Black Molds and Lungs

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Mold infestations in buildings can be quite a dangerous and costly problem, especially when it involves the toxic black mold. Scientifically referred to as Stachybotrys chartarum, black mold has been linked with various health effects when ingested or inhaled (Rentas, 2013, p. 14). The health effects and symptoms of exposure to S.chartarum cover a significant range of health issues. As such, having a substantial knowledge of these health indicators is essential. The most common health effects and symptoms of S.chartarum are linked with the respiratory system. They include chronic sneezing, coughing, and irritation of the mucous membrane in the throat and the nose (Betancourt et al., 2013, p.1). Prolonged exposure usually leads to more severe health effects including vomiting, nausea, and bleeding in the lungs (Rentas, 2013, p.15). In light of the above, this paper highlights how exposure to black mold affects the lungs.

Rentas (2013, p.15) report that S.chartarum is among the major species that usually occur on cellulose-based building materials in indoor environments. S.chartarum was for the first time isolated from the lung of a child in Texas who had developed pulmonary hemosiderosis. The toxin produced by black mold is one of the most potent and has far-fetching respiratory effects. Animal models offer environmental scientists and physicians with great tools for examining the risks associated with such pollutants as S.chartarum. This particular mold species has attracted the interest of many scholars due to their production and release of the most potent mycotoxins. As such, the association of black mold with adult tracheal and nasal bleeding, and infant hemosiderosis and pulmonary hemorrhage (Pestka et al. 2008, p.4), has prompted experts to conduct more studies on it.

Black mold thrives in materials found in the interior of buildings such as fabric, paper, wood, and leather (Bloom et al., 2007, p.4212). The spores enter buildings through several channels, including direct transportation by humans and animals. Further, the spores may also enter these buildings through locations of air transfer such as open doors, air vents, and windows. Bloom et al. (2007, p.4213-14) have established that molds can rapidly appear and spread in buildings where indoor temperature is more than 25 degrees centigrade and the relative humidity is more than 60%.  The most active biological compounds in the black mold are mycotoxins. The poisoning that comes results from exposure to these mycotoxins is known to as stachybotryotoxicosis. It was first reported in Russia and Hungary in the 1930s. This followed an outbreak of a livestock disease that mostly affected horses. The main symptoms included irritation of the nose, throat, and mouth, which then resulted in hemorrhage, lowered resistance, shock, septicemia and eventually death.

The first outbreak of Stachybotryotoxicosis in the US was reported in a Chicago home, a built environment (Ownby and Odell, 2013, p.22). The affected family had been complaining of symptoms such as headaches, recurring colds, flu, sore throat, and fatigue. The symptoms kept recurring for more than five years, and when air sampling was done, it was revealed that the air inside the house had a significant concentration of S. chartarum spores. Further investigations revealed that black mold was growing on moist organic debris and portions of the wood fiber ceiling. Upon correction of the mold problem, the symptoms associated with black mold poisoning also disappeared.

Today, numerous other cases of black mold poisoning in built environments have been reported. However, very few studies have established that S. chartarum is chiefly responsible for the poisoning. This includes the 1993-1994 Cleveland incidents in which there was an outbreak of pulmonary hemorrhage and hemosiderosis among infants (Thrasher, Hooper & Taber, 2014, p.1). This prompted an extensive study on the main cause of the outbreaks, and the findings revealed that in all the infants’ homes, the levels of total fungi and S. chartarum were quite high. The mold contamination was as a result of the water damage that the homes had recently sustained (Thrasher, Hooper & Taber, 2014, p.8). This study led to increased interest among researchers on the role of black mold in pulmonary hemorrhage.

However, there remains considerable controversy regarding the role of the fungus in respiratory diseases. Blanc et al. (2011, p. 914) acknowledge this by establishing that domestic growing fungi cause interstitial pneumonia which is a significant clinical problem. They further sought to establish whether black molds contribute to the interstitial lung disease. In this regard, Blanc et al. report that for patients who present interstitial pneumonia, it is important to consider the diagnosis of hypersensitivity pneumonitis to molds found within the built environment (2011, p.915- 916).

