The Importance of Identifying and Treating Mold in the Workplace

The Importance of Identifying and Treating Mold in the Workplace

Mold has been making headlines. Millions of workers around the globe have sued employers whose buildings contained mold that led to “sick building syndrome.” When moisture problems occur and mold growth results, building occupants may begin to report odors and a variety of health problems, such as headaches, breathing difficulties, skin irritation, allergic reactions, and aggravation of asthma symptoms; all of these symptoms could potentially be associated with mold exposure

Fortunately, the complications are fixable. Indoor air quality experts can detect all evidence of mold in a building and then safely remove it. They also identify the reasons for the issue and take steps to prevent recurrences. 

With that in mind, many building owners now view expert mold prevention and remediation as a wise business investment. It allows them to avoid the decreased productivity and increased absenteeism often associated with mold-related health issues. Since mold can cause thousands of dollars in damage and even undermine a building’s structural integrity, professional remediation also helps owners avoid expensive, time-consuming repairs.

Molds in the Environment

Molds live in the soil, on plants, and on dead or decaying matter. Outdoors, molds play a key role in the breakdown of leaves, wood, and other plant debris. Without molds, our environment would be overwhelmed with large amounts of dead plant matter. Molds produce tiny spores to reproduce, just as some plants produce seeds. These mold spores can be found in both indoor and outdoor air and settled on indoor and outdoor surfaces. When mold spores land on a damp spot, they may begin growing and digesting whatever they are growing on in order to survive.  

If indoor surfaces become wet or moist enough to cause germination, mold spores that come into contact with these surfaces will produce mold growth indoors.  The amount and types of mold growth will vary depending on the amount of moisture, the total surface area impacted by moisture, and the duration of the moisture episode.  If indoor mold growth is extensive, it can cause very high airborne indoor mold spore concentrations that far exceed normal outdoor airborne mold spore concentrations. Such elevated levels of spores indoors, caused by indoor mold growth, are considered unacceptable both from a health and building performance point of view.

Health Effects and Symptoms Associated with Mold Exposure

All molds have the potential to cause health effects. Molds produce allergens, irritants, and in some cases, toxins that may cause reactions in humans. The types and severity of symptoms depend, in part, on the types of mold present, the extent of an individual’s exposure, the ages of the individuals, and their existing sensitivities or allergies. Specific reactions to mold growth can include the following:

  • Allergic Reactions: Inhaling or touching mold or mold spores may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. Allergic reactions to mold are common – these reactions can be immediate or delayed. Allergic responses include hay fever-type symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, and skin rash (dermatitis). Mold spores and fragments can produce allergic reactions in sensitive individuals regardless of whether the mold is dead or alive. A repeated or single exposure to mold or mold spores may cause previously non-sensitive individuals to become sensitive. Repeated exposure has the potential to increase sensitivity.
  • Asthma: Molds can trigger asthma attacks in persons who are allergic (sensitized) to molds. The irritants produced by molds may also worsen asthma in non-allergic (non-sensitized) people.
  • Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis: Hypersensitivity pneumonitis may develop following either short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic) exposure to molds. The disease resembles bacterial pneumonia and is uncommon.
  • Irritant Effects: Mold exposure can cause irritation of the eyes, skin, nose, throat, and lungs, and sometimes can create a burning sensation in these areas.
  • Opportunistic Infections: People with weakened immune systems may be more vulnerable to infections by molds. Aspergillus fumigatus, for example, has been known to infect the lungs of immune-compromised individuals. These individuals inhale the mold spores which then start growing in their lungs. Trichoderma has also been known to infect immune-compromised children.
  • Toxic Effects: Some fungi produce toxic metabolites (mycotoxins), and almost all molds that grow in the built environment can produce triple-helical glucan, both of which are toxic to lung cells. Many symptoms and human health effects attributed to inhalation of mycotoxins have been reported including mucous membrane irritation, skin rash, nausea, immune system suppression, acute or chronic liver damage, acute or chronic central nervous system damage, endocrine effects, and cancer. Some molds can produce several toxins, and some molds produce mycotoxins only under certain environmental conditions. The presence of mold in a building does not necessarily mean that mycotoxins are present or that they are present in large quantities.  However, it is clearly prudent to avoid exposure to molds and mycotoxins.  The health effects of breathing mycotoxins indoors are not well understood, and they continue to be an understudy.

Mold Can Appear in a Variety of Spaces

One reason that mold has become a problem in working environments is that it can form almost anywhere in buildings. Growths often appear in older buildings with plumbing problems. Any structure in a humid climate can become a breeding ground for mold if indoor humidity is too high. The fungus begins to grow within 48 hours after a flood, and even a small leak can provide the ideal home for mold. It can thrive anywhere, including inside wall cavities. However, problems most often occur in the following areas:

  • In and around HVAC components 
  • Under carpeting that has recently been wet 
  • Close to appliances that vent damp air outdoors 
  • On and near damaged foundations 
  • Near plumbing leaks
  • Leaking roofs and adjacent structural materials
  • Condensation on cold surfaces

Experts Will Provide an Accurate Mold Assessment

Owners who believe mold may be present in one or more of their buildings should schedule a professional evaluation as soon as possible. The longer workers are exposed to the fungus, the greater the damage to their health. Taking early action may minimize structural damage. Early remediation can also prevent HVAC systems from continuously circulating spores throughout workspaces.

Indoor air quality experts here at AirQuest have the training and tools to find every mold source. During inspections, technicians keep themselves and building inhabitants safe. That is critical since mishandling or touching mold directly can be harmful to health and may also encourage growths to spread. 

Inspectors identify problems that cause mold growth and advise building owners so they can have issues repaired. Depending on the extent of the problem, some owners will need the help of a contractor or environmental expert to ensure every mold source is eliminated. Corrective measures may include:

  • Repairing leaky plumbing and drying wet areas

  • Identifying and repairing or replacing leaking windows

  • Increasing air circulation and eliminating condensation

  • Ensuring indoor humidity remains below 60%

  • Scheduling a thorough HVAC inspection

  • Correcting any landscaping and drainage problems that contribute to damp foundations

Technicians Can Safely Remove Mold 

Companies that assess buildings for mold can refer to reputable remediation experts. They use industry-approved methods to remove fungus from premises safely. 

Correct removal is essential to avoid inadvertently spreading spores that can become new growths. Experts ensure buildings are “clean” and safe from mold contamination. They can provide clients with certificates that guarantee the problem is solved.