During burley curing, a small amount of mold always grows on the curing leaf, and it’s no big deal. Some years, though, temperature and humidity conditions are just right for mold growth, and in those years, mold populations can intensify, jeopardizing growers’ health and safety.
Small fungi that feed on dead and decaying plant matter, molds reproduce by manufacturing millions of microscopic spores that function as the molds’ seeds. Spores can be less than 10 percent the diameter of a human hair—too minuscule to see with the human eye. Their small size often makes them airborne, and spores float around in the atmosphere like dust. A low concentration of mold spores is present almost everywhere, indoors and out, in every breath we take, and usually doesn’t bother us. However, when mold grows in enclosed areas like curing barns and stripping rooms, the concentration of spores in the air can increase to a much, much higher level—a level high enough to harm us.
Inhaling high concentrations of mold spores can be risky business. Spores can contribute to allergies and asthma, especially in those who are already sensitive. Even worse, two medical conditions are specifically caused by breathing in dust and mold spores: One is called organic dust toxic syndrome (ODTS), and the other is hypersensitivity pneumonitis, also known as farmer’s lung or tobacco worker’s lung.
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