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Stachybotrys Molds and the Effect on Health

In the past decade, there has been a heightened alert about toxic molds in homes, buildings and schools. The culprit seems to be Stachybotrys mold, a fungus originally identified in Russia in the 1930’s. It was discovered in horses and eventually farm workers, who were exposed to hay or feed grain. The symptoms of contact included rash, dermatitis, pain and inflammation of the mouth and throat, conjunctivitis, chest tightness, cough, fever, headache and fatigue. Stachybotrys chartarum has resulted in millions of dollars in litigation and has caused serious problems for building managers and homeowners who must deal with remediation and human issues of illness.

Although many questions remain unanswered about the effects of Stachybotrys molds on individual health, we have learned that one should not handle materials contaminated with the mold. Research strongly indicates that environments infected with Stachybotrys chartarum are unhealthy and can result in illness. Typically, the younger the host, the more serious the health problem. The fact that science has not determined if the symptoms are caused by an allergic reaction to the mold, or by the mold itself, has no bearing on avoidance. Although symptoms vary in each case, it is most important to determine the source of the irritant; basic treatment involves removal of the cause.

Stachybotrys MoldSource of Stachybotrys Mold
The spores of the fungus are embedded in the soil and introduced into homes and buildings that have been exposed to sustained flooding or water damage from broken pipes, leaks in the roof, walls or floors, condensation, etc. Wet conditions are necessary to initiate and maintain growth. It is common for it to grow on the paper covering of gypsum wallboard; cellulose based ceiling tiles, wallpaper, insulation and organic debris. There may be little or no visible evidence of the mold, but nevertheless, its presence can cause contamination through cracks or holes. Condensation due to inadequate design or faults in the heating, ventilation or air conditioning systems will encourage the development of the spores.

What to do?
Detection of Stachybotrys molds is usually carried out by visual inspection or through air and surface sampling. If there are suspected areas of contamination, removal of the fungus must follow recommended safety procedures for working with toxic molds. If the areas are disturbed, such as when they are torn down, the dust created can increase exposure to the fungus. Remediation in large areas is similar to asbestos removal; however, unlike asbestos, after removal of the fungus, the source of the contamination must be addressed. Leaking pipes must be fixed, moisture trapped in mechanicals needs must be flushed with a bleach mixture, and any materials harboring the spores need to be removed and replaced.

Help and extensive information on Stachybotrys molds can be found in local health departments, colleges and universities with agricultural extension services, private consultants, and the internet. Do not attempt identification or remediation without advice from a trained professional.

Whether you are living in a “sick building” where people are experiencing symptoms of toxicity, or dealing with mold in your home, the issue should be addressed immediately. The problem will not go away by itself, nor will the symptoms abate over time. If you have any persistent symptoms related to Stachybotrys mold, do not hesitate to see a physician.


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