March 1, 2008 Microbiologists studying mold found that it can grow on almost any building material and in almost any environment. Even before becoming visible, mold can be dangerous because it releases chemicals into the air that cause respiratory problems. The mold releases volatile organic compounds into the air, especially when given the opportunity to take root in damp, humid conditions.
A musty, mildewy smell is the undeniable odor of mold. And it may be lurking in more places than you know -- having harmful effects on your health. Now, we tell you how to track down mold.
Holly Russo's tub comes clean now, but there was once a moldy nightmare lurking underneath it. "Our first reaction, when we saw the mold, was absolute horror. I could not believe what was under there. I've never seen anything like it," says Russo.
Mold that's made its way indoors can cause health problems, but many people still don't understand the hazards. Now, industrial hygienists are growing mold to learn more about how it grows, what it grows on, and how mold makes us sick.
"I want to know what makes up that moldy, musty smell. I want to know are there compounds there that can cause people to have health problems," says Terri Pearce, Ph.D., an industrial hygienist for The Centers for Disease Control's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
In a lab, with the perfect blend of moisture and warmth, mold spores, or tiny cells, grow on different types of building materials. With the right amount of moisture, mold can grow faster, turning an ordinary ceiling tile into moldy messes.
Researchers learn which materials withstand mold better -- and which moldy smells come from mold that may cause more serious health problems. "Some of the chemicals that make up that odor actually are known to be irritants and so they can cause people to have respiratory health affects," explains Dr. Pearce.
Learning more about mold helps researchers develop better ways to find it, treat health problems, like asthma and allergies, and teach how vital it is to clean up moldy messes.
"If you can see it, don't worry about what kind of mold it is ý get rid of it," says Dr. Pearce ý Holly did, and she feels better! "The next morning, my allergies were gone. It was great!" Russo says. She is finally mold-free and healthy.
Researchers point out that mold is actually present everywhere, all the time. But when damp, humid conditions are present, mold can grow out of control and cause problems.
MOLD SEEKING TECHNIQUE: Mechanical engineers are using radio waves to obtain 3D images of the inside of basement walls. If there's water inside the wall, those waves will reflect the energy much more specifically than dry material will. The new tool helps make sure mold is not making itself at home in your house.
MOLD'S GOOD SIDE: Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin by accident in London in 1928, when he left plates of bacteria cultures unwashed in his lab for several weeks. When he returned, he found that mold had grown on one of the plates, and the bacteria were not growing around it.
The American Industrial Hygiene Association contributed to the information contained in the video portion of this report.
Editor's Note: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.