In the Nick of Time
Mold is, to put it simply, fungi. Microscopic mold particles are always present both indoors and out and can be found in soil, plant matter, foods, and other items. Although molds typically get a bad rap, they are an essential part of the world around us as they help break down dead organic matter like fallen leaves and dead trees. Molds also produce spores, which are microscopic cells that can spread through the air. When mold spores land in the right conditions, they can form new mold growths or colonies. No one knows exactly how many types of mold there are; estimates range from tens of thousands to as many as 300,000 or so.
Mold and mildew growth are the some of the biggest reasons why it's important to start cleaning up water disasters right away. Mold and mildew are the same thing; mildew is just another common term for mold growth.
Mold has received a lot of media attention in recent years, as problems with it indoors are on the rise. Interestingly, it's more of a problem in newer homes than in old construction. Such things as the materials used and more airtight construction methods are believed to be the culprits.
Not all molds can cause serious problems. But some definitely can. One infamous example of mold gone rampant involved an 11,500-square-foot luxury home in Texas. In the late 1990s, the house developed several plumbing leaks. This led to the growth of a mold called Stachybotrys atra, an especially lethal strain that produces airborne toxins that can cause breathing difficulties, dizziness, flu-like symptoms, bleeding in the lungs, and memory and hearing loss. Other, less potent molds can cause skin and eye irritation, asthma, and sinus problems.
The family involved developed serious health problems, including difficulty breathing, stomach problems, brain seizures, and memory loss. They also had to abandon their dream home. They eventually won a $32 million judgment (it was later reduced to $4 million) against their insurance company.
Mold problems draw their share of controversy. While there's scientific evidence linking mold in homes and buildings to asthma symptoms and other respiratory problems, a 2004 report from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies didn't find enough evidence to support the association between indoor dampness or mold and other health problems they reportedly cause. The panel, however, did warn that research was limited and that further studies were warranted.