Beware the Health Consequences of Mold Exposure!
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.