Questions and Answers on Molds or Fungus

April 2002

Most of the information in this article comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For additional information about mold from the CDC access their web pages which are located at www.cdc.gov/health/mold.html

Q 1.
I heard about toxic molds that grow in homes and other buildings. Should I be concerned about a serious health risk to me and my family?
A.
The hazards presented by molds that may contain mycotoxins should be considered the same as other common molds which can grow in your house and other buildings. There is always a little mold everywhere - in the air and on many surfaces. There are a few case reports that toxic molds (those containing certain mycotoxins) inside homes can cause unique or rare health conditions such as pulmonary hemorrhage or memory loss. These case reports are rare, and a causal link between the presence of the toxic mold and these conditions has not been proven. A commonsense approach should be used for any mold contamination existing inside buildings and homes. The common health concerns from molds include hay-fever like allergic symptoms. Certain individuals with chronic respiratory disease (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, asthma) may experience difficulty breathing. Individuals with immune suppression may be at increased risk for infection from molds. If you or your family members have these conditions, a qualified medical clinician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment. For the most part, one should take routine measures to prevent mold growth in the homes and other buildings.
Q 2.
How common is mold, including Stachybotrys chartarum (also known by its synonym Stachybotrys atra) in buildings?
A.
Molds are very common in buildings and homes and will grow anywhere indoors where there is moisture. The most common indoor molds are Cladosporium, Penicillium, Aspergillus, and Alternaria. We do not have accurate information about how often Stachybotrys chartarum is found in buildings and homes. While it is less common than other mold species, it is not rare.
Q 3.
How do molds get in the indoor environment and how do they grow?
A.
Molds naturally grow in the indoor environment. Mold spores may also enter your house through open doorways, windows, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems. Spores in the air outside also attach themselves to people and animals, making clothing, shoes, bags, and pets convenient vehicles for carrying mold indoors. When mold spores drop on places where there is excessive moisture, such as where leakage may have occurred in roofs, pipes, walls, plant pots, or where there has been flooding, they will grow. Many building materials provide suitable nutrients that encourage mold to grow. Wet cellulose materials, including paper and paper products, cardboard, ceiling tiles, wood, and wood products, are particularly conducive for the growth of some molds. Other materials such as dust, paints, wallpaper, insulation materials, drywall, carpet, fabric, and upholstery, commonly support mold growth.
Q 4.
What is Stachybotrys chartarum (Stachybotrys atra)?
A.
Stachybotrys chartarum (also known by its synonym Stachybotrys atra) is a greenish-black mold. It can grow on material with a high cellulose and low nitrogen content, such as fiberboard, gypsum board, paper, dust, and lint. Growth occurs when there is moisture from water damage, excessive humidity, water leaks, condensation, water infiltration, or flooding. Constant moisture is required for its growth. It is not necessary, however, to determine what type of mold you may have. All molds should be treated the same with respect to potential health risks and removal.
Q 5.
Are there any circumstances where people should vacate a home or other building because of mold?
A.
These decisions have to be made individually. If you believe you are ill because of exposure to mold in a building, you should consult your physician to determine appropriate action.
Q 6.
Who are the people who are most at risk for health problems associated with exposure to mold?
A.
People with allergies may be more sensitive to molds. People with immune suppression or underlying lung disease are more susceptible to fungal infections.
Q 7.
How do you know if you have a mold problem?
A.
Large mold infestations can usually be seen or smelled.
Q 8.
Does Stachybotrys chartarum (Stachybotrys atra) cause acute idiopathic pulmonary hemorrhage among infants?
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A.
To date, a possible association between acute idiopathic pulmonary hemorrhage among infants and Stachybotrys chartarum (Stachybotrys atra) has not been proved. Further studies are needed to determine what causes acute idiopathic hemorrhage.
Q 9.
What if my child has acute idiopathic pulmonary hemorrhage?
A.
Parents should ensure that their children get proper medical treatment.
Q 10.
What are the potential health effects of mold in buildings and homes?
A.
Mold exposure does not always present a health problem indoors. However, some people are sensitive to molds. These people may experience symptoms such as nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, or wheezing when exposed to molds. Some people may have more severe reactions to molds. Severe reactions may occur among workers exposed to large amounts of molds in occupational settings, such as farmers working around moldy hay. Severe reactions may include fever and shortness of breath. People with chronic illnesses, such as obstructive lung disease, may develop mold infections in their lungs.
Q 11.
How do you get the molds out of buildings, including homes, schools, and places of employment?
A.
In most cases mold can be removed by a thorough cleaning with bleach and water. If you have an extensive amount of mold and you do not think you can manage the cleanup on your own, you may want to contact a professional who has experience in cleaning molds in buildings.
Q 12.
What should people to do if they determine they have Stachybotrys chartarum (Stachybotrys atra) in their buildings or homes?
A.
Mold growing in homes and buildings, whether it is Stachybotrys chartarum (Stachybotrys atra) or other molds, indicates that there is a problem with water or moisture. This is the first problem that needs to be addressed. Mold can be cleaned off surfaces with a weak bleach solution. Mold under carpets typically requires that the carpets be removed. Once mold starts to grow in insulation or wallboard the only way to deal with the problem is by removal and replacement. We do not believe that one needs to take any different precautions with Stachybotrys chartarum (Stachybotrys atra), than with other molds. In areas where flooding has occurred, prompt cleaning of walls and other flood-damaged items with water mixed with chlorine bleach, diluted 10 parts water to 1 part bleach, is necessary to prevent mold growth. Never mix bleach with ammonia. Moldy items should be discarded.
Q 13.
How do you keep mold out of buildings and homes?
A.
As part of routine building maintenance, buildings should be inspected for evidence of water damage and visible mold. The conditions causing mold (such as water leaks, condensation, infiltration, or flooding) should be corrected to prevent mold from growing.


Summary

In summary, Stachybotrys chartarum and other molds may cause health symptoms that are nonspecific. At present there is no test that proves an association between Stachybotrys chartarum and particular health symptoms. Individuals with persistent symptoms should see their physician. However, if Stachybotrys chartarum or other molds are found in a building, prudent practice recommends that they be removed. Use the simplest and most expedient method that properly and safely removes mold.