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The Facts About Mold

There has been a dramatic increase nationwide in concern about mold and health effects. The term "mold" describes more than a million species of microscopic fungi which grow on wet organic matter. When excess moisture is present mold problems can spread and proliferate rapidly. Mold spores are everywhere, including the indoor environment. Under favorable conditions, spores germinate and mold colonies grow and multiply.

What Are the Health Concerns with Mold?

Molds can produce a variety of allergenic substances, odorous chemicals, and toxic metabolites. When it multiplies and spreads indoors, high levels of mold can cause a spectrum of health effects to include Hearing loss, Vomiting, Memory loss, and Asthmatic lungs. Excess moisture is the underlying cause of indoor mold problems. The key to prevention and correction is moisture control. The best way to identify a mold problem is by visual inspection and following odors. If mold (any type) can be seen or smelled, a mold problem exists.

Mold in the News

Fifty percent [50%] of homes contain problem molds. A new medical study attributes nearly 100% of chronic sinus infections to mold. A 300% increase in the asthma rate over the past 20 years has been linked to molds, as reported in USA WEEKEND, Dec. 3-5, 1999.

A 1994 Harvard University School of Public Health study of 10,000 homes in the United States and Canada found half had conditions of water damage and mold associated with a 50 to 100% increase in respiratory symptoms.

Last year Dr. David Sherris at the Mayo Clinic performed a study of 210 patients with chronic sinus infections and found that most had allergic fungal sinusitis. The prevailing medical opinion has been that mold accounted for 6 to 7 percent of all chronic sinusitis. [The Mayo Clinic study] found that it was 93 percent-the exact reverse. [Newsweek, 12/4/00]

Most homeowners believe that as long as they do not see visible signs of mold, that is, patches of green, blue, or black discoloration on surfaces, their environment is free of contamination. What they don't realize, however, is that large accumulations of [hidden or concealed] mold may be growing in areas that they cannot see, like remote attic or basement spaces, or wall cavities. Left to multiply, these infestations may produce enough organic compounds to cause allergic reactions, sickness and, in extreme cases, death (a possibility with infants), wrote Edward R. Lipinski in HOME CLINIC: The Battle Against Mold and Mildew, NEW YORK TIMES, Sept. 12, 1999.

All molds have the potential to cause health effects. Molds can produce allergens that can trigger allergic reactions or even asthma attacks in people allergic to mold. Others are known to produce potent toxins and/or irritants. Potential health concerns are an important reason to prevent mold growth and to remediate/clean up any existing indoor mold growth, noted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 03/01.

Because the effects of toxic mold (Stachybotrys) are similar to Alzheimer's Disease [in such ways as the loss of memory and ability to think logically], it is possible that relatives and friends of toxic mold victims think that their relative's memory losses and mental diminishment is a sign of advancing age, or of the onset of Alzheimer's disease. Medical researchers strongly believe that environmental factors help trigger what is ultimately a genetic condition. [USA Weekend, Aug. 31- Sept. 2, 2001, p. 6]

mold informationSecond Wind® Air Products Remove Mold Spores
Second Wind® Model 2000 and 2018 can remove all airborn mold spores in your entrire home. It's an effective way of cleaning the air as you remediate the origin of the mold in your home or office and eliminate all types of mold spores.

Safe germicidal protection destroys micro and macro organisms in your environment such as: spores, molds, mildews, fungi, gases, bacteria, viruses, etc.,
 including SARS, Anthrax and E.coli.
Relieves allergy symptoms
inside your home by efficient reduction of airborne irritants, bacteria, and allergens.
Quickly neutralizes odors
from: pets, cooking, smoking, carpets, new furniture, paint, chemical cleaners, household appliances, etc.
Proven technology! UV sterilization has been used since the 1930's in hospitals, laboratories, and other areas where airborne or surface contamination is of concern. The Second Wind™ PCO technology is specifically designed to enhance and maximize this sterilization process. It has been proven highly effective by university studies and research groups. Now it is available for your home.
Saves Money! Compared to most HEPA filter machines, which require expensive replacement filters, this could save you hundreds of dollars per year.
Saves Energy! Uses only two 40 watt bulbs - a big energy saver when compared to motor and fan-driven HEPA filter machines.
Low Cost! One-room air purifiers may make a difference -- but just in that room. The truth is, you live in more than one room and buying several room air purifiers is expensive. Whole-house air purification is almost always the most cost-effective solution. And because this air purification system uses no motors, fans, filters, etc., this technology is relatively inexpensive compared to others.

