Posted by: Green Knight | May 21, 2011

Fungal Bungles

Mold spores are through the roof in St. Louis this week, which is why I’ve been all achy and congested and gastrointestinally compromised.  It even escaped my notice that yesterday was Endangered Species Day; my pal and gracious radio host Diane Tegarden reminded me.  I also had my kitten Butterscotch spayed the other day, and am treating her for roundworms, so I’ve been busy.  And TIRED!!!

Remember when, about 10 years ago, everybody thought we were all gonna DIE from “toxic black mold?”  A typical insurance-industry overreaction.  Molds and mildews come in all colors; there are thousands of them that are dark in color.  Stachybotrys atra/chartarum is just one of millions of species, and it’s not even that easy to dislodge and make airborne; species of Aspergillus kill way more people every year.  It took a rich family in Texas getting sick to get attention for the issue.  The fungi are not plants without chlorophyll, as long thought, but a separate kingdom of life, in many ways more closely related to animals.  I’ve been teaching mold remediation for about 10 years.  The three effects are allergenic, toxigenic, and pathogenic.  Allergic reactions are by far the most common, and what trouble me personally.

People often treat the household mold issue the way they do cockroaches: kill it/them and we’re OK.  Sorry, no.  As I said in DeAnna Radaj’s radio interview over a year ago (right here on the Hot Sheet if you go to the bottom and look), even if you move into an apartment where all the roaches were killed years earlier, all those little dessicating corpses behind the drywall are breaking down into tiny fragments of chitinous exoskeletal parts, and some of the proteins in the chitin are highly allergenic.  The number one cause of childhood asthma is inhaling those microscopic bits.

Same thing with mold.  Kill it, fine, but it’s still there, even if it’s dead, and the breakdown products are still irritating to the mucous membranes.  Molds can also release some serious toxins (see my previous post on Aflatoxin B1 in pet food), and cause diseases like histoplasmosis, psittacosis, and cryptococcosis, but are mainly of concern in terms of allergies.  Fungal diseases are not that easy to catch (or treat), but some people are just genetically predisposed to suffer from certain environmental factors.  Proper housekeeping and storage can minimize the latter issues, but allergens blow in and all you can do is deal with it or wear a respirator all the time.  I never knew I even had mold allergies back in California, but St. Louis has been a harsh lesson.

Molds can also release mVOCs, or mold-derived volatile organic compounds.  That musty smell at the used book store or old library branch consists of those.  Not much of a hazard, even if you spend as much time in those establishments as I do!

On the other hand, without the fungi, we wouldn’t have wine, beer, bread, or cheese.  Silver lining, eh?  I highly recommend a book called The Kingdom Fungi, by Steven L. Stephenson, for fascinating info and talented writing about this little-understood branch of that big tree called LIFE.  Also, you should tune into Diane’s BlogTalk Radio show, the Firewalker Flare, and DeAnna’s show, CasaVerde, also on there.

Coming up next is my spin on TSCA, FIFRA, and the Safe Chemicals Act.  I just need to get in shape first and ensure that my research is frosty.  Today’s cute photo is from a book I liked as a kid.  But don’t forget the giant fungi under the earth or on the moon in classic science-fiction.  Verne and Wells, hard to beat.  Tolkien’s Roverandom is a little-known lunar gem, as well.



  1. Bob, what I’m wondering is, what do people do about mold in their homes, if they can’t afford to move? I have a friend who’s suffering from mold, they’ve had extensive problems with leaky pipes in their condo and it took so long to get the problem fixed that their walls are full of mold. What can be done once they have the problem of mold?

    Thanks for the mention of my talk radio show,
    Diane T. and furfamily

  2. First, I’d be suing whomever was at fault for the plumbing. The only thing you can do if the walls are “full” of mold is either set up HEPA-filtered negative air, suit up, wet it down and rip out contaminated material (to 2′ past the line of visible damage), double-bag it and dispose of it, or seal the place and fumigate it with chlorine dioxide, air it out, and scrape off all the dead stuff. But when it’s behind the walls and ceiling, that’s tougher to do effectively. Sometimes, depending on how bad it is, a complete ripout and rebuild is the only solution. Either way, find an ambulance-chaser.

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