Beware the Health Consequences of Mold Exposure!

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Dr. Adrienne Sprouse

Dr. Adrienne Sprouse

Indoor mold contamination can cause serious health problems. Indoor water leaks from broken pipes, damaged roofs, poorly sealed windows, basement flooding, etc. create optimal conditions for mold to grow.  Indoor mold thrives in cool, moist, dark places.

Hurricanes  Sandy, Irene,  Rita, and Katrina dumped thousands of gallons of water inland,  causing severe water damage to thousands of buildings.  Although black mold, specifically Stachybotrys, has gotten a lot of publicity over the years, other molds that are lighter in color, yellow, or brown can cause health problems too.

Indoor mold contamination can damage human health by several mechanisms:

1)      Molds give off spores which can serve as airway irritants causing a runny nose, irritated eyes, a scratchy throat, and even asthma-like symptoms of shortness of breath and wheezing

2)      Molds give off many toxic (meaning poisonous)  chemicals in their emissions.  Some of these mold toxins (called mycotoxins), such as  trichothecenes, aflatoxins, and ochratoxins are unique to molds. Other gases emitted by molds include hexane, benzene, acetone, zearlenones,  and other organic solvents.  Each of these emission chemicals has its own actions of damage.  When more than one mold toxin is present, the combination of their adverse health effects can be synergistic.

Research has shown that mycotoxins can be present in the air even when mold spores are absent.  Because mycotoxins are gases, they can penetrate porous surfaces, become absorbed in clothing and cloth items like your mattress, pillows, sofa, and carpeting, and can contaminate these items.  Mold toxins can persist in the mold-contaminated area and in mold-contaminated items causing ongoing illness even after the water damage has been remediated and the mold spores have been removed.

3)      Molds can cause infection in almost any tissue in the body including the sinuses, brain, lungs, skin, cardiovascular system, and gastrointestinal tract.

4)      Molds can alter the immune system.

5)      Allergic responses to mold can take many forms including  headache, fatigue, runny nose, shortness of breath, dizziness, etc.

What are the health problems associated with mold exposure?

The article by Michael Gray, M. D. et al reports the following symptoms are significantly more frequent in those exposed to mold than in those who are not exposed to mold:  excessive fatigue, headache, nasal symptoms, memory problems, “spaciness”/disorientation, sinus discomfort, coughing, watery eyes, throat discomfort, slurred speech, lightheadedness, dizziness, weakness, bloating, weak voice, coordination problems, vision changes, rash, chest tightness, and wheezing.

Gray MR  et al.  Mixed mold mycotoxicosis :  immunological changes in humans following exposure in water-damaged buildings.  J Arch Env Health 2004,  23-33.

An Environmental Physician trained to diagnose and treat mold-related illnesses can make the difference between years of suffering and relief.  Laboratory evaluations exist to measure mycotoxin levels in urine, blood, breast milk, and other body fluids, and to measure immune response to specific molds.  Treatment of mold-related illness includes avoidance of mold contamination, thorough remediation of the mold-contaminated building if possible,  clearing the mycotoxins from the body, desensitization for mold allergy, treatment of mold infections,  and the evaluation and treatment of all other medical problems.

Please stay tuned for the next two months.  My April Guest Blogger will be an Industrial Hygienist trained in mold inspections who will give information about the evaluation and documentation of mold contamination in buildings.  My May blog will provide details about the remediation of indoor mold and mold toxins.

 

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Comments
5 Responses to “Beware the Health Consequences of Mold Exposure!”
  1. As one who suffers from what mold can do, I appreciate this post.

  2. Betty says:

    Great. Very informative article! Thanks!

  3. Lecina Linehan says:

    Good article. I think I may be experiencing some of this. I have chronic fatigue that won’t quit. I never suspected it may be mold.

  4. Hi Adrienne: Unfortunately, what’s going on in the metropolitan area in response to Sandy is an unmitigated health travesty. Most of the repair work that’s being done in single family homes, whether by homeowners themselves, by contractors, by volunteer groups or via government sponsored programs, does not adequately address mold contamination. The central issue is that removing wet sheetrock and floors and treating surfaces with bleach (the typical approach) still leaves so much excess moisture in the house that mold regrowth is inevitable. For example, about two months after Sandy, I completed comprehensive mold/moisture evaluations in two adjacent homes that had been flooded with several feet of water in Broad Channel. The first was a rental property which the tenant vacated in part because the owner had chosen not to implement repairs. Mold was visible on all the wetted surfaces on the first floor, most of the building materials on the first floor were still saturated and the mold counts in air on the first and second floors were very significantly elevated. The second house was the owner’s home, The wet sheetrock on the first floor had been removed and replaced and the heating system had been replaced as well. Mold was visible on the sheathing behind the new sheetrock and was just beginning to appear on the new sheetrock. The mold counts in air were approximately three times that of the adjacent house and were some of the highest I have ever seen in a residential setting. Why – neither house had been adequately dried out (which requires commercial dehumidification equipment) but the second house had heat – making the conditions even more suitable for mold growth. In the rush to get people back into their homes, the regulatory authorities have not been requiring that adequate mold mitigations be implemented. Such mitigations require implementing comprehensive moisture/mold evaluations, structural drying of all wetted materials, thorough application of biocides to kill the existing mold and minimize potential regrowth and clearance testing to document that the mitigation programs have been successful – all of which needs to be implemented by trained professionsals AND BEFORE any repairs are implemented. None of this was done in thousands of homes, the term “Sandy cough” is already in common usage and many homeowners are going to experience short and or long term health impacts as a consequence…

    Wayne Tusa
    Environmental Risk
    212-369-5400

    • My son-in-law was there during part of the clean-up. He and the men from his group were asked to go in and clean up the basement of a house. He refused because of the mold growing on the walls. They told him it was ok and they were only going to give them some waders and a suit with a paper mask. He refused to go because he knew it wasn’t safe. He has seen what mold did to me.

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