Black Mold – A focused discussion

The most widely known (and feared) mold in the fungi universe is one called Stachybotrys Chartarum, better known as “Black Mold”.  This fungus gained notoriety in the 90’s as being the leading cause of an outbreak of pulmonary hemorrhage in infants in Cleveland, Ohio.  This pushed S. chartarum into the forefront of mold research and it’s been to blame for many mold related incidents since.  The term “Sick Building Syndrome” can thank Stachy.  I’m sure everyone has heard this term as it has worked its way into the American lexicon.  S. chartarum has remained in the headlines of the media ever since.  Many TV specials have been filmed, many articles have been written.  I have personally been asked about it on probably 75% of the inspections I have been involved with.

The link below contains a very comprehensive article written by Berlin D. Nelson, Professor, Dept. of Plant Pathology, North Dakota University.  Some of it may be a hair technical but if you’re interested in really getting to know the ins and outs of black mold, its very informative!

It has been my experience in our particular region that black mold loves sheet rock.  If your sheetrock has become water damaged (i.e. by a flood, leak or other significant water event), the potential is higher to develop black mold.  It is commonly found in sealants such as those around your shower.  Damp basements, ceiling tiles and behind wall paper are also likely candidates for possible issues if the environments are not controlled.

Personally, and I get asked this all the time, I rarely see a Stachy problem in a crawlspace unless there is exposed sheetrock to the crawlspace environment such as where a garage backs up to the crawlspace and the back side of the sheetrock is exposed to the crawlspace environment.  Plant life could also be a source in a crawlspace but it to is rare.

In the article, the author discusses the effect the fungus has had on livestock, horses in particular, where serious health problems, even death, were directly linked to S. chartarum on hay.  The effects extended to humans who came into contact with the hay. This exact scenario is still in play today right here in the triangle where hay is stored in unconditioned/uncontrolled environments.

Some of the symptoms of exposure could be a rash, dermatitis, pain and inflammation of mucous membranes of the mouth and throat, conjunctivitis, burning sensations in the eyes and nasal passages, tightness in the chest, cough, bloody rhinitis, fever, headache and fatigue.  Generally, when the exposure is removed, the symptoms go away.

If you are serious about learning more (or just an information junkie), please check out the article.  It’s a great read once you get past the technical jargon describing the fungus itself…or maybe you will enjoy that too!

It just goes to show, and we say this all the time, that even though much research has been done in an effort to understand, surprises still exist.  What lies ahead, time and scientific advances will only tell.