What Are the Dangers of Mold in a Basement?

By Nicole Harms

If your basement smells musty, it is not because your house is old or all basements smell that way. The smell comes from the presence of mold in your home. Although mold can be harmless, for many people it poses a serious health risk. Understanding the potential dangers of mold and the best ways to deal with the fungus will help you as you provide a healthy environment for your family.

Understanding Mold

Mold is a fungus that grows from microscopic spores that float in the air. Mold needs a dark, damp surface and a source of nutrition, such as dust, to grow. These two facts make your basement the ideal place for mold to grow. In fact, most basements have some mold growth to deal with, and this is not always dangerous. The most common indoor molds are cladosporium, aspergillus, penecillium and alternaria, which are some of the least harmful types. Stachybotrys chartarum, or black mold, also sometimes grows in homes, and this can cause serious health problems.

Health Dangers of Mold

According to the CDC, some individuals are sensitive to mold spores, and they will develop allergy symptoms, such as eye irritation, congestion, wheezing, asthma or skin rashes, when exposed to mold. Often, reactions become more intense as mold exposure continues. If the mold is growing in your home and someone in your family is sensitive to its presence, the continued exposure can lead to a severe reaction, including allergy symptoms accompanied by a fever, shortness of breath, dizziness or flu-like symptoms.

Serious Risks

Sometimes, mold in a basement can be the source of serious health conditions, particularly if it is black mold. Black mold spores and toxins can cause invasive lung disease and recurrent sinusitis for some. This is a serious risk for people with compromised immune systems. Also, as mold degrades, it creates volatile organic compounds. Too much exposure to these can irritate the mucous membranes. It can also cause permanent central nervous system damage, resulting in decreased attention span, concentration problems, headaches, memory loss and dizziness.

Locating Mold

Identifying mold in your basement is not difficult. If your basement has a musty, mildew-like smell, you likely have mold somewhere. Locating the mold may be more challenging, particularly if your basement is finished, as mold prefers to grow in dark places such as in heating ducts or behind walls. Check all areas of the basement for visible signs of mold. If you find them, treat them with bleach and see if the smell goes away. Remember that it will take a while for the spores to leave the air and remove the smell. If you cannot locate the mold source, you may need to hire a professional mold cleaning service to help.

Dealing with Mold

Because all molds have the potential to cause health problems, the CDC does not recommend spending money to test your mold to identify the type. The CDC advises individuals with mold sensitivities, parents of young children, pregnant women or individuals with immune system deficiencies to deal with mold in their basements quickly, no matter what type it is. Mold can be removed from hard surfaces with a mixture of 1 cup of bleach in 1 gallon of water. Soft, porous surfaces, like carpet or upholstery, should be thrown away and replaced if they have mold.

Prevention

If you do not yet have a mold problem in your basement, take measures to prevent it. Keep humidity levels at or below 55 percent relative humidity, as mold requires humidity to grow. Use a dehumidifier to lower humidity levels if necessary. Keep your home well dusted, as dust particles give mold spores nutrients. Install a HEPA air purifier to remove some of the dust particles and mold spores from the air, which will limit new growth.

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