In houses, apartments, schools, and daycare facilities across the five boroughs, there may be a hidden threat to the city’s more than 1.7 million children: IAQ and mold.
Nationally and at the state and local levels, exposure to dampness and mold in buildings has been recognized as a public health problem. In this article, we’ll reveal the link between IAQ and mold. We’ll also look at the dangers associated with mold as well as management and prevention strategies for mold problems.
What causes mold issues?
There are more than 100,000 different kinds of mold — a fungus that can growth pretty much anywhere it finds organic matter and water. As luck would have it, many common types can have an impact on indoor air quality (IAQ).
Of course, mold occurs in the environment naturally. While people may be exposed to mold through skin contact or even food, the biggest risk comes from breathing airborne mold spores.
Indoors, it is a major health risk when people are exposed to mold that grows as a result of problems such as:
- Flooding in basements and other areas from heavy rains
- Burst pipes or leaky plumbing
- Ongoing roof leaks
- Excessive condensation
- Uncontrolled humidity levels
Another problem is that efforts to improve energy efficiency can have a negative impact on IAQ and mold. For example, steps to weatherize a building may decrease the exchange of fresh air and result in higher concentrations of indoor pollutants in the air, including mold.
What health issues are associated with IAQ and mold?
More than a decade ago, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California concluded that building dampness and mold increased the risk of respiratory and asthma-related health issues by 30-50%. Around the same time, the EPA found that 21% of U.S. asthma cases could be attributed to dampness and mold in homes.
Since then, many other studies have linked mold and dampness to a range of health issues:
- Chest and nasal congestion, sore throat, or headaches
- Watery, dry, or sore eyes
- Skin irritation
- Development of asthma and/or triggering of asthma attacks
- Upper respiratory tract problems such as wheezing, coughing, and difficulty breathing
- Lung infections in people with immune system deficiencies or pre-existing lung conditions such as COPD
Some people may be more sensitive to mold or may develop a sensitivity over time and prolonged exposure. People who are allergic may have very severe reactions to mold.
Evidence also suggests that children are more susceptible to the effects of mold. Studies have linked mold to the onset of asthma and other respiratory illnesses in otherwise healthy children. For kids who already have asthma, mold has been shown to make the symptoms worse and to cause asthma attacks.
Where does IAQ and mold affect kids?
Studies by the EPA have shown that about 50% of schools in the United States have problems related to IAQ. The problem is so prevalent that nearly half of all states have regulations to address mold or dampness issues in daycare facilities.
Across the country, more than 55 million children spend their day in K-12 schools; another 15 million are in preschool, daycare, or other childcare facilities. Given the amount of time children spend in childcare or school, it is critically important that those facilities be aware of IAQ and mold issues. Good air quality is not only healthier for kids, but also more conducive to learning.
In addition, about a third of all homes in the United States are rentals — making IAQ and mold an issue for landlords and tenants, as well as for public housing and health officials.
How can mold be managed?
Taking control of dampness and moisture issues indoors is an important step in managing IAQ and mold. Wherever you notice visible mold, a moldy odor, or dampness indoors, health officials would urge you to:
- Take action to eliminate or fix the source
- Dry the area immediately
- Remove damp or moldy materials
- Use an IAQ mold cleaner designed to remove mold and prevent it from growing back
There are numerous IAQ mold remediation products designed to remove mold and prevent it from growing back. There are also IAQ mold test kits for use in homes, daycares, schools, hospitals, and other facilities. You can also consult with IAQ mold experts if you know or suspect you have a mold issue. Read this article to help you determine if you might need professional testing.
Can mold be prevented in the first place?
It is not just flooding, burst pipes, or leaky roofs that can cause mold buildup. Poor maintenance of HVAC systems can contribute to mold and dampness issues, posing the same health risks, especially to children.
The good news is, with routine preventative maintenance of your HVAC system, an expert service technician can help to prevent problems related to IAQ and mold by:
- Changing the system filters
- Making sure drain lines and pans are not clogged
- Cleaning the evaporator and condenser coils
Performed regularly, this kind of HVAC maintenance can go a long way in maintaining the proper humidity levels and helping to prevent the growth of mold. As a bonus, HVAC maintenance also helps to remove other pollutants from indoor air while keeping the system in tip-top shape and running efficiently.
Learn more about preventative maintenance:
Other resources about IAQ and mold: