Toxic mold: a growing problem

Tom Kilian

Stachybotrys chartarum. It sounds strangely exotic, if not charming. Yet, in 1994, Cleveland residents began to have doubts about its exoticism when the deaths of sixteen babies, in their hometown, were associated with this greenish-black mold. Years later, a Wisconsin man questioned its charm right about the time he started bleeding from his ears. Exotic? No. Charming? No. A widely unheard of problem that could have a heavy bearing on the health of countless individuals? Quite possibly.Stachybotrys chartarum (atra) is a highly toxic fungus found worldwide that thrives on high-cellulose materials such as dry wall and ceiling tiles. It can be unluckily stumbled upon in all fifty states, and in virtually any type of building or home. The mold commonly grows as the result of water damage, for example: flooding, plumbing leaks, or leaks involving paper or wood products.

Certain forms of Stachybotrys merely cause allergies, asthma, and skin rashes. Others produce mycotoxins that can wreak havoc on the lungs and central nervous system, just to name a very few symptoms.

This past April, The Droegkamp family of Merton, Wisconsin had to evacuate their Stachybotrys-infested $300,000 home in order to escape symptoms of chronic nosebleeds, pneumonia, and swollen lymph nodes. Even their cat suffered from vomiting and bloody urine. In April 1999, the Ballard Family of Austin, Texas, evacuated their home filled with the toxic mold after experiencing diarrhea, vomiting, coughing up blood, and significant memory loss. On top of the effects experienced by the two families and others who have been poisoned by the mold, experts suspect that Stachybotrys could be at the bottom of certain unexplained cases of chronic fatigue syndrome and sick building syndrome.

Assuredly, this substance is impeded from polluting public buildings through the observance of air-quality standards set aside by the government. On the contrary, there exist no such standards. No dangerous spore exposure level is given by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or any other authoritative administration. Not for residential property, nor for commercial. In fact, part of the problem is that there are no guiding principles as to how much mold is safe. Maybe that is why Hill Elementary School in Austin, Texas was shutdown only after numerous health complaints were reported by students—instead of proactively defending against the mold by carefully monitoring the school’s air quality and preventing such complaints. Perhaps that was also the case concerning the four schools contaminated and closed by Stachybotrys chartarum in Grand Rapids, Michigan; or Lakeside School in North Seattle; or Buchanan High School in Clovis, New Mexico; or the innumerable others that most people know absolutely nothing about.

Still, there are those who are incredulous about the dangerous effects of Stachybotrys. In a recent news article in The Wichita Eagle, Dave Marino, a lung specialist for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), said (concerning Stachybotrys), “There’s been a huge overreaction,” and added that “Cynics say it’s a chance to make money by charging for remediation the way asbestos is removed.”

However, this type of opinion does not account for the trichothecene mycotoxins produced by the fungus (among a small number of other fungi), substances which are utilized in the less-than-benign field of biological warfare. Nor does it address the recent animal studies that have reported severe intra-alveolar, bronchiolar, and interstitial inflammation in mice that were exposed to these trichothecenes.

The question of how dangerous Stachybotrys chartarum actually is has been answered by the shutting of elementary school doors across the nation, and the voices in doctors’ offices of patients with perplexing, and often devastating, symptoms. The matter of developing widespread testing for Stachybotrys, effective remediation techniques, and public awareness is a question that, to this day, lacks a reply.