Mold is a type of fungus, and is the decomposer of dead organic material such as leaves, wood and plants. The spores and hair-like bodies of individual mold colonies are too small for us to see, but when a significant amount of mold is growing on a surface, it often appears black or green. If mold is growing behind vinyl wallpaper, colorful pink or purple splotches may appear. Mold can cause serious health problems, as well as damage and destruction of building materials, and should be treated as soon as possible.
Molds are organized into three groups according to human responses: Allergenic, Pathogenic and Toxigenic.
Allergenic molds do not usually produce life-threatening health effects and are most likely to affect those who are already allergic or asthmatic. The human system responses to allergenic molds tend to be relatively mild, typically producing scratchy throats, eye and nose irritations and rashes.
Pathogenic molds usually produce some type of infection. They can cause serious health effects in persons with suppressed immune systems.
Mycotoxins can cause serious health effects in all segments of the population. These agents have toxic effects ranging from short-term irritation to immunosuppression and memory loss.
The environmental risk of toxic mold may be one of the next major real estate “due diligence” concerns, especially in property development areas where flooding has occurred. This not only includes residential and commercial flood areas, but also minor water releases due to plumbing failures, condensation and residential water leaks.
Properties where fires have occurred are also at increased risk.
One major concern is the permanent elimination of the entire toxic mold from the structure. Incidents of future re-occurrence of Stachbotrys, a common form of toxic mold, are frequent. Therefore, great care must be exercised to remove and dispose of any and all products that have been contaminated by the toxic mold – a recommendation supported by the Department of Health of many states.
Another concern is that people react differently to toxic mold exposure. Certain individuals, especially children, exhibit severe reactions that can include damage to lung tissue, memory loss and other issues. Other persons exhibit less severe symptoms and fewer long-term consequences when exposed. Severity of symptoms and effects may depend on the individuals’ chemical sensitivity, genetic disposition and health history (allergies, asthma, smoking, etc.). For some, the exposure to the toxic mold spores may be classified as a “health risk,” while it is a true “health hazard” for others.
There have been numerous major lawsuits concerning toxic mold exposure in residential and commercial buildings throughout the United States. Currently, most health organizations consider exposure to Stachybotrys mold a health hazard. Additionally, most responses leading to testing, investigation and abatement of the Stachybotrys toxic mold are the result of occupant complaints or documented negative health effects. The increasing concern over Stachybotrys mold may evolve to a point where it is regarded with the same precautions, responses and liability concerns as lead-based paint and asbestos.