No Filters to Replace! Simple wipe the bulbs clean with a cotton ball and some alcohol once every few months. No need to shop for expensive filters, keep filters on hand, or spend time replacing them.
Completely Silent! There are no fans, no motors, no moving parts to create noise in your home. All the air in your home is cleaned as it passes through your existing heating and A/C ductwork. Now you can enjoy clean air while you sleep, watch TV, listen to your stereo, or whatever you normally do in your home, without being disturbed by any added noise.
Cleans More Air More of the Time! If you have allergies, chances are you have (or need) more than one individual room air purifier in your house now. They all make noise. And if you're like most people, you end up turning them off whenever you can, just to have some more peace and quiet. The Second Wind™ Model 2000 is completely silent and out of sight, so you can leave it doing its job of cleaning your air more of the time.
Uses None of Your Living Space -- Always Out of Sight! If you have (or need) more than one individual room air purifier in your house, think of how much room they take up (and how much more you pay!). They all need floor space or counter space and can be seen and heard. The Second Wind™ Model 2000 uses none of your living space whatsoever. It is completely quiet and out of sight.
Highly Reliable! Since there are no moving parts (no fans or motors of any kind), there is virtually no wear-down or breakage of any kind. The lamps are guranteed for one-full year and often last many years before ever needing replacment.

Mold Resources

The following mold resources will help you understand the health and environmental issues with indoor molds, controls, prevention, and remediation.

Molds, Toxic Molds, and Indoor Air Quality

Mold in My Home: What Do I Do?

California Research Bureau Reports Molds, Toxic Molds, and Indoor Air Quality

Minnesota Department of Health - Mold in Homes

Investigating Mold in Minnesota Public Schools


Linda Bien

Recent Mold Legislation
Mold Legislation 1 | Mold Legislation 2 | Mold Legislation 3
Not so long ago, the only image that word created was of something fuzzy growing on a forgotten leftover, somewhere deep in the recesses of your refrigerator. More recently, however, mold has acquired a more foreboding image, that of an infestation that can threaten your home and your health. Both images are correct, actually, because there are many different kinds of mold. And for all the talk it's generating now among homeowners, insurers and health-care providers, mold has been around forever.

That's because, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, mold spores constantly travel through the indoor and outdoor air. If these spores are exposed to moisture, they can grow, digesting whatever they're on, to reproduce. Outdoors, this process plays a key role in the breakdown of leaves, wood and other plant debris. "In the forest, it's nature's recycling plan," says Lloyd Osgood, a senior microbiologist who analyzes mold for Environmental Laboratory Services in North Syracuse. Indoors, however, mold growth can damage any number of surfaces, particularly those with cellulose in them, including drywall and carpeting. Also, some molds have been linked to respiratory problems, particularly for those who suffer from allergies or asthma or who have a compromised immune system.

But you could have mold and not experience any effects on your health. Susan Anagnost, a wood-products biologist at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, says there is a great deal of ongoing research studying mold. Anagnost says much of the research examines three categories associated with the inhalation of molds: allergens, infections and toxins. Many homeowners have heard of one type of mold in particular, stachybotrys (pronounced STACK-ee-BOT-ris). Although it's not the most common type of mold and requires a longer exposure to water than other molds, it is among the most toxic and has been linked to memory and hearing loss as well as bleeding in the lungs. Stachybotrys was also the type of mold in a well-publicized case where a Texas homeowner won a $32 million judgment in 2001 against Farmers Insurance Group, that has since been reduced to $4 million. Locally, in 2001 the Onondaga County Health Department confirmed stachybotrys in at least two condominiums at Village Green, near Baldwinsville, although random testing of more units ruled out a larger problem, says Gary Sauda, the department's director of environmental health.

