A mold inspection does not investigate health effects, but rather the conditions that lead to fungal growth and the means for correcting those conditions. According to the EPA, Americans currently spend up to 90%, or more, of their time indoors. The levels of indoor pollutants can be from two to five times higher indoors than outdoors; in some cases they’re 100 times higher. (Independent studies have shown that poor indoor air quality in the workplace can affect worker productivity by as much as 50%.) With all this time spent indoors, it is more critical now than ever to address the sources of indoor air quality issues before they affect your health.
The EPA has indicated that the effects of Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) problems are often nonspecific symptoms rather than clearly defined illnesses. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “When moisture problems occur and mold growth results, building occupants may begin to report odors and a variety of health problems which could potentially be associated with mold exposure. Symptoms commonly include:
- Shortness of breath
- Sinus congestion
- Eye, nose, and throat irritation
- Skin irritation
When is There a Cause for Concern?
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.”
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
“Some people are sensitive to molds. For these people, exposure to molds can cause symptoms such as nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, wheezing, or skin irritation. Some people, such as those with serious allergies to molds, may have more severe reactions.”
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.
SOURCE: Molds in the Environment, retrieved 3/14/17. http://www.cdc.gov/mold/faqs.htm#affect
Sometimes the terms “black mold” and “toxic mold” are used to refer to molds that may produce mycotoxins. The term “toxigenic mold” is more appropriate, since this mold is capable of producing toxins.
Although there are hundreds of types of molds that can appear in indoor environments, only a small number are of concern in water-impacted buildings. Most attention is given to health concerns from stachybotrys chartarum, certain species of aspergillus, penicillium, chaetomium, trichoderma, phoma and fusarium.
It is important to note a few things about the importance of mycotoxins with respect to indoor air-related illness:
- Toxigenic means that the fungus is capable of producing toxins. It doesn’t mean that they always do, or that the presence of a specific fungus can be taken to mean that the toxins are being produced. Even though a fungal species is known to have strains that produce mycotoxins, not all strains have this capability, and even those with the capability do not make the toxins under all conditions.
- If you want to know whether toxins are present, you must sample for the toxin itself.
- Mycotoxins are not volatile, and inhalation exposure is probably primarily related to airborne spores.
- Health effects for most of the mycotoxins are known only from either agricultural environments, or from laboratory experiments, and virtually all of the data involves ingestion of the mycotoxins.
- Extrapolating from the amount of toxin necessary to cause health effects by ingestion, and, given that the toxin content of individual spores is quite low, inhalation exposure in non-agricultural environments (i.e. in normal homes and offices) to enough spores of even the most toxic strains to reach a dose likely to produce human health effects is unlikely and probably very rare.
- Concentrating on the so-called toxigenic fungi in indoor environmental investigations is only appropriate if you are only concerned about specific symptoms that you are convinced could only be due to the mycotoxins. To ignore the other fungi is to ignore potentially hazardous conditions that could lead to serious respiratory diseases.