Can Black Mold Cause Death?
Last year a news article featured a woman who believes that she was poisoned by black mold.
After being exposed to black mold for four years in a friend’s house in Niagra Falls, Susan Crane-Sundell stated: “It’s very close to killing me now.”
Crane-Sundell began getting sick after about 18 months of living in the house. When she got sick, she saw a dozen doctors and underwent expensive medical tests. Recently, she found out that the cause of her sickness was black mold which has poisoned her system to the point that she is bed-ridden.
The purpose of this blog is to explain what black mold is and the potential health consequences of exposure.
What is Black Mold?
The biological term for the most common black mold is Stachybotrys, often referred to as “stachy”. Stachybotrys molds help to decay organic matter. The species known as Stachybotrys chartarum, sometimes referred to as Stachybotrys atra often grows indoors.
The ideal conditions for Stachybotrys growth include moisture, a nutrient/food source, temperature, and time. Ideal humidity for this black mold is a relative humidity of 90% or higher for it to begin the germination growth process. Stachybotrys feeds on materials with a high cellulose content such as hay, straw, wood chips, and building materials such as ceiling tile, drywall, paper vapor barriers, wallpaper, insulation backing, cardboard boxes, and paper files.
Stachybotrys Spreads By Releasing Spores!
Stachybotrys spreads by releasing spores and the growth of root-like tendrils called mycelia. It grows in clusters at the end of stem-like structures known as hyphae. If the material is wet, the spores do not disperse as easily into the air because the spores are held together by a sticky/slimy coating. However, when the material dries out or is disturbed, the spores will spread through the air. Since the spores can be dispersed and become airborne, it is very important that the remediation process of Stachybotrys infected materials is done following proper controls and contained to prevent further contamination.
Stachybotrys Is Often Referred To As “The King Of Molds”!
Unlike other molds like Aspergillus, Penicillium, and Cladosporium which begin growing within one to two days, Stachybotrys can take one to two weeks to begin growing. It is the King of Molds because Stachybotrys will develop into the dominant mold group if the conditions are favorable and will crowd out the other molds that began feeding on the material first.
Top 15 Health Conditions Caused By Black Mold Exposure
Stachybotrys is a health concern because animal studies have shown that low level exposure can suppress the immune system leading to bacterial and viral infections, coughing, skin irritation, and other allergic reactions. Further, medical evidence has proven that this mold has toxic properties because Stachybotrys produces a mycotoxin (i.e., poison from a fungus) named trichothecenes. Consequently, when it is inhaled or ingested Stachybotrys causes the following health conditions, with speculation that exposure can even promote cancer:
- Sore/hoarse throat
- Cold and flu symptoms (headaches, slight fever, and muscle aches)
- Tingling or burning of nose, mouth, and perspiration areas (under the arms or between the legs)
- Chronic fatigue
- Memory loss
- Attention deficit/concentration problems
- Personality changes such as irritability or depression
- Neurological disorders such as tremors
- Hair loss
- Coughing with blood
- Bleeding in the lungs (hemosiderosis)
- Damage to internal organs including blood, liver, kidneys, and lungs
Can Black Mold Kill?
This is an interesting question and one that was posed last summer by a reporter in New Orleans, Jed Lipinski, NOLA.com Staff reporter | The Times-Picayune that published an article: Did a moldy building kill 4 New Orleans college professors?
The article poses this question because four SUNO professors, who died within three months of each other, all worked on the second floor of the Multipurpose Building on the SUNO campus:
- Marina Dumas-Hayes official cause of death: breast cancer recurrence;
- Felix James official cause of death: heart disease;
- Sudipta Das official cause of death: breast cancer recurrence;
- Guillarne Leary official cause of death: pulmonary embolism.
Officially, toxic mold is not linked to their deaths because the Centers for Disease Control states that there is no scientific evidence linking mold exposure to pulmonary embolisms, heart disease or breast cancer recurrence. In addition, according to the article:
No federal guidelines exist for what constitutes a safe quantity of mold, making it difficult for inspectors to know whether occupants of a building or home are at risk. Building managers say they often are forced to rely on occupant complaints to determine that a remediation was unsuccessful.
Lipinsky questioned the official cause of the death for three key reasons.
- Water damage lead to a significant mold infestation. The Multipurpose Building, a two-story concrete structure, was flooded with 4.5 feet of water after the levee failures during Hurricane Katrina. The state claims the building was deemed safe to occupy before faculty moved in because a licensed contractor, Zimmer-Eschette Services, performed a full environmental remediation during the summer of 2008 and the indoor air samples were deemed “acceptable.” The building was re-opened in August, 2008 so staff could move in for the Fall session.
- Air quality tests showed Stachybotrys mold, yet staff were still allowed to work in the building. Soon after moving into the building, faculty began complaining about respiratory problems. The cause of the health complaints was mold because the remediation was not done properly and the indoor air samples were “unacceptable”. Experts interviewed by Lipinsky did not believe the building was safe to work in because stachybotrys mold spores were still present and documented in the air quality clearance tests conducted by the AIMS Group.
