AUGUST 23, 2014 BY JACKSON KUNG’U
Stachybotrys chartarum or black mold as it’s commonly called by the general public has been associated with numerous health issues some of which have not been scientifically proven. Among the many concerns is that exposure to Stachybotrys chartarum during pregnancy can cause pregnancy loss or stillbirth. This article briefly explains what Stachybotrys chartarum is, how one can get exposed to it, what currently is known about its effect on pregnancy and how one can easily test for this mold.
Colonies of Stachybotrys chartarum
Stachybotrys chartarum is a toxigenic mold often found in buildings with moisture problems. It is a greenish-black mold that grows on materials that contain cellulose such as drywall, wallpaper, cotton fabrics/textiles, cellulose based ceiling tiles, paper products, carpets made of natural fibers, paper covering on insulated pipes, in insulation material, on wood and wood paneling, and on general organic debris, when the material is subject to prolonged wetting. Since it is a slow grower and poorly competes with other indoor molds, Stachybotrys chartarum is seen several months later after the initial water damage.
Exposure to Stachybotrys chartarum
When Stachybotrys chartarum is actively growing, a wet slime covers and holds the spores together, preventing them from becoming airborne. Therefore, inhalational exposure only occur when the mold has dried up and disturbed thus releasing the spores into the air. As such, finding Stachybotrys chartarum in a building does not necessarily mean that the building occupants had been exposed to this mold.
Can exposure to Stachybotrys chartarum affect pregnancy?
A link between inhalational exposure to molds such as Stachybotrys and Aspergillus and pregnancy loss has not been proven. It is very unlikely for the unborn baby to be directly exposed to inhaled spores. However, numerous unreliable reports exist supporting a link between mold toxins (mycotoxins) and pregnancy loss in humans. However, animal studies using mice indicate that mold toxins can disrupt fetal development. For example, oral ingestion of contaminated feed or partially purified toxin of Stachybotrys chartarum was shown to cause a decrease in the number of pregnant mice; an increased frequency in dead, resorbed or stunted fetuses; and decreased average litter size.
While currently there is no scientific evidence supporting that mold exposure during pregnancy can cause miscarriage or stillbirth it doesn’t mean it’s safe to expose yourself. If inhaled in large quantities, spores ofStachybotrys can cause health problems such as allergic reactions similar to hay fever, breathing difficulties, eye irritation, skin rashes and occasionally, more serious symptoms. It is known that people at greatest risk of health effects associated with mold exposure are those with respiratory conditions such allergies, asthma, and sinusitis, as well as infants and children, elderly people, individuals with a weakened immune system and pregnant women.
Testing for Stachybotrys chartarum
Stachybotrys chartarum as seen under a microscope
If any black mold is found in a home or office, it is recommended that it be tested to determine if it is Stachybotrys chartarum. Carefully take a sample by following the steps below:
- Work with a mask or breathing filter and disposable gloves.
- Ensure that no skin is exposed.
- Cut off approximately 2-3 inches long of clear scotch tape.
- Hold tape at one end and place sticky side down onto the surface with visible mold growth and press gently.
- Remove tape and stick it onto a ziplock bag (Do not fold the tape).
- Number each tape and identify the sites sampled. For example:
- Tape 1: Basement, east wall.
- Tape 2: Window sill, master bedroom.
- Tape 3: Ceiling tile, kitchen.
- Enclose samples in an envelope or bag
- Send the sample to a testing laboratory such as Mold & Bacteria Consulting Laboratories.
- D. M. Kuhn and M. A. Ghannoum (2003). Indoor Mold, Toxigenic Fungi, and Stachybotrys chartarum: Infectious Disease Perspective. CLINICAL MICROBIOLOGY REVIEWS, Jan. 2003, p. 144–172
- Korpinen, E.-L. 1974. Studies on Stachybotrys alternans IV. Effect of low doses of stachybotrys toxins on pregnancy of mice. Acta path. microbiol. scand. Sect. B., 82:457-464