Hurricane molds

  • By Nik Money
  • 11 Sep, 2017

Reasonable and unreasonable concerns about indoor mold

Storm damage comes in many forms. Outbreaks of black mold in flooded properties will be among the more insidious consequences of the hurricane season. The internet is abuzz with commentaries on this phenomenon and much of it is misinformed nonsense. Here is the truth. Microorganisms of many stripes will always flourish in water-damaged homes. Fungi, including species with jet-black pigmentation, are among the easiest to recognize as they speckle walls and damage carpeting and upholstery. After a few days of mold development the smell is unmistakable too and reason enough to get rid of the fungus. The potential health impact is a more important cause for concern and this is where the confusion begins. Mold exposure is a serious issue because it is a proven stimulus of asthma and other allergic illnesses. With asthma affecting 25 million Americans and its involvement in more than 3,000 deaths every year, this needs to be taken very seriously. Contact with the molds growing on walls and carpets comes via the inhalation of microscopic spores that carry irritating proteins on their surface. This causes histamine release in the lungs and results in airway constriction.

The spores of a minority of mold species carry powerful toxins, which raises the possibility that they may play a role in other illnesses. Tissue damage caused by these mycotoxins has been documented in livestock exposed to massive numbers of fungal spores, but similar conditions are unlikely to develop in a flooded home. Some investigators concluded that cases of lung bleeding in infants in Cleveland, Ohio, in the 1990s, were caused by the inhalation of black mold spores. This possibility, however remote, helps sustain internet gossip implicating mold in depression, memory loss, organ failure, brain damage, and cancer.

Given the seriousness of asthma, drying and cleaning materials that become covered with mold is important. Some of this can be done by homeowners themselves following the clear instructions offered by the EPA:

https://www.epa.gov/mold/floods-and-mold-growth  

More significant damage to a property requires the removal and replacement of carpets, furniture, and drywall. This can be a very costly business, but people should be very wary of claims made about “toxic black mold” and expensive remediation services that offer anything more than fixing the spoiled fabric of a property. A detailed inventory of the species of microorganisms in a basement will not help a family recover their home.

We need to get better at this. Hurricanes and mold spores are going to become more problematic as the planet warms. Models of climate change predict an increase in the frequency of major storms and there is nothing that fungi love more than a warm bath.

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By Nik Money 11 Sep, 2017

Storm damage comes in many forms. Outbreaks of black mold in flooded properties will be among the more insidious consequences of the hurricane season. The internet is abuzz with commentaries on this phenomenon and much of it is misinformed nonsense. Here is the truth. Microorganisms of many stripes will always flourish in water-damaged homes. Fungi, including species with jet-black pigmentation, are among the easiest to recognize as they speckle walls and damage carpeting and upholstery. After a few days of mold development the smell is unmistakable too and reason enough to get rid of the fungus. The potential health impact is a more important cause for concern and this is where the confusion begins. Mold exposure is a serious issue because it is a proven stimulus of asthma and other allergic illnesses. With asthma affecting 25 million Americans and its involvement in more than 3,000 deaths every year, this needs to be taken very seriously. Contact with the molds growing on walls and carpets comes via the inhalation of microscopic spores that carry irritating proteins on their surface. This causes histamine release in the lungs and results in airway constriction.

The spores of a minority of mold species carry powerful toxins, which raises the possibility that they may play a role in other illnesses. Tissue damage caused by these mycotoxins has been documented in livestock exposed to massive numbers of fungal spores, but similar conditions are unlikely to develop in a flooded home. Some investigators concluded that cases of lung bleeding in infants in Cleveland, Ohio, in the 1990s, were caused by the inhalation of black mold spores. This possibility, however remote, helps sustain internet gossip implicating mold in depression, memory loss, organ failure, brain damage, and cancer.

Given the seriousness of asthma, drying and cleaning materials that become covered with mold is important. Some of this can be done by homeowners themselves following the clear instructions offered by the EPA:

https://www.epa.gov/mold/floods-and-mold-growth  

More significant damage to a property requires the removal and replacement of carpets, furniture, and drywall. This can be a very costly business, but people should be very wary of claims made about “toxic black mold” and expensive remediation services that offer anything more than fixing the spoiled fabric of a property. A detailed inventory of the species of microorganisms in a basement will not help a family recover their home.

We need to get better at this. Hurricanes and mold spores are going to become more problematic as the planet warms. Models of climate change predict an increase in the frequency of major storms and there is nothing that fungi love more than a warm bath.
By Nik Money 25 May, 2017

Considered with the kind of objective methods employed by biologists to describe other animals, humans emerge as a most peculiar kind of primate. Our babies seem no smarter than other apes, but by the time we are toddlers the differences are profound. The descended position of the larynx along with other anatomical and neurological adaptations have allowed us to develop sophisticated communication methods ranging from our original African languages of clicking sounds to the extended vocal range required for “Muzetta’s Waltz” from La Boheme . Besides these, and other, biomechanical characteristics, attempts at an holistic description of Homo sapiens embrace our recurring cultural habits of agriculture, politics, trade, materialism, warfare, art, science, and religion.

The IUCN Red List places Homo sapiens in the conservation category of “Least Concern,” and offers the following justification: Listed as Least Concern as the species is very widely distributed, adaptable, currently increasing, and there are no major threats resulting in an overall population decline. The durability of this assessment should be considered along with this excerpt from a Latin description of our species that may be adopted by extraterrestrial taxonomists that visit earth in the twenty-second century: Homo sapiens: illa simiae species Africana ab origine quae adeo orbem pervastavit terrarum ut ipsa extincta fiat.   Or, Homo sapiens: species of ape of African origin that devastated the biosphere and thereby drove its own extinction.


By Nik Money 16 May, 2017

More than 70,000 species of fungi have been described by fungal biologists, or mycologists, and given Latin names. The pace of new descriptions and the discovery of the genetic signatures of unknown species of fungi in soil and in insect guts, suggest that the real number of species may run above one million. Zoologists have recorded around 70,000 vertebrates and half of these are fish. The IUCN lists 1,601 of these animals as critically endangered, but just two fungi. Many of the fungi studied by mycologists are very widespread, which means that they are unlikely to face extinction any time soon. Other fungi are so poorly studied that we have no way to judge their vulnerability. The white ferula mushroom, Pleurotus nebrodensis, is the only mushroom on the critical list; the other fungus is a lichen.

White ferula mushrooms grow in an area of 100 square kilometers in the northern part of Sicily and nowhere else. This prized edible fungus has been picked for centuries and alarmingly few fruit bodies reach maturity before they are gathered today. The IUCN listing of Pleurotus has helped activists to introduce regulations against picking the mushroom in Sicily. The white ferula mushroom gets its common name from its association with the roots of a plant in the celery family called Cachrys ferulacea. This symbiotic relationship, called a mycorrhiza, supports the fungus and the plant. Sicilian biologists are inoculating Cachrys roots with the fungus to establish more of the fruiting colonies. Conservation by farming the endangered mushroom is comparable to breeding rhinos and tigers in zoos.

Update: Pleurotus nebrodensis was listed as Critically Endangered in 2006. Two additional species received this ignominious award in 2015: Bridgeoporus nobilissimus, bracket fungus that lives on fir trees in old growth forests, and Destuntzia rubra, a truffle. Both species have been decimated by habitat loss in the Pacific Coast of the United States. The only other fungi on the critical list are a pair of lichens.

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