Mold in the News Series

“Toxic Mold in The News” Series

Cesar Collado
Nov 17, 2023

Toxic Mold Exposures Occur and Make Headlines

By Cesar Collado

The terms “Toxic Mold” and “Toxic Black Mold” have been widely and loosely used in the media over the past few decades. Toxic mold, particularly “Toxic Black Mold,” refers specifically to Stachybotrys chartarum.  However, it’s important to note that not all black molds are Stachybotrys.

Stachybotrys chartarum is known for its dark greenish-black to black coloration and is often associated with moisture-damaged building materials, such as water-damaged drywall, wood, or ceiling tiles.

Toxic Black Mold

Stachybotrys Chartum

 

Less toxic molds are often mistaken for Stachybotrys. These include:

  • Cladosporium can appear black, brown, or greenish-black. It is often found on painted surfaces, wooden materials, and HVAC systems. Cladosporium is not as toxigenic as Stachybotrys.
  • Alternaria is typically dark brown to black and is commonly found in damp areas, such as showers and bathtubs, as well as on windowsills.
  • Aureobasidium is dark brown to black and commonly found on wooden surfaces, painted walls, and window frames.
  • Ulocladium is often dark-colored, including black, and commonly found in areas with high moisture levels, such as basements, bathrooms, and kitchens.
  • Mucor, similarly known as Black Fungus, can cause rare, but serious, infections throughout the body.

 

Toxic black mold has garnered attention in the news due to its potential health risks and impact on indoor air quality.

Late 1990s and Early 2000s

Toxic mold gained significant media attention because of high-profile cases, such as the Ballard v. Farmers Insurance Group lawsuit in Texas (2001). This lawsuit brought public awareness to the health issues associated with mold exposure. The case involved a family claiming health problems from mold in their home and resulted in a multimillion-dollar settlement.  Ms. Ballard and her husband, Ron Allison, were awarded $32 million in their trial against Farmers Insurance, after the jury found that the carrier mishandled the insureds claim for mold damage in their 22-room home in Dripping Springs, an area outside Austin.

2000s

Over time, countless news stories characterized the health consequences of mold growth in homes, schools, and workplaces. Medical research was published that linked mold exposure to respiratory issues and other health problems. However, this research was conducted on the fringes of the traditional medical community. This heightened awareness promoted discussions about indoor air quality and the need for proper building maintenance.

Natural Disasters Led to Awareness

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina and subsequent flooding in New Orleans captured the world’s attention. Concerns about mold growth in the flooded and damaged buildings became indisputable. Media coverage highlighted the challenges of addressing mold health issues in the aftermath of this specific natural disaster. Physicians were finally seeing high volumes of mold-sensitive patients in their practices. Prior to large natural disasters that impacted entire geographies, mold cases were limited to one-off situations where water damage to homes and identified mold was directly implicated. These one-off cases in the past did not demonstrate trends.

Katrina has been followed by several other hurricanes. Hurricane season often cripples communities on the East Coast, Gulf Coast, and most recently, the West Coast. Florida (5), Louisiana (3) and Texas (2), as well as Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Puerto Rico, New Jersey and South Carolina have experienced landfall of catastrophic hurricanes. 

 

Other Toxic Catastrophic Events

The 1990 Gulf War, BP and Exxon Oil Spills, Chernobyl Nuclear Plant, and many toxic chemical spills have reintroduced other toxic medical conditions to large populations.  These unfortunate exposures are important to understand the impact of environmental hazards with adequate numbers to draw conclusions applicable to the general population.  One-off exposures are often misdiagnosed and do very little to aid in the improvement of identifying, diagnosing, and treating toxic exposures.

Insurance Industry Mold Risk Mitigation

Unfortunately, the insurance companies got ahead of the curve and were effective in systematically limiting their exposure to mold claims.  The industry was effective at eliminating risk in their legal and financial exposure by limiting mold coverage not resulting from specified covered perils.  Covered perils typically include events like sudden and accidental water damage (e.g., burst pipes, roof leaks caused by a storm). However, mold resulting from long-term neglect, lack of maintenance, or gradual water seepage may not be covered.  This limits the ability to place fault where property negligence leads to mold-related illness.

Throughout the 2000s, numerous lawsuits related to mold exposure were filed against builders, landlords, and insurance companies. Some states introduced legislation to establish guidelines for mold testing and remediation in homes and buildings.

The media has followed stories of mold contamination causing health problems, evacuation of buildings, and disputes between property owners, tenants, and insurers.

Scientific and Medical Research:

Research into the health effects of mold exposure continues to be published at a modest pace. The health effects of mold are mostly addressed in publication circles of functional and integrative medicine. It is not uncommon for holistic or functional health practitioners to address external allergens, toxins, and pathogens as the cause of illness.

Traditional empirical medicine physicians are centered on symptom-based diagnosis without considering environmental causes.  The overlap or similarities in symptoms often leads to misdiagnosis. The existing healthcare system limits the time physicians can spend with patients. The time allotted to patients does not allow for a home water damage history.

