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Mold infestation is a serious health threat to residents and workers

Many property owners, landlords, employers, and relatives of mold victims in Canada, the USA, and worldwide often question or minimize the proven and serious health threat arising from exposure to elevated levels of indoor mold infestation.

All molds have the potential to cause health effects. They can produce allergens that can trigger reactions or even asthma attacks in people allergic to mold. Others are known to produce potent toxins and/or irritants, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A number of commonly found species are, in fact, toxic mold, a description applied to any mold that produces mycotoxins in its spores. Stachybotrys (black mold), Aspergillus, and Penicillium are three of the most dangerous and commonly found indoor toxic molds.

Mycotoxins are cytotoxic, meaning they have the capacity to pass through the human cellular wall and disrupt certain cellular processes, potentially causing serious health damage to workers and customers. Studies on animals and cell cultures in labs have found toxic effects from various microbial agents, raising concerns about whether these same agents growing in buildings can cause illness in people, according to the 2004 mold health report from the Institute of Medicine (U.S. Government's National Academy of Sciences).

Health Symptoms
Fungi can cause health problems to both humans and animals by several different biological mechanisms: infections, allergic or hypersensitivity reactions, irritant reactions, or toxic reactions, according to a 2004 University of Connecticut Health Center article.

If exposed to elevated levels of indoor mold, some residents and workers can experience one or more of the most common health symptoms: allergies, asthma, bleeding lungs, breathing difficulties, cancer, central nervous system problems, recurring colds, chronic coughing, coughing up with blood, dandruff problems (chronic) that do not go away despite use of anti-dandruff shampoos, dermatitis, skin rashes, diarrhea, and/or eye and vision problems, fatigue (chronic, excessive, or continued) and/or general malaise, flu symptoms (chronic), sudden hair loss, headaches, hemorrhagic pneumonitis, hives, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, irritability, itching (of the nose, mouth, eyes, throat, skin or any other area), kidney failure, learning difficulties or mental dysfunction or personality changes, memory loss or memory difficulties.

Other symptoms could include open skin sores and lacerations, peripheral nervous system effects, redness of the sclera (whites of your eyes), runny nose (rhinitis) or thick, green slime coming out of nose (from sinus cavities), seizures, sinus congestion, sinus problems, and chronic sinusitis, skin redness, sleep disorders, sneezing fits, sore throat, tremors (shaking), verbal dysfunction (trouble in speaking), vertigo (feelings of dizziness, lightheadedness, faintness and unsteadiness), and vomiting.

Health Studies
"Where is the proof?" ask skeptical sellers of homes with mold, landlords, employers, and unaffected relatives of victims. There is actually abundant evidence about the serious impact of mycotoxins and mold exposure in human disease. Medical studies in both the military and agricultural environments have discovered that significant health problems can readily arise from the inhalation of elevated levels of fungal spores and toxins by soldiers and farmers.

Laboratory studies in animals and at the cellular level provide supporting evidence for direct toxicity of fungal spores and mycotoxins in mammalian lungs (University of Connecticut Health Center report in 2004). As to asthma, a health study by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health links adult-onset asthma to workplace mold exposure.

The Finnish workplace study estimated the percentage of adult-onset asthma attributable to workplace mold exposure to be 35% (Reported in Environmental Health Perspectives, May, 2002). A European Community respiratory health survey in 2002 reported that asthma patients experience more significant symptoms after they become sensitized to molds such as Alternaria and Cladosporium species, and to dust mites.

Scientific evidence links mold and other factors related to damp conditions in homes and buildings to asthma symptoms in some people with the chronic asthma, as well as to coughing, wheezing, and upper respiratory tract symptoms in otherwise healthy people, stated the Institute of Medicine report.

"In addition, the wetness may cause chemicals and particles to be released from building materials. A rare ailment known as hypersensitivity pneumonitis also was associated with indoor mold exposure in susceptible people," reported the Institute of Medicine.

" Recent studies have confirmed what scientists have suspected for years: that asthma is an immune system reaction to dust, pollution and other allergens (e.g., airborne mold spores) in the environment, which trigger spasms and tightening of the airways of some people who also have a genetic predisposition," reported Newsweek, "Waiting to Inhale," March 14, 2005.

Conclusions
" Any person at risk from mold should not be in an area that is likely to be contaminated. If you or your family members have health problems after exposure to mold, contact your doctor or other health care provider," advises the Centers for Disease Control.

Residents and workers often differ significantly (from co-residents and co-workers) in their sensitivity and reaction to exposure. Even the smell of mold can make some residents and workers sick.

Thus, if one or a few residents, employees, or customers experience one or more possible health symptoms, the property owner, landlord or employer should still inspect and mold test the residential or work premises for the health protection of both the mold-sensitive residents and employees, as well as others who may ultimately be harmed from time-cumulative mold exposure.

Homes and workplaces should be carefully and thoroughly inspected and mold tested if there are: (1) significant amounts of visible mold; (2) serious water leaks, flooding problems, or high indoor humidity; and (3) residents, employees, or business customers (such as hotel guests) report experiencing one or more possible health symptoms.

This article was published by EPA.gov, copyright 2012. It can be accessed online at the following link.

California Department of Health Services - Indoor Air Quality Info Sheet
Health Issues: Mold
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