26 August 1998

Living With Toadstools Is Hazardous to Your Health

A study by Texas Tech Medical Center researchers has pinpointed two fungi as possible causes for sick building syndrome.

The study, published in the September issue of the British journal, Occupational and Enviormental Medicine, is a major step toward solving the riddle of sick building syndrome. Sick building syndrome's symptoms include breathing difficulties, headaches, flu-like symptoms, watering eyes, and allergic rhinitis.

In the study, Texas Tech Medical Center researchers Danny Cooley, William Wong, Cynthia Jumper, M.D., and David Straus, Ph.D., analyzed the indoor and outdoor air quality of 48 U.S. schools where complaints had been made about air quality and where respiratory problems were common. More than half of the school occupants who responded to researcher queries complained of increased levels of respiratory infections such as tonsillitis, bronchitis, and pneumonia.

In the complaint areas, the study found that two types of fungi - Penicillium and Stachybotrys - were significantly more common in indoor air and building surfaces. A high prevalence of Penicillium molds was found in 25 schools. In 11 schools in areas of high humidity, Stachybotrys molds were found under damp carpets, walls, and under vinyl wall coverings. These spores can enter the upper and lower-respiratory tract, causing respiratory problems.

Straus said the findings are significant in treating sick building syndrome, which was first recognized in 1982. "Now that the organisms found in connection with sick building syndrome have been identified, we should be able to find them, eliminate them, and restore buildings to healthier conditions," Straus said.