What toxins does mold release?

Mycotoxins are toxic compounds naturally produced by certain types of molds (fungi). Molds that can produce mycotoxins grow in many foods, such as grains, nuts and spices. Certain molds are toxigenic, meaning that they can produce toxins (specifically “mycotoxins”). The dangers posed by molds that can produce mycotoxins should be considered in the same way as other common molds that can grow in your home.

Not all fungi produce mycotoxins, and even those that do don't under all environmental or surface conditions. In January 1993, a baby from the Cleveland (Ohio) area, the first of 27, suffered acute pulmonary hemorrhage. The children bled from the respiratory tract and their lungs were infected with an unknown disease. An investigation into the cause of this terrible outbreak found that each of the homes where sick babies lived suffered severe water damage.

Inside these houses, the greenish-black fungi Stachybotrys chartarum (S. Children's infections were apparently caused by toxic mold. The Cuyahoga County coroner re-examined all the babies in the area who had died between 1993 and 1995, including those believed to have died from SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). Six children were found to have lung tissue with signs of pulmonary hemorrhage.

It has not yet been conclusively proven that mold caused the death of babies. However, the question is broad enough that medical and public health professionals around the world are starting to wonder if this mold is a health hazard, how extensive could the problem be? While the term toxic mold is catchy and alarming, it's not the mold itself that's toxic, but the spores that the fungi produce. Chartarum and other molds, such as Fusarium and Trichoderma, release spores that include dangerous substances called mycotoxins. When they are carried through the air, you can inhale them.

It can also absorb them through the skin and intestines. In addition to toxic spores, these molds also produce gases that release mycotoxins. Mycotoxins can harm human health due to cytotoxicity: spores destroy living cells to reduce competition for resources. Therefore, your body's cells are attacked when toxic spores, such as those found on the surface of S.

This could have myriad effects on your health. There has been no definitive evidence that mold spores such as S. Chartarum and other molds create serious health hazards for people. Although mycotoxins have properties such as cytotoxicity and have been shown to have negative effects on living tissues in laboratories, research on their real effects on human health is relatively new.

However, researching how mycotoxins work has become a high priority. Driven by the death of babies in Cleveland in the early 1990s, organizations such as the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency have begun to collect evidence and create databases on toxic mold and how to combat it. Read about how to protect your home from mold (toxic or otherwise) on the next page. Mold can enter your home in a variety of ways.

It can enter through an open window, the air conditioning system, a ventilation grille, or even stick to clothing or pet. And once the mold gets inside, it's difficult to get rid of it completely. Fungal spores can lie dormant in your home until they come into contact with the right conditions for their growth. To examine under what conditions and on what surfaces chartarum grows best, the Environmental Protection Agency created a camera to simulate different indoor climates.

The EPA studied building materials commonly found in homes, such as drywall and ceiling tiles. They also used these cameras to test antimicrobials (agents such as fungicides) and determine which works best to kill S. Although these experiments have not yet been concluded, the EPA states that its objective is to quantify the health effects of molds such as S. In other words, the EPA is looking to find out how much mold is acceptable and what amount, if any, poses a health threat.

In the meantime, agencies such as the CDC recommend that all mold infestations be treated the same way, with care. One of the reasons for this is that S. Chartarum can colonize together with groups of other, less dangerous molds and can be difficult to detect. And since almost all molds can cause allergies in some people, don't bother taking samples of the mold you find in your home, according to the CDC, just get rid of it.

Materials such as carpets, ceiling tiles, pillows, insulation and drywall should be discarded as they are absorbent and do not respond to cleaning. Hard surfaces such as concrete floors, ceramic tiles and Formica countertops can be cleaned of mold. While the EPA continues to investigate the best antimicrobial for killing toxic mold, the CDC suggests that you use a solution of no more than one cup of bleach per gallon of water to kill mold (by the way, never mix ammonia with bleach). After cleaning, make sure you've removed all of the mold; you can still get sick from the dead mold that's left over.

And make sure that you have thoroughly dried the previously infested area to prevent spores from returning. But you don't have to wait for a flood to kick mold out of your home. You can also fight mold every day by taking some simple steps, such as using the air conditioner during the humid months and cleaning the drain under the refrigerator once a month. For more information on mold and other related topics, visit the next page.

Unlike mycoses, mycotoxicoses are examples of “poisoning by natural means” and are therefore analogous to pathologies caused by exposure to pesticides or heavy metal residues. The symptoms of mycotoxicosis depend on the type of mycotoxin, the amount and duration of exposure, the age, health status and sex of the person exposed, and on many poorly understood synergistic effects related to genetics, dietary status, and interactions with other toxic substances. Therefore, the severity of mycotoxin poisoning can be aggravated by factors such as vitamin deficiency, lack of calories, alcohol abuse, and the state of the infectious disease. In turn, mycotoxicosis can increase vulnerability to microbial diseases, worsen the effects of malnutrition, and interact synergistically with other toxins.

It's important to properly clean and dry the area, as you can still have an allergic reaction to parts of the dead mold and mold contamination can recur if there's still a source of moisture. However, this incident and a few other highly publicized mold cases appear to have precipitated a series of multi-million dollar lawsuits against contractors, property developers and insurance companies, as well as a great public fear of “toxic molds”. The toxic effects of mold were thought to result from exposure to mycotoxins in some mold species, such as Stachybotrys chartarum. Mold sampling can be expensive, and no standards have been established to determine what is and isn't an acceptable amount of mold.

If you have a lot of mold and don't think you can do the cleaning on your own, you can contact a professional who has experience cleaning mold in buildings and homes. You don't need to know the type of mold that grows in your home, and CDC doesn't recommend or perform routine sampling for mold. Preventing exposure to mold and its associated health problems begins with preventing mold growth in the first place, avoiding an environment conducive to mold. Molds and many related microbial agents are ubiquitous in the biosphere, and mold spores are a common component of household and occupational dust.

Like many researchers, Kilburn attributed the adverse effects of mold exposure primarily to the toxins produced by some molds. The colloquial term toxic mold (or more accurately, toxigenic mold) refers to molds that produce mycotoxins that are known to harm humans, not all molds. .

Brenda Seemann
Brenda Seemann

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