A Fungus Among Us

Electrical contractors find themselves in a wide range of locations, and many locations can present environmental hazards. Mold is one hazard that has received a great deal of attention. The following may help workers better understand the dangers mold can pose.

1. Potential health effects and symptoms associated with mold exposure include allergic reactions, asthma and other respiratory complaints. Mold in an indoor environment can trigger many health issues, mostly respiratory in nature. The most common complaints fall into the category of an allergic reaction. Like any allergy, the symptoms will vary from mild to severe, depending on the person’s sensitivity to molds. The symptoms can be as simple as a stuffy nose or itchy eyes. They can be as serious as a fever and shortness of breath to a full-blown asthma attack or a mold infection in the lungs.

2. There is no practical way to eliminate all molds and mold spores in the indoor environment; the way to control indoor mold growth is to control moisture. Molds grow as part of the natural environment and thrive in damp areas where they break down plant material, both outdoors and in. Because molds and their spores are always in the environment, there is no way to completely remove them. Spores are invisible to the naked eye and float through the air. However, mold growth can be virtually eliminated inside by keeping moisture to a minimum.

3. If mold is a problem in your home or work site, you must clean up the mold and eliminate sources of moisture. Once mold is discovered, it must be thoroughly cleaned. This is best done by scrubbing mold off hard surfaces with detergent and water. A disinfectant is not necessary. If ceiling tiles or other absorbent materials, such as drywall, have become moldy or very wet, they should be thrown away.

4. Fix the source of the water problem or leak to prevent mold growth. A mold problem can be cleaned up, but unless the source of water is removed, the mold will just come back again. Typically, water is entering a building from the outside or an internal leak. To prevent further mold growth, the water source must be found and removed.

5. Reduce relative humidity indoors (to between 25 and 60 percent) to decrease mold growth. This can be done by venting bathrooms, dryers and other moisture-generating sources to the outside; using air conditioners and dehumidifiers; increasing ventilation; and using exhaust fans whenever possible. Anything that can be done to reduce the humidity in a building will help to reduce the risk of developing a mold problem. Prevention of the problem is typically an easier and cheaper solution than trying to clean it up.

6. Clean and dry any damp or wet building materials and furnishings within 24 to 48 hours to prevent mold growth. Water-damaged drywall, ceiling tiles and carpets are among some of the more common sources of mold. If damp building materials are used in a construction job, mold will grow and infest the structure.

7. The most important step in mold prevention is a visual inspection. Checking that a building’s exterior surfaces and drainage systems are in good working order can help stop mold growth before it starts. By finding a leak early, a mold problem can be minimized and much easier to completely clean and remove from the site.

8. Ventilate attics and crawl spaces to decrease moisture buildup, and install exhaust fans where possible. Keeping the humidity level in these places at 50 percent or lower will minimize water condensation on building materials. Everyday activities and weather changes can cause an increase in a building’s humidity. By simply ventilating and using exhaust fans, a building’s relative humidity can be brought back down to below the OSHA-recommended 50 percent.

9. Properly maintaining and cleaning a building’s ventilation and duct systems can decrease the spread of mold. Ventilation systems should be periodically checked for overall cleanliness and the presence of damp filters. Components of the ventilation system that are exposed to water, such as drainage pans and coils, must be kept scrupulously clean. If mold enters the ventilation system, it will spread throughout a building as the air moves through the system. Ducts also should be cleaned at the same time. If the ducts contain mold spores and are not cleaned, they will recontaminate an area that has been cleaned once the ventilation system is turned back on.

10. Currently, there are no federal standards or recommendations (e.g., OSHA, NIOSH, EPA) for airborne concentrations of mold or mold spores. Scientific research on the link between mold exposure and health effects is ongoing.

There are many types of mold. Most typical indoor air mold spores do not present a risk of adverse health effects. Molds can cause adverse effects by producing allergic reactions. The onset of allergic reactions to mold can either be immediate or delayed. The most common allergic responses include hay fever-like symptoms, such as runny nose and red eyes. Health concerns are important reasons to prevent mold growth and to remediate existing problem areas.  EC

KELLY is a safety and health specialist with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. She can be reached at 800.745.4818 or dkelly@intecweb.com. This article was edited by Joe O’Connor.

About the Author

Diane Kelly

Safety Columnist
Diane Kelly is a safety and health specialist with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. She can be reached at 800.745.4818 or dkell...

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