A mysterious illness is befalling many people across the nation. They are suffering from such symptoms as breathing difficulties, memory and hearing loss, dizziness, flu-like symptoms and bleeding in the lungs. The cause of this illness, a lethal version of household mold known as Stachybotrys atra.
This illness is not new, however; the written history of microbial contamination dates clear back to the Bible. A passage from the book of Leviticus instructs the priest to tear out the contaminated stones from a building and throw them into an unclean place outside the town. If the mildew has spread, the entire house should be torn down. The system has changed little in thousands of years.
Stachybotrys atra has been the source of blame for several instances of home evacuations and biohazard restrictions, due to the airborne toxins that it produces. Studies by Eckhardt Johanning, M.D. of the Eastern New York Occupational and Environmental Health Center showed that college graduates who had once led high-level functioning lives, experienced chronic fatigue, loss of balance, irritability, memory loss and difficulty speaking after being exposed to the mold.
Fortunately, the occurrence of Stachybotrys in homes is rare; milder molds, such as Cladosporium, Penicillium and Alternaria are more common. Even though they are milder, they are still able to cause health problems, including chronic sinus and respiratory infections and asthma.
Molds are microscopic fungi that live on plant and animal matter. It has been estimated that more than three hundred thousand could exist. They could produce spores that can be air-, water-, or insect-borne. Molds commonly grow behind walls and under floors, wherever there may be a damp place. Water is the key ingredient, without it molds are unable to get started, much less spread. Common molds can take hold within 24 hours if water is left to sit. If water continues to sit and areas become completely saturated, a more lethal mold, such as Stachybotrys can take hold.
During the mid 1980’s, thousands of middle-income families in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan fell ill when their homes developed mold problems. Four years ago in Cleveland, Stachybotrys growth was suspected of causing pulmonary hemorrhage in 14 children, killing two. This year, in New York City, 125 families living at the Henry Phipps Plaza South filed an $8 billion mold lawsuit against their landlord.
The potential for extensive mold contamination is greater today than ever before. Home design can have a large effect on whether mold takes hold in your home. The materials used, including fake stucco (which is great food for mold) and insulation, can trap moisture behind walls. Since many of today’s home are more airtight, the central air systems serve to re-circulate contaminated air. Many families will go for years before they ever realize the cause of their mysterious illness.
How Can You Prevent a Mold Problem in Your House?
- Keep water out. Fix any leaks within 24 hours.
- Be on the lookout for discoloration of walls, ceiling, or anything made of wood or paper. Mold growth can be almost any color: white, black, green, fluorescent.
- Look behind cabinets or pictures on cold outside walls where condensation can occur. Keep furniture away from outside walls.
- Check around air handling units (air conditioners, furnaces) for stagnant water. Keep these units serviced with regular cleaning of ducts and air filters.
- Be aware of odors. Mildew has been described as pungent, or “aromatic”.
- Know the symptoms of mold-related illness, which can range from chronic sinus infections and asthma to nosebleeds, extreme fatigue, severe headaches, dizziness, rashes and central nervous system problems. Ask yourself, do the symptoms get better when I go on vacation and are they worse when I come back home?