Mould thrives in damp and humid conditions, in places which are not well ventilated. These conditions have been exacerbated this past summer along Australia’s eastern seaboard due to La Niña, a weather phenomenon which brings excessive rain.
Sydney, for example, has recorded its wettest summer for more than a decade.
Queensland building biologist Pauline Ferguson says she has been run off her feet since the 2011 Queensland floods and now the recent very wet summer.
She stresses the importance of not letting mould grow unchecked in your home.
‘It’s toxic and can cause illness,’ Ferguson says. ‘It will exacerbate existing illnesses such as asthma or allergies and slows healing of wounds. It damages the physical structure of your home or building and contaminates anything it contacts.
‘While mould is everywhere and we breathe in spores with every breath, it’s when the concentration builds that it can start to play havoc with our health.’
Dr Peter Dingle, environmental scientist and presenter of the SBS show Is Your House Killing You?, says that in the US mould is now being referred to as the ‘asbestos of the new generation’.
‘The effects of moulds and dampness on the respiratory health of children are comparable to the effect of passive smoking and include other effects such as asthma and chronic bronchitis,’ he says.
‘Mould exposure is associated with catching more colds, more infections in the lower respiratory system and irritation of skin, eyes, fever and headache. In severe cases, it can cause death.’
Are you allergic?
Moulds are common allergens, with an estimated 40 per cent of people having some sensitivity to breathing in mould spores. These are the microscopic ‘seeds’ which mould colonies produce and one colony can produce millions a day, which are then expelled into the air.
But growing research into mould has found its impact on health is far more wide reaching than just triggering asthma attacks, respiratory irritation, runny noses and allergic reactions.
A 2007 US study found a link between damp, mouldy homes and depression, while Harvard University researchers found babies growing up in damp homes where mould and mildew are present develop more respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia, croup and bronchitis.
Supermarket aisles are filled with cleaning products which profess to kill 99.9 per cent of germs and mould. But Ferguson says any chemical which could permanently kill household mould would be too high in toxic concentrations for safe human habitation.
‘Mould is like cat hair - you can kill it as much as you like, but unless you remove [the source], it will still be there, and it will still make you sneeze and get sick,’ Ferguson says.
She recommends removing basic mould with a concoction made with seven parts naturally brewed vinegar and three parts water applied with a microfibre cloth.
If mould is entrenched, she recommends professional help.
‘According to mycologists [scientists who study mould], 98 per cent of the effective removal of mould is mechanical - that is, physical action, with cloths, vacuum cleaners, brushes and high-pressure cleaners,” she says.
Shannon Lush, co-author of Household Wisdom (ABC Books), urges people to avoid using chemicals such as bleach or ammonia because they won’t work against mould.
‘Bleach merely bleaches mould so you can’t see it, but it’s still there,’ she says. ‘It doesn’t kill the root system and the mould will grow back in weeks.’
She says a formulation of oil of cloves and water is the best way to remove mould once and for all. ‘No matter what the bottles of chemicals say, they will not kill mould and the problem will get worse.’
Stopping the bloom
Shannon Lush has these tips for killing and preventing mould.
- To kill mould on hard surfaces, fabrics and upholstery: A quarter teaspoon oil of cloves (available at pharmacies and supermarkets) mixed with one litre of water, then lightly sprayed on to the mould.
- To kill mould on leather: A quarter teaspoon oil of cloves mixed with 250ml baby oil. Apply two drops and wipe over leather.
- To prevent mould in cupboards: Hang six sticks of chalk tied with a ribbon in the cupboard to absorb moisture. When they become damp, hang them outside to dry, then reuse.
- To prevent mould on books: Lay a line of chalk sticks behind the books to absorb the moisture.
Source : The Courier Mail (18 February 2012)