Science & Tech

Battling toxic molds

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School of Public Health researcher looks into health risks posed by toxic molds

Molds are found in all kinds of environments. Estimates of the number of kinds of molds range from tens of thousands to more than 300,000, with more than 1,000 species known to typically grow indoors, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While many molds appear to be benign to humans — and some, such as the kind that produces penicillin, are beneficial — several species are considered to be potent toxins. Questions raised by molds interest Mike Muilenberg, research associate and instructor in the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard’s School of Public Health. As part of a series of studies on indoor allergens, Muilenberg is looking at the relationship between mold and health. In one project, he and his colleagues are following a group of children as they grow up, measuring their exposures to different allergens and their respiratory health at specific ages. Former doctoral student Paul Stark, who worked on the project, reported in his thesis that there may be a connection between fungal exposure and lower respiratory illness. The data is preliminary. How to combat molds?”You have to solve the moisture problem,” said Muilenberg. “Eliminate whatever is causing surfaces in the home to get wet.”