Stachybotrys forced Mary E. Hamilton from her condominium at 736 Village Blvd. S. in October 2001. Hamilton, 75, who had lived at Village Green since 1986, is suing the Hartford Insurance Co. and the Village Green Homeowners' Association. The homeowners' association, her suit claims, failed to correct defective cedar siding and roofing materials that led to a moisture problem that allowed the infestation of mold to grow inside her wall cavities, and the insurance company refused to cover the cost of cleaning up the mold. Hamilton, who lived with her daughter for more than a year, moved back to the condominium in early December 2002. "I needed to get back in my own home," she says. "After you live on your own for 24 years, you need your own space." Hamilton says she's spent approximately $45,000 over the last 14 months to deal with the mold, an amount that includes having the mold infestation cleaned. Hamilton says her expenses are likely to increase, because many items in her garage still need to be evaluated and cleaned, if possible.

Bob Krell, president of IAQ Technologies, Inc., a Syracuse indoor air quality company, performed Hamilton's "remediation," the industry's term for cleaning a mold infestation. In Hamilton's case, the mold was growing inside a wall. Krell built a containment structure around the repair area to limit airborne spores and removed the infested materials, including drywall, insulation and carpeting. Often, sight and smell are the first signs that mold may be present, although mold also can grow undetected inside a wall or in areas where access is limited, such as a crawl space. Hamilton's first clues, she says, were on her bedroom carpet, where she found water and some orange spots. Later, there was a strong musty odor. She also experienced respiratory problems, including itchy eyes, a runny nose and a sore throat. "As long as I was gone, I didn't have those symptoms," Hamilton says. "The minute I would come back home, they did too."

Dealing with mold depends on how much mold there is and where it's located. If you have a large area, or mold that's inaccessible, you should hire an experienced indoor air quality consultant or a remediation specialist to investigate. Krell and Osgood also say the underlying cause of the mold must be addressed, or it will return. Because mold spores germinate where there is excessive moisture, look for the cause of the moisture and correct it. Proper ventilation is crucial because it keeps air moving and controls your home's moisture levels. Ventilation should be to the outside and not to areas where moisture can collect and mold can grow. Osgood frequently finds mold on the underside of roofs, in attic crawl spaces. "Be sure the vent pipes from the bathroom go through the roof and out of the crawl space," Osgood says. "Otherwise, you can grow orchids up there."

  • Use high-efficiency furnace filters, which are designed to trap more pollutants, and be sure they fit properly. Expect to pay more (up to $12 each) for such filters than for ordinary fiberglass filters.
  • Use a vacuum cleaner with True HEPA filtration.
  • Have your air conditioner and furnace serviced regularly and consider a germicidal air purifier.
  • Do a visual inspection of your home's exterior. Clean your gutters and unclog your downspouts.
  • Check your landscaping to be sure that water drains away from your home.
Mold on the web

There are dozens of resources to help homeowners and renters prevent or clean up mold in their homes. Here is a partial listing of some sources accessible via the Internet:

The Environmental Protection Agency. The agency has a Web site devoted to mold, and it contains a handbook called "Mold, Moisture and Your Home." For those without access to the Internet, the agency has a toll-free phone number with operators who can answer questions about mold: 1-800-438-4318.

The National Association of Homebuilders. Its research center also has a site devoted to mold.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency asked the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine to review all evidence of health effects linked to mold. A study is expected in 2003.

The Indoor Air Quality Association, the group that certified professionals who are trained to eradicate mold from buildings.

The Policy Holders of America. A consumer group established to help homeowners get mold claims reimbursed if their homeowner's policies include mold coverage.

The Insurance Information Institute. A Web site of the insurance industry that has information about mold claims from the industry's point of view.

The National Association of Realtors. Mold is becoming an issue in home buying and selling. This organization has several pages on mold, including a FAQ page.

American Society of Home Inspectors. This organization of home inspectors offers mold control tips at its Web site.

Office of Air and Radiation
Office of Research and Development
Office of Radiation and Indoor Air (6609J)
April 1991


The term "sick building syndrome" (SBS) is used to describe situations in which building occupants experience acute health and comfort effects that appear to be linked to time spent in a building, but no specific illness or cause can be identified. The complaints may be localized in a particular room or zone, or may be widespread throughout the building. In contrast, the term "building related illness" (BRI) is used when symptoms of diagnosable illness are identified and can be attributed directly to airborne building contaminants.

