Dealing with Toxic Molds

For the past decade and a half I have been dealing with clients who have health problems related to the indoor environment.  One area that is not addressed as often as it should be has to do with mold-and various types of mold are a real part of our lives.  Many people prefer using noxious chemicals to control mold, while others take mold for granted-they just ignore it, preferring to coexist with it.  Sometimes mold is not really a bid deal.  It may mean a discolored wall, or it may cause your nose to run.  But unfortunately, some of the molds we come in contact with are very dangerous.  One of the worst has been getting a certain amount of press coverage lately.  In technical circles it is called Stachybotrys, but it is usually referred to as Stachy.

There are presently known to be 15 species of Stachy, and it is found throughout the world.  If the relative humidity in a home is above 55%, Stachy can thrive very well-usually in places where there is little to no air movement.  Prime locations include closets, on walls near the floor, behind curtains, under carpets or carpet pads, behind wallpaper and, of course, in basements.

If we have had a mold sample tested, and it is positive for Stachy, we start looking for its breeding ground.  Stachy, loves cellulose and dampness for nourishment, so we examine any paper wood, paper facing drywall, wallpaper, particle board, oriented strand board, plywood, etc. where there is little or no air movement, and where there is liquid water or a relative humidity over 55%.  To my eye Stachy is often a dark blue green, sometimes it appears almost black.  Others have described it as a dark green gray.  Some of our clients have referred to it as black slime or dark green slime.  As long as it has enough moisture, Stachy will continue to grow and release mycotoxins into the air.  Mycotoxins are chemical compounds that can be harmful to humans if inhaled, ingested, or exposed to the skin.

Working around Stachy can be very dangerous.  So if we’ve had a mold sample confirmed by a lab test, we wear chemical/pariculate respirators and special disposable clothing before we go in to locate the breeding ground.  Once the source has been identified, we bring in a trained abatement contractor.  Because Stachy can be so toxic to people, it is treated like toxic waste, and dealing with it requires the same precautions as asbestos abatement.  Yes, this can be very costly but it is the best and safest way to deal with a toxic mold.

Some of the results of exposure to Stachy can include flu like symptoms, headache, fatigue, diarrhea, skin sores, nose bleed, respiratory problems, etc.  There have even been some reports of sporadic hair loss. (Of course every man would love to blame his hair loss on something other that their genes.)  In some Cleveland homes, Stachy resulted in spontaneous bleeding in the lungs of infants.

If you try to deal with Stachy by simply getting rid if its water supply (for example, lowering the relative humidity), the mold will no longer grow.  But that can introduce another problem because, as it dries up, Stachy will release brown spores into the air- and the spores are also hazardous.  If the mold colony has reached this stage, an abatement contractor will first apply a special encapsulant coating over it before starting to remove it.

Just trying to kill Stachy with a solution of bleach and water is not enough, because it typically won’t get to the mold that has penetrated deeply into the material it is growing on.  So, it will eventually start growing again.  Painting over Stachy will not stop its growth either, because painting locks in the moisture, it allows the Stachy to grow behind the paint.  The best way of dealing with it is to completely cut out and remove the entire affected area- using proper abatement procedures.  This is what contractors who deal regularly with dry rot must do, because they know that, even if a small amount of dry rot remains, it can continue to eat away at wood.  So it must be eliminated.  The same is true with Stachy-the best abatement measures involve cutting it out just as if it were a cancer.