Formaldehyde is a strong-smelling VOC and possible carcinogen found in new furniture, glues, pressed-wood products, and fuel-burning appliances. You can become sensitized to formaldehyde with repeated exposure and develop allergic symptoms.
VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, are liquid or solid compounds that can turn to gas at room temperature and cause a variety of adverse health effects when they're inhaled. VOCs include the chemicals found in paints, paint strippers and thinners, dry cleaning fluid, glues, new furniture and cabinetry, and cleaning supplies. They're a problem primarily in houses built since the 1970s, when advances in construction methods made houses more airtight, trapping VOCs from common household chemicals inside.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral once widely used in residential construction for its insulating and fire-retardant properties. When asbestos fibers become airborne (usually during remodeling or demolition), they can be inhaled into the lungs. Breathing asbestos can cause serious health problems, including lung cancer.
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas in the soil that seeps into homes through crawlspaces and cracks in the foundation. Radon is one of the leading causes of lung cancer in humans. If your home has high levels of radon, it’s very important that you take steps to seal off your foundation so that radon can’t enter.
There's no national standard for acceptable concentrations of mold in air samples because mold is like any other allergen—everyone reacts differently to it. There are general guidelines we follow from our experience in the industry, but we rely primarily on comparing air samples taken inside the home to those taken outside.
In scientific terms, mildew is a specific kind of mold, usually white, that occurs on plants. However, most people think of mildew as the mold that grows between tiles in the shower—obviously, the bathroom is a high-moisture area and you’ll likely see some mold growth on tile or grout from time to time. This is generally not cause for concern unless you don’t clean it up or the room has inadequate ventilation and mold growth spreads to drywall or trim.
For detailed information on mold varieties, download our PDF.
The term “toxic black mold” is sometimes used to refer to mold from the genus Stachybotrys, but that can be misleading. First of all, the mold itself is not toxic, although it can produce toxins (called mycotoxins) that can be ingested or inhaled and have been linked to adverse health effects. Even more confusing, all black mold is not Stachybotrys, and Stachybotrys doesn't always appear black. As with any other mold, a growing colony of Stachybotrys should be removed carefully.
All visible mold growth should be removed from the indoor environment as quickly as possible. Removing the mold is more important than killing it. As we mentioned in the previous section, dead mold spores can cause the same health problems as live, growing mold.
You can clean light mold growth yourself (while using the proper personal protective equipment, including eye protection, gloves, and dust masks), without consulting a professional remediation contractor. Cleaning methods should include an antifungal detergent and light abrasion to remove all fungal growth. Eagle Indoor Air can advise you if this approach works for your particular situation.
If the area of mold growth is greater than ten square feet, or if the growth has invaded porous building materials such as drywall, a professional mold remediation contractor should be consulted.
Keep in mind that mold growth is a symptom of a moisture problem. You can clean it up, but unless you address the source of the moisture, the mold growth will return. Some moisture problems are easy to diagnose, but often a detailed investigation is needed to uncover the more subtle mechanisms that can cause mold growth.
Mold causes concern for three main reasons:
- Unlike, say, pollen or VOCs, mold is a living organism that grows, so a small problem can become a large one fairly quickly.
- Mold causes allergy and asthma-related symptoms, but it has also been linked to serious health conditions such as aspergillosis.
- Some species of mold produce toxins. Although these are not typically produced in large enough quantities in buildings to hurt people, some of them are quite potent.
Strictly speaking, the presence of mold is not a problem in itself. Mold spores are everywhere, even in a reasonably healthy indoor environment; you can’t get rid of them completely no matter what kind of remediation you perform. But if you have moisture problems that can contribute to mold growth over time, or if you see mold growing on drywall or wood surfaces, you likely have a problem that requires attention. If mold spores aren’t already airborne in significant quantities, they probably will be soon.
To determine what a “significant” quantity is, Eagle compares samples of indoor air with a sample of air outside your home. Outside air in most circumstances contains typical levels of airborne mold for a given location, and therefore shows you what levels you should aim for when conducting remediation.
Of course, if you’ve become overly sensitive to the presence of mold, your nose won’t care what levels are like outside—it only cares that it detects a problem. Unfortunately, remediation can only reduce mold to acceptable levels compared to outside air; it can’t eradicate mold completely or prevent mold outside from getting in.
Yes, poor indoor air quality can aggravate allergies, asthma, and other respiratory conditions. Published studies suggest that repeated exposure to airborne mold spores can irritate tissues and suppress the immune response in the respiratory system.
If you believe that your home is making you sick, your first step should be to consult your doctor about whether your particular symptoms may be a result of your indoor environment. If your doctor suspects an environmental cause, Eagle Indoor Air can test for the presence of contaminants and advise you on remediation if necessary. We cannot, however, establish a causal link between contaminants and your health symptoms.