Below you will find facts about your indoor air quality that is effected by MOLD, LEAD, RADON, ALLERGENS & MORE.
Molds are simple, microscopic organisms whose purpose in the ecosystem is to break down dead materials. Molds can be found on plants, dry leaves, and on just about every other organic material. Some molds are useful, such as those used to make antibiotics and cheese.
Some molds are known to be highly toxic when ingested, such as the types that invade grains and peanuts. Most of the mold found indoors comes from outdoors.
Molds reproduce by very tiny particles called spores. The spores are very light and can float in on the air currents and find a suitable spot to grow. If mold spores land on a suitable surface, they will begin to grow.
Molds need three things to thrive- moisture, food and a surface to grow on. Molds can be seen throughout the house, and can be found in most bathrooms. Mold growth can often be seen in the form of discoloration, and can appear in many colors- white, orange, pink, blue, green, black or brown. When molds are present in large quantities (called colonies) they can cause health problems in some people.
Who Does Mold Affect?
Mold spores can cause adverse reactions, much like pollen from plants and some molds are more hazardous than others. They can cause health problems when they become airborne and are inhaled in large quantities. Although everyone is exposed to mold in some concentration in the outdoor air, indoor exposure to molds is not healthy for anyone. In particular, people with allergies, existing respiratory conditions or suppressed immune systems are especially susceptible to health problems from mold exposure. Additionally, infants and children, pregnant women and the elderly can be sensitive to the effects of mold exposure. For some people, a small number of mold spores can cause health problems, whereas for others, it may take many more.
What Are Symptoms of Mold Exposure?
There are many symptoms of mold exposure and the severity of the symptoms depends on the sensitivity of the exposed person. Allergic reactions are the most common and typically include: respiratory problems such as wheezing and difficulty breathing; nasal and sinus congestion; burning, watery, reddened eyes or blurry vision; sore throat; dry cough; nose and throat irritation; shortness of breath; and skin irritation.
Other less common effects are: nervous system problems (headaches, memory loss, and moodiness); aches and pains; and fever. If you have any of these symptoms, and they are reduced or completely gone when you leave the suspect area, chances are you have been exposed to some sort of allergen, quite possibly mold.
How Can I Tell if I Have Mold in My Home?
Some mold problems are obvious- you can see it growing, others are not so obvious. If you can see mold, or if there is a musty odor in your home, you probably have a mold problem. Areas that are wet, or have been wet due to flooding, leaky plumbing, leaky roofing, or areas that are humid (such as bathrooms and laundry rooms) are most likely to have mold growth. Look for previous water damage.
Visible mold growth may be found underneath wallpaper and baseboards, behind walls, or may be evident by discolored plaster or drywall. If you don’t have any observable mold, but are experiencing symptoms likely to be mold-induced, the mold could be growing in areas you can’t see, such as the ducts of a heating/cooling system. In this case, the only way to know if you have mold spores is to test.
Many home inspectors or Industrial Hygienists can conduct air sampling to detect the presence of these spores in your home. If you have obvious mold, you can conduct a swab test that can be analyzed to determine the molds that are present. Testing is the only way to determine if you have a mold problem and what type it is. Take a copy of the laboratory report along with you when you visit your doctor or allergist. This will aid in determining a method of treatment.
What Should I Do If I have Mold?
The first course of action is to determine why the mold is growing. Investigate any areas that are moist, and repair the source of the moisture. There could be a roof or plumbing leak, or groundwater leaking into your basement. Your air conditioning drip pan could have mold growing in it or your air duct system could be contaminated with mold. If you see mold in your laundry room, chances are that your dryer is not properly vented to the outside.
Clothes dryers generate humidity and should never be vented inside the house. Mold will grow on any surface that provides moisture and food. Substances that are porous and can trap molds, such as paper, rags, wallboard and wood, should be thrown out. After you have made all the repairs, it is time to clean.
How Can I Keep Mold From Damaging My Home?
- Remove water damage as soon as it is noticed.
