There is no place on the planet Earth that man can go and avoid microorganisms. A single sneeze from a healthy person may release as many as 100,000 viable organisms. In “healthy” air, it is very common to encounter molds and bacteria. There may be as many as 1.5 million different species of fungi on Earth and approximately 70,000 different species have been fully described.
Molds are any kind of fungi that at some point in their lives grow extended appendages called “hyphae.” Molds are filamentous fungi. The hyphae form mats called “mycelium” which are usually easily seen with the naked eye.
All molds are fungi, but not all fungi are molds. Fungi are found on humans, in and on houseplants, in wine, beer, cheese, and maple syrup. We encounter fungi directly in our diets when we eat; and perhaps the most famous fungi food of all – the French truffle: Tuber magnatum. Virtually every tree, houseplant, and bush probably is aided into full health by the mycorrhizae molds which are intractably bound about its roots; and without which many plants could not survive.
Several studies have been conducted concerning the prevalence of molds in “normal, clean” homes. These studies have shown in excess of 10 million spores per gram of dust are present.
Levels in excess of the above do not necessarily imply that the conditions are unsafe or hazardous. The type and concentration of the airborne microorganisms determines the hazard to inhabitants. The Centers for Disease Control reported that during its investigations of reports of poor indoor air quality, microbiological contamination was suspected in only 5% of the cases.
It is impossible to know the spore count of a house based on two or three samples (let alone one sample), and there is no scientific validity to correlate indoor samples to outdoor samples in closed building conditions. That is – it is inappropriate to state that indoor levels are elevated based on the outdoor concentrations, for closed building conditions.
Therefore, once it is recognized that all carpets in homes contain fungi, often at very high concentrations, the importance of such contamination is far less significant than elevated airborne fungal spores. It must be recognized that all homes contain potentially “toxic molds” on surfaces and in the air.
It has been estimated that between 10% and 20% of the U.S. population exhibits an allergic reaction to something and up to 6% of the general population have a respiratory allergy to fungi. There are four general classifications of allergic responses, Type I “anaphylactic” response is the type of reaction that is the vastly predominate health hazard associated with indoor molds. Briefly, anaphylaxis and other hypersensitivities arise when an individual’s immune system launches an inappropriate full-scale “attack” against what is probably an otherwise harmless agent.
The concentration of an allergen needed to elicit a response so serious that a sensitive individual may die may be thousands of times lower than that needed to invoke so much as a sniffle in an equally healthy, but non-sensitized person.
Anaphylaxis is commonly known for its extreme manifestation called “anaphylactic shock.” However, anaphylaxis also occurs in degrees. “Shock” is the most extreme anaphylactic reaction. Other milder forms of anaphylactic reactions such as those which occur in “hay fever” are more common.
Celery, lobster, peanuts, and a host of other common foods can make the sensitive person uncomfortable, ill or even kill a person who exhibits a hypersensitivity to any particular common food. Yet, we do not speak of “toxic peanuts” or “toxic milk.” Even the term “toxic mold” is a meaningless term, used mostly by the press and by individuals who are not familiar with mycology or toxicology. It is thought that, in theory, virtually all molds have the potential to all degrees of anaphylaxis (including anaphylactic shock) following exposure. The common mushroom can be as toxic as the deadly Amanita mushroom to the person who is allergic to it. Therefore, all molds have the potential to be “toxic molds.” However, as recent as November 2002, a prestigious medical organization, The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine reported that indoor molds, compared to outdoor molds, were considered only a minor factor in the development of allergic airway disease. Similarly, it has also been reported that indoor exposure to cats, dust mites and cockroaches probably cause more health problems than do indoor molds.
“Mycoses” refers to conditions in which fungi pass the resistance barriers of the body and establish infection. But, apart from a relatively few fungi which attack human skin (athlete’s foot, jock itch, nail fungus); fungi rarely infect man or other animals. There are, however, some fungal diseases that are endemic in the United States. One of the most highly endemic regions is in the San Joaquin Valley of California. The infection, known as San Joaquin Valley Disease or Valley Fever, although usually asymptomatic, is virtually universal where perhaps as many as 80% of those residing in this area become affected within five years of initial residency.
Yet, in spite of its huge impact on society, it is curious that the popular media has not given Valley Fever or jock itch the same notoriety as other “toxic indoor molds” and has not turned common mold infections into the household name the way it did with Stachybotrys. The fact of the matter is that headlines about “athlete’s foot” don’t sell newspapers like “toxic mold” headlines. In writing about the current public concern about indoor molds, Dr. Emil J. Bardana, Jr., M.D. of the Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland stated:
This contemporary public health problem has frequently been discussed in the media and cyberspace without the benefit of scientific peer review. As a result, there has been distortion and exaggeration of the facts, and promotion of a brand of “toxic terror” among the population; ie, “babies dying of black mold exposure” is much more dramatic and fear-evoking than “babies dying of unknown causes.”
In June of 2000 at the School of Public Health, Harvard University in Boston, Dr. Harriet Burge, Professor of Microbiology at Harvard, lectured that, to her knowledge, not a single case of confirmed mycotoxicosis (disease resulting from toxic by-products of fungal infection) due to indoor air had yet been reported. However, Dr. Burge acknowledged the valid role of molds in producing other indoor air complaints. In
addition, during a professional conference in April of 2002 in Austin, Dr. Burge cautioned professionals in the field to avoid using the inappropriate terms such as “toxic molds” and “pathogenic molds” to describe indoor molds and indoor mold exposures in an effort to curtail unwarranted public fears.
The state-of-the-art guidance document on fungal remediation is thought by many to be the Guidelines on Assessment and Remediation of Fungi in Indoor Environments which was published by the New York City Department of Health, Bureau of Environmental & Occupational Disease Epidemiology in April of 2000. According to those guidelines:
There are only a limited number of documented cases of health problems from indoor exposure to fungi. The presence of fungi on building materials as identified by a visual assessment or by bulk/surface sampling results does not necessitate that people will be exposed or exhibit health effects. In order for humans to be exposed indoors, fungal spores, fragments, or metabolites must be released into the air and inhaled, physically contacted (dermal exposure), or ingested.
Further, the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in November 2002, issued a peer reviewed Evidence Based Statement, wherein they made the observation that:
…years of intensive study have failed to establish exposure to Stachybotrys chartarum in home, school, or office environments as a cause of adverse human health effects.
Some researchers reporting in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization have attempted to clinically establish a dose-response relationship between airborne spores and adverse effects. In a home that contained an extremely elevated Stachybotrys spore count of say, 200 Stachybotrys spores per cubic meter of air, a person would have to spend 10,822 years in the house 24 hours per day, seven days per week to receive the necessary dose.
Dr. Abba Terr M.D. summed up the medical field’s opinion late last year in a peer-reviewed journal when he wrote:
No convincing cases of human allergic disease or infection from this mold [Stachybotrys] have been published. [He concluded] The current public concern for adverse health effects from inhalation of Stachybotrys spores in water-damaged buildings is not supported by published reports in the medical literature.
Referenced from: “Health Effects of Moulds (Molds): State of Knowledge; Connell, Caoimhin; Forensic Applications Consulting Technologies, Inc.,Bailey CO; 5/20/05