In our last blog entry, we explained how mold can grow in your mini-split. Now we need to talk a little about the potentially harmful effects of mold exposure. Obviously, we are not experts in the health effects of mold exposure. So let’s review the research and opinions of those who are..

World Health Organization (WHO) 2009 GUIDELINES FOR INDOOR AIR QUALITY

” The variety of respiratory symptoms and diseases observed in damp and moldy indoor environments suggests that the airways are the primary route of entry for agents. ”

5. Evaluation of Human Health Risks and Guidelines

5.1 Summary

” Sufficient epidemiological evidence is available from studies conducted in different countries and under different climatic conditions to show that the occupants of damp or moldy buildings, both houses, and public buildings, are at increased risk of respiratory symptoms, respiratory infections, and exacerbation of asthma. Some evidence suggests increased risks of allergic rhinitis and asthma. Although few intervention studies are available, their results show that remediation of dampness problems can reduce adverse health outcomes. There is clinical evidence that exposure to mold and other dampness-related microbial agents increases the risks of rare conditions, such as hypersensitivity pneumonitis, allergic alveolitis, chronic rhinosinusitis, and allergic fungal sinusitis. Toxicological evidence obtained in vivo and in vitro supports these findings, showing the occurrence of diverse inflammatory and toxic responses after exposure to microorganisms including their spores, metabolites, and components isolated from damp buildings. While groups such as atopic and allergic people are particularly susceptible to biological and chemical agents in damp indoor environments, adverse health effects have also been found in nonatopic populations. The increasing prevalences of asthma and allergies in many countries increase the number of people susceptible to the effects of dampness and mold in buildings.”

5.2 Conditions that contribute to health risks

” The prevalence of indoor dampness varies widely within and among countries, continents, and climate zones. It is estimated to affect 10–50% of indoor environments in Australia, Europe, India, Japan, and North America. In certain settings, such as river valleys and coastal areas, the conditions of dampness are substantially more severe than the national average. The amount of water available on or in materials is the most important trigger of the growth of microorganisms, including fungi, actinomycetes, and other bacteria. Microorganisms are ubiquitous. Microbes propagate rapidly wherever water is available. The dust and dirt normally present in most indoor spaces provide sufficient nutrients to support extensive microbial growth. While mold can grow on all materials, selection of appropriate materials can prevent dirt accumulation, moisture penetration, and mold growth. Microbial growth may result in greater numbers of spores, cell fragments, allergens, mycotoxins, endotoxins, β-glucans, and volatile organic compounds in indoor air. The causative agents of the adverse health effects have not been identified conclusively, but an excess level of any of these agents in the indoor environment is a potential health hazard. Microbial interactions and moisture-related physical and chemical emissions from building materials may also play a role in dampness-related health effects. Building standards and regulations for comfort and health do not sufficiently emphasize requirements for preventing and controlling excess moisture and dampness. Apart from its entry during occasional events, such as water leaks, heavy rain, and flooding, most moisture enters buildings in the incoming air, including that infiltrating through the envelope or from the occupants’ activities. Allowing surfaces to become cooler than the surrounding air may result in unwanted condensation. Thermal bridges (such as metal window frames), inadequate insulation and unplanned air pathways, or cold water plumbing and cool parts of air-conditioning units can result in surface temperatures below the dew point of the air and in dampness. ”

5.3 Guidelines

” Persistent dampness and microbial growth on interior surfaces and in building structures should be avoided or minimized, as they may lead to adverse health effects. Indicators of dampness and microbial growth include the presence of condensation on surfaces or in structures, visible mold, perceived mold odour, and a history of water damage, leakage, or penetration. A thorough inspection and, if necessary, appropriate measurements can be used to confirm indoor moisture and microbial growth. As the relationships between dampness, microbial exposure, and health effects cannot be quantified precisely, no quantitative, health-based guideline values or thresholds can be recommended for acceptable levels of contamination by microorganisms. Instead, it is recommended that dampness and mold-related problems be prevented. When they occur, they should be remediated because they increase the risk of hazardous exposure to microbes and chemicals. Well-designed, well-constructed, well-maintained building envelopes are critical to the prevention and control of excess moisture and microbial growth, as they prevent thermal bridges and the entry of liquid or vapor-phase water.

Management of moisture requires proper control of temperature and ventilation to avoid excess humidity, condensation on surfaces, and excess moisture in materials. Ventilation should be distributed effectively throughout spaces, and stagnant air zones should be avoided. Building owners are responsible for providing a healthy workplace or living environment that is free of excess moisture and mold, by ensuring proper building construction and maintenance. The occupants are responsible for managing the use of water, heating, ventilation, and appliances in a manner that does not lead to dampness and mold growth. Local recommendations for different regions with different climates should be updated to control dampness-mediated microbial growth in buildings and to ensure desirable indoor air quality. Dampness and mold may be particularly prevalent in poorly maintained housing for low-income people. Remediation of the conditions that lead to adverse exposure should be given priority to prevent an additional contribution to poor health in populations who are already living with an increased burden of disease. ”

CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Facts About Mould and Dampness

” There is always some mold everywhere – in the air and on many surfaces. Molds have been on the Earth for millions of years. Mold grows where there is moisture.”

Mold and Your Health

” Exposure to damp and moldy environments may cause a variety of health effects or none at all. Some people are sensitive to molds. For these people, molds can cause nasal stuffiness, throat irritation, coughing or wheezing, eye irritation, or, in some cases, skin irritation. People with mold allergies may have more severe reactions. Immune-compromised people and people with chronic lung illnesses, such as obstructive lung disease, may get serious infections in their lungs when they are exposed to mold. These people should stay away from areas that are likely to have molds, such as compost piles, cut grass, and wooded areas.

In 2004 the Institute of Medicine (IOM) found there was sufficient evidence to link indoor exposure to mold with upper respiratory tract symptoms, cough, and wheeze in otherwise healthy people; with asthma symptoms in people with asthma; and with hypersensitivity pneumonitis in individuals susceptible to that immune-mediated condition. The IOM also found limited or suggestive evidence linking indoor mold exposure and respiratory illness in otherwise healthy children.

In addition, in 2004 the IOM found sufficient evidence to link exposure to damp indoor environments in general to upper respiratory tract symptoms, cough, and wheeze in otherwise healthy people and with asthma symptoms in people with asthma. The IOM also found limited or suggestive evidence linking exposure to damp indoor environments in general to shortness of breath, to respiratory illness in otherwise healthy children and to the potential development of asthma in susceptible individuals.”

Mold and Your Home

“Mold is found both indoors and outdoors. Mold can enter your home through open doorways, windows, vents, and heating and air conditioning systems. Mold in the air outside can also attach itself to clothing, shoes, bags, and pets can and be carried indoors.

Mold will grow in places with a lot of moisture, such as around leaks in roofs, windows, or pipes, or where there has been flooding. Mold grows well on paper products, cardboard, ceiling tiles, and wood products. Mold can also grow in dust, paints, wallpaper, insulation, drywall, carpet, fabric, and upholstery.”

The University of Toronto published its study Fan Coil Contamination of Growing Concern: The effects of mold growth within fan coil units in Canadian high-rise buildings.

When they refer to fan coils they are referring to the same type of coil in your mini-split. Many new condos and apartments are using mini splits for their heating and cooling requirements. This information should be particularly important to tenants, condo owners, and apartment owners.

Hopefully, you have found this information helpful in understanding the many ways in which mold can negatively affect your health. There are hundreds of more articles available regarding the adverse effects of mold exposure. The reports from the WHO and CDC best represent non-biased large studies.

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