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Issues Caused by Mold and Related Agents
There has been increasing publicity in the last several years regarding indoor exposure to mold. The public has become increasingly cognizant of the fact that mold can cause a variety of adverse health effects and symptoms including allergies.
Guidelines provide the contractor who has been hired to remediate the mold problem with measures to protect the health of both building occupants and the remediators. By thoroughly reading these materials, it will help the remediator evaluate an action plan.
Mold does destroy the items it grows on. It is important to prevent damage to building materials and furnishing, save money, and avoid potential health risks by controlling and eliminating mold growth.
What Are Some Problems Mold Can Cause?
About Mold and Mold Problems
Mold can be found virtually everywhere. It can grow on almost any organic substance as long as moisture and oxygen are present. Many types of mold grow on wood, paper, carpet, food, and insulation.
When excess moisture is present in a building or its associated structures, mold growth will often occur, especially if the problem causing the mold is not corrected. While eliminating all mold spores in the indoor environment is not realistic, it can be controlled indoors by controlling the moisture levels and removing already present mold.
Mold spores reproduce by creating spores that are generally not visible to the naked eye. Mold spores float through the air on a regular basis. When the spores land on a wet spot indoors or outdoors, they begin growing and eating whatever they are growing on in order to survive.
Over time, mold destroys what it grows on because its food is many of your household materials that contain cellulose.
There are many types of mold. All molds have the potential to cause adverse health effects. Molds can produce allergens that can cause allergic reactions, breathing problems, or asthma attacks in people allergic to mold. Others are known to produce serious toxins and airway irritants. Potential or actual health concerns are a valid reason to prevent mold growth and to clean up and remove any existing mold growth.
Mold requires water to grow in. This may take the form of a puddle, flowing leak, or even slight dampness. Therefore, it is important to prevent moisture problems in buildings. Moisture problems can have multiple causes such as uncontrolled humidity, leaks etc. Other moisture problems have been linked to changes in building construction practices over the last several decades. Some of these changes have resulted in buildings that are tightly closed. They often do not have sufficient ventilation. In many instances, this has led to moisture and mold problems.
Moisture problems can include roof leaks, landscaping problems such as insufficient grading, leaking gutter problems, pipe condensation, cracked foundations, and unvented combustion appliances. Delayed maintenance or insufficient maintenance is also associated with moisture problems in buildings. Homeowners and remediators should avoid exposing themselves and others to mold laden dusts as they conduct the cleanup.
Molds can be found virtually anywhere because they can grow on almost any organic surface as long as moisture and oxygen are present. Molds can grow on wood, paper, carpet, food, insulation, and more. Mold growth often occurs because there is excessive moisture in a building.
Often, this is because of a leak or the core cause of the moisture problem is not addressed. While it is impossible to eliminate all mold spores in an indoor environment, the mold growth can be controlled indoors by controlling moisture levels or problems.
What Are the Major Types of Mold?
On May 7, 1993, the New York City Department of Health (DOH), the New York City Human Resources Administration (HRA), and the Mt. Sinai Occupational Health Clinic convened an expert panel on Stachybotrys atra in Indoor Environments. The purpose of the panel was to develop policies for medical and environmental evaluation and intervention to address Stachybotrys atra (now known as Stachybotrys chartarum (SC)) contamination. The original guidelines were developed because of mold growth problems in several New York City buildings in the early 1990s.
This document revises and expands the original guidelines to include all fungi (mold). It is based both on a review of the literature regarding fungi and on comments obtained by a review panel consisting of experts in the fields of microbiology and health sciences. It is intended for use by building engineers and management, but is available for general distribution to anyone concerned about fungal contamination, such as environmental consultants and health professionals.
Many fungi (e.g., species of Aspergillus, Penicillium, Fusarium, Trichoderma, and Memnoniella) in addition to SC can produce potent mycotoxins, some of which are identical to compounds produced by SC. Mycotoxins are fungal metabolites that have been identified as toxic agents. For this reason, SC cannot be treated as uniquely toxic in indoor environments.
People performing renovations/cleaning of widespread fungal contamination may be at risk for developing Organic Dust Toxic Syndrome (ODTS) or Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis (HP). ODTS may occur after a single heavy exposure to dust contaminated with fungi and produces flu-like symptoms. It differs from HP in that it is not an immune-mediated disease and does not require repeated exposures to the same causative agent. A variety of biological agents may cause ODTS. HP may occur after repeated exposures to an allergen and can result in permanent lung damage.
