What Mold Really Is
Many people know of mold as that green furry substance which can be found on foods like stale breads, decaying fruits, plants, and trees. What many people don’t know is what that green substance really is, and what it could escalate into. We want to break down the topic of mold as best as we can for you, and shine some light on the topic of mold.
The word “mold” actually refers to just a handful of filamentous fungi and can generally found growing as visible colonies on decaying organic materials. The kingdom of fungus consists of a diverse family of organisms that are eukaryotic, meaning that it has a cell type containing specialized organelles, a membrane-bound nucleus and an elaborate system of division. Fungi belong to their own kingdom as they are neither plant nor animal. Molds are heterotrophic, which means they are unable to produce their own food as plants do via the process of photosynthesis. Depending on the specific method of reproduction, fungi are sub-divided into four different phyla; those being: ascomycetes, basidiomycetes, zygomycetes and mitosporic fungi.
How Mold Grows, Reproduces, and Spreads
Molds are essential in nature as they decompose dead organic material. Fungi typically have multicellular filaments or “hyphae” which are the main mode of growth for the established mold colony and are collectively called mycelium. These filamentous hyphae are how the mold colony spreads, potentially joining multiple other colonies.
Molds release microscopic spores into the environment as a method of reproduction. These spores can be carried to a new location either via air currents, water or even on the fur or clothing of an animal or human. If the conditions are favorable a new mold colony can begin to form as soon as the mold spores land.
Mold needs water, a food source and oxygen to grow and typically thrives in temperatures between 40 degrees Fahrenheit to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Mold absorbs the nutrients it needs to grow from other organic materials in its environment. Molds secrete enzymes that break down the organic material into nutrients that the mold can absorb. Mold can grow on many different types of materials such as decaying plant matter, food, paper, fabrics, drywall, wood and other building materials for example. Mold can even grow on non-organic surfaces if there is a layer of dirt or dust on it, which is of course, organic.
There are thought to be around 100,000 identified species of mold found in the world with approximately 1,000 species common to the U.S. It is believed that there are millions of species of fungi worldwide, which accounts for over a quarter of the world’s entire biomass.
The Health Risks of Mold
All molds should be considered allergenic at a minimum. However, some species of mold can produce toxins; more accurately, mycotoxins that can affect humans and other animals. It is not the molds themselves that are toxic, but the mycotoxins that they produce. These mycotoxins can affect people with compromised immune systems such as those with cancer, the elderly and developing immune systems like those of infants or young children. Some common species of mold that can produce mycotoxins are; Alternaria, Penicillium / Aspergillus and Stachybotrys (more commonly known as black mold).
Small amounts of surface mold can be easily cleaned using a product such as household Lysol and a disposable cloth. However, it is advised that larger mold issues should be handled by a certified mold remediation professional using proper engineering controls to avoid contamination of other areas outside the containment and also to protect the occupants of the home of building from exposure.