In January 1993, the first of 27 babies in the Cleveland, Ohio area had a pulmonary hemorrhage that was very quickly. The children bled from their airways, and their lungs were infected with an unknown illness that caused them to cough up blood. A child died. It was found that each home where a sick child lived had a lot of water damage. Among these homes, the fungus Stachybotrys chartarum (S. chartarum) was found. It looked like the kids’ illnesses were caused by toxic mold.
An official in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, looked again at all of the infants who died in the area between 1993 and 1995, as well as the ones who were thought to have died from SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). It was found that six of the children had lung tissue that showed signs of pulmonary hemorrhage. It hasn’t been proven for sure that the mold killed the babies. Medical and public health experts around the world began to wonder: If this mold is a health risk, how big could the problem be?
The term “toxic mold” is scary and catchy, but it’s not the mold itself that is toxic. It’s the spores the fungi make. S. chartarum and other molds, like Fusarium and Trichoderma, make spores that can be harmful. These spores are called mycotoxins. When they fly, you can breathe them in. You can also take them in through your skin and intestines, but that’s not the only way. As well as releasing spores that are dangerous, these molds also make gases that release mycotoxins.
Mycotoxins may harm people’s health through cytotoxicity, which is when the spores kill off living cells to cut down on competition for food and water. So when toxic spores like those found on the surface of S. chartarum enter your body, your body’s cells fight back. This could have a wide range of effects on your health.
There is no proof that the spores from mold like S. chartarum and other molds cause people to get sick. While mycotoxins have properties like cytotoxicity and have been shown to have negative effects on living tissues in labs, research into how mycotoxins affect human health is still very new. Investigation into how mycotoxins work, on the other hand, has become very important.
As a result of the deaths of infants in Cleveland in the early 1990s, groups like the Centers for Disease Control have started to gather evidence and build databases on toxic mold and how to fight it. To find out how to keep your home safe from mold, read the next page. It doesn’t matter what kind of mold it is.
Toxic Mold in Your Home
Mold can get into your home in many ways. Is can come in through an open window, your air conditioning system, a vent, a piece of clothing, or even your dog or cat. Once mold gets inside, it’s very hard to get rid of it all. Until they meet the right conditions, fungus spores can stay dormant in your home and not grow until they meet them.
S. chartarum likes wet places with a relative humidity of about 94%, where it can grow. Toxic mold isn’t likely to grow in a home with this much humidity because most homes have a much lower relative humidity than that. There are many things that can help S. chartarum and other dangerous molds grow, like a leaky roof, plumbing, or even a wet flower pot in your home.
Toxic mold likes materials that are made of wood, like gypsum board and fiberboard. S. chartarum likes to live in wet building materials. Water damage to drywall and carpet can cause them to become colonized, which can be dangerous. The CDC says these materials should be carefully removed and then thrown away.
To find out which conditions and surfaces chartarum likes best, the Environmental Protection Agency built a chamber that could be used to test different indoor climates. They looked at things like drywall and ceiling tiles that are common in homes. They also used these chambers to test antimicrobials, which are things like fungicides, to see which one worked best at killing S. chartarum. Molds like S. cerevisiae aren’t dead yet, but the EPA wants to figure out how bad they are for people. On people, chartarum works. If you want to know how much mold is safe, the EPA wants to find out. They also want to know if there is any mold that is bad for you.
For now, agencies like the CDC say that you should treat all mold problems the same way: carefully. One reason for this is that S. chartarum can live with other, less dangerous molds, and it can be hard to find. So don’t bother having mold samples taken if you find it in your home, says the CDC. Just get rid of it.
Check for mold if your home has been hit by water damage, like from a broken water pipe or a flood. Mold can grow and spread on materials like drywall and wallpaper in as little as 24 hours if the right conditions are there for it to do so. Clean up if you find any. Wear a dust mask, rubber gloves, and long sleeves and pants when you clean up mold.
Materials like carpet, ceiling tiles, pillows, insulation, and drywall should be thrown away because they can’t be cleaned and won’t get clean. There are ways to clean mold off hard surfaces like concrete floors and ceramic tiles. Formica countertops can also be cleaned to get rid of the mold. A solution of no more than one cup bleach to one gallon of water should be used to kill mold while the EPA is looking into which antimicrobial is best (never mix ammonia with bleach, by the way).
After you clean, make sure you get rid of all the mold. You can still get sick from dead mold that is still there. And make sure you dry the area that was infested well to keep the spores from coming back. But you don’t have to wait for a flood to get rid of mold. Use your air conditioner when it’s hot outside and clean the drain pan under the fridge once a month to fight mold every day.