Black mold – that bane of the human existence. The terrible fungus, sent straight from Mordor to ruin the world of man.
Well, not quite, of course. In fact, one might say that a lot of the hate towards black mold, particularly compared to other types of mold, stems from the mass media hype in the 90s where black mold was bogusly linked with Acute Idiopathic Pulmonary Hemorrhage (AIPH) or Pulmonary Hemoiderosis in babies. Later on, it turned out that no such link exists, but black mold was already set up as the villain of the story.
In truth, black mold can be toxic, but it can also not be. And the same goes for any other type of mold as well – some may produce mycotoxins (the actual things that are toxic, the mold itself is not toxic), and some don’t, regardless of the mold’s type or color.
All this doesn’t mean that black mold can’t be dangerous, however. Black mold and other types of mold are a very nasty thing to find in your home. They can lead to respiratory problems, especially in people that already have respiratory conditions. They can trigger severe allergic reactions. They can lead to physical problems and illness in people with compromised immune systems or even in healthy people if the mold infestation is bad enough. Pets are also in danger of a strong mold infestation, since they may become curious towards it. Plus, mold causes unpleasant odors and ruins the overall level of comfort in your home.
And all that is not counting the physical damage mold can cause to your furniture and other possessions, as well as to your walls and house.
All in all, a mold infestation, whether it is black mold or another type, is a very nasty problem that kind of does “ruin the world of man”. And in today’s day and age, with building materials being more and more mold-friendly, mold is becoming even more common, even if this feels counter-intuitive to some people. And since the most common types of mold are the black and green ones, you are virtually guaranteed to deal with black mold at some point of your life.
Where Do Some Of The Myths Surrounding Black Mold Come From?
The origin of all the hysteria surrounding black mold comes from a statement made by the CDC (Centers For Disease Control and Prevention) in 1995. The statement suggested that there might be a link between Acute Idiopathic Pulmonary Hemorrhage (AIPH) or Pulmonary Hemoiderosis and exposure to black mold. This was due to the diagnosing with AIPH of ten infants from Cleveland, OH.
One of them later died from the disease and because all of the infants had come from homes that had suffered water damage and mold problems, the link was made. Very soon after that, tests were made and CDC issued a statement that there is no actual connection between mold or mycotoxins and AIPH.
However, we all know how the media works – the initial spark was lit and the wildfire of misinformation had started. Over 20 years later people still view black mold as lethal and toxic, when it isn’t the mold that is actually toxic, and when black mold is not much different from any other mold.
How Toxic And Dangerous Is Black Mold?
Almost everyone nowadays has heard about the dangers of mold. There’ve been countless news reports and programs about it. Black mold, in particular, otherwise known as Stachybotrys Chartarum, is often viewed as one of the most toxic things that can ever befall your home.
And yes, of course black mold and mold in general have a lot of possible negative effects on a person’s health. It must be said, however, that a lot of the things we hear all the time are simply wrong.
For starters, while it’s true that some molds, including black mold, can produce mycotoxins, these mycotoxins are not a part of the mold itself. So the entire term “toxic mold” is wrong by definition.
Additionally, all kinds of mold can produce mycotoxins and there’s no evidence that black mold produces it more than others. And, more importantly, mold doesn’t always produce mycotoxins, so there’s no need to run screaming every time you see some of it. Stay calm, take the necessary precautions and deal with the problem. Unless you have some very serious respiratory and immunity disorders, the mold is not going to just instantly drop you on the floor.
Another thing that needs to be considered is the fact that mold isn’t just on the walls of our homes – mold is literally in the air. There are almost always mold spores in the air, even if you have no mold infestation in your home and even on the outside. Yes, you are literally breathing in mold as you are reading this. And you’re fine both because it’s in miniscule amounts and because it’s not the mold that is actually toxic.
So What Are The Actual Harms To Our Health That Black Mold Can Cause?
By now you’ve probably decided that we are about to declare black mold as completely harmless. This is, of course, far from the case. We simply dispelled some of the myths surrounding it.
All mold can have a lot of negative and very dangerous effects on a person’s health.
In 2004, for example, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) found sufficient evidence that linked mold exposure to upper respiratory tract symptoms like coughs and wheezing in healthy people.
In 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued official guidelines for indoor air quality: Dampness & Mold.
