Environmental News Network
July 7, 2008
For days now, a swollen Mississippi River has menacingly roamed far from
its banks, devouring large swatches of picturesque river towns and some
of the Midwest's best farmlands. While countless news organizations
chronicle both the courage of those fighting 'Big Muddy's' assault and
the anguish of those wounded by it, another battle is about to begin.
This battle will go all but unseen, for the struggle will be one of
individual households against mold, mold that is both toxic and
dangerous, though there are those who insist otherwise.
With an estimated 11 million people and nine
Midwestern states impacted by the floods, the severe weather preceding
them, or both, toxic mold questions have assumed new significance. A
reading of the US Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) mold concerns
quickly helps one appreciate why.
According to an EPA website last updated April 30th:
'Many symptoms and human health effects attributed to inhalation of
mycotoxins have been reported including: mucous membrane irritation,
skin rash, nausea, immune system suppression, acute or chronic liver
damage, acute or chronic central nervous system damage, endocrine
effects, and cancer.' The EPA added, 'it is clearly prudent to avoid
exposure to molds and mycotoxins,' and so performed an exercise in what
should be obvious, but sometimes apparently is not.
Posing a dilemma for flood victims, some of those
within the medical community have strongly downplayed toxic mold's
dangers. One highly circulated pronouncement - in a text specifically
aimed at flood victims - reassured: 'Although molds release natural
toxins, called mycotoxins, these don't cause problems to people who live
in moldy houses because the toxins don't diffuse into the air. The only
way to be exposed to them is to swallow them.' But there seems to be a
problem with this.
Published research exists which directly contradicts
such statements, with even the EPA's just cited warning specifically
mentioning the 'inhalation of mycotoxins.' It's been repeatedly found
that mycotoxins can be airborne, inhaled, and are dangerous, with
research also indicating that mold can pose dangers to 'immunocompetent,'
In 2004 a study conducted by scientists with the
Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Texas Tech University Health
Sciences Center, is believed to be the first which revealed that 'mycotoxins
can become airborne.' The study, published in Applied and Environmental
Microbiology, concluded by noting the work 'may have important
implications for indoor air quality assessment.'
Another landmark 2004 study, titled 'Adverse Health
Effects of Indoor Molds,' compiled by researchers from leading
institutions including Harvard University and the University of Illinois
at Chicago, concluded that exposure to high levels of mold can induce
'injury to and dysfunction of multiple organs and systems' among normal,
'immunocompetent,' healthy individuals. Notably, the study specifically
attributed the potential for 'hemorrhaging disorders' to mycotoxin
exposure, an issue the EPA has also raised.
The EPA maintains a web page titled 'Children's Health
Initiative: Toxic Mold.' As part of the 'Background' section, the EPA
cites an incident where: 'A cluster of cases of acute pulmonary
hemorrhage/hemosiderosis was reported in Cleveland, Ohio, where 27
infants from homes that suffered flood damage became sick (nine deaths)
with the illness starting in January 1993.'
While the case the EPA cites is yet vigorously
debated, it is widely known that attempts to remediate mold problems,
without the use of a respirator, have produced nosebleeds among those so
Independent findings subsequent to 2004 led some
leading researchers to declare levels of mycotoxins in mold affected
structures as 'several hundred' times higher than previously thought.
Such a circumstance would seem to readily lend itself to a better
appreciation of mold hazards, though, surprisingly, the hazards of mold
have been discussed for years.
As early as 1999, the US Federal Emergency Management
Agency (FEMA) declared: 'Floods Carry a Hazardous Potential For Toxic
Mold.' And, for years now, courts throughout the Country have awarded
damages to a number of toxic mold victims.
Given what appear to be such straightforward
pronouncements upon toxic mold's dangers, some may question the basis
for debate, whether there is actually debate, but a debate does exist.
Having said this, it is important to emphasize that many critics of this
debate suggest its true foundations are other than medical or
In strictly monetary terms, the health, property, and
liability costs of mold are projected as 'extremely substantive,'
especially as many insurance companies no longer cover numerous types of
As the chairman of the US House of Representatives
Judiciary Committee, Congressman John Conyers (D-Mich), observed
regarding toxic mold: 'It's not that no one knows about it, but it seems
that a lot of people don't want to know about it.' Recently, and cutting
to what many see as the crux of 'the debate,' came the reply of a
European researcher to a query, a query concerning the health hazards
mycotoxins pose for those living or working in mold affected
'A politically, legally, and economically important
question!' was all that was written, and perhaps all that needs to be.