- Watch for signs of moisture, such as condensation on windows, cracking of walls, loosening of drywall tape, warped wood or musty odor.
- Clean any moldy surfaces as soon as they are noticed.
- Install bathroom fans that vent humidity to the outside.
- Vent your clothes dryer to the outside.
FEDERAL HOUSING COMMISSIONER TAKES ACTION ON MOLD
Dr. John C. Weicher, the Federal Housing Commissioner has issued a radon gas and mold Notice (H 2004-08) requiring that a release agreement (HUD-9548-E) be included in all sales contracts for HUD-acquired single family properties. The agreement notifies purchasers of the potential health problems caused by exposure to radon and some molds.
ALLERGENS & INDOOR AIR QUALITY
What Are Biological Pollutants?
Biological pollutants are or were living organisms. They promote poor indoor air quality and may be a major cause of days lost from work or school, and of doctor and hospital visits. Some can even damage surfaces inside and outside of your house. Biological pollutants can travel through the air and are often invisible.
What Are Some Common Indoor Biological Pollutants?
- Animal dander (minute scales from hair, feathers and skin)
- Dust mite and cockroach parts
- Fungi (molds)
- Infectious agents (bacteria or viruses)
Some of these substances are in every home. It is impossible to get rid of them all. Even a spotless home may permit the growth of biological pollutants. Two conditions are essential to support growth: nutrients and moisture. These conditions can be found in many locations, such as bathrooms, damp or flooded basements, wet appliances (such as humidifiers or air conditioners), and even some carpets and furniture.
Modern materials and construction techniques may reduce the amount of outside air brought into buildings which may result in high moisture levels inside. Using humidifiers, unvented heaters, and air conditioners in our homes has increased the chances of moisture forming on interior surfaces. This encourages the growth of certain biological pollutants.
The Scope of the Problem
Most information about sources and health effects of biological pollutants is based on studies of large office buildings and two surveys of homes in northern U.S. and Canada. These surveys show that 30% to 50% of all structures have damp conditions which may encourage the growth and buildup of biological pollutants. The percentage is likely to be higher in warm, moist climates.
Some diseases and illnesses have been linked with biological pollutants in the indoor environment, however, many of them have unrelated causes. Therefore, we do not know how many health problems are a direct result of poor indoor air.
Health Effects of Biological Pollutants
All of us are exposed to biological pollutants, however, the effects on our health depend upon the type and amount of biological pollution and the individual person. Some people do not experience one or more of the following reactions:
Except for the spread of infections indoors, ALLERGIC REACTIONS may be the most common health problem with the indoor air quality in homes. They are often connected with animal dander (mostly from cats and dogs), with house dust mites (microscopic animals living in household dust), and with pollen. Allergic reactions can range from a simple flu-like symptom to mildly threatening, as in a severe asthma attack. Some common signs and symptoms are:
- Watery eyes
- Runny nose and sneezing
- Nasal congestion
- Wheezing and difficulty breathing
Health experts are especially concerned about people with asthma. These people have very sensitive airways that can react to various irritants, making breathing difficult.
TRIGGERS OF ALLERGIC DISEASE
Asthma, rhinitis and other allergic disorders are usually “triggered” by specific substances called allergens—specifically, the proteins found in these allergens. People who have these reactions have an antibody calledimmunoglobulin E, or IgE. This antibody attaches to mast cells, causing a release of powerful chemicals, including histamine. The result is sneezing, itchy nose, eyes and ears, and rarely a life-threatening reaction called anaphylaxis. Asthma can also be triggered by non-allergic factors, which are listed in this section. Following are the most common triggers of allergic reactions:
Pollens are small, round-shaped male cells of various flowering trees, grasses and weed plants. The average pollen particle is under 50 microns in size and is less than the width of an average human hair. Pollens can travel as far as 400 miles and up to two miles high in the air.
Plants have pollination cycles which are consistent from year to year, though weather conditions can affect the amount of pollen in the air at any one time. Pollination season occurs earliest in the south and starts progressively later in more northern regions. Trees pollinate earliest, followed by grasses. Weeds pollinate last. Pollens vanish after the first hard frost.
