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Cosmetic Black Mold on building framing - Daniel Friedman 04-11-01

Can Mold Make You Sick?
Fear of Mold - Mycophobia - Can Lead to Unnecessary Expense

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Fear of indoor mold & mold contamination: this article discusses mycophobia - fear of mold and its effects on individual health, stress, and expenses. We live in a sea of mold, and other stuff in the air we breathe, on cushions we sit on, clothes we wear, pools we swim-in, and so on. Most mold is not hurting anyone, and some of it makes us well when we're sick (Penicillium notatum, for example).

Nevertheless, a combination of mold allergies and asthma sensitivities of some individuals mean that the exposure of some individuals to mold in buildings can be quite serious. More details about mold related illness, building related illness, and what to do about mold in buildings can be read in the articles listed below.



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What is Mycophobia and What Causes Fear of Mold? When is Mold Fear Justified?

A healthy person walking through a room of moldy air is not likely to die or even get very sick from mold exposure. On the other hand, nearly 30 years of field and lab investigations of buildings with environmental illness and occupant health complaints has provided a wealth of less rigorous empirical data matching occupant complaints with indoor mold and allergens, particularly where there is chronic exposure to problematic mold.

Some people may have a genetic predisposition to mold related illness just as some do to allergies and many other health issues. Short term very high exposure to toxic mold (one client killed her dogs by tearing down moldy drywall), or for people who are particularly sensitive or vulnerable, protracted toxic or allergenic mold exposure, even at what we consider rather low levels, can be a serious problem. It's probably an overstatement by some experts who assert that "... there are no proven links between mold and illness."

Comparing the Appearance of Cosmetic Mold versus Potentially Harmful Mold

While large areas of problem mold indeed need proper cleanup, fear of mold (mycophobia) and in our opinion
the ENVIRO-SCARE - PUBLIC FEAR CYCLES which in some cases (such as the moldy framing shown at left) risks leading to price gouging of consumers.

Mold Allergies and Mold Exposure Impact on People with Mold Allergy or Asthma: common, can be serious

Kopf and Fillhart reported that the focus of indoor mold contamination investigation strategies, a procedure that usually focuses on water-intrusion-related molds in buildings and perceived health risks to occupants should consider re-focusing their attention to include mold as a cause of [or trigger for or contributor to] allergies. Both water intrusion-related mold species and [many] other mold species may be allergenic. [1]

In fact the authors agree that building occupant complaints of allergic reactions to buildings and the experience of asthma attacks in buildings are the instigators for mold investigations in many cases. 3 to 10 percent of people suffer from mold allergies [2] or from mold-related asthma attacks [4]. Interesting in Kopf/Fillhart's report is that they point out that

Reactions to mold, including water intrusion species considered to be the most dangerous, are limited to rhinitis or asthma in most individuals who are allergic.[3] ... Allergic individuals may respond to airborne spores of water intrusion species in a manner that is indistinguishable from other molds.

The authors continue to point out that individual health risks from mold exposure cannot be stated precisely from airborne mold levels, and they add that in some circumstances certain molds can produce high levels of mycotoxins. That is consistent with our own field and lab experience. The same fungus, growing on two different substrates, can behave quite differently.

The authors also note, and we agree emphatically, that [for these reasons] a building can have a water-intrusion mold problem even though its occupants are asymptomatic.

In our own experience as a field and laboratory investigator of indoor air quality & mold related health complaints there is no question that we have encountered

More significantly, airborne levels of mold spores produced the same fungus, Aspergillus sp., for example, growing in the same building on the same surface, vary enormously from time to time as a function of

Making a series of airborne mold level measurements in a college library basement where we observed a very large reservoir of mold growing on books that had been exposed to high moisture and some wet conditions, it was Aspergillus sp., not Stachybotrys chartarum (both were present) that became airborne at very high levels after a mold remediator placed multiple commercial dehumidifiers into the space. It was quite apparent that the Aspergillus colony responded to the drop in humidity by releasing its spores.

Because of these variations, and because of variations in spore trap use and procedures among individuals, we argue at AIRBORNE MOLD SPORE COUNT ACCURACY that reliance on air tests of spore levels, used alone to characterize mold exposure risk in a building is so unreliable as to be nonsensical in the case of apparently-negative mold test results.

What to Do About Mold and Other Indoor Environment Worries

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Continue reading at MOLD RELATED ILLNESS GUIDE or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.

Or see MOLD DETECTION & INSPECTION GUIDE

Or see MOLD RELATED ILLNESS SYMPTOMS

Also see the FEAR-O-METER a promotion theory to convert risk of hidden defects & hazards into action thresholds, for a discussion of how an accumulation of inspection evidence leads to a rational decision to perform invasive or desctructive inspection measures.

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