LEARN MORE ABOUT HOW MOLD CAN EFFECT YOUR HEALTH
Molds are part of the natural environment. Molds are fungi that can be found anywhere - inside or outside - throughout the year. About 1,000 species of mold can be found in the United States, with more than 100,000 known species worldwide.
Outdoors, molds play an important role in nature by breaking down organic matter such as toppled trees, fallen leaves, and dead animals. We would not have food and medicines, like cheese and penicillin, without mold.
Indoors, mold growth should be avoided. Problems may arise when mold starts eating away at materials, affecting the look, smell, and possibly, with the respect to wood-framed buildings, affecting the structural integrity of the buildings.
Molds can grow on virtually any substance, as long as moisture or water, oxygen, and an organic source are present. Molds reproduce by creating tiny spores (viable seeds) that usually cannot be seen without magnification. Mold spores continually float through the indoor and outdoor air.
Molds are usually not a problem unless mold spores land on a damp spot and begin growing. They digest whatever they land on in order to survive. There are molds that grow on wood, paper, carpet, foods and insulation, while other molds feast on the everyday dust and dirt that gather in the moist regions of a building.
When excessive moisture or water accumulates indoors, mold growth often will occur, particularly if the moisture problem remains uncorrected. While it is impossible to eliminate all molds and mold spores, controlling moisture can control indoor mold growth.
All molds share the characteristic of being able to grow without sunlight; mold needs only a viable seed (spore), a nutrient source, moisture, and the right temperature to proliferate. This explains why mold infestation is often found in damp, dark, hidden spaces. Light and air circulation dry areas out, making them less hospitable for mold.
Molds gradually damage building materials and furnishings. If left unchecked, mold can eventually cause structural damage to a wood framed building, weakening floors and walls as it feeds on moist wooden structural members. If you suspect that mold has damaged building integrity, consult a structural engineer or other professional with the appropriate expertise.
Since mold requires water to grow, it is important to prevent excessive moisture in buildings. Some moisture problems in buildings have been linked to changes in building construction practices since the 1970s, which resulted in tightly sealed buildings with diminished ventilation, contributing to moisture vapor buildup. Other moisture problems may result from roof leaks, landscaping or gutters that direct water into or under a building, or combustion appliance that is not ventilated. Delayed or insufficient maintenance may contribute to moisture problems in buildings. Improper maintenance and design of building heating/ventilating/air-conditioning (HVAC) systems, such as insufficient cooling capacity for an air conditioning system, can result in elevated humidity levels in a building.
Currently, there are no federal standards or recommendations, (e.g., OSHA, NIOSH, EPA) for airborne concentrations of mold or mold spores. Scientific research on the relationship between mold exposures and health effects is ongoing. This section provides a brief overview, but does not describe all potential health effects related to mold exposure. For more detailed information, consult a health professional or your state or local health department.
There are many types of mold. Most typical indoor air exposures to mold do not present a risk of adverse health effects. Molds can cause adverse effects by producing allergens (substances that can cause allergic reactions). Potential health concerns are important reasons to prevent mold growth and to remediate (remove and clean-up) existing problem areas.
The onset of allergic reactions to mold can be either immediate or delayed. Allergic responses include hay fever-type symptoms such as runny nose and red eyes.
Molds may cause localized skin or mucosal infections but, in general, do not cause systemic infections in humans, except for persons with impaired immunity, AIDS, uncontrolled diabetes, or those taking immune suppressive drugs. An important reference with guidelines for immuno-compromised individuals can be found at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website (http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owaredirect.html?p_url=http://www.cdc.gov).
Molds can also cause asthma attacks in some individuals who are allergic to mold. In addition, exposure to mold can irritate the eyes, skin, nose and throat in certain individuals. Symptoms other than allergic and irritant types are not commonly reported as a result of inhaling mold in the indoor environment.
Some specific species of mold produce mycotoxins under certain environmental conditions. Potential health effects from mycotoxins are the subject of ongoing scientific research and are beyond the scope of this document.
Eating, drinking, and using tobacco products and cosmetics where mold remediation is taking place should be avoided. This will prevent unnecessary contamination of food, beverage, cosmetics, and tobacco products by mold and other harmful substances within the work area.
Moisture control is the key to mold control. When water leaks or spills occur indoors - act promptly. Any initial water infiltration should be stopped and cleaned promptly. A prompt response (within 24-48 hours) and thorough clean- up, drying, and/or removal of water-damaged materials will prevent or limit mold growth.
Mold prevention tips include:
- Repairing plumbing leaks and leaks in the building structure as soon as possible.
- Looking for condensation and wet spots. Fix source(s) of moisture incursion problem(s) as soon as possible.
- Preventing moisture from condensing by increasing surface temperature or reducing the moisture level in the air (humidity). To increase surface temperature, insulate or increase air circulation. To reduce the moisture level in the air, repair leaks, increase ventilation (if outside air is cold and dry), or dehumidify (if outdoor air is warm and humid).
- Keeping HVAC drip pans clean, flowing properly, and unobstructed.
- Performing regularly scheduled building/ HVAC inspections and maintenance, including filter changes.
- Maintaining indoor relative humidity below 70% (25 - 60%, if possible).
- Venting moisture-generating appliances, such as dryers, to the outside where possible.
- Venting kitchens (cooking areas) and bathrooms according to local code requirements.
- Cleaning and drying wet or damp spots as soon as possible, but no more than 48 hours after discovery.
- Providing adequate drainage around buildings and sloping the ground away from building foundations. Follow all local building codes.
- Pinpointing areas where leaks have occurred, identifying the causes, and taking preventive action to ensure that they do not reoccur.
Questions That May Assist in Determining Whether a Mold Problem Currently Exists:
- Are building materials or furnishings visibly moisture damaged?
- Have building materials been wet more than 48 hours?
- Are there any existing moisture problems in the building?
- Are building occupants reporting musty or moldy odors?
- Are building occupants reporting health problems that they think are related to mold in the indoor environment?
- Has the building been recently remodeled or has the building use changed?
- Has routine maintenance been delayed or the maintenance plan been altered?
- Always consider consulting a health professional to address any employee health concerns.
Remediation includes both the identification and correction of the conditions that permit mold growth, as well as the steps to safely and effectively remove mold-damaged materials.
Before planning the remediation assess the extent of the mold or moisture problem and the type of damaged materials. If you choose to hire outside assistance to do the cleanup, make sure the contractor has experience with mold remediation. Check references and ask the contractor to follow the recommendations in EPA’s publication, “Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings,” or other guidelines developed by professional or governmental organizations.
If your company or you as an individual is interested in receiving training to learn more about the health effects of mold, how to get rid of it in your buildings and how to prevent future recurrence, contact Professional Safety Training Services (PSTS), Inc. A courteous individual will inform you as to how you can register for a special Course on “Mold Safety Awareness and Exposure Prevention.” PSTS, Inc. can also help you prepare an effective Remediation Plan.