A 1984 World Health Organization Committee report suggested that up to 30 percent of new and remodeled buildings worldwide may be the subject of excessive complaints related to indoor air quality (IAQ). Often this condition is temporary, but some buildings have long-term problems. Frequently, problems result when a building is operated or maintained in a manner that is inconsistent with its original design or prescribed operating procedures. Sometimes indoor air problems are a result of poor building design or occupant activities.

Indicators of SBS include:

  • Building occupants complain of symptoms associated with acute discomfort, e.g., headache; eye, nose, or throat irritation; dry cough; dry or itchy skin; dizziness and nausea; difficulty in concentrating; fatigue; and sensitivity to odors.
  • The cause of the symptoms is not known.
  • Most of the complainants report relief soon after leaving the building.

Indicators of BRI include:

  • Building occupants complain of symptoms such as cough; chest tightness; fever, chills; and muscle aches
  • The symptoms can be clinically defined and have clearly identifiable causes.
  • Complainants may require prolonged recovery times after leaving the building.

It is important to note that complaints may result from other causes. These may include an illness contracted outside the building, acute sensitivity (e.g., allergies), job related stress or dissatisfaction, and other psychosocial factors. Nevertheless, studies show that symptoms may be caused or exacerbated by indoor air quality problems.

Causes of Sick Building Syndrome

The following have been cited causes of or contributing factors to sick building syndrome:

Inadequate ventilation: In the early and mid 1900's, building ventilation standards called for approximately 15 cubic feet per minute (cfm) of outside air for each building occupant, primarily to dilute and remove body odors. As a result of the 1973 oil embargo, however, national energy conservation measures called for a reduction in the amount of outdoor air provided for ventilation to 5 cfm per occupant. In many cases these reduced outdoor air ventilation rates were found to be inadequate to maintain the health and comfort of building occupants. Inadequate ventilation, which may also occur if heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems do not effectively distribute air to people in the building, is thought to be an important factor in SBS. In an effort to achieve acceptable IAQ while minimizing energy consumption, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) recently revised its ventilation standard to provide a minimum of 15 cfm of outdoor air per person (20 cfm/person in office spaces). Up to 60 cfm/person may be required in some spaces (such as smoking lounges) depending on the activities that normally occur in that space (see ASHRAE Standard 62-1989).

Chemical contaminants from indoor sources: Most indoor air pollution comes from sources inside the building. For example, adhesives, carpeting, upholstery, manufactured wood products, copy machines, pesticides, and cleaning agents may emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including formaldehyde. Environmental tobacco smoke contributes high levels of VOCs, other toxic compounds, and respirable particulate matter. Research shows that some VOCs can cause chronic and acute health effects at high concentrations, and some are known carcinogens. Low to moderate levels of multiple VOCs may also produce acute reactions. Combustion products such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, as well as respirable particles, can come from unvented kerosene and gas space heaters, woodstoves, fireplaces and gas stoves.

Chemical contaminants from outdoor sources: The outdoor air that enters a building can be a source of indoor air pollution. For example, pollutants from motor vehicle exhausts; plumbing vents, and building exhausts (e.g., bathrooms and kitchens) can enter the building through poorly located air intake vents, windows, and other openings. In addition, combustion products can enter a building from a nearby garage.

Biological contaminants: Bacteria, molds, pollen, and viruses are types of biological contaminants. These contaminants may breed in stagnant water that has accumulated in ducts, humidifiers and drain pans, or where water has collected on ceiling tiles, carpeting, or insulation. Sometimes insects or bird droppings can be a source of biological contaminants. Physical symptoms related to biological contamination include cough, chest tightness, fever, chills, muscle aches, and allergic responses such as mucous membrane irritation and upper respiratory congestion. One indoor bacterium, Legionella, has caused both Legionnaire's Disease and Pontiac Fever.

These elements may act in combination, and may supplement other complaints such as inadequate temperature, humidity, or lighting. Even after a building investigation, however, the specific causes of the complaints may remain unknown.

A Word About Radon and Asbestos...

SBS and BRI are associated with acute or immediate health problems; radon and asbestos cause long-term diseases which occur years after exposure, and are therefore not considered to be among the causes of sick buildings. This is not to say that the latter are not serious health risks; both should be included in any comprehensive evaluation of a building's IAQ.