- Staff and faculty had recurring health issues from mold exposure. Stachybotrys was present in 25 of the 62 interior air samples taken after the remediation was complete. Despite this, the staff, faculty, and students were allowed to work in the building. Not surprisingly, management of SUNO received many complaints. Within months of the move, several faculty were diagnosed with bronchitis. For five years, between 2008 and 2013, Das, Leary, James, and Dumas-Haynes taught classes on the second floor of the Multipurpose Building. Prior to their deaths, both Leary and Dumas-Haynes suffered from severe respiratory problems. They were not the only one’s that suffered as 10 other faculty and staff on the same floor complained of similar symptoms: coughing, wheezing, difficulty breathing, asthma attacks, nausea and migraines. According to a former SUNO staff member, it was obvious that the building had a mold problem: A moldy odor hit you when you walked inside the building. You didn’t need a specialist to know there was mold in there. Despite all of these complaints, SUNO administration failed to address the health complaints of staff and faculty, at best using band-aid solutions such as painting over the mold.
Did Black Mold Kill The Four Professors?
SUNO killed those people. We told them over and over: It’s not safe in here. But people had to die before anything was done. (Cynthia Ramirez, tenured professor at SUNO)
The evidence suggests that the water-damaged building was a contributing factor to the occurrence of the four fatalities. (Dr. Michael Gray, a physician and toxicologist in Arizona who has spent more than 20 years treating patients exposed to water-damaged buildings.)
According to the CEO of Wonder Makers Environmental, Michael Pinto, there is mounting evidence that mold causes sickness:
There is now good science that documents that exposure to fungal contaminants and damp environments not only triggers standard allergenic responses, but pushes certain parts of the immune system into overdrive. In essence, the body’s defense system ends up attacking the host as well as the biological invaders. (The Answer to the Mold Illness Questions Is: All of the Above)
In 2009, the World Health Organization, produced a 228 page document entitled WHO Guidelines for Indoor Air Quality: Dampness and Mould and concluded the following:
When sufficient moisture is available, hundreds of species of bacteria and fungi – particularly mould – pollute indoor air. The most important effects of exposure to these pollutants are the increased prevalence of respiratory symptoms, allergies, and asthma, as well as disturbance of the immune system. Preventing (or minimizing) persistent dampness and microbial growth on interior surfaces and building structures is the most important means of avoiding harmful effects on health.
Further, Lipinski, interviewed several experts about the specific causes of death attributed to the four professors.
With respect to Professors Dumas-Hayes and Das, whose documented cause of death was breast cancer, Dr. Maureen Lichtveld, chairwomen of environmental health at the Tulane University School of Public Health, stated the following:
Women in remission from breast cancer often have compromised immune systems, which makes fighting illness and infection more difficult. It is recommended that such women avoid indoor environments where the level of mold or dust exposure would cause public health concerns.
Many mold survivors chronically exposed to mold develop a condition known as Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS), defined as:
“An accute and chronic, systemic inflammatory response syndrome acquired following exposure to the interior environment of a water-damaged building with resident toxigenic organisms, including, but not limited to fungi, bacteria, actinomycetes and mycobacteria as well as inflammagens such as endotoxins, beta glucans, hemolysins, proteinases, mannans, c-type lectins and possibly spirocyclic drimanes, plus volatile ogranic compounds.” (What is Mold Illness? Better yet, do people get sick after being exposed to water-damaged buildings?)
CIRS is associated with 37 health symptoms, including asthma, dizziness, migraines, and bronchitis. A study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that women with chronic inflammation were twice as likely to develop a recurrence of breast cancer, which happened with both Professors Dumas-Hayes and Das.
Dr. Shoemaker, who has studied CIRS extensively, believes that mold may also have contributed to the deaths of Professors James and Leary because more than 66 percent of those with the diagnosis develop clotting abnormalities, further stating that: “Pulmonary embolism is incredibly common in patients with chronic inflammation and can impact cardiovascular disease as well.”
Dr. Gray agrees with Shoemaker, citing studies showing that people who live or work in water-damaged buildings have a reduced number of “natural killer cells,” which defend against the expression of malignant cells and tumors: “People are much more likely to go out of remission when they are in a water-damaged environment because of the reduction of natural killer cells that environment provokes.”
The deaths of Professors Dumas-Hayes, Das, James, and Leary were likely hastened by the five years of exposure to the black mold.
Staff and faculty did not have to suffer. Once it was found that the air quality tests showed that there was stachybotrys mold still in the building, administration should have taken action. Simply put:
Building owners are responsible for providing a healthy workplace or living environment free of excess moisture and mould, by ensuring proper building construction and maintenance. (WHO Guidelines for Indoor Air Quality: Dampness and Mould)
It appears that only after the deaths of the four Professors that action was taken. In February, 2014, SUNO moved staff out of the offices in the Multipurpose Building and decided to demolish it. SUNO plans to build a new building now. Perhaps, this should have been done in the first place!
Got Black Mold Questions?
Article Sources and References
- WHO Guidelines for Indoor Air Quality: Dampness and Mould
- Surviving Mold
- The WHO on Mold
- The Mystery of Mycotoxins in Mold Contamination
- Deposition Of Airborne Spores On Surfaces: The Forgotten Aspect of Mold Remediation
- What is Stachybotrys Mold?
- Explaining Mold Contamination Situations
- A Reasoned Approach To Mold Contamination: Best Practices
- Do People Really Get Sick From a Little Mold in Their House?
- FAQ About Water-Damaged Buildings–Seeing the Big Picture
- The Answer to the Mold Illness Questions Is: All of the Above
- Not All Mold Remediation Is The Same
- Mold Testing: The Old, The New, The Useful
- Medical Evidence that Connects Mold Exposure to Illness Keeps Piling Up
Black Mold Infographic Summary
— Valor Mold (@ValorMold) July 13, 2016