SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – There’s no getting around it, mold is everywhere.
It’s floating through the air, on surfaces in homes and offices, used in some processes to make food and beverages and even in the production of life-saving pharmaceuticals. Mold spores serve a useful purpose in the environment, too, as they break down dead material and turn it into nutrients.
Unfortunately, those microscopic organisms with useful purposes love to wreak havoc on living and working environments. When left alone in very moist, warm and poorly ventilated environments, mold may grow to high concentration levels and potentially result in health issues for people sensitive to mold and, over the course of several years, eventually cause structural damage to buildings.
“The biggest thing about mold is you have to control the moisture,” said Maj. Rebekha Collins, 82nd Aerospace Medicine Squadron Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight commander. “So long as there is no moisture, you’re not going to grow fuzzy stuff.”
Proper ventilation, climate control by heating and air conditioning, leaving shower doors open to allow for drying, and providing immediate attention to leaks, for example, can all play a role in reducing the likelihood of mold.
Jimi Knightstep, the 82nd Civil Engineering Squadron’s toxics program manager for Sheppard, said mold is similar to pollen in that it is everywhere and it affects people differently. For example, some people can use penicillin, whereas others might be allergic to the antibiotic.
“Mold is an organic growth; it is everywhere,” he said. “You don’t step outside without mold spores being present. Mold is not necessarily a bad thing, but there are certain spores that people may be more sensitive to. It depends on the person and their sensitivity.”
Common molds include cladosporium, alternaria and aspergillus.
A type of mold that receives particular attention is stachybotrys chartarum, more commonly known as “black mold,” a specific species that can be more harmful to humans. This species is usually found on building materials in damp, dark or steamy areas and is especially associated with sewer leaks.
Knightstep said just because a mold is black in color does not mean the organic growth is “black mold.” Discoloration can be green, grey, brown, black, white or other colors.
Collins said some concerned with potential mold in their living areas will sometimes purchase an over-the-counter testing kit. But, she said, those kits only collect mold spores that are floating in the air in that environment and doesn’t necessarily collect the organic growth that is developing on a surface. These tests may indicate the presence of mold, but the concentration levels and the sensitivity to mold of the individuals in the area are not usually determined.
There are some simple steps people can take in dormitories or homes to keep mold under control if they suspect small amounts of it in their living space.
Dorm residents should:
• Keep kitchens, bathrooms and poorly ventilated areas clean by using a disposable sponge or towel to wipe down with warm soapy water for non-porous surfaces. Contact the dorm manager to request bleach for cleaning – using 1 cup of bleach per gallon of water – for non-porous surfaces.
• If unable to self-clean the affected area, residents should contact their facility manager or military training leader and allow maintenance to address the issue. If dorm residents have worked with the facility manager but were unable to resolve the issue, they should first contact their MTL, and if still not resolved, then contact the first sergeant or squadron commander.
Housing residents should:
• Keep kitchens, bathrooms and poorly ventilated areas clean by using a sponge or towel to wipe down with one of the following:
- Warm soapy water for non-porous surfaces
- 1 cup of bleach per gallon of water for non-porous surfaces
- 3% hydrogen peroxide for porous for non-porous surfaces
- Vinegar for porous or non-porous surfaces
- ¼ tablespoon baking soda and water for porous or non-porous surfaces
• If residents are unable to self-clean the affected area, contact Belfour Beatty maintenance at (940) 613-0691. If after hours, select “Option 1.” To place a work-order for non-emergency maintenance, use the online Resident Portal. Allow maintenance to address the issue.
• If you’ve worked with Balfour Beatty staff but are unable to resolve the issue, contact your first sergeant or squadron commander.