I received my semi-annual proof of auto insurance cards yesterday. As is custom, inside the envelope is a sheet of addendums to the coverage. This one contains two specific policy exceptions that seem juxtaposed: fungi and radiation.
I could joke that this means I’m no longer covered by automobile losses caused by radioactive mushrooms. Radation I can understand, but fungi? My interest was piqued because the actuaries think it’s significant enough of a risk to call it out as an exception.
So, without further ado, it’s time for a little Fungi 101…
Fungi are one of the five kingdoms of living things. If you remember, biology 101, those are: animals, plants, monera (bacteria, blue-green algae), protista (amoebas), and fungi. Fungi are a lot like plants, except they lack chlorophyll and, therefore, cannot manufacture their own food by photosynthesis. More on that in a moment.
Fungi are ubiquitous in the environment and, by some estimates, make up over 85% of the organic biomass in soil. I point this out because killing fungi is not something taken lightly: it soon becomes a scorched earth policy. Some fungi are very useful, like the crimini mushrooms on my pizza, the yeast used to ferment beer or leaven bread, mold in cheeses and penicillin.
Some are bad like jock itch and athlete’s foot, hallucinogenic mushrooms and anthrax. Somewhere in the middle are corn smut — a hazard for farmers, a delicacy to some.
As a general rule, fungi love dark, damp places where there is decaying organic material. (Hint: the wood, sheetrock, carpeting and fabric in your home could be vulnerable.) They “eat” by secreting enzymes to break down complex compounds into simpler compounds that are then absorbed by the fungi and digested. The digested nutrients are called metabolites. Primary metabolites consist of cellulose and other compounds that are used for energy to grow and reproduce.
Secondary metabolites, called mycotoxins, are produced to give fungi a competitive edge against other microorganisms, including other fungi. There are over one hundred recognized mycotoxins, and many which are harmful to humans and animals when inhaled, ingested or brought into contact with human skin. (There is some debate on the true threat of mycotoxins, however. Regardless, 10% of the population and 40% of those with asthma is significant.) There have been frequent reports in the news about black mold in homes.
Now, apparently, there is a perceived hazard to automobiles.