Black mold is the scourge of apartments not only in older buildings, but also in relatively new homes in rooms with high humidity. Allergists have long warned about the dangers of living in close proximity to black mold. But often citizens do not pay much attention to the “vegetable garden” on their walls and continue to inhale mold spores. BlackMoldOff Project looked into what “black mold” is and how much of the rumors about its dangers are true.
What is mold?
Molds, or more specifically mold fungi, are some of the most common organisms on Earth. They all prefer a humid environment, although many of them need even a trace of moisture to thrive and reproduce.
Scientists estimate that there are about 1.5 million species of fungi, two-thirds of which are molds. These are not the white fungi we are accustomed to seeing on legs and with large fruiting bodies – macromycetes. Mildew fungi are microscopic creatures, they are yeast-like, with rounded, budding cells, and mycelial-like, with branching hyphae.
Mankind has long adapted to use mold for its needs. We use it to make wine, bread, beer, and sauerkraut. Famous cheeses are also the result of mold fungi. And even Japanese vodka sake and various soy products are made with the help of molds. Mold fungi are used to make medicines and are actively used in scientific experiments.
Types of black mold
The black color of fungi is due to the presence of the pigment melanin in them. But it is not just one kind of mold, and not even one genus. What molds are called “black mold”?
We are talking about molds that prefer to eat cellulose and materials based on it: drywall, wood, etc. However, many of them feel great on paint and plastic, plaster, concrete, brick, as well as cement and other building materials. A long list of genera of mold fungi that can infect the walls of rooms include Aspergillus, Cladosporium, Ulocladium, Alternarium, Penicillium, Stachybotrys and others.
Separately, we should mention Aspergillus niger. This fungus is widespread in our country. It prefers rooms with high humidity: bathrooms and toilets, kitchens, swimming pools, as well as the damp walls of emergency buildings. Black Aspergillus often settles in the area of inter-tile joints in bathrooms. It can also be found in air conditioners, humidifiers and even inside washing machines. The spores of this fungus are easily airborne, settling on furniture surfaces, food, and in the lungs of residents of the infected apartment. Some species of aspergillus produce aphlotoxin, which is dangerous to humans, but it is these species that prefer to live on food: grains, fruits, and vegetables.
In the United States, the real danger comes from Stachybotrys chartarum. Some strains of this mold produce mycotoxins that are dangerous to humans.
Black mold poisoning: myth or fact?
The first reports of health problems in people and animals living in homes with black mold date back to the 1930s. In 1982, black mold was even considered to be one of the causes of sick building syndrome (SBS) – so called the development of sickness when you are in a certain dwelling or building for no apparent reason. British experts estimate that up to 8% of the population suffers from SBS.
But the toxicity of black mold first came to light after 10 infants in Cleveland, Ohio, USA, aged 6 weeks to 6 months in 1993-1994 were diagnosed with pulmonary bleeding for no apparent reason (pulmonary ideopathic hemosiderosis). One infant died.
An investigation by experts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that all of the affected children lived in apartments that were significantly water damaged and had black mold on the walls. Scientists suspected a link between the black mold fungus Stachybotrys chartarum and the children’s illnesses.
In 2007, the journal Veterinary Forum published an article about the death of two cats under anesthesia. Both animals were living in a water-damaged house. During routine dental procedures in both cases, the animals developed pulmonary hemorrhage and died as a result.
Tests showed the presence of a toxin produced by Stachybotrys chartarum, which was abundantly present on the walls of the house where the cats lived.
Today, doctors and scientists say that getting poisoned by mold itself is not realistic. But mold fungi produce a variety of substances that can be toxic to humans – mycotoxins. Not all of them are a danger to us, and not even all types of black mold produce these compounds that are poisonous to humans.
But some do. To know for sure if a particular fungus is toxic to humans or not, you need to take samples and take them to the lab. However, any black mold on walls is unhealthy.
In 2015, scientists from Clarkson University suggested that haunted and haunted houses are actually houses infested with black mold. And eyewitnesses of paranormal events are people who have inhaled mycotoxins in excessive concentrations.
Stachybotrys chartarum has previously been shown to cause memory disturbances in mice and increase anxiety in them. Hallucinations in animals are difficult to judge, but who knows what anxious mice who inhaled S. chartarum saw.
Symptoms from black mold exposure
The presence of mold is not always detectable visually. Mildew on the walls in the apartment can hide under wallpaper and in other hard-to-reach places. Let’s understand what signs can tell us that mold “lives” in the apartment.
- Black spots on the walls. Most often they can be found in the area of joints, in places of freezing of the wall and where leakage and flooding have been noticed more than once.