In other words, overexposure to mold can cause health issues even for healthy people – coughs, heavy breathing, tiredness, and other similar problems. It can drastically decrease the air quality in your home, it can bring a lot of unpleasant odors, and so on. Not to mention the often irreparable damage that it can cause to your home and furniture (we’ll mention this below, of course).
For people with previously existing respiratory problems, particularly ones that also have problems with their immune systems, and even more so small children or toddlers, overexposure to mold of any kind can have serious consequences. And yes, in extreme situations, a mold infestation can lead to a lethal result, but so can anything else that hinders the breathing of a person or a child with respiratory problems.
So, in short, a mold infestation – Stachybotrys Chartarum or otherwise – can be very unpleasant for the air quality in your home, it can lead to a lot of problems, from small inconveniences to health concerns, and when it happens to people or kids with serious respiratory problems it can also be quite dangerous.
What About Some Of The Physical Symptoms We Might Experience If Faced With A Toxic Type Of Black Mold?
Yes, this is a key question. What physical symptoms can we expect to feel or notice in ourselves if those dots in the bathroom turn out to be releasing mycotoxins in the air? If inhaled or ingested, the mycotoxins that spread from black mold can cause one or a combination of the following mold poisoning symptoms (depending on the amount and the duration of the exposure):
- Breathing difficulties and general respiratory distress. This can range from heavier breathing, as if the oxygen in the air has dropped with several points, to straight respiratory crisis, especially in people with preexisting respiratory problems.
- Unrestrained coughing, sneezing and wheezing. Coughing with no apparent reason in your own home can be a telltale sign of mold troubles. Which doesn’t mean that you should panic after the first couple of coughs, but if this continues for a couple of days and is experienced by more than one otherwise healthy family member – start looking for a mold infestation.
- Irritation of the mucus membranes. A runny nose is not a strange symptom of a black mold infestation so don’t always assume that you’ve caught a cold. If you are feeling fine but your nose is bothering you, mold might be involved.
- Kidney and bladder discomforts are not uncommon when toxic black mold is inhaled or ingested either.
- Fatigue, headaches and general tiredness. The problem with these is that if you are working you might attribute them to that. If you are ever struck by a sudden long-lasting tiredness, however, always consider different possible reasons than just you being overworked. Mold can be a key factor for that, not to mention that myriad of other health concerns that might lead to a sudden tiredness or fatigue.
- Memory loss and impaired concentration. Similar to the ones directly above, problems concentrating can also stem from inhaling black mold.
- Nausea, vomiting and / or diarrhea are not uncommon after inhaling or ingesting black mold spores. In big quantities the spores can be quite repulsive to your organism (in fact, we’re getting nauseated just by thinking about it!) so these are not rare symptoms to a sudden spread of black mold spores in the air of your home.
- Suddenly compromised immune system is also a symptom of black mold. This is especially dangerous for people that have compromised immune systems anyway.
- Itching in the eyes, mouth and nose. As these are some of the most sensitive organs in our bodies, it isn’t really surprising that they can be so sensitive to mold exposure.
Who Are The People That Are Most At Risk From Black Mold Exposure?
As we mentioned, since mold can worsen the air quality in your home and can cause breathing problems in healthy people, people with respiratory problems can be impacted much more severely by a mold infestation.
As far as the mycotoxins are concerned, people with weak immune systems have much more to fear from them than healthy people. Mycotoxins themselves are secondary metabolites produced by micro fungi like mold. They are quite capable of causing disease and death in humans and other animals, so the more susceptive a person’s immune system is to outside interference, the more danger they are in.
So What Are Some Of The Key Features Of Black Mold?
Black mold needs more moisture and time to grow than most other types of mold. This is not actually a bad thing, because it gives us a little bit of time to work with. Not much – don’t take this as an excuse to procrastinate. Because the black mold fungi require a lot of moisture to thrive and grow in, black mold is most common after a flooding, after a leaky pipe (like under an air conditioner or a sink), or any other such condition where extreme dampness is created. Because of that, black mold often appears slimy and is often dampened downwards.
This means that it does not contaminate the air around it as readily and as quickly as other species of mold. White mold, for example, is the opposite – if you have seen it before, it has a sort of “fluffy” or feathery look because it is constantly growing outwards into the air and it very easily spreads its pores airborne.
(As a side note, such white molds can also be toxic and are therefore quite dangerous – a toxic mold that sends spores into the air quickly and easily is not something you want in your home).
