In addition to allergic reactions, mold has other negative effects. The organisms release substances, volatile organic compounds or VOCs, that people can smell even at low levels. The musty odor is disagreeable and can make a person react at an emotional level. "If you feel sick when you smell mold, make sure what's making you sick is the mold and not the emotions associated with the smell," Wedner says.
Mold can also damage a building structurally. It releases enzymes to breakdown cellulose, a major component of wood.
Wedner indicates that 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.
Recently, a mold called Stachybotrys, a greenish-black, slimy mold found on wood or paper that has been wet for several days, has gotten a lot of attention. Some claim Stachybotrys is the cause of sick building syndrome, in which people occupying a building have a variety of symptoms such as headaches; eye, nose and throat irritation; dizziness; fatigue and breathing problems. But Wedner says Stachybotrys itself has little to no affect on health. "Stachybotrys is a mold that needs a lot of water," he says. "So it's a sign that there has been a lot of water in the building. But it's not toxic, and peo
|Contact: Gwen Ericson|
Washington University in St. Louis