Visual inspection, as well as air and surface sampling, remain the primary means of detecting the presence of S. chartarum (Betancourt et al., 2013, p.1-2). However, S. chartarum is less airborne when compared to other fungi, and air sampling in contaminated environments may indicate low levels of total spores. In addition, determining the exact location where the fungus is growing and establishing the exact levels of contamination require identifying the potential sites and directly examining the said sites.

In an environment infested by black molds, it is always recommended to wear the right personal protective equipment (Yang et al., 2014, p.94). Such equipment include p100 respirator, gloves, protective clothing, goggles, boots, and long pants and sleeves clothes. These protective equipment protect from the toxic black mold. Getting rid of black mold, however, is the surest way of protecting oneself from toxic black mold. It can be done by spraying a solution of tea tree oil or vinegar with water on black molds to kill them and scrubbing the area thoroughly with the same solution thereafter to remove the molds completely.

In conclusion, inhalation or ingestion of black mold causes a number of health effects. The health effects and symptoms of exposure to S.chartarum cover a significant range of health issues. It is therefore important to have a deep knowledge of the indicators of these health issues to prevent further damage to the body. The most common health effects and symptoms of S.chartarum are linked with the respiratory system. They include chronic sneezing, coughing, and irritation of the mucous membrane in the throat and the nose. The molds thrive in warm and damp environments, mostly on materials found within buildings. The most active biological compounds in the black mold are mycotoxins. Scientists are yet to establish the exact role that black molds play in the development of lung disorders. As such, the link between the fungi and respiratory diseases largely remains controversial.

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  1. Betancourt, D. A., Krebs, K., Moore, S. A., & Martin, S. M. (2013). Microbial volatile organic compound emissions from Stachybotrys chartarum growing on gypsum wallboard and ceiling tile. BMC Microbiology13(1), 283.
  2. Blanc, A. L., Delhaes, L., Copin, M. C., Stach, B., Faivre, J. B., & Wallaert, B. (2011). Interstitial lung disease due to domestic molds. Revue des maladies respiratoires, 28(7), 913-918.
  3. Bloom, E., Bal, K., Nyman, E., Must, A., & Larsson, L. (2007). Mass spectrometry-based strategy for direct detection and quantification of some mycotoxins produced by Stachybotrys and Aspergillus spp. in indoor environments. Applied and environmental microbiology73(13), 4211-4217.
  4. Lam, K. (2016). How to Get Rid of Black Mold the Easy and Cheap WayDengarden. Retrieved 30 November 2017, from https://dengarden.com/cleaning/How-to-get-rid-of-black-mold-the-easy-and-cheap-way
  5. Ownby, C. L., & Odell, G. V. (Eds.). (2013). Natural Toxins: Characterization, Pharmacology, and Therapeutics. Elsevier, p.22.
  6. Pestka, J. J., Yike, I., Dearborn, D. G., Ward, M. D., & Harkema, J. R. (2008). Stachybotrys chartarum, trichothecene mycotoxins, and damp building–related Illness: new insights into a public health enigma. Toxicological Sciences104(1), 4-26.
  7. Rentas Jr, C. (2013). A Quantitative Meta-Analysis of Stachybotrys chartarum Exposure and Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (Doctoral dissertation, Walden University).
  8. Thrasher, J. D., Hooper, D. H., & Taber, J. (2014). “Family of six, their health and the death of a 16-month-old male from pulmonary hemorrhage: Identification of mycotoxins and mold in the home and lungs, liver, and brain of a deceased infant.” Global Journal of Medical Research. 1-11
  9. Yang, C. S., Johanning, E., Olmsted, E., Morey, P. R., & Auger, P. (2014). Review of health hazards and prevention measures for response and recovery workers and volunteers after natural disasters, flooding, and water damage: mold and dampness. Environmental health and preventive medicine19(2), 93-99.
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