How To Avoid Mold-Related Health Hazards
Mold related health issues include asthma, infection, and allergic illness can have toxic effects on your overall health. These mold health hazards are due to breathing in the contaminated mold cells every day indoors and out. The health hazards of mold should be understood so that you can avoid the effects of exposure to mold.
Extensive water damage after major hurricanes and floods such as the superstorm Sandy significantly increases the chances of mold contamination, especially in buildings that have been flooded and wet for more than 48 hours.
Excessive exposure to mold-contaminated materials can cause health problems in susceptible people.
Mold can grow almost anywhere under the right conditions but they especially thrive in damp, warm environments. The filamentous parts of mold form a network called mycelium, seen when it is growing on a nutrient source. Mold spreads via small, lightweight spores that can travel through air and are capable of resisting dry, adverse environmental conditions for a very long time.
Although mycelia are firmly attached to whatever the mold is growing on, they can break off, exposing nearby people to potentially harmful fungal fragments. Some molds are also capable of producing toxins under specific environmental conditions.
For most people, undisturbed mold is not a health hazard, although it can be harmful to those with conditions such as impaired host defenses or mold allergies. To prevent harmful exposure that could result in adverse health effects, it’s important to avoid areas where mold contamination is obvious; use environmental controls; use personal protective equipment; and keep one’s hands, skin, and clothing clean and free from mold-contaminated dust.
Mold exposure can cause disease in several ways. Inhalation is the most common way people get exposed to mold. Most fungal spores have aerodynamic diameters of 2-10 µm, which means they can easily get into the upper and lower respiratory tract of the lungs. Inhalation exposure to a fungal spore means that the spore had to be initially aerosolized. This typically happens because human activity disturbs mold-contaminated materials or because mold gets dispersed from contaminated surfaces in heating, ventilating, and air conditioning systems. How fungal spores aerosolize, disperse, get deposited at a new location are all very poorly understood at present. People can also get exposed to mold through skin contact and ingestion of airborne spores or mycelium fragments.
Exposure to mycelia fragments typically happens during removal of mold-contaminated building material. More exposure to living molds or higher levels of allergens on spores and mycelia typically means a greater chance of illness. However, it’s not very clear as to how the level of exposure to mold adversely affects health… which depends on the interaction between mold, other microorganisms and even chemicals in the environment.
Clinical evaluation of suspected mold-related illnesses usually follows conventional clinical guidelines. In the aftermath of extensive flooding, healthcare providers are usually on the lookout for unusual mold-related diseases. Having a public health surveillance strategy in place when flooded areas are being repopulated is necessary to assess the effects on the overall health of the population and the effectiveness of any prevention efforts.
People affected by major hurricanes or floods will most likely be exposed to a wide range of hazardous substances. Removing mold contamination requires a series of actions, such as:
Taking emergency action to stop water intrusion; determining the extent of water damage and mold contamination; planning and implementing remediation activities; establishing containment and protection for workers and occupants; eliminating or limiting water or moisture sources; decontaminating or removing damaged materials; drying any wet materials; evaluating whether space has been successfully cleaned; reassembling the space to prevent recurrence by controlling sources of moisture.
Other important points to consider are:
- What needs to be done when returning to mold-contaminated homes or buildings after a flood
- How to remove mold from a building
- How to clean clothes, household furniture, stuffed toys etc.
- How to clean heating, cooling and ventilation systems
- Personal protective equipment, and
- Steps for effective prevention of mold contamination
For small, simple mold contaminations, a single person may be enough to carry out the entire list of cleanup tasks. On the other hand, large, complex cleanups typically need the cooperation of many specialists from different professions and trades, because no single discipline has all the required knowledge for successful assessment and remediation of mold contamination in the aftermath of floods and hurricanes.