Black mold is the opposite of that – it prefers to grow into and through the surface it is on, eating through anything it can find. Simply put, it’s a rather gluttonous fungus that is more interested in eating than procreating. Of course, black mold eventually sends airborne spores as well, including when it is being treated, which is why we always recommend using protective face and body gear when cleaning up mold.
What Is The Actual Difference Between Black Mold And Other Types Of Mold, Other Than The Colour?
There are over 100,000 different species of mold in the world. Some are more common than others, some are harder to get rid of, and some require different types of treatments than others, even though most commercial mold cleaners are designed to be universally effective. And yes, with 100,000 species, a lot of them have the same color, and a lot of them vary a lot in shape and size. In other words, Stachybotrys Chartarum is not the only “black mold”, and very often we call black mold, species of mold that are different than Stachybotrys Chartarum.
So, as you can figure, simply looking at the color of the mold is not enough to properly identify it and is even less effective at determining whether or not there are mycotoxins around it.
To properly identify mold you need a microscope and extensive lab testing, but as far as the toxic risks of the mold are concerned, this is not necessary – black mold doesn’t always produce mycotoxins and a lot of other types of mold produce it as well.
The Color Of "Black Mold" Is Not Always Black Either
Well, it always has a tinge of black in it, but it is almost never just black. It usually has a distinct greenish look as well, and sometimes is a mix of black and grey instead. As such it can be confused with green mold.
Another key feature of black mold is the pattern in which it grows. Black mold tends to grow in a sort of “spotty” pattern – in dots. A black mold infestation looks like a bunch of dots of various sizes – almost as if a child took a black marker and started drawing dots on the wall. This distinct pattern is probably the easiest way to distinguish Stachybotrys Atra or Stachybotrys Chartarum from other black-colored types of mold.
Black Mold Has A Specfic Smell Too
If you are worried that you might have black mold somewhere in your home, maybe because you’ve had recent flooding or leakage issues (always a valid worry), you can expect a strong and distinct smell if black mold is present. It is a very musty odor that favors mildew.
Often times, when black mold forms in the ducts of your air conditioning system, its odor can be felt in the entire home. This can easily drive home owners nuts as they are running around, trying to find the source of the smell. Always check the HVAC system when you sense some musty odors in your home – the problem might have been hiding there all along.
All this seems rather simple and clear – black mold has a distinctive look and smell, so if we see it we should recognize it. Good.
Can Black Mold Be Dangerous To The Fabric And Construction Of Our Homes?
Mold damage in buildings is something that is much more widespread than damage to people’s health. Plus, unlike our health, to buildings mold is not just an outside factor that can worsen a respiratory condition, but is the direct cause of the problem itself.
Mold damage to buildings has been a known problem for as long as there’ve been, well – buildings. In fact, even the Bible warns people against mold in Chapter 14 Leviticus!
Especially since the housing boom in the last two decades, mold problems have become even more of an issue. This was worsened even more by the use of materials like the OSB particle board (plywood compressed wood pulp and glue), which are much more susceptible to water damage than older construction materials.
As a result, the lawsuits against construction companies in the last couple of decades have skyrocketed, since mold is so frequent in newer buildings.
As for the actual damage mold can cause to your building – mold spreads by literally eating through materials, be they wallpapers, paint, or the wood, grout, bricks or other building materials that make up your home. In the very same way, a mold infestation that’s left unchecked can easily ruin a piece of furniture.
The speed at which mold can do that varies a lot. A lot of people are used to dormant mold – mold that has started developing but has stopped because the humidity in the air has dropped. As a result, a lot of people thin that mold spreads very slowly. This isn’t the case, however – when introduced with the right conditions, mold can spread and cause damage in a matter of days, even if it’s been inactive and dormant for years before that.
So, in short, mold can be very dangerous and damaging to your home and furniture, which is all the more reason to fight it as soon as you see it.
Black mold is sort of the “black sheep” of the mold family – it’s blamed for everything. It’s toxic, it kills infants with one breath, it is Satan’s plague on the Earth, and so on, and so on. And that’s simply not the case. Black mold is not toxic - mycotoxins are toxic and they can be produced by all types of mold. Black mold doesn’t kill infants, leaving infants with respiratory conditions in rooms that have poor air quality is what kills infants.
But, of course, that isn’t to say that mold – black or otherwise – can’t be harmful to our health. It very well can. A mold infestation can drastically worsen the air quality in your home, which can lead to a lot of respiratory problems even in healthy people. Plus, the damage a mold can do to your home or furniture can often be irreparable.