Mold is a tenacious, unwelcome guest. It climbs up walls, invades carpet and infests drywall. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, six varieties of household mold are common, and three can produce toxins. The CDC linked one of them, stachybotrys atra, to cases of lung disorder in infants five years ago and many cases since. Unfortunately, it’s impossible for homeowners to distinguish between toxic and the benign molds – they all look like black or gray sooty patches.
Stachybotrys atra (pronounced Stack-ee-bot-ris) is an especially lethal mold. It’s part of a family of molds (others are Memnoniella and Aspergillus versicolor) that produce airborne toxins, called mycotoxins, that can cause serious breathing difficulties, memory and hearing loss, dizziness, flu like symptoms, and bleeding in the lungs. In 1996 and 1999 studies by Eckardt Johanning, M.D., of the Eastern New York Occupational and Environmental Health Center, people with prolonged exposure to mycotoxins from Stachybotrys and other fungi experienced chronic fatigue, loss of balance, irritability, memory loss and difficulty speaking. “These were college graduates who had been functioning at a high level, and now they can’t,” Johanning says.
Fortunately, Stachybotrys isn’t found in homes as often as molds such as Cladosporium, Penicillium and Alternaria. Those are common, especially in damp states such as Texas, Louisiana, Florida and Oregon. Yet even they can cause health problems, including chronic sinus and respiratory infections and asthma. A 1999 Mayo Clinic study pegged nearly all the chronic sinus infections afflicting 37 million Americans to molds. Recent studies also have linked molds to the tripling of the asthma rate over the past 20 years.
When molds grow, it’s usually in damp places, behind walls and under floors, above ceiling tiles or behind shower walls — wherever there are wet cellulose materials they can feed on, such as wood, ceiling tiles, plasterboard, or accumulations of organic material inside air-conditioning and heating systems. Water is the key. Without it, molds can’t get started, much less spread. But when water is left to sit for even 24 hours, common molds can take hold. If water continues to sit and areas become completely saturated, that’s when a more lethal mold, such as Stachybotrys, can move in.
In Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota in the mid-1980s, thousands of middle-income families fell ill when their homes developed mold problems. This year in New York City, 125 families at Henry Phipps Plaza South filed an $8 billion mold lawsuit against their landlord. And four years ago in Cleveland, Stachybotrys growth from unrepaired storm damage was suspected of causing pulmonary hemorrhage in 14 children, killing two.
No matter what type of mold is in your home, your safety depends on the type and size of the infestation. If there’s a visual infestation or if the mold has gotten into the carpet, insulation or drywall, contact us. Our trained inspectors can identify potential mold hazards.