Molds are parasitic, microscopic fungi without stems, roots or leaves. As many as 250,000 spores can fit on one pin head. These small spores float in the air like pollen. They are found outdoors and indoors and their levels peak in the late summer and fall months.
Outdoor molds commonly grow in moist, shady areas such as in soil, decaying vegetation, leaves and rotten wood. Cladosporium and Alternaria are common outdoor molds. Indoor molds are found in dark, warm, humid areas inside the home including basements, cellars, attics and bathrooms. Mucor, Aspergillus and Penicillium are common indoor molds.
Proteins found in the saliva, dander (dead skin flakes) or urine of furry animals can cause allergic reactions in 15% of the general population and 20-30% of those with asthma. These proteins are carried in the air on very small, invisible particles which can land on the lining of the eyes or nose, or be inhaled directly into the lungs. Contrary to popular belief, there are no specific hypoallergenic breeds of furry animals, including cats or dogs. Recent studies have shown that those severely allergic to pet dander may even experience reactions in schools and other public places from dander carried on the clothing of pet owners.
Dust mites are microscopic, sightless, eight-legged arthropods that are natural inhabitants of indoor environments. Dust mite droppings are the most common trigger of perennial allergy and asthma symptoms. The droppings break down to an extremely fine powder and stick to indoor materials. Dust mites are found throughout the house and thrive in high humidity and in areas where human dander is located, such as on mattresses, pillows, bed covers, upholstered furniture and carpeting.
Cockroaches have been around for more than 300 million years. Various species of urban cockroaches dwell in the offices and homes of people who inadvertently provide them with the water and food they need to survive. The protein in their droppings is a primary trigger of asthma symptoms, especially for children living in densely populated urban neighborhoods.
Mice & Rats
The protein found in the droppings and urine of these rodents has recently been proven a common trigger of asthma symptoms. Similar to cockroaches, they are found in urban neighborhoods where food and water is easily accessible to them.
Food allergy occurs when a person’s immune system overreacts to an ordinarily harmless food. Up to two million, or 8%, of children in the United States are estimated to be affected by food allergy and up to 2% of adults.
The most common food allergens (the parts of the food that cause allergic reactions), responsible for up to 90% of all allergic reactions, are proteins in cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish and tree nuts. The most common symptoms of food allergy are hives, eczema, asthma and gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramping.
The most severe reaction to food is anaphylaxis, a systemic allergic reaction that can sometimes be fatal. The first signs of anaphylaxis may be a feeling of warmth, flushing, tingling in the mouth or a red, itchy rash. These symptoms can be reversed by treatment with injectable epinephrine, antihistamines and other emergency measures, with follow-up care by an allergist.
Latex is a milky fluid produced by rubber trees and processed into a variety of products. Those with latex allergy experience reactions triggered by dipped latex products. Products that commonly cause reactions include gloves, balloons and condoms, although some latex allergic individuals may also react to rubber bands, erasers, rubber parts of toys, various medical devices, latex clothing and elastic in clothes, feeding nipples and pacifiers. Most latex paints are not a problem since they do not contain natural latex.
Insect stings are responsible for inducing severe allergic reactions in an estimated one to two million people in the United States. An estimated 3% of the population is susceptible to allergic reactions to stinging insects (yellow jackets, honeybees, paper wasps, hornets and fire ants) and about 50 deaths occur each year as a result of their stings.
For a small number of people, stings may be life-threatening, resulting in anaphylaxis. Symptoms may include itching and hives over large areas of the body, swelling in the throat or tongue, difficulty in breathing, dizziness, stomach cramps, nausea or diarrhea. In very severe cases, a rapid fall in blood pressure may result in shock and loss of consciousness.
