With an estimated 11 million people and nine Midwestern states impacted by the floods, the severe weather preceding them, or both, toxic mold questions have assumed new significance. A reading of the US Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) mold concerns quickly helps one appreciate why.
According to an EPA website last updated April 30th: 'Many symptoms and human health effects attributed to inhalation of mycotoxins have been reported including: mucous membrane irritation, skin rash, nausea, immune system suppression, acute or chronic liver damage, acute or chronic central nervous system damage, endocrine effects, and cancer.' The EPA added, 'it is clearly prudent to avoid exposure to molds and mycotoxins,' and so performed an exercise in what should be obvious, but sometimes apparently is not.
Posing a dilemma for flood victims, some of those within the medical community have strongly downplayed toxic mold's dangers. One highly circulated pronouncement - in a text specifically aimed at flood victims - reassured: '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.' But there seems to be a problem with this.
Published research exists which directly contradicts such statements, with even the EPA's just cited warning specifically mentioning the 'inhalation of mycotoxins.' It's been repeatedly found that mycotoxins can be airborne, inhaled, and are dangerous, with research also indicating that mold can pose dangers to 'immunocompetent,' healthy, individuals.
In 2004 a study conducted by scientists with the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, is believed to be the first which revealed that 'mycotoxins can become airborne.' The study, published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, concluded by noting the work 'may have important implications for indoor air quality assessment.'
Another landmark 2004 study, titled 'Adverse Health Effects of Indoor Molds,' compiled by researchers from leading institutions including Harvard University and the University of Illinois at Chicago, concluded that exposure to high levels of mold can induce 'injury to and dysfunction of multiple organs and systems' among normal, 'immunocompetent,' healthy individuals. Notably, the study specifically attributed the potential for 'hemorrhaging disorders' to mycotoxin exposure, an issue the EPA has also raised.
The EPA maintains a web page titled 'Children's Health Initiative: Toxic Mold.' As part of the 'Background' section, the EPA cites an incident where: 'A cluster of cases of acute pulmonary hemorrhage/hemosiderosis was reported in Cleveland, Ohio, where 27 infants from homes that suffered flood damage became sick (nine deaths) with the illness starting in January 1993.'
While the case the EPA cites is yet vigorously debated, it is widely known that attempts to remediate mold problems, without the use of a respirator, have produced nosebleeds among those so engaged.
Independent findings subsequent to 2004 led some leading researchers to declare levels of mycotoxins in mold affected structures as 'several hundred' times higher than previously thought. Such a circumstance would seem to readily lend itself to a better appreciat