Resources

Latest news

Health Effects of Mould Exposure

  • Posted by: Alex Wilkie

There is mounting evidence that mould exposure has detrimental effects of health and well-being of people. These effects are not limited to only allergic reactions and many have lingering effects post-exposure. Additionally, long term exposure to mould appears to have a sensitizing effect and illnesses become more severe with repeated exposure.

Children and Mould

Children exposed to mould have a higher chance of developing asthma. In addition to having an increased risk of developing asthma due to exposure to mould, infants exposed to Penicillium often develop a persistent cough/wheeze (Gent et al, 2002).

A study of post-flood health effects found that children had an increased incidence of lower respiratory tract symptoms (Rabito et al, 2007). In addition, many mould mycotoxins have been linked to cancer, organ damage, immune system damage, neurotoxicity and reproductive toxicity (Fung and Clark, 2004).

Exposure to Aflatoxin in particular (produced by Aspergillus species, among others) has potential effects on children including stunted growth, delayed development, liver damage and liver cancer (Lombard et al, 2014). Children also have increased risk of exposure as they are more likely to touch visible mould as well as inhaling spores and mycotoxins.

CIRS

Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS) is a multi-symptom illness generally associated with water-damaged buildings and mould (Shoemaker et al, 2010).  Numerous symptoms of the illness have been documented including fatigue, headaches, cough, shortness of breath, difficulty focusing among many others.

The illness often is compounded the longer the individual is exposed to the source of mould. Therefore, the most important factor to minimise the condition is to remove the person from the source of mould. Furthermore, exposure to mould, especially to a person with CIRS will likely complicate other health issues.

Asthma

Research into connections between asthma and mould exposure indicates that there is a clear link. It is estimated that 21% of asthma cases in the US are caused by dampness or mould in houses (Mudarri et al, 2007).

A separate study indicated that there was a 30-50% increase in respiratory and health-related issues associated with damp buildings and mould (Fisk et al, 2007). There is also evidence that mould exposure in infants (0-1 year) leads to an increased probability of developing asthma (Gent et al, 2002).

An estimated 5% of people have some airway symptom due to mould exposure (Hardin et al, 2003). Additionally, in a study of 1300 people working in a water-damaged office building found that two-thirds of adult-onset asthma begun after working in the damaged building (Cox-Ganser et al, 2005).

These data clearly indicate that exposure to mould increases the risk of asthma in both children and adults, and that effective remediation of mould contaminated buildings is vital in protecting people’s health.

Not only ‘Black mould’

It is a commonly held view that most mould is not dangerous – only ‘black mould’ (Stachybotrys). However, this is simply not true. While exposure to mould is common globally, exposure to higher than normal levels in buildings can affect people’s health. This is true for many mould species found in buildings.

Many mould species found are colourless and far more difficult to see. For example, several Aspergillus and Penicillium species are colourless and also produce numerous mycotoxins such as Aflatoxins, Ochratoxins, Citrinin and Patulin.

While ‘black mould’ contamination in a building is serious, other mould contamination is just as serious – and can be even more so due to the difficulty in detecting the mould. Mould which isn’t as easily recognised can build up to much higher levels, and in addition to higher levels of toxins, higher levels of airborne spore counts often lead to more severe allergic reactions.

Mycotoxins

Mycotoxins are toxins produced by mould. People are normally exposed to these mycotoxins in building through inhalation or through touch. Many mycotoxins exist including Aflatoxins, Ochratoxins, Citrinin, Ergot Alkaloids, Patulin, Fumonisins, and Trichothecenes.

Known effects of some of these toxins include carcinogenicity, liver damage, kidney damage, neurotoxicity, cytotoxicity, reproductive toxicity, delayed development, immune system damage among others (Fung and Clark, 2004).

As there is such a diverse range of mycotoxins the effects of the toxins are not yet fully understood and vary person to person. However, several factors affect how severe the response of an individual will be to a mycotoxin. These include type of mycotoxin/s, concentration, length of exposure, consistency of exposure (e.g. 8-hour work day), age, and other underlying health issues.

Mould is not only a problem in a building if it is visible inside as hidden mould can often release spores into living spaces through small gaps in the structure, and mycotoxins often can be passed through material such as plasterboard into the living spaces.

Mould remediation

To protect your health from mould spore exposure and mycotoxin exposure it is important to effectively remove the contamination. The first step in effective mould remediation should always be to resolve any moisture issues (IICRC S500, S520, WHO Guidelines for Indoor Air Quality – Dampness and Mould, 2009), as mould requires a source of moisture.

Mould remediation techniques that do not physically remove the mould are not recommended by any mould remediation guidelines (IICRC S520, Australian Mould Guidelines, 2005, EPA Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings).

Techniques such as fogging and ozone treatment should not be used without the physical removal of mould (IICRC S520).

This is because of several key factors: mould is still allergenic even when dead, mycotoxins in the mould and in the surrounding materials are still present, and mould inside materials will likely regrow as these treatments do not penetrate effectively into materials. Physical removal of mould contaminated material will effectively remove mould spores (both dead and alive) and remove the mycotoxins in mould and materials.

Do you have a mould problem?

IECL offer services in mould and air quality testing and environmental assessments and can offer turnkey solutions to solve air quality issues you may have in your home, workplace or premises. We service the greater Brisbane region as well as the greater Sydney region. Book your Mould inspection now!

 

References

“Standard & Reference Guide for Professional Mold Remediation” IICRC S520 -2015, 3rd Edn Institute of Inspection, Cleaning & Restoration Certification, Vancouver, Washington 98661 USA.

“Australian Mould Guidelines (AMG 2010)” 2nd Edn. Kemp, P.C et al. Messenger Publishing 2010

“WHO Guidelines for Indoor Air Quality – Dampness and Mould”, 2009 World Health Organisation, Copenhagen, Denmark, ISBN 978 92 890 4168 3.

Mudarri D, Fisk WJ. (2007) “Public health and economic impact of dampness and mold”, Indoor Air. 17(3):226-235

Fisk WJ, Lei-Gomez Q, Mendell MJ. (2007) “Meta-analyses of the associations of respiratory health effects with dampness and  mold  in homes”. Indoor Air. 17(4):284-296.

Hardin, B. D.; Kelman, B. J.; Saxon, A. (2003). “Adverse human health effects associated with molds in the indoor environment” (PDF). Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 45 (5): 470–478.

Gent, Janneane (2002). “Levels of Household Mold Associated with Respiratory Symptoms in the First Year of Life in a Cohort at Risk for Asthma”. Environ Health Perspect. 110 (12): A781–6.

Cox-Ganser JM, White SK, Jones R, et al. (2005) “Respiratory morbidity in office workers in a water-damaged building”. Environ Health Perspect. 113:485–490

Rabito, Felicia A.; Iqbal, Shahed; Kiernan, Michael P.; Holt, Elizabeth; Chew, Ginger L. (2008). “Children’s respiratory health and mold levels in New Orleans after Katrina: A preliminary look”. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 121 (3): 622–625.

Fung F. and Clark R. (2004) “Health Effects of Mycotoxins: A Toxicological Overview”. Journal of toxicology. Clinical toxicology 42(2):217-34

Lombard M.J. (2014) “Mycotoxin Exposure and Infant and Young Child Growth in Africa: What Do We Know?”. Ann Nutr Metab 2014;64(suppl 2):42-52

Ritchie C. Shoemaker, Laura Mark, Scott McMahon (2010) “Research Committee Report on Diagnosis and Treatment of Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome Caused by Exposure to the Interior Environment of Water-Damaged Buildings” JULY 27, 2010