Mold and asbestos are two potential household hazards that receive plenty of attention from the media. News stories and articles about mold illnesses, asbestos lawsuits, and, of course, mold and asbestos removal are all over the headlines these days. But are black mold symptoms worse than asbestos diseases? Which airborne pollutant infects the lungs faster? Which one is easier to remediate? This article will begin with some background about mold and asbestos and then compare and contrast their characteristics.
What is black mold?
Mold is a kind of fungus that can grow on just about any surface, in a wide range of environments. Although not every kind of mold has been identified and classified, some estimates put the number of different mold species in the hundreds of thousands. Most people are concerned about so-called “black mold,” or “toxic mold,” the scientific name of which is Stachybotrys chartarum (AKA Stachybotrys atra). Stachybotrys does look black in color most of the time, but it has been known to appear white or greenish. It grows on cellulose-rich surfaces, which includes common building materials, like drywall, wood products, and wallpaper. Other kinds of toxigenic molds include Alternaria, Aspergillus, and Penicillium.
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a fibrous material that was commonly used in building construction up until the past two decades. Oftentimes it was installed as insulation, either between walls or around pipes, because of its ability to absorb high temperatures. Asbestos was also mixed in with surface coating materials, like paints and sealants. The problem with asbestos comes when it begins to break down, chip, or deteriorate. The fibers crystals that compose the mineral can easily become dislodged, floating around in the air as a kind of dust. The United States banned asbestos from nearly all consumer products in 1989.
Which is more common?
Asbestos was certainly popular as a construction product. Although the percentage of homes and buildings containing asbestos is a matter of debate, it is estimated that over 3,000 different products used to contain asbestos before it was banned. Today asbestos is nearly completely eliminated from products in the United States. Over the course of the years asbestos removal companies have helped to take the material out of buildings. As structures have been re-build, they’ve undergone asbestos abatement. It may be some time before asbestos is completely irradiated, but the day will come eventually.
Mold, on the other hand, will never be vanquished from the Earth. Mold existed long before humans, and will likely inhabit the planet long after we’re gone. All it needs to grow is moisture and some source of organic material from which to feed. These conditions are easy to come by in nearly any indoor environment. Because asbestos is a mineral, it cannot grow or move itself like mold can. In fact, recent studies have suggested that climate change is intensifying mold and mold allergies. Mold is much more prevalent than asbestos, and unlike asbestos, it will never be completely eliminated from the nation’s buildings.
Which is worse for your health?
Mold can cause a wide range of health effects. Even non-toxigenic molds, given the right concentration, can cause otherwise healthy people to experience flu and allergy-like symptoms. These health effects, sometimes called mold allergies, include: sore throat, coughing, wheezing, eye irritation, sneezing, sinus pressure, headaches, drowsiness, and fever. Mold exposure can trigger asthma attacks and exacerbate existing respiratory problems. Black mold, or Stachybotrys, has been linked to pulmonary hemorrhaging, lung infections, and a wide variety of problems associated with sick building syndrome.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, asbestos exposure leads to “long-term risk of chest and abdominal cancers and lung diseases,” most commonly mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer. These diseases cause prolonged debilitation and often death. In terms of the nature of the common illnesses related to mold and asbestos, asbestos appears to have more intense health complications. One factor influencing the severity of asbestos-related illnesses is the time frame from exposure to symptoms, discussed below.
Which one’s symptoms show up quicker?
Asbestos illnesses can lie dormant in a person’s respiratory system for years. It’s common for mesothelioma sufferers to be diagnosed with their disease three decades after they became exposed to asbestos in their former workplaces. Nowadays, mesothelioma diagnoses are on the rise, as people who lived and worked around the material in the 1970s are just now showing the symptoms.
Conversely, mold-related illnesses oftentimes manifest themselves right away. Mold allergies can cause people to react upon spending just a few minutes in a mold-infested room, especially for people who have a high sensitivity to allergens. Some mold exposures that last an extended period of time can lead to long-term health complications, but the most common effects are experienced during the period of exposure. Therefore, it’s much easier to determine when mold is making you sick than when asbestos is. Consequently, it is easier to take the appropriate actions to avoid mold than asbestos.
Which one is harder to remove?
Both mold and asbestos are hazardous to your health, and neither one is particularly easy to remove. Professional indoor air quality technicians and remediation specialists will have the proper tools and safety equipment to ensure that these air contaminants are properly removed without further harm to the building’s occupants. The U.S. government has special training courses for people who deal with asbestos in their work. State and local jurisdictions have regulations for the proper certification of asbestos removal specialists. If you think there may be mold or asbestos in your home, the first thing you should do is to have the physical property inspected and the air tested for any airborne contaminants.
If you do believe that asbestos is present in your home or place of work, it is important to never disturb the area yourself. Solid-state asbestos will release fibers into the air fairly slowly, but aggravating the asbestos by sawing, hammering or drilling will only cause more fibers to become airborne. With mold the same general principle applies. Attempting to clean mold yourself will oftentimes backfire. It may look as though the mold is disappearing at first, but in fact many more tiny particles of mold (called spores) will enter the air when the mold colony is aggravated. It is best to have your mold tested for and removed by a company that is a member of the Indoor Environmental Association and other industry organizations which set professional standards. As with asbestos removal, mold remediation specialists will be able to construct containment chambers so that the clean-up process does not make matters worse.