Mold and Building Occupants’ Health
By John Capponi
Scientific research has linked toxic mold (fungi) found in the indoor environment with ill health of building occupants. In 1993 the New York City Department of Health developed “Guidelines on Assessment and Remediation of Stachybotrys Atra in Indoor Environments” to establish policies for medical and environmental evaluation and remediation of fungal contaminated buildings. The news media frequently reports stories of building occupants who develop severe asthma and allergies after flooding where materials, i.e. ceiling tiles, drywall, wallpaper, carpet, books, and other organic materials experience water damage. The risk to building occupants and cleanup workers is increased when there is visible mold contamination.
Mold plays a positive role in nature by helping to break down organic matter that are present both indoors and outdoors. There are at least 1,000 common species of mold in the United States. The most common species of mold found in the indoor environment are Cladosporium, Penicillium, and Aspergillus. These species will grow where favorable conditions exist, such as a dark and damp environment where an organic food source is available.
Exposure to high levels of mold is not healthy for building occupants. Individuals at greater risk for adverse health effects are the elderly, infants and children, immune compromised people, pregnant women, and individuals with existing respiratory conditions such as allergies, multiple chemical sensitivity, and asthma. Allergic reactions may be the most common health related problem of mold exposure.
Fungi (mold) secrete enzymes into their food source, nonliving organic material, to break down complex compounds into simpler compounds that can be digested and used for energy to grow and reproduce. Mycotoxins are produced during digestion to inhibit or prevent the growth of other microorganisms and can be found both in living and dead fungi. Exposure to mycotoxins can present a greater health hazard than the mold.
Health problems are primarily caused when mold spores enter the air. Many of the dangerous mold spores and particles are invisible and can become airborne when disturbed by mechanical air movement, cleaning, or demolition activities. When large numbers of spores are inhaled through the mouth or nose deep into the lungs, they can interact with the human tissue and blood system and result in serious health problems. Contact with moldy surfaces can cause skin irritation and ingestion can cause serious food poisoning.
A thorough cleaning and abatement of moldy building materials and personal property are necessary to prevent building occupants from developing allergies or other health related complications. After the remediation process is completed, the building must be dried to an acceptable level to prevent recontamination. The goals are: 1) achieve a level of cleaning and abatement that is satisfactory for the building owner, 2) return the building to pre-loss condition, 3) protect the building occupants’ health and safety,
4) deliver a cost-effective remediation solution.
Guidelines for the assessment and remediation of indoor mold contamination have been established by the New York City Health Department and the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation. These procedures are based on modern research, best professional judgments, and job-site performance. Proper identification and remediation of mold contamination requires visual inspection, microbial sampling, cleanup, and containment strategies. To prevent a question regarding conflict of interest for the remediation company it is recommended that an independent industrial hygienists or environmental services professional collect mold samples to confirm what types of fungal species are present, and assist in the preparing a remediation and containment protocol. This protocol follows guidelines similar to those used for hazardous waste cleanup of asbestos and lead.
Microbial contamination is a health and safety concern if cleanup and drying are not accomplished quickly. Competent and certified service companies familiar with the precautionary measures required for protecting property and the health and safety of the building occupants should perform the remediation. Clean water floods that are properly dried out within 48 hours generally do not require extensive demolition of porous building materials and containment procedures.
A building suffering from fungal contamination is not a safe environment. The occupants should be evacuated when significant visible mold colonization is diagnosed and returned only when the building is cleared for re-occupancy.
Mold and Building Occupants’ Health require remediation strategies that should be job-site specific, take into account the type, square footage of visible mold, the sensitivities of the building occupants, how close they are to the work area, the quantity of airborne mold during demolition and cleaning. A mold remediation strategy should address the following ten areas: 1) temporary relocation of occupants; 2) protection of contents; 3) HVAC protection or remediation; 4) containment (local or maximum); 5) scope of work beyond the immediate work area; 6) demolition, debris removal and decontamination procedures; 7) negative pressurization of work area; 8) worker personal protection plan; 9) building dry-down; and 10) reconstruction requirements.
Buildings contaminated by visual mold are very expensive to restore to pre-loss condition. When water damage occurs in a building, time is critical. Mold begins to germinate within twelve to twenty-four hours. Fortunately, most water damages do not require the mold contamination protocol that we have discussed in this issue.
When water damage is detected early and a professional restoration contractor provides the mitigation procedures quickly, the conditions for mold growth can be eliminated. Please contact our office, via telephone or website, if you would like more information on the cause and effects of mold and the remediation options available.
1) Health and Safety Hazards of Fungi, Mold and Microbials, Cleaning & Restoration Magazine, February 1998. Eckardt Johanning, MD and Phil Morey, PhD.
2) Mold Revisited, A Rebuttal, Cleaning & Restoration Magazine, July 1998. Ed Light, CIH, Ronald Gots, MD.
3) Toxic Mold Remediation, Cleaning & Restoration Magazine, February 1997, John Terranova, CR.
3) Guidelines On Assessment and Remediation of Stachybotrys Atra in Indoor Environments, New York City Department of Health, May 7, 1993.
4) Microbiology Associated with Water Damage, IICRC Draft, October 1998.
5) Studies on Fungi in Air-Conditioned Buildings in A Humid Climate, Proceedings of the International Conference, Saratoga Springs, NY, October 6-7, 1994.