While hundreds of different species of microscopic molds with black spores have been catalogued by mycologists, it is Stachybotrys chartarum (pronounced stack-ee-bot-riss chart-are-rum), also known as Stachybotrys atra, is the only one with wide name recognition – Black Mold.
In popular usage, the Latin name Stachybotrys—which means “grapes on a stick”—has become synonymous with black mold (chartarum refers to its growth on paper and atra means black). When wet, Stachybotrys looks greenish black and slimy, but can also look sooty and black. The infamy of this particular fungus is due to its production of poisonous compounds called mycotoxins. Mycotoxins are chemicals that can cause illness in people and animals.
Black Mold Health Effects
Stachybotrys chartarum is the infamous black mold initially associated with respiratory distress and the deaths of infants in Cleveland, Ohio in the 1990′s. It’s been associated with a number of symptoms some of which are highly controversial, including inflammation of the skin, cough, running nose, nose bleeds, a burning sensation in the mouth and nasal passage, cold and flu symptoms, headache, general fatigue, fever and pathological respiratory changes.
Aspergillus niger is dark gray to black, looks dry, and is very different from Stachybotrys. Health effects associated with Aspergillus niger include allergy and infection of the respiratory system especially in individuals with weak immune system.
The “Other” Black Molds
Other molds are usually more prevalent in buildings, and even when Stachybotrys appears, the presence of the toxins is not guaranteed. Another black mold, Aspergillus niger is dark gray to black, looks dry, and is very different from Stachybotrys. Health effects associated with Aspergillus niger include allergy and infection of the respiratory system especially in individuals with weak immune system.
Non-toxic Black Molds
There are many other types of black mold that are not toxic at all, although they could be allergenic. The most common is Cladosporium, which normally has no known toxic side effects. Cladosporium is common both inside and outside. Most of us come in contact with Cladosporium every day with no ill effect at all. Symptoms from heavy exposure are usually an increase in allergy and asthma symptoms.
Other molds that may appear black include Alternaria, Aureobasidium, Dresclera, Pithomyces, Stemphylium and Ulocladium. None of these are known to produce highly potent mycotoxins; therefore, none of these are toxic molds but some such as Alternaria can cause severe allergy symptoms.