Remember my neighbor who was throwing up every time she went to visit her apartment in New York? After several weeks, she returned. The doorbell rang and there she was. “Some of your mail ended up at our house,” she said by way of greeting.
She handed me the errant envelop but underneath it I spied a lab report. “So, you got back the mold test results?” I ventured.
“Yes, and they were very bad,” she frowned handing me them to me. “Apparently, the counts are high enough to make the occupants sick. That would be me.”
Glancing over the results, l saw the level of aspergillus was moderately high in the kitchen but off the charts in the bedroom. Aspergillus is the genus name for a group of 200 some species of mold. Most of them are harmless or even useful. For example, one species is used to turn soybeans into soy sauce. Others can decompose plastic. I can think of a few landfills that might be able to benefit from an Aspergillus invasion rather than waiting 10,000 years for the mountains of plastic bottles to breakdown on their own.
Around 20 or so of Aspergillus species cause illness. The most common symptoms of exposure are chest pain, fever, cough and trouble breathing but vomiting is also a less frequent but known symptom. My neighbor had the sudden vomiting episodes whenever she visited the apartment.
“So, what are you going to do?” I asked tentatively. Correcting mold in apartment buildings can be tricky. Often the problem extends beyond one unit and getting a condominium association involved can get messy. In addition, once discovered, mold issues may have to be disclosed before selling a house or remediation proof provided.
“Well, it turns out there is a problem with the air conditioning system and they are replacing all of the units. They have not gotten to ours yet.” She explained. “ I am hoping that will take care of it.”
An old air conditioning unit could be the problem. Aspergillus mold can be found literally wherever there is water or dampness. An old, malfunctioning air conditioning system would certainly qualify as a mold breeder. I would have been tempted to avoid the apartment until the work was done and then retest. My neighbor seemed content just knowing the source of the problem and addressing it over time. She was tied up with other family issues and her husband was unaffected by the problem.
This is a common and fascinating phenomena; several people living in an infected home but only some of them getting sick. I always wonder if the injury being done to the person without symptoms is just attributed to something else later and/or they are truly unaffected. Maybe they have a super mold resistant gene. Since the most adaptive people survive best, in the future, the ability to withstand mold will be the gene to have.
People always think of cockroaches as being the ultimate survival organism but molds are far more resilient. I remarked to Tania, my assistant, that if molds were competing with cockroaches for adaptability, the molds would win hands down. They have already adapted to global temperature shifts and as a result are more virulent and toxic to people. “I think the cockroaches would win,” Tania remarked, “unless aliens were involved. Then they would win, “ she snickered. Sometimes, I don’t think she takes my work very seriously.