It was not until the basement in Amy’s home flooded from Hurricane Sandy and moisture
started creeping through the entire first floor that she realized those symptoms she had not
thought much of as a child were probably signs of a mold allergy. To keep these symptoms under
control and to maintain a healthy environment for their family, Amy’s parents researched mold
removal after the flood. They wanted to know: What causes mold to grow, and what is the safest
and most effective way to get rid of it in a flooded home?
Mold is a type of fungus that can be found almost everywhere on Earth. Hundreds of thousands
of mold spores—tiny reproductive particles that act like seeds and can cause mold to grow—
invisibly float through cities, forests, and fields across the globe. Scientists estimate that more
than 300,000 different mold species could exist on the planet, but nobody knows the exact number for sure, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
These ubiquitous mold spores are generally harmless. They become more problematic when
they are given the three conditions they need to grow: warmth, moisture, and food. Most molds
thrive between 68 °F and 86 °F and in places with high humidity caused by water leakage, sewage
backup, or condensation. Molds relish various food sources. The paper layer in Sheetrock walls
is one of their favorite foods, as is wood, carpet backing, soap scum, and dust. Also, just about
anything humans eat can be a food source for molds.
People with mold allergies have immune
systems on high alert for mold spores. If
these people inhale mold spores, their bodies recognize them as foreign invaders and
develop antibodies to fight them. Any later
contact with the mold spores causes their
immune system to produce the same antibodies and histamine (Fig. 1), which causes
vasodilation—the widening of the interior of
the blood vessels. Dilation of the blood vessels inside the nose is meant to block entry to
foreign particles. For allergy sufferers, though,
the nose overdoes it and dilates the blood
vessels unnecessarily, resulting in itchy and
watery eyes, runny nose, and sneezing—the
symptoms Amy experienced through her
childhood and after Hurricane Sandy.
On October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy dropped
heavy rainfall on Atlantic City, N.J., causing
many homes to be damaged and flooded and
leading many to be infested with mold.
Figure 1. Chemical structure of histamine
A Moldy Situation
Chemistry to the Rescue
By Laura Poppick