Building Investigation Procedures

The goal of a building investigation is to identify and solve indoor air quality complaints in a way that prevents them from recurring and which avoids the creation of other problems. To achieve this goal, it is necessary for the investigator(s) to discover whether a complaint is actually related to indoor air quality, identify the cause of the complaint, and determine the most appropriate corrective actions.

An indoor air quality investigation procedure is best characterized as a cycle of information gathering, hypothesis formation, and hypothesis testing. It generally begins with a walkthrough inspection of the problem area to provide information about the four basic factors that influence indoor air quality:

  • the occupants
  • the HVAC system
  • possible pollutant pathways
  • possible contaminant sources.

Preparation for a walkthrough should include documenting easily obtainable information about the history of the building and of the complaints; identifying known HVAC zones and complaint areas; notifying occupants of the upcoming investigation; and, identifying key individuals needed for information and access. The walkthrough itself entails visual inspection of critical building areas and consultation with occupants and staff.

The initial walkthrough should allow the investigator to develop some possible explanations for the complaint. At this point, the investigator may have sufficient information to formulate a hypothesis, test the hypothesis, and see if the problem is solved. If it is, steps should be taken to ensure that it does not recur. However, if insufficient information is obtained from the walk through to construct a hypothesis, or if initial tests fail to reveal the problem, the investigator should move on to collect additional information to allow formulation of additional hypotheses. The process of formulating hypotheses, testing them, and evaluating them continues until the problem is solved.

Although air sampling for contaminants might seem to be the logical response to occupant complaints, it seldom provides information about possible causes. While certain basic measurements, e.g., temperature, relative humidity, CO2, and air movement, can provide a useful "snapshot" of current building conditions, sampling for specific pollutant concentrations is often not required to solve the problem and can even be misleading. Contaminant concentration levels rarely exceed existing standards and guidelines even when occupants continue to report health complaints. Air sampling should not be undertaken until considerable information on the factors listed above has been collected, and any sampling strategy should be based on a comprehensive understanding of how the building operates and the nature of the complaints.

Solutions to Sick Building Syndrome

Solutions to sick building syndrome usually include combinations of the following:

Pollutant source removal or modification is an effective approach to resolving an IAQ problem when sources are known and control is feasible. Examples include routine maintenance of HVAC systems, e.g., periodic cleaning or replacement of filters; replacement of water-stained ceiling tile and carpeting; institution of smoking restrictions; venting contaminant source emissions to the outdoors; storage and use of paints, adhesives, solvents, and pesticides in well ventilated areas, and use of these pollutant sources during periods of non-occupancy; and allowing time for building materials in new or remodeled areas to off-gas pollutants before occupancy. Several of these options may be exercised at one time.

Increasing ventilation rates and air distribution often can be a cost effective means of reducing indoor pollutant levels. HVAC systems should be designed, at a minimum, to meet ventilation standards in local building codes; however, many systems are not operated or maintained to ensure that these design ventilation rates are provided. In many buildings, IAQ can be improved by operating the HVAC system to at least its design standard, and to ASHRAE Standard 62-1989 if possible. When there are strong pollutant sources, local exhaust ventilation may be appropriate to exhaust contaminated air directly from the building. Local exhaust ventilation is particularly recommended to remove pollutants that accumulate in specific areas such as rest rooms, copy rooms, and printing facilities. (For a more detailed discussion of ventilation, read Indoor Air Facts No. 3R, Ventilation and Air Quality in Office Buildings.)

Air cleaning can be a useful adjunct to source control and ventilation but has certain limitations. Particle control devices such as the typical furnace filter are inexpensive but do not effectively capture small particles; high performance air filters capture the smaller, respirable particles but are relatively expensive to install and operate. Mechanical filters do not remove gaseous pollutants. Some specific gaseous pollutants may be removed by adsorbent beds, but these devices can be expensive and require frequent replacement of the adsorbent material. In sum, air cleaners can be useful, but have limited application.

Education and communication are important elements in both remedial and preventive indoor air quality management programs. When building occupants, management, and maintenance personnel fully communicate and understand the causes and consequences of IAQ problems, they can work more effectively together to prevent problems from occurring, or to solve them if they do.

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