Evolution of Building and HVAC Industries:

The link between building design, environment, and the physical sciences has been correlated with conditions like allergies, asthma, respiratory infections, and toxicities. Additionally, Europe has led the way in building a scientific understanding of the impact our environments and building science can have on human health.

A new scientific discipline called Bau-Biology emerged in the EU in the 1970’s and US in the late 1980s.  Building science has linked several industries to the causes of environmental illness and addressing the environment. Mold Remediation, Indoor Air Quality (“IAQ”), Bau-Biology, and Indoor Environmental Specialists have become very specific trades and influenced home inspection, air conditioning, and water and moisture management. New beneficial building practices and guidelines are in the process of being adopted.

The pandemic and COVID-19 further brought disinfection and air purification into the spotlight. The world’s focus on indoor air quality and the presence of viruses indoors made disinfection and indoor air quality a universal concern.

Indoor Air Quality

List of the most common dangerous indoor pollutants we can find in our homes – concept image with a residential architectural plan.

Ongoing Awareness:

While toxic mold may not dominate headlines as it did in the early 2000s, periodic news stories still raise awareness about the importance of proper building maintenance, ventilation, and mold prevention.

It’s worth noting that while mold can potentially have negative health effects, not all types of mold are toxic or pose a significant risk. Nevertheless, maintaining a dry and well-ventilated indoor environment remains crucial for preventing mold growth and ensuring good indoor air quality.

Using ImmunoLytics air/tap plates with DIY interpretation and Self Analysis, you can count colonies to determine if you may have a mold problem.  The other alternative is to send plates to ImmunoLytics to have their mycology lab make the determinations of genus and counts. Detailed, easy to follow instructions are included with each test kit.  In addition, without charge, environmental consultants are available to discuss report interpretation and potential next steps.  Please note that if you are looking to verify Stachybotrys, Toxic Black Mold, ImmunoLytics Swabs provide the best outcome as Stachybotrys is normally settled and not airborne.

About BioBalance

Mold in our environment can pose a significant health risk by making the body chemical sensitive. Furthermore, it is especially problematic for the subset of the population that carry the HLA-DR gene that have increased probability of being mold sensitive.  Elevated concentrations of mold spores and mold fragments have been known to produce allergic reactions and many other health symptoms in those who have compromised or dysfunctional immune systems. Haven™ by BioBalance™ helps mitigate indoor mold exposure and has been helpful for many who suffer from environmentally acquired illnesses (EAIs). 

BioBalance offers a variety of solutions to maintain natural levels of mold to help keep homes and commercial buildings safe.  HavenFog and HavenMist are excellent solutions used by professionals and homeowners who are sensitive to mold or immune compromised.

Haven FogHavenMist Kit

Over the next several weeks, we will be discussing specific recent health issues caused by fungi (mold and yeast) and published by the media. 

  1. Plyburn, Jay “A West Michigan Family Says They’re Dealing with Medical Issues After Living with Black Mold for Years. ABC News. January 30, 2023. 10:46 AM EST
  2. Chavez, Janelle. “An emerging fungal threat spread at an alarming rate in US health care facilities” CNN.com Published 5:01 PM EDT, March 20, 2023
  3. Dangarembizi, Rachael. “Fungal infections in the brain aren’t just the stuff of movies – Africa grapples with a deadly epidemic” The Conversation. July 13, 2023
  4. Bimler, Lynn, “Developing A Chronic Model Of Candida Albicans Cerebral Mycosis Through Gut Colonization”. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. February 2023
  5. Min Xiong, et. al. “Pathogen infection in Alzheimer’s disease: pathophysiology and therapeutic strategies” Ageing and Neurodegenerative Diseases. January 2023
  6. Rosenthal, Marie. “Suspected Fungal Meningitis Outbreak Associated with Procedures Performed Under Epidural Anesthesia. Infectious Disease Special Addition. June 2, 2023
  7. McRae, Mike. “Plant Fungus Infected a Human in First Reported Case of Its Kind” Science Alert. September 2023
  8. Maruf, Ramishah. “Tens of thousands of Costco-exclusive mattresses recalled for mold risk” CNN News. Sep 25, 2023-: 2:10 PM PDT

 

"Toxic Mold in the News" Series publishing weekly starting mid-November 2023.

Headline News

Toxic Mold in the News Part 1:

Mold in the News Series Introduction

November 17, 2023

Headline News

Toxic Mold in the News Part 2:

Fungal Infections Are a Growing Concern

November 24, 2023

Headline News

Toxic Mold in the News Part 3:

Candida Infections in the Brain

December 1, 2023

Headline News

Toxic Mold in the News Part 4:

Fungal Brain Infections

December 8, 2023

Headline News

Toxic Mold in the News Part 5:

The Link Between Mold Illness and Alzheimer’s

December 15, 2023

Headline News

Toxic Mold in the News Part 6:

2023 Fungal Meningitis Outbreak

December 22, 2023

Headline News

Toxic Mold in the News Part 7:

Common Plant Fungus Cross Species to Humans

December 29, 2023

Product Recalls

Toxic Mold in the News Part 8:

Product Recalls Due to Mold

January 5, 2023