Mold and Illness

Molds and fungus are nearby virtually everywhere we go. For the most part these molds are relatively innocuous. Certain molds, however, do pose substantial health risks. According to Berlin D. Nelson, Ph.D., department of plant pathology, North Dakota State University, Stachybotrys Chartarum or "black mold" is the most prominent and notorious of the toxic molds (1).

Black mold is a heavy producer of mycotoxins (toxins created by a fungus). These mycotoxins cause a wide range of symptoms from headaches to flu-like symptoms, and chronic illnesses. The mycotoxins created by black mold are numerous, but fall into 3 main categories: Macrocyclic Trichothecenes, which inhibit protein synthesis; Phenylspirodrimanes and Cyclsporine, which are strong immunosuppressive agents; and Stachylysin, which can lyse erythrocytes (destroy red blood cells). With all three groups present there is little wonder why mycotoxicosis (mycotoxin poisoning) caused by black mold can lead to severe degradation in human health.

Black mold has also been linked to "sick building syndrome", which describes situations in which the health and comfort of people is effected by time spent in a certain building or room, where there is no obvious cause.

Unless you experience symptoms that seem to be location dependant you probably don't need to worry too much for the time being. However, mold spores, which are benign by themselves and found practically everywhere, can propogate wildly active colonies when exposed to an amply moist environment.

This effect is very common with flooding, which is why it is of pressing importance to ensure that a flooded house is cleaned up and dried out thoroughly before mold is allowed to proliferate. In the case that you are experiencing chronic symptoms in your home or work environment, the best course of action is to contact a professional that knows how to seek and eliminate fungal growth.

Another health concern with mold and fungus stems from foam. Polyurethane foam, which is the type of foam commonly used in cushion and bedding applications, can be broken down by mold into volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are toxic.

Dr T. James Sprott, OBE, Msc, PhD, FNZIC, In New Zealand, discovered that this was a major contributor to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), where used crib mattresses were the culprits (2). Though the effects in adults usually go unidentified you may find that you feel better when you aren't exposed to them.

The solution for crib mattresses was a simple layer of plastic completely covering the entire thing, not so practical for adults. This is a major reason not to buy used mattresses, which often have mold already growing in them, besides the other obvious factors (what did those previous owners do in that bed?).

To prevent mold from building up in your mattress it is good to use a mattress pad which is washable and will absorb most of the moisture that would be going to perpetuate mold growth. It is best, however, to simply buy a mattress that doesn't create a suitable environment for mold or other microbes, such as latex.

Latex is a natural product that provides a superb sleep system that will keep your bed free of mold and other harmful microbes. Mold will always be around, and will always be a health concern. It is by familiarizing ourselves with mold, it's indications, and it's environment that we are able to minimize the risk that it will effect our lives.

What is toxic black mold?

Mold is a fungus growth, which starts with a microscopic spore. In a damp environment, it will spread on organic material, such as food or wood. It can be beneficial; for example, the antibiotic penicillin is a mold. Mold grows everywhere, but can become a problem when it grows in large areas inside a home, school, or workplace.

Toxic black molds can be found anywhere that dark and dank conditions permit them to grow. When you try to kill them, they take to the air, spreading themselves with no forethought to the damage they can cause. They are just trying to survive.

Spores can be inhaled, absorbed through the skin or ingested on our food. And, because some people are more susceptible than others, one person may become debilitated by exposure to mold in the home, another person sharing the same environment is essentially unaffected.

Infants, the elderly and anyone with immune system deficiencies due to disease, chemotherapy, etc. are particularly susceptible to serious illness following exposure to microbial contamination.

Many people are concerned about the potential health issues concerning mold in their homes. In particular, stachybotrys chartarum, which you may have heard about as "toxic black mold", has been blamed for causing health problems. It is greenish-black, slimy, and can grow in homes with water damage.

Many species of black mold and mildew (or the mycotoxins they produce) can cause or aggravate a number of ailments. Common effects from molds such as stachybotrys atra, penecillium, cladosporium and several strains of aspergillius, are asthma, pneumonitis, upper respiratory problems, sinusitis, dry cough, skin rashes, stomach upset, headaches, disorientation and bloody noses. Numerous other species of mold and mildew are also toxic, and many mycotoxins are known carcinogens. Severe exposures can lead to internal bleeding, kidney and liver failure and pulmonary emphysema. Such health risks due to the presence of mold in a dwelling are a serious concern to occupants, and can pose potential liability for owners of rental properties.

Contamination of residential properties by toxic mold and mildew is becoming more and more prevalent. Although mankind has been aware for thousands of years that mold thrives in damp conditions, only recently have we begun to understand how dramatically its presence can impact us. Toxic mold and mildew is not discerning, affecting both old and new buildings.

Contamination of residential properties by toxic mold and mildew is becoming more and more prevalent. Although mankind has been aware for thousands of years that mold thrives in damp conditions, only recently have we begun to understand how dramatically its presence can impact us. Toxic mold and mildew is not discerning, affecting both old and new buildings.

How do I know if my home has a mold problem?

If mold is growing in your home, you most likely will be able to smell it. Have you ever walked into a room that has a musty or earthy odor? You probably are smelling mold. Sometimes, you can see the mold on the surface of an object. In such cases, the item may be discolored or look as if it has smudges or blotches.

Often, you will not be able to see mold that is causing an odor. The mold could be growing behind walls, underneath carpets, or in other hidden areas. Mold growth is common in areas of a home that are damp or have suffered water damage. You should be especially concerned about the growth of mold if your home has had:

  • a flood
  • a sewer back-up
  • an overflowing toilet
  • leaking pipes
  • a leaking roof
  • leaking windows
  • humidifiers
  • any other serious water-related problems.

Some of these situations can result in the growth of bacteria, which also can cause musty odors and health problems.

Once materials become wet, mold can begin to grow within 24 to 48 hours. If your home experiences a water-related problem, clean and dry any wet or damp areas as soon as you find them. If you live in a rental property, immediately report water problems to your landlord.

The earlier you can detect the growth of mold in your home, the better a chance you have to control it. Early detection and treatment are very important. If you smell a musty odor in your house, start looking for the source immediately and remove it as soon as you find it. Prevention and early detection may save you from paying much greater cleanup and repair expenses later on. If you own your home, damage from mold and the cost of removing mold might not be covered by your homeowner insurance. (Read your policy or call your insurance agent to find out.)