There must be like 40 different species of mold in my refrigerator, along with all kinds of bacteria and Lord knows what else. In fact, my fridge probably contains more culture than the Arsht Center downtown does.
The mold and fungi have spread to other parts of the house. It’s in the bathroom, which is the most obvious place and the place where most people, even the most diligent housekeepers (and don’t count me among them), tend to have mold. The cold weather this winter has prompted us to use our central heating system more than ever before; the combination of cold outside and warmth (and moisture) inside has caused us to wake up every day to a house full of windows dripping with water due to condensation. And this has created a bit of a mold problem on a few of our windowsills.
It doesn’t help that I have allergies and a young son. So I turned to the Internet and did some heavy duty research on mold and mold infestations. Now I know much more about mold than the average person does. I’m sure it’ll make for great cocktail party chatter:
FELLOW COCKTAIL PARTY ATTENDEE: So, what do you do for a living?
ME: I work in public relations but hey, did you know there are thousands of different species of mold and only a handful produce mycotoxins?
FELLOW COCKTAIL PARTY ATTENDEE: Uh, yeah, I’m sure, excuse me…
ME: Wait, I haven’t told you yet about how we actually eat some molds and fungi, like those crab-stuffed mushroom hors d’ouevres and the brie cheese spread….
I’m sure to be the life of the party with my newfound knowledge.
At least I did actually get some good news I could use out of my research. The first, most important thing I learned is that the “toxic mold” stuff you hear on the news is way overplayed. Mold is no worse than most other allergens—there are a few toxic molds but a serious infestation is extremely, extremely rare. Different people have different sensitivities to mold. It’s everywhere in our environment, whether we see it or not, and we’re constantly breathing it in as a result. The trick is to reduce the amount of mold spores in the air, because even if you’re not sensitive or allergic to mold, you obviously don’t want to breathe tons of it (to paraphrase that old joke about taking certain things to excess, “you want a little oxygen with your mold?”).
The people who have unfortunately succumbed to toxic mold were either highly sensitive to mold (in the same way that some people have actually died due to peanut allergies, yet you never hear of people referring to “toxic peanuts”) or they were just more vulnerable than the average person (infants and elderly, for example). It makes for great headlines but it’s very rare that people die because of mold.
Another important thing I took away from my research is that there really aren’t national or state standards for mold removal specialists or the like. The EPA itself notes that unless you have a serious mold infestation, you can probably handle remediation yourself—just follow a few common sense guidelines and you’ll do fine. Be careful if you call a professional because since there are no standards in this field, there are unfortunately some companies and practitioners who are all too willing to scare you out of gobs of money.
Perhaps the most important thing I learned about mold is that it is a symptom, not neccesarily a problem in and of itself. The underlying cause is moisture getting in from somewhere and until you address that issue, you will continue to have a mold problem. In fact, some of the worst mold situations that have made for scary news stories have involved homes and buildings with chronic water leaks and moisture problems, like the federal courthouse in downtown Miami.
In order to fix our problem, which fortunately was fairly light and involved mold growing on surfaces (as opposed to getting deep into the drywall), I recently bought a dehumidifier. My wife says it sounds like—speaking of NASA and the Space Shuttle—a rocket ship about to take off. But it works like a charm and so far, Starship Twit has kept our windows as dry as my humor no matter how cold it is outside and toasty it is inside.
I also bought a state-of the-art air purifier/cleaner with a HEPA filter. I’ve wasted money before on a variety of air purifiers that just didn’t work. This latest one—though quite expensive—has helped me noticeably with my allergies. It also helped clear up my son’s congestion problem within a couple of days. And it does the dishes, takes the dog for a walk, pays the bills, etc.
Let’s just say that having a mold problem has ended up being like a breath of fresh air for me.