NON-ALLERGIC ASTHMA TRIGGERS
Irritants have been proven to aggravate the nose and airways, thus stimulating asthma flare-ups. Following are examples of irritants:
- air pollutants such as tobacco smoke, wood smoke, diesel exhaust, chemicals in the air and ozone;
- occupational exposure to allergens, vapors, dust, gases or fumes;
- strong odors or sprays such as perfumes, household cleaners, cooking fumes, paints or varnishes;
- other airborne particles such as coal dust, chalk dust or talcum powder;
- changing weather conditions, such as changes in temperature and humidity, cold, dry air, barometric pressure or strong winds.
Viral and other infections such as colds or viral pneumonia can trigger or aggravate asthma, especially in young children. These infections irritate the airways, nose, throat, lungs and sinuses causing asthma episodes.
Strenuous physical exercise can also trigger asthma attacks in most asthmatics. Mouth breathing, exercising in cold, dry air, or prolonged, strenuous activities such as medium-to long-distance running can increase the likelihood of exercise-induced asthma. Other forms of rapid breathing such as laughing can also aggravate asthma.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition in which stomach acid flows back up the esophagus. It affects up to 89% of patients with asthma. Symptoms include severe or repeated heartburn, belching, night asthma symptoms after meals or exercise, or frequent coughing and hoarseness.
Some people with asthma may experience asthma episodes from taking certain medications. Medications that can trigger asthma include aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen; and beta-blockers used to treat heart disease, high blood pressure and migraine headaches.
Emotional factors alone cannot provoke asthma. However, anxiety and nervous stress can cause fatigue and hyperventilation, which may also increase asthma symptoms and aggravate an attack.
INDOOR AIR QUALITY
Indoor air quality is a world-wide problem. According to the EPA, lung cancer due to radon exposure accounts for approximately 21,000 deaths each year. In fact, Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Lead is a great health threat to children and infants, with exposure leading to brain damage, kidney damage and neurological deficiencies. The EPA also reports that “Outbreaks of the fungi Stachybotrys chartarum (S. chartarum) are under investigation for an association with the deaths of infants in Cleveland, Ohio, and serious health problems in other areas of the U.S.”
With recent hurricanes and flooding, damaged properties are overcome with high amounts of mold which carries with it potential respiratory problems and/or severe illness for the occupants of the property. Even owners of new commercial buildings and residential homes are finding that efficient air-tight construction often seals up moisture and allows for mold growth inside walls and insulation which often is undetected until someone gets symptoms of an illness. Sadly, these are just a few of the environmental hazards facing the world today.
The only safeguard you have for protecting yourself, your family, and your employees is an environmental inspection. It is not necessary to wait until signs of a problem are evident. More often than not, people do not even realize these hazards exist in their home or workplace. 90% of a person’s time is spent indoors! So the question is, “What is the next step?”
Most indoor air pollution comes from sources inside the building. For example, adhesives, carpeting, upholstery, manufactured wood products, copy machines, pesticides, and cleaning agents may emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including formaldehyde. Environmental tobacco smoke contributes high levels of VOCs, other toxic compounds, and respirable particulate matter. Research shows that some VOCs can cause chronic and acute health effects at high concentrations, and some are known carcinogens. Low to moderate levels of multiple VOCs may also produce acute reactions. Combustion products such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, as well as respirable particles, can come from unvented kerosene and gas space heaters, woodstoves, fireplaces and gas stoves.
The outdoor air that enters a building can be a source of indoor air pollution. For example, pollutants from motor vehicle exhausts; plumbing vents, and building exhausts (e.g., bathrooms and kitchens) can enter the building through poorly located air intake vents, windows, and other openings. In addition, combustion products can enter a building from a nearby garage.
Bacteria, molds, pollen, and viruses are types of biological contaminants. These contaminants may breed in stagnant water that has accumulated in ducts, humidifiers and drain pans, or where water has collected on ceiling tiles, carpeting, or insulation. Sometimes insects or bird droppings can be a source of biological contaminants. Physical symptoms related to biological contamination include cough, chest tightness, fever, chills, muscle aches, and allergic responses such as mucous membrane irritation and upper respiratory congestion.