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Mold: there's a fungus among us

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Vandenberg's often foggy weather can sometimes bring with it another moisture-induced offender: mold.

The dampness, compiled with proper temperatures, oxygen and food sources, can make Central Coast homes a good location for mold growth.

Mold is a type of fungi that works to break down organic matter. It flourishes in moist, warm environments and plays an important role in the decomposition of plants and animals. Unfortunately, mold can cause problems when its found in buildings and people inhale its spores.

Many, though not all, disease-causing molds only affect people whose immune system is already weakened by response to another disease or who are being treated with immunosuppressive drugs, said 1st Lt. Kim Schwing, 30th Medical Operations Squadron. Certain individuals with allergies, asthma, and other respiratory diseases can have their symptoms worsened by indoor and outdoor exposure to mold. Those symptoms may include nasal congestion, eye irritation and wheezing.

"It's important to realize that the presence of mold does not mean it will cause health problems," Lieutenant Schwing said.

"Animal dander, dust mites, year-round grass pollen and other household allergens can cause an identical response in susceptible individuals," she added.

"If you have concerns that mold may be causing an illness for you or a family member, make an appointment to discuss your concerns with your primary care provider," said Maj. John James, 30th Medical Operations Squadron.

"Your provider will be able to review previous medical problems, allergy history and evaluate any specific symptoms you may be experiencing."

With Central Coast conditions creating potential mold growth opportunities, base housing residents are responsible to ensure they're taking the proper steps to keep their homes mold free.

"The key to controlling mold is controlling moisture levels. Without moisture, molds will not grow and spores will not germinate," said Tech. Sgt. Hector De La Concha, 30th Medical Operations Squadron.

General housekeeping, prevention and minor mold cleaning in bathrooms, kitchens, vents and on personal items are key, according to 30th Medical Group Bioenvironmental Engineering Element officials.

The best way to prevent mold is to scrub mold of hard surfaces with a household cleaner and dry them completely. Affected carpets or furniture may need to be replaced. Using exhaust fans while operating appliances such as dishwashers and dryers so moist air goes outside will also reduce moisture in the home. Running the exhaust fan in the bathroom during a shower and in the kitchen while cooking will also help with mold.

Base residents who find major water damage, significant water leaks or extensive mold in their homes should call the housing maintenance contractor, C. Martin at 734-5586.

Early detection is key to combating the effects of mold and residents are in the No. 1 position to track it down and stop it cold.