We often hear about the dangers of asbestos in residential buildings, but we rarely hear about the dangers of mould, and it too can kill.

Mould can bring on a whole range of illnesses, including respiratory problems, and there have been many documented cases of sickness due to mould in and around homes.

Mould, a fungus that grows on food or damp materials, can be black, white or almost any colour. It often looks like a stain or smudge and it may smell musty. We often see it on food, but what we don’t see are the spores released into the air which are so tiny people can actually breathe them in without knowing.

There are three main causes of mould in homes:

  • Dampness
  • Poor drainage
  • Lack of ventilation

Water leakage and steam from the bathroom can also contribute to its growth.

Homes with rising damp – or structural dampness – should be repaired as a matter of urgency.

Signs of rising damp include:

  • Damp patches and staining up the walls internally and externally
  • Peeling wallpaper
  • Tide marks on the wall which is caused by evaporation and salts from the ground
  • Decaying wood, for instance with skirting boards and door architraves at their base
  • Salt forming on brickwork

Some moulds are extremely dangerous and produce mycotoxins that can pose a serious risk to humans and pets. The term “toxic mould” refers to moulds that produce mycotoxins and lead to exposure to high levels of these toxins. These toxins can cause serious health problems and in some cases even death.

Problems that have been reported with mould include sinus issues, skin and respiratory infections, yeast infections, headaches, aching joints, asthma and fatigue.

A 2007 US study even found a link between damp, mouldy homes and depression!

A word of warning: mycotoxin moulds must be removed by a qualified expert, someone who has been trained in the safe removal of these dangers and who has all the specialist safety equipment. Some building inspectors specialise in mould problems and these are the people to contact.

Those who attempt to clean mould problems themselves should note that chemicals purchased in supermarkets and hardware stores only remove the immediate surface and the roots of the mould; they do not kill the source and that’s where the problem originates. A chemical that could permanently remove mould would be too toxic for the home and that’s why a qualified person needs to do the job.

Should mould be suspected of causing health problems then a temporary relocation of the patient is advised until the problem is resolved.

Other causes of mould can be gardens and pond waters near a home without adequate drainage. In these case, the problem should be rectified as soon as possible.

A home should always be well ventilated, even in winter, with windows open to let in fresh air.