goes away. If left unchecked, these symptoms will eventually grow worse, leading to shortened attention span and difficulties with concentrating and paying attention. Memory loss follows not long after, along with increasing periods of disorientation, dizziness, and impaired learning ability. In extreme cases, it can even lead to hallucinations and possibly coma or death.
In this regard, Black Mold’s effects are not dissimilar to another type of mold which has a long history of causing mental problems. It is strongly suspected that a Rye Mold was actually responsible for the hysteria that led to the Salem Witch Trials in the earliest days of American history. All that to say, if you start experiencing any symptoms, it’s important to seek medical treatment immediately, before they worsen.
Can Black Mold Cause Cancer?
While there is definitely a correlation between Black Mold exposure and cancer, correlation is not causation, and there is as yet no definitive link between the two. It is an area where more research is needed to know for certain (and even the CDC says this). Even so, it is better to err on the side of caution, and if you’re worried about the possibility of cancer, you’ll definitely want to minimize your risk of exposure.
How Can You Test For Black Mold Test?
If you’re worried that you may have black mold lurking somewhere in your house, there are some good test kits you can purchase from retailers like amazon, however, if you’re buying these online, then odds are that by the time you get the kit delivered to your door, if you have mold, it’ll be visible, or the odor will be strong enough that there won’t be much in the way of doubt.
The very best solution, however, is to order a test kit and while you wait for it arrive, you immidiately start working on taking away the conditions that mold thrives in, so it never even has a chance to take root in the first place, and here, technology is your friend! Specifically, you need two things. Air purification and dehumidification.
There are a number of good quality dehumidifiers on the market for home use, and here, the two most important features you’re looking for are devices with digital humidistats, so you can get an accurate reading of the current level of humidity in your home, and portability, so if and when you have to move the device, you’re not faced with a daunting challenge. Fortunately, there are a number of home-use dehumidifiers that are built on wheels, and this is definitely a plus! As to the “optimal” level of humidity in your home, the CDC recommends using 50% as your target. Anything more than this, and mold becomes more likely.
Where air quality is concerned, this is really a matter of attacking the problem at its source. Mold spores (along with dust pollen, pet dander and other pollutants) are fairly common in the air of most homes. By filtering the air, these particles are trapped in the unit’s filtration system, so they never have a chance to settle anywhere and start to spread. Most air filtration systems have multiple layers of increasingly fine filters, designed to trap particles of varying sizes. Here, what you’re looking for is a unit with a HEPA or MERV filter (either will solve the problem). Note that it is possible to purchase a dehumidifier that will also serve as an air purification unit, but you’ll pay a premium for these devices as the multi-functionality doesn’t come cheap.
How To Get Rid Of Black Mold?
As we mentioned earlier, Black Mold is fairly hardy stuff, and once a colony is established, it can take a lot of time and effort to be rid of it. While there are some effective cleaners you can buy from stores and online vendors, for black mold removal, the CDC recommends to mix water and bleach (no more than one cup of bleach per gallon of water) and apply. You’ll definitely want to wear rubber gloves when using this cleaning solution.
These cleaners kill black mold but it it’s important to note here, if you’re mixing bleach and water, that you should never mix bleach with ammonia or other household cleaners. Doing so can cause toxic, and potentially fatal fumes. Stick with the basics, and apply a lot of “elbow grease,” and you’ll slowly but surely be rid of the problem!