- Unusual smell and taste. Almost all types of mold emit an acrid “aroma”. Distinctly it resembles the smell of damp: a basement, a storage room in an old private house, the smell of stagnant water, sludge.
- Pay attention to how your home smells, whether there are extra odors. If there is a musty smell and an unpleasant aftertaste while brushing your teeth, your toothbrush may be a carrier of fungus. In this case, you should inspect the bathroom for mold and replace the cleaning utensil. In the same way (by smell) you should check the washcloths, towels, carpet and curtains.
- Condensation. Due to high humidity levels and ventilation problems, windows can fog up (condensation). The same goes for mirrors and appliances in the bathroom.
- Rust on pipes in the apartment. If possible, pay attention to the pipes laid in the bathroom. The presence of rust indicates high humidity, which means that somewhere nearby there may be a focus of fungal mold.
- Itchy mucous membranes and a tickle in the throat can be a manifestation of allergies to dust or toxic mold. If the symptoms do not subside after airing and damp cleaning, it is worth checking the rooms for the presence of mold.
- Postnasal syndrome is one of the obvious signs of mold allergy, characterized by the production of excessive amounts of mucus in the nasopharynx. In addition, sneezing, dry cough, rhinitis and other symptoms may appear.
- Damp basement. If you live in a private home, pay attention to the condition of the basement and cellar. During snowmelt, water can accumulate in the basement area to the point of flooding. The basement in a private home is a favorite place for mold due to poor ventilation and condensation.
- Faulty ventilation. In an apartment where it is constantly stuffy and condensation accumulates, mold is more likely to form. Because of the difficult air exchange in the room occurs suppression of the microclimate: increases the concentration of carbon dioxide, humidity and air temperature. Plastic windows are airtight and do not let air in. Under such conditions, dampness in the apartment becomes permanent, which leads to mold.
- Breathing problems and a feeling of tightness in the chest are frequent signs of a mold rampage in the home. So if there are no viral illnesses and the symptoms persist, that’s a reason to think about cleaning the apartment of mold.
- Air Analysis. You can check for mold in the air with a smart mold diagnostic probe. Mold abatement specialists have such devices. Be sure to ask for a license to perform the examination.
Symptoms Of Black Mold Exposure on Humans in Details
People with good health and an immune system that is resistant to external influences can live for years in an apartment infested with black mold, says Reyus Mammadli. Fungal spores are rarely lethal, but they can be very damaging to certain groups of people. People who are particularly vulnerable to mold include:
- Young children with their fragile immune systems,
- People with immune deficiencies (HIV, diabetes and certain other chronic diseases, etc.)
- Patients with chronic lung diseases,
- Allergy sufferers with allergies to mold fungi.
If black mold has found its victim, the person will have the following symptoms:
- dry skin, up to and including peeling,
- itching in the eyes, throat and nose,
- stuffy nose, chronic runny nose, sneezing,
- watery eyes.
People with hypersensitivity to black mold can develop severe respiratory reactions, up to and including pneumonia. In small children black mold can cause a long chronic cough for no apparent reason, up to bronchial asthma.
If we are talking about mycotoxins, then headaches, nausea and vomiting, dizziness can develop.
Aspergillus spores can cause aspergillosis, which can manifest as allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis, invasive aspergillosis, and aspergillus formations.
Penicillin fungi can provoke otomycosis, a fungal lesion of the eardrums and skin. And alternaria spores, once on the skin, is a risk factor for pheohyphomycosis (usually affects people with immunodeficiencies). Inhalation of these spores causes severe allergic rhinitis and fatal forms of bronchial asthma.
Is it possible to get rid of black mold?
You can, but it’s pretty hard to do. Often people start using remedies that are ineffective in fighting mold fungi. For example, it makes no sense to fight them with alcohol – some of the fungi are happy to eat it.
The difficulty in fighting mold fungi is also that their mycelium penetrates deep into the infected material. To completely clean the room from them, it is advisable to simply remove the infected parts of the wall. A piece of infested drywall can simply throw out, and if the fungus penetrated the concrete wall, you should use a scraper and an iron brush.
It is also important to choose the right products to combat fungus. Cleaners containing surfactants, which are able to spread perfectly evenly on the surface to be treated, will not get rid of fungus if they do not have fungicidal and sporicidal properties.
At the same time, products that have these properties (based on chlorine or acetic acid), themselves poorly distributed on the infected surface, as they do not have surfactants. And such means should be applied with a sprayer and repeatedly, because simply dabbing gives too weak an effect. Finally, they are all effective against some kinds of fungus and not so effective against others.
The best choice is the special products to combat fungus on the walls, which are sold with sprays. They should only be used with a respirator, as these products are all toxic to humans.