St. Paul, Minn. (November 15, 2001)—For most people, the word mold conjures up images of green-tinted bread and cheese, easily taken care of by simply tossing the infected food into the garbage. But one particular mold, Stachybotrys, has proven far more difficult to handle. It has been associated with human health problems and “sick building syndrome,” prompting multimillion-dollar litigations, controversy within the medical community, and public fear and confusion. To help people better understand the nature of this mold, The American Phytopathological Society recently posted a feature story on Stachybotrys on its website in the hopes of shedding some light on this surprisingly ubiquitous mold.
“Although Stachybotrys was first identified in 1837, it has only recently become a cause of concern,” states Berlin D. Nelson, a plant pathologist and mycologist at North Dakota State University who studies fungi and authored the website feature. Nelson, who has spent the past 6 years advising public officials and the general public on issues concerning indoor molds, says he’s been surprised by how common Stachybotrys is. “Once a building receives water damage from flooding for example, or from persistent leaks or condensation, it is possible for Stachybotrys and other molds to develop, reproducing in ceilings, walls, or floors, sometimes with no or little visible indication of its presence.”
In his online article, Nelson provides a history of the mold, including disease outbreaks that have been traced to exposure to Stachybotrys. He outlines where in damaged buildings you’re most likely to find it, and offers information on detection and clean up, including photographs of the mold in varying stages of growth. While this type of information, along with the links to related sites, will be of interest to those in the general public who want to know more, those with a more scientific interest will appreciate the insight Nelson provides into the compounds produced by Stachybotrys; compounds that may eventually help researchers understand how exposure to Stachybotrys effects humans.
“We’re still in the beginning stages of trying to understand what happens when this mold enters buildings and homes,” says Nelson. Yet he’s quick to add that people are now much more aware of what conditions might spark the growth of Stachybotrys and what to do about it. “One simple piece of advice I would offer to anyone who might have a concern about Stachybotrys finding its way into their home or building,” says Nelson, “is simply to take care of all water damage or leaks promptly. And if you’ve had significant water damage that’s been left un-repaired, and suspect a mold problem, contact a specialist first before ripping up walls to do repair work.”
Nelson’s article on Stachybotrys can be found at www.apsnet.org/publications/apsnetfeatures/Pages/Stachybotrys.aspx. The American Phytopathological Society (APS) is a nonprofit, professional scientific organization dedicated to the study and control of plant diseases, with 5,000 members worldwide.