Within the Walls

Could your walls be making you sick? A recent discovery provides new insight into how mold in homes and offices can harm the people who live and work in them—and while the effects generally respond temporarily to treatment, researchers warn that the only permanent solution is to deal with the mold directly.

“Mold” is actually a blanket term for a variety of organisms that are found in damp walls of buildings and elsewhere. These organisms are a natural part of outdoor environments, growing on dead trees and fallen leaves and other dead organic matter. The spores are usually too small to see, and are often blown in through open doorways and windows, or brought in by air intakes for temperature control system. Spores that some in from the outside are harmless by themselves, generally, but they can attach themselves to damp surfaces, and if those surfaces are not permitted to dry—whether because they’re not exposed to the air, or because they get rained on or spilled on, or for any other reason—the mold will settle in and grow.

One of the most famous type of mold is Aspergillus penicillium. Although the drug derived from A. penicillium changed modern medicine, the mold itself can be highly allergenic. Another allergen is ulocladium, which is found in bathrooms, kitchens, and damp basements. It exacerbates asthma symptoms. The toxic, foul-smelling mold acremonium grows in insulation and on drywall when they get damp. One of the most common molds is Trichoderma longibrachiatum. Buildings with indoor air problems are usually found to have a trichoderma infestation.

Trichoderma mold produces toxins called a trilongins, according to findings in September by a Finnish research team. Trilongins are absorbed by the body and prevent potassium and sodium from reaching the cells. This disrupts the heart, the nerves, and the respiratory system. The symptoms recur unless the mold is completely eradicated from the structure.

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