Have you ever wondered who discovered mold?
The history behind stachybotrys chartarum, black mold’s scientific name, is actually quite fascinating.
In this post, we’ll explain how mold was discovered, the ways it has impacted building codes we know today and the health impacts black mold has on human health.
A Brief Introduction to Black Mold
We have existed alongside stachybotrys chartarum or black mold as long as we’ve been here on earth and it serves an important environmental function – the biodegradation of natural materials.
When we die, we need organisms like mold to return our bodies to the ground, but as living beings, our bodies have a very strong and natural aversion to the substances that decay things.
Exposure to toxic black mold wreaks havoc on our immune system and the dangers associated with toxic black mold predate our modern understanding of health and illness.
Here is a brief history of black mold throughout the ages.
Black Mold Was First Recorded in Biblical Times
At first glance, the Old Testament Book of Leviticus in the Holy Bible might seem like a long set of arbitrary rules for the Hebrews, but it actually contained very practical laws that intended to control disease and benefit the health of God’s chosen people.
Chapter 14 of the Book of Leviticus provides specific instructions for toxic black mold remediation. Any stone in a house with a “defiling” mold on it needed to be removed from the home and taken far away from civilization, and the family who lived in the home as well as their guests were instructed to bathe thoroughly.
If mold continued to grow in the home, the Law required it to be torn down.
This demonstrates that even before modern science had linked mold exposure to specific human illnesses, the people of ancient times knew that it was harmful.
So, if you were ever curious about who discovered black mold, it was God’s chosen people of Israel.
Toxic Black Mold Was Discovered In Eastern Europe
Now, in modern day terms, the person who gets credit for discovering toxic black mold is August Carl Joseph Corda.
Corda was the first Czech to describe toxic black mold in 1837, after he found it on the wall of a home in Prague.
Then, in the 1920s horses and other farm animals in Ukraine and other parts of Eastern Europe started rapidly dying from a new disease that caused complications in the nervous system and extreme bleeding.
Thousands of horses died mysteriously until 1938, when Russian scientists discovered that toxic black mold from the animals’ wet feed and hay was the culprit.
At that time, the disease was given the name stachybotryotoxicosis.
It wasn’t until about 30 years later that the actual toxin was found, trichothecene satratoxin, which is a mycotoxin that is produced by the mold. Stachybotrys chartarum became the classified name for the physical mold, while stachybotryotoxicosis is the poisoning aspect of the fungus.
From there, scientists began to study black mold and our modern understanding of its toxicity started to develop.
In 1940s, the first reports of humans developing disease from exposure to toxic black mold began to surface in Russia. Farm workers who handled the same contaminated feed that was causing disease in farm animals began showing similar symptoms like bleeding, fever, fatigue, and respiratory inflammation. People who ate the contaminated grain were also being affected and show different symptoms, such as diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain. Some people even died from the disease.
Building Code Changes Cause An Increase In Mold Exposure Indoors
Though toxic black mold had been documented throughout human history, until the mid-1940s reported problems had always been associated with agricultural. Not much was known about what causes mold in homes.
As a need developed for less expensive construction materials, drywall quickly replaced plaster as the interior wall material of choice. Drywall is easy to install and finish, and inexpensive to replace or repair. It is still the most common material used for walls in new construction today.
Unfortunately, drywall attracts mold growth. The gypsum it is constructed of absorbs water very easily but dries very slow, while its paper layers further spreads the growth of toxic mold. When drywall gets wet, mold growth can occur in less than two days.
In the 1970s, new building codes once again led to an increase in indoor mold problems. Because of the energy crisis, new construction had to be airtight. Ventilation suffered, causing the moist air pockets that toxic black mold growth thrives in to remain trapped in modern buildings.
In addition, the lack of ventilation common in today’s homes increases the amount of exposure a human living there will receive to an existing amount of mold. In a well ventilated home, uncontaminated air from the outside cuts down on the number of mold particles its occupants are exposed to. In a modern, airtight home, the same toxic mold particles continue to circulate throughout the structure.
The use of building materials which are more susceptible to molding, paired with the cheap, rapid home construction that became common during the housing boom and the energy-saving construction methods of modern buildings, have caused indoor toxic mold problems to become much more common.
Back when buildings were constructed of mold-resistant brick, stone and plaster, indoor outbreaks of toxic black mold were uncommon and less severe. This was due to the fact that because these environments lacked the raw materials that black mold thrives on.
Toxic Black Mold Diseases Found in Humans
When Russian scientists linked the death of horses and farm animals to stachybotryotoxicosis, studies continued and an increasing amount of information about its toxicity surfaced. Yet, indoor toxic black mold infestations were not linked to diseases in humans until 1986.
A Chicago family started to receive attention after developing symptoms of stachybotryotoxicosis. When the family’s home was tested, black mold spores were found in its building materials, as well as airborne mycotoxins in the air, which had already been proven to be highly toxic to animals.
During the home investigation, a moisture problem related to the home’s construction had been discovered, which gave the black mold the perfect environment to thrive.
Though toxic black mold had not previously been associated with health problems in humans, the home underwent mold remediation anyways. Immediately after the mold infestation was removed, the family began to see significant improvement in their health.
In the early 1990’s, health problems associated with toxic black mold became a spotlight issue once again after almost 30 infants whose homes had experienced flooding developed a life-threatening pulmonary disease in Ohio. A subsequent home investigation determined that every home that the infants lived in had toxic black mold growing in it.
Since then, research has increased dramatically, and mold exposure has been linked to most cases of chronic sinusitis, as well as over a quarter of asthma cases. Mold infestation has even been correlated with depression.
Black Mold Problems Today
Toxic black mold continues to affect agriculture and livestock, though modern harvests are treated with binding agents to remove mold spores and mycotoxins before consumption.
Indoor spaces contaminated with toxic black mold are still an ever-increasing modern problem, which the media continues to report on. Some houses affected by toxic mold have needed to be burnt down. Today, toxic black mold is one of the most common causes of “sick building syndrome”, which is a building where occupants experience acute health issues.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), one third to one half of all buildings have damp conditions that encourage the development of mold. The EPA conducted a joint study withe the Berkeley National Laboratory and found that mold issues increase the risk of a person developing respiratory issues between 30 to 50%. Of the 21.8 million people who have documented cases of asthma in the United States, about 4.6 million of those are attributed to mold exposure inside their dwellings.
Fortunately, we are armed with more information and better mold remediation techniques than ever before. You can keep yourself and your family safe from toxic black mold. By keeping your home clean and dry, fix any leaking pipes, ensuring that water doesn’t collect around the foundation and using an indoor air purifier, you can prevent any serious health problems related to mold from occurring.
An air purifier is one of the safest solutions during a remediation problem, as well as for preventative use. A specially designed air purifying machine operates by zapping and destroying the DNA makeup of airborne mold spores. This essentially makes the fungus harmless to your health.
Devices such as these also contain a HEPA filter that traps any remaining mold spores from the air and prevents them from reentering your breathing zone.
To find out more how this inexpensive product can keep you healthy, take a look at our other article that explains everything you need to know about choosing an air purifier for mold spores and smell.