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Mold 101: The spores plaguing Wilmington's housing authority can cause infections, allergic reactions, and asthma

Kimberly Lamberth - POD photo 3.jpg
Kimberly Lamberth
When Kimberly Lamberth opened up the POD filled with her sister's every possession, she was shocked by the amount of mold. But the POD sat in the summer heat for months while her sister waited in a hotel room for her apartment to get repaired.

Mold has ousted 78 families from their homes in the Wilmington Housing Authority. But why is mold such a big deal?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says mold can cause asthma and allergies, and may cause lung infections in immunocompromised people. There aren’t clearly set standards for acceptable mold levels within a home, but generally the levels of spores in the air and on surfaces indoors are compared to levels outdoors in the same region, to determine whether that household is getting higher levels of exposure than the baseline.

Not all mold types are equally dangerous, but WHQR reviewed mold tests conducted by Phoenix EnviroCorp within WHA apartments, and several unhealthy varieties of mold are found in the buildings.

For example, Erieka Lamberth’s apartment in the Woodbridge development had “elevated airborne mold spore levels and surface mold growth,” including the variety Chaetomium. That variety is considered allergenic and has been associated with peritonitis, a possibly life-threatening inflammation of the abdominal wall and organs.

It can also cause skin lesions and system mycosis — or fungal infections of internal organis, like the lungs or sinuses.

Cladosporium, also found in Lamberth’s mold report, causes asthma, skin lesions, eye ulceration, and fungal infections, including of finger and toenails. Sonya Muldrow’s apartment in Creekwood tested for high levels of cladosporium, and may help explain why she is having problems with her feet.

“Mold causes fungus in your toenails,” Muldrow said. “I've been going to the podiatrist, I have the medicine. He can't figure out why it's not healing.” She’s received two prescriptions to deal with the fungal infection, and it still isn’t resolved. But the floors of her Creekwood apartment are rife with mold, and she believes that’s the cause.

Other mold strains that have been found in WHA apartments are tied with tissue swelling and respiratory symptoms like coughing and wheezing, and still others may cause headaches, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Mold is more dangerous for those who are sensitive to it, and they may have allergy-like symptoms when exposed to mold. Others with limited immune systems may experience more severe side effects. Exposure to mold can even cause or worsen asthma in some individuals.

Mold has driven 78 families who live in public housing from their homes, and forced them to live in hotels. For more on the mold problem and its side effects, click here.

Kelly Kenoyer is an Oregonian transplant new to the East Coast. She attended University of Oregon’s School of Journalism as an undergraduate, and later received a Master’s in Journalism from University of Missouri- Columbia. Contact her on Twitter @Kelly_Kenoyer or by email: KKenoyer@whqr.org.