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Moulds and fungi are found in nature and are necessary for the breakdown of leaves, wood and other plant debris. These micro-organisms can enter a building directly or by their spores being carried in by the air. In a home or building, moulds and fungi are usually found growing on wood, drywall (plaster/gypsum/Sheetrock®, upholstery, fabric, wallpaper, drapery, ceiling tiles, and carpeting.
The key factor is moisture because moulds and fungi need it to grow. As a result, moulds and fungi are most often found in basements, kitchens and bathrooms.
In modern buildings, moisture may be present as the result of:
* In this document, the term mould will be used to mean any of mould (mold), mildew, yeasts, and fungi.
While it is interesting be able to identify what type of mould may be growing in the building, it is not necessary to identify the type(s) present. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that all moulds should be treated the same in terms of health risk and removal.
Some of the more common types of mould found in buildings include:
The presence of mould does not always means that health problems will occur. However, for some people the inhalation of the mould, fragments of the moulds, or spores