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What is mould?

000607-0001-000253Moulds are various types of fungi that grow in filaments and reproduce by forming spores. The term "mildew" is sometimes used to refer to some kinds of mould, particularly mould in the household with a white or greyish colour or mould growing in shower stalls and bathrooms. Mould may grow indoors or outdoors and thrives in damp, warm and humid environments. Mould can be found in essentially any environment or season.

The most common types of household mould that are found indoors include Cladosporium, Penicillium, Alternaria, and Aspergillus. Stachybotrys chartarum (also known as Stachybotrys atra and sometimes referred to as black mould) is a greenish-black mould that can also be found indoors, although it is less common than the other types of mould found in homes. Stachybotrys grows on household surfaces that have high cellulose content, such as wood, fibreboard, gypsum board, paper, dust and lint. There are types of mould that can grow on substances as different as foods and carpet.

Moulds reproduce by forming tiny spores that are not visible to the naked eye. Mould spores are very hardy and can survive under conditions in which mould cannot grow, such as in dry and harsh environments. These spores travel through outdoor and indoor air. When the mould spores land on a surface where moisture is present, mould can then start to grow.

Allergic reactions to mould are the most common health effects of mould. Allergic reactions may happen immediately or develop after a period of time following exposure. Both growing mould and mould spores may lead to allergic reactions. Symptoms of mould allergy may include sneezing, runny nose, coughing, wheezing, tearing and redness of the eyes, and skin irritation or rash. Asthma attacks may be caused by mould or mould spores in people who have asthma and are allergic to mould. Even in some non-allergic individuals, mould can irritate the eyes, skin and airways. For example, the "black mould" Stachybotrys, along with some other types of mould, produces toxins known as mycotoxins that can cause irritation of the skin and airways in susceptible individuals.

The best way to prevent mould in the home is the control of moisture. Although it is impossible to eliminate all mould spores in an indoor environment, the mould spores will not grow in the absence of moisture, so controlling moisture is the key to preventing mould growth.

How should mould be cleaned up and eliminated?

Mould cleanup procedures are somewhat dependent upon the extent of contamination and the type of surface that has been contaminated. Large areas of mould may require the services of a professional contractor who is skilled in mould cleanup and remediation. Hard surfaces that harbour mould may be scrubbed with detergent and water, and these should be dried completely. Porous or absorbent materials (such as cloth, ceiling tiles, carpets, etc.) may have to be discarded if they become mouldy. In some cases, a dilute solution of chlorine bleach (no stronger than 1 cup of bleach in 1 gallon of water) or stronger commercial cleaners may be needed to kill the mould.

Be sure to discuss any health concerns with a healthcare professional prior to attempting mould removal if sensitive to moulds. When washing with soap and water, rubber gloves are recommended, but for bleach and harsher cleaning agents, nonporous gloves (for example, natural rubber, neoprene, nitrile, polyurethane, or PVC) should be worn along with protective eyewear. Wearing an N-95 respirator (available at many hardware stores) can further limit exposure to airborne mould or spores when cleaning. Avoid touching mouldy surfaces with bare hands.

After mould removal, it is important to prevent further re-growth of mould by keeping affected areas as dry as possible.

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