In the Bethlehem Area School District of Pennsylvania, the fall 2013 opening of East Hills Middle School was delayed by one day and the opening of Farmersville Elementary School will be delayed by at least three days due to mold contamination of multiple classrooms. Mold was discovered in late August in twenty-eight classrooms at East Hills and 16 classrooms at Farmersville. The remediation process is still underway, with the district utilizing Sargent Enterprises for the work under the guidance of 1Source Safety and Health. District officials are relying on the advice of a Certified Industrial Hygienist to determine when Farmersville Elementary School will be ready to open; a recent editorial by local newspaper The Express-Times lauded the concern for student and teacher health shown by Superintendent Joseph Roy.
Mold can be the source of, or trigger for, a host of health problems. It can also pose problems for individuals with specific allergies. “We will not rush the process,” the District said in an online announcement, “as we work to ensure a clean and safe learning environment for our students and staff.” This level of caution seems prudent.
Read on for five things you may not know about mold…
Indoor fungal pollution has many negative health consequences
Indoor fungal pollution has many negative health consequences. According to research by scientists at King Saud University published in the October 2012 issue of the Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences, fungi are able to reproduce on nearly every type of surface, natural and synthetic. The list of ailments due to indoor fungal pollution is long, and includes sinusitis, allergic sensitization, influenza-like syndromes known as “inhalation fevers,” respiratory infections, rheumatic diseases, and even neuropsychiatric problems. “The most effective way to manage fungi in a building,” the authors note, “is to remove the conditions that favor the establishment and growth of fungi.” These conditions include high levels of moisture, the presence of carpeting, and inadequate HVAC system performance.
Multiple mechanisms are at work in fungus-related illnesses
Writing in the April 2013 edition of The Scientific World Journal, California-based physician Janette Hope discusses the many mechanisms at work in fungus-related illnesses. Mold and mold components can cause inflammation and oxidative stress in humans, and the aflatoxins produced by several varieties of Aspergillus are also harmful. According to Dr. Hope, aflatoxin B1 is “genotoxic, immunotoxic, hepatotoxic, [and] mutagenic.” Other compounds produced by different species of mold are trichothecenes, which inhibit protein synthesis and can cause gastrointestinal distress as well as skin problems and other disorders.
Mold may cause asthma through a non-allergic mechanism
In order to understand the mechanism by which mold exposure can trigger asthma, French researchers studied four groups of children: 20 children with asthma living in an urban setting, 26 urban children without asthma, 24 children with asthma living in a rural setting, and 25 rural children without asthma. They published their findings in the June 2013 issue of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology. According to the researchers, 70.5% of the children with asthma were exposed to mold at home, compared with only 49.0% of the children without asthma. Among the study participants who were exposed to mold and demonstrated current asthma symptoms, none had atopy — that is, none of the children with mold exposure and current asthma symptoms had a predisposition toward allergic hypersensitivity. The researchers conclude, “Our results suggest that when looking at the etiology of non-atopic asthma, mold exposure should be systematically assessed.”
The right kind of light can kill mold
Common disinfectants used to prevent and remediate mold are both highly toxic and unpleasant to smell; therefore, researchers are interested in natural remedies for mold. Scottish scientists recently investigated the use of high-intensity violet 405-nanometer light on two types of yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Candida albicans) and one type of mold (Aspergillus niger). The results, published in the July to August 2013 issue of Fungal Biology, demonstrated the ability of this type of light to kill yeast and mold without the addition of photosensitizing chemicals. The high-intensity violet light was most lethal to S. cerevisiae and least toxic to A. niger. The researchers note that 405-nm violet light is visible, which makes it additionally appealing as a fungal remediation tool.
Individuals with autoimmune disease may be hypersensitive to mold
Mold can provoke unpleasant symptoms in many people, but individuals with a pre-existing autoimmune disease are at a particular disadvantage in a mold-contaminated environment. Researchers from Manhasset, New York, studied the effects of environmental mold exposure on patients with Autoimmune Inner Ear Disease (AIED). These scientists remark that some Aspergillus species, as well as Penicillium, have a similar structure to the LCCL domain of cochlin, a protein in the inner ear. (Often, autoimmunity involves the body attacking a component of itself in an errant attempt to combat an invading molecule that is very similar to part of its own molecular structure.)
In an article published in the August 2013 issue of the Journal of Clinical Immunology, the researchers demonstrate that mold exposure in AIED patients resulted in an increase of various cytokines (signaling molecules). They conclude, based on this study and prior research, that “fungal exposure can trigger autoimmunity in a subset of susceptible AIED patients.”