Chaetomium is a fungal genus which contains around 80 known species of mold. These molds are among the group of molds which can cause health problems in humans as a result of prolonged exposure, making them of interest to people dealing with mold problems in their homes or in prospective real estate acquisitions. Additional study is needed on Chaetomium fungi to determine how hazardous they are to human health, but evidence would seem to strongly suggest that they are harmful.
These fungi like to live on cellulose, and are found on wood, compost, sheet rock, straw, and similar materials. The fungal colony can take as long as three weeks to mature in a cold environment, producing spores which spread the fungus via the wind. The colony starts out white, turning dark gray to olive when it is mature, with a cottony texture. The spores of Chaetomium fungi have a very distinctive lemon shape which makes them easy to identify, and the fungus has a signature musty odor.
C. globosum is the species most commonly found indoors. This species is of particular interest because it appears to produce mycotoxins, compounds which are detrimental to human health. These fungi have been definitively linked with allergies in people who are sensitive to molds, and they appear to produce mutagenic mycotoxins which interfere with DNA replication in organisms like humans and other animals.
Mutagens can cause long-term damage, especially if they end up in the reproductive tract, where they can cause serious problems for future generations, if not infertility. In the short term, Chaetomium exposure can lead to classic allergy symptoms such as wheezing, runny eyes, and coughing, and the fungi have also been implicated in several cases of severe infections. Chaetomium can cause onychomycosis, or fungal infection of the toenail, and mycotoxic varieties pose a serious threat to human health if they enter the bodies of immunocompromised individuals.
People who think that they have Chaetomium in their home can ask for a test with an air sampling device which will identify the fungus. Ideally, contaminated material should be removed and burned so that the fungus cannot spread, although it is also possible to clean with soap and a bleach rinse in an attempt to kill the fungal spores. Keeping environments dry and warm can also help eliminate fungal infestation, and it is especially important to pay attention to spaces which cannot be seen, such as the area between walls of a home.