Hysteria around common household mold is misplaced
My child was bitten by a spider; therefore, we have to kill all the giraffes. I’m allergic to cats, so any house that has one should be burned down, rebuilt, and the builder sued because the cat got in. There is mold in my bathroom. There is mold on my child’s toy. Quick, call the feds!
Stop. To breathe. Don’t kill the giraffes right away.
These examples sound ridiculous, but when it comes to household mold, they’re not far off the mark. After all, the mold remediation industry continues to grow, the media remains saturated with stories of families being forced out of their homes due to mold growth and, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, September is National Month. mold sensitization.
Again and again we hear the same song: Mold is toxic! If it gets moldy, throw it away! Somebody think of the children! But most mold doesn’t make you sick. Mold poses about as much of a risk to a healthy adult as dirt, unwashed salad mix, or a walk in the woods. There’s always a chance, but that chance is damn slim. So why the fungal rage?
No one overlooks the scientific studies on the effects of mold exposure on humans, and some members of the fungal kingdom can cause asthma, allergic rhinitis, and other conditions with long-term exposure.
black mold, Stachybotrys chartarum, is a well-studied culprit, with known human effects. Because these effects are so irritating, the word “mold” was separated from the causative organism and made into a four-letter word. But there are about 1.5 million species of fungi on Earth and about 30,000 known species of “molds” (about 2,000 genera). The mold remediation industry generally notes that five of these genres are a problem — it’s 0.25%.
Here are our giraffes again. Consider the animal kingdom, and only one division: the vertebrates. This includes humans, birds, dogs, snakes, etc. Crotalus cerastes is poisonous to humans. That means all dogs are equally dangerous, right? Of course not. We understand the immense variability of the animal kingdom but seem to get bogged down with the fungal kingdom. Just because a fungus looks or acts like a “mold” doesn’t mean it shares any characteristics with a Stachybotrys. In fact, many “molds” are not only useful to humans but are part of human culture.
First consider cheese and all its wonderful varieties. Blue cheese – a household favorite – gets its color from Penicillium roqueforti. Penicillin was made primarily from Penicillium chrysogenum and P. rubens. Penicillium abounds in the air around us, as do many mold spores, and when it lands on a sufficiently moist and porous surface, secretes a dark green color as it grows. It sporulates abundantly and is one of the best-known “molds” in the world. It’s also delicious and, arguably, the savior of mankind.
Consider next art. Human art. Wood art. Renaissance masters of the 1400s-1600s created elaborate marquetry works for palaces and churches in Italy, Germany, and other parts of Western Europe. A distinctive blue-green color in works of this era came from wood colonized by Chlorociboria species.
As alchemists and early chemists were unable to make or harvest a similar color, the blue-green of Chlorociboria was worth its weight in gold and its location in the forests of Western Europe became a heavily guarded guild secret.
This same fungal color, known as xylindein, is used by scientists today to help make photovoltaic cells for solar panels and batteries. Another mold/wood rot fungus, Scytalidium cuboideumproduces a reddish/blue color which is used for textile dyeing and inkjet printing, and is known for its durability on traditionally difficult to dye fabrics, such as polyester.
Scytalidium cuboideum is also a common airborne mold, sporulates profusely and can colonize hair follicles but unfortunately does not give you red hair. Ruber of Monascus had its pink/red pigment used for centuries in Asia as a food coloring.
Mold fungi are essential parts of the human economy, culture and livelihood. Mold spores are with us all the time, whether in the bathroom or at the grocery store, and especially when we walk in nature. Mold spores are always in your home, even when you can’t see them. It can be irritating when fungi grow inside your home where you don’t want them, but mold spores once grew on a Petri dish where a scientist didn’t want them, and we had penicillin.
Before you throw away your kid’s expensive wooden train set or pay thousands of dollars to have a company spray fancy paint on your walls, remember that most “mold” is benign. Take away their water source and they die. The green dots on your ceiling mean nothing more than that you should probably have your pipes checked.
Don’t go and lick an unfamiliar mold, but don’t have a panic attack about it either. Let’s give these giraffes a chance.