Killer Fungi

Killer Fungi

black mold

It might seem overly dramatic to refer to some fungi and molds as deadly, but in fact they can be. For example, if it’s black and lives in the corners of your kitchen, under tiles and along the edge of the baseboard, you may have one of the most toxic compounds in the world sharing your food preparation site.

Toxic black mold, formally known as Stachybotrys chartarum (or Stachybotrys atra), is a greenish black creeper that extends a few inches every year when conditions are just right. Give Stachybotrys a humid summer day around 85 degrees (Fahrenheit), and it will do its best to infiltrate the space under your kitchen tiles, from which location it eventually spreads up the wall behind cupboards and into areas where you store food and the plates on which to eat it.

The problem with toxic black mold is that it’s not a dainty gourmet, requiring rare, exotic ingredients to feast on and prosper. In fact, stachybotrys is perfectly happy snapping up material with a high cellulose and low nitrogen content, which means it is well fed on ordinary household items such as fiberboard, gypsum board, paper, dust, and lint.

What can black mold do? The question is more like what it can’t do. At this time, respiratory therapists and internists dealing with allergies have confirmed that black mold can cause respiratory difficulties – sometimes severe – as well as skin inflammation and rashes reminiscent of poison ivy, oak or itch weed. This same mold can cause lung hemorrhage in infants and irritation of the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, throat and ears (which mimics other allergies)in both children and adults. It can even cause damage to internal organs and mental impairments. At the very least, it leaves victims tired and sick to their stomachs, experiencing the mental confusion that often accompanies Legionnaire’s disease.

If serious enough, toxic black mold reactions can suppress the immune system, leaving sufferers unable to use their body’s natural mechanisms to ward off sickness. In a few instances, toxic black mold has even led to death.

Most people mistakenly think that toxic black mold – because it is so dangerous – is also exotic. In fact, Stachybotrys is more common that you can imagine, following the lead of such garden variety household molds as Cladosporium, Penicillium (yes, you read that right), Aspergillus and Alternaria. Stachybotrys is also fond of the insulation that quilts air conditioning systems, on walls in rooms where insulation is absent, on basement spaces and crawl space ceiling joists, and on attic sheathing.

Taking advantage of its plebian appetite, toxic black mold strikes hardest at the very young and the very old, two groups whose immune systems are either just developing or already impaired by age. It also attacks those whose immune systems are suppressed by diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, type I diabetes, Graves Disease, celiac disease (or sprue) and multiple sclerosis, or MS.

Now that doctors are beginning to realize the role that pharmaceuticals play in altering the immune system from friend to foe, prescribing medicine has become high art as physicians try to help their patients and still follow that primary rule of medicine: “first, do no harm.”

As a parent or guardian, there are some things you can do. Look for the child with the most sniffles and complaints, and check his (or her) closets, floors, under the carpet and/or tile and see if one of the toxic molds is lurking.

If you find toxic black mold under tile, you may be able to pull up the flooring, treat the underlayment with a solution of one cup of bleach per 1 gallon of water. This is still the best and cheapest way to remediate mold, though you can now buy mold reduction cleaners at your local hardware store. Never, ever mix bleach with ammonia, as the resultant chemical fumes will make you and your family even sicker than black mold.

If you find Stachybotrys in wall insulation, wallboard or sheetrock, it has likely spread too far for you to get rid of it. You will have to call a mold remediation contractor. If your home has been flooded and left standing for days or weeks at a time, the same applies. Once the mold is gone, you will also need to run dehumidifiers to insure that rising humidity levels in the air don’t reincarnate black mold.

And, while we normally recommend using safe, all-natural products for cleaning bathrooms and kitchens, once toxic black mold is discovered you may have to throw out the rulebook and use mold-inhibiting paints and cleaners which advertise themselves as mold killers.

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