Mold can pose a major health risk, particularly in very damp areas or in older apartment buildings. Many apartment complexes in high-mold areas are required to disclose information about the risks of mold to potential tenants. Read on to discover your rights when it comes to the health risks posed by black mold and other types of potentially toxic molds.
Funky fungi: A mold overview
Molds are microscopic non-plant, non-animal growths that feed on organic matter and reproduce through tiny spores. The spores are invisible to the eye and float through the air, creating potentially hazardous health conditions for anyone living in an area populated by molds. Spores are what allow molds to reproduce and spread to different areas of your home. Molds also produce allergens and irritants that can disturb the respiratory system and other parts of the body.
Mold itself is not technically toxic. However, some types of mold can produce poisonous metabolites, called mycotoxins, which can be harmful to humans. Beyond affecting the respiratory system (causing allergies, asthma, or other ailments) due to the allergens and irritants that it produces, mold can negatively influence the vascular system (arteries and veins), digestive system, nervous system, urinary system, reproductive system, and the skin (molds can cause rashes or be responsible for common ailments like athlete’s foot and yeast infections). Particularly drastic ailments caused by severe or prolonged mold exposure can include internal bleeding, kidney or liver failure, and emphysema.
Conditions high in moisture or humidity are most conducive to mold growth. Molds can grow at a variety of temperatures, but they cannot grow in arid environments. Consequently, the best way to prevent and treat the presence of mold is to eliminate moisture from your home and surroundings. In addition, mold requires oxygen and organic matter to grow. Though you might think surfaces like tile or fiberglass are inorganic, any organic matter on those surfaces can allow mold to grow. For this reason, it’s important to keep surfaces spotlessly clean to prevent the growth and accumulation of mold.
Signs of Mold
Even if you can’t see mold, it may be lurking behind tiles, under floors, or behind walls. Possible signs of the presence of mold include stained ceilings or walls, strangely colored (black, brown, orange, pink, or green) speckles on walls or around grout or tiles, musty or earthy odors, cracked siding, swollen walls or floors, any type of ceiling or floor leak, poor ventilation, and more.
When you moved in to your apartment, your landlord should have provided you with information about signs of mold and the associated health risks. Since mold does pose health problems, it is your landlord’s responsibility to help remove mold from your unit and assist in preventing its return. If you see or suspect mold your apartment, notify your landlord immediately and work with him or her to correct the problem. If your landlord fails to take action, alert local public health and safety officers and consider having your apartment inspected for mold risks.
Health Risks and Remedies
As noted, mycotoxins produced by mold have the potential to cause a wide variety of physical ailments. The degree to which mold toxins affect an individual depends on the current health of the individual. Individuals with compromised immune systems are particularly susceptible to the negative effects of mold. Respiratory and skin ailments are usually the major consequences of mold, but a variety of other issues can arise as well. Check lists of symptoms for possible signs that mold has aversely affected you, or consult your physician to see if mold might have caused your ailments. If mold has already had a negative impact on your health, it’s that much more important to remove it quickly, as its continued presence will likely only cause your condition to deteriorate. In addition, if you remove mold but allow the conditions favorable to its growth to continue, you’ll continue to suffer from your health problems.
Conquering Mold: Healthy Solutions
The way to get rid of mold is to get rid of moisture. If you remove mold but not the moisture causing it, the mold will undoubtedly return. Beyond decreasing the moisture levels in your home, you can follow the EPA’s suggested guidelines for mold removal, or ensure that your landlord hires a certified professional who will obey these tips and remove mold safely. Scrubbing moldy surfaces with water and detergent, then allowing these surfaces to dry completely, can get rid of minor mold problems.
Once mold has been eliminated from your home, you can follow certain steps to prevent it from returning. Ventilation is key, as
this will help prevent moisture (and therefore mold) from accumulating in particular areas. Beyond improving the ventilation system in your apartment—a move that will definitely require coordination with your landlord—you can use fans while showering or cooking, use the air conditioner, and consider buying a de-humidifier or requesting one from your landlord. Airpurifiers or ionizers can also improve the quality of air in your apartment and help prevent health problems caused by mold.
In short, mold is caused by moisture, and getting rid of moisture gets rid of mold. The health risks posed by mold make it a responsibility of your landlord to regulate. Be diligent about controlling moisture and the accumulation of organic material, and insist that your landlord protect your health by safely eliminating mold from your apartment area. If you take these steps, you’ll conquer mold and live healthfully.