Mold in My Office is Making Me Sick

Written By:  Robert E. Sheriff, MS, CIH, CSP, President

May 16, 2016

 

Mold is the single most important element affecting Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). It also can play a significant role in what is termed “Sick Building Syndrome.”

When people go to work and start feeling such symptoms as dry throat, coughing, sore throat, nasal congestion, asthma, and they feel better when leaving work, one likely culprit is mold/mildew.moldonwall

Even though the term mold and mildew are used interchangeably, they are actually different but both have the ability to cause human ailments. Suffice it to say, the differences are not terribly important to the person in the office where there is evidence of mold/mildew. Both mold and mildew can show visible growth on surfaces and emit offensive odors and affect building occupants.

They thrive on organic materials which they can use as a food source. Locations where heat and moisture have caused deterioration of those surfaces make them ideal food sources encouraging rapid and extensive growth and propagation. That food can be foodstuffs, leather, cotton, wood, paper—especially sheetrock paper, and material latex (the latex from latex rubber trees—not petroleum latex). Solid items as rock, concrete, bricks and metal are not sources of food for molds but dirt and debris can lodge in pores on these surfaces which can act as a food source.

In order to grow, molds prefer warm temperatures 70-90°F but can grow in lower temperatures—even down to freezing, and higher temperatures—even up to boilers. In an office environment, the 70-90°F is the temperature range of most molds found in an office environment. The final element for mold growth is moisture/humidity. The optimal range is about 60-90% relative humidity.

mold-on-wallHumidity control in an office building is generally the best way to minimize or control mold/mildew.

The most likely places in an office where molds can find the best growth surface to settle upon and grow are:

Basements – Floors on the ground, walls touching dirt, exposed water and heat piping.

Bathrooms – Around toilets, sinks, showers, walls that enclosed piping that may cause condensation.

Windows – Poorly draining sills, leaking frames, plugged condensate weep holes.

Top Floor Ceilings – Roof leaks, overhead pipe condensate, roof drains. Condensate from HVAC units, skylights.

Kitchen/Break Rooms – Sinks, cooking, exposed and wall interior piping, dishwashers, hot water heaters.

Symptoms of mold/mildew reactions are quite varied but most often they affect the respiratory system; sneezing, coughing, sore throat, asthma, respiratory distress, and some allergic reactions.

If mold is suspected or visibly evident, or there are moldy/musty odors in the office, the first step is to have the building tested by a qualified professional. The issue of Indoor Air Quality, Mold, and Sick Building Syndrome are complex are not easily identified and resolved except by an experienced Indoor Air Quality Specialist or Industrial Hygienist.

 

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