Fungi can cause allergic reactions. The most common symptoms are runny nose, eye irritation, cough, congestion, and aggravation of asthma. Fungi are present almost everywhere in indoor and outdoor environments. The most common symptoms of fungal exposure are runny nose, eye irritation, cough, congestion, and aggravation of asthma.
Although there is evidence documenting severe health effects of fungi in humans, most of this evidence is derived from ingestion of contaminated foods (i.e., grain and peanut products) or occupational exposures in agricultural settings where inhalation exposures were very high. With the possible exception of remediation to very heavily contaminated indoor environments, such high-level exposures are not expected to occur while performing remedial work.
There have been reports linking health effects in office workers to offices contaminated with moldy surfaces and in residents of homes contaminated with fungal growth. Symptoms, such as fatigue, respiratory ailments, and eye irritation were typically observed in these cases.
Some studies have suggested an association between SC and pulmonary hemorrhage/hemosiderosis in infants, generally those less than six months old. Pulmonary hemosiderosis is an uncommon condition that results from bleeding in the lungs. The cause of this condition is unknown, but may result from a combination of environmental contaminants and conditions (e.g., smoking, fungal contaminants and other bioaerosols, and water-damaged homes), and currently its association with SC is unproven.
Fungi in buildings may cause or exacerbate symptoms of allergies (such as wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, nasal congestion, and eye irritation), especially in persons who have a history of allergic diseases (such as asthma and rhinitis). Individuals with persistent health problems that appear to be related to fungi or other bioaerosol exposure should see their physicians for a referral to practitioners who are trained in occupational/environmental medicine or related specialties and are knowledgeable about these types of exposures.
Decisions about removing individuals from an affected area must be based on the results of such medical evaluation, and be made on a case-by-case basis. Except in cases of widespread fungal contamination that are linked to illnesses throughout a building, building-wide evacuation is not indicated. Remember that illnesses related to mold exposure can occur from an intense short term exposure to a low level long term exposure.
The presence of fungi on building materials as identified by a visual assessment or by bulk/surface sampling results does not necessitate that people will be exposed or exhibit health effects. In order for humans to be exposed indoors, fungal spores, fragments, or metabolites must be released into the air and inhaled, physically contacted (dermal exposure), or ingested.
Whether or not symptoms develop in people exposed to fungi depends on the nature of the fungal material (e.g., allergenic, toxic, or infectious), the amount of exposure, and the susceptibility of exposed persons. Susceptibility varies with the genetic predisposition (e.g., allergic reactions do not always occur in all individuals), age, state of health, and concurrent exposures. For these reasons, and because measurements of exposure are not standardized and biological markers of exposure to fungi are largely unknown, it is not possible to determine "safe" or "unsafe" levels of exposure for people in general.
Immunological reactions include asthma, HP, and allergic rhinitis. Contact with fungi may also lead to dermatitis. It is thought that these conditions are caused by an immune response to fungal agents. The most common symptoms associated with allergic reactions are runny nose, eye irritation, cough, congestion, and aggravation of asthma.
HP may occur after repeated exposures to an allergen and can result in permanent lung damage. HP has typically been associated with repeated heavy exposures in agricultural settings but has also been reported in office settings. Exposure to fungi through renovation work may also lead to initiation or exacerbation of allergic or respiratory symptoms.
A wide variety of symptoms have been attributed to the toxic effects of fungi. Symptoms, such as fatigue, nausea, and headaches, and respiratory and eye irritation have been reported. Some of the symptoms related to fungal exposure are non-specific, such as discomfort, inability to concentrate, and fatigue. Severe illnesses such as ODTS and pulmonary hemosiderosis have also been attributed to fungal exposures.
ODTS describes the abrupt onset of fever, flu-like symptoms, and respiratory symptoms in the hours following a single, heavy exposure to dust containing organic material including fungi. It differs from HP in that it is not an immune-mediated disease and does not require repeated exposures to the same causative agent.
ODTS may be caused by a variety of biological agents including common species of fungi (e.g., species of Aspergillus and Penicillium). ODTS has been documented in farm workers handling contaminated material but is also of concern to workers performing renovation work on building materials contaminated with fungi.
Some molds cause infectious disease. Aspergillosis occurs in immunocompromised people and can be quite serious. It generally does not cause illness in health people.
Mold related to bird or bat dropping can cause flu like illness in people. These molds are termed Histoplasma capsulatum and Cryptococcus neoformans.
Currently there is no United States Federal, or State regulations dealing with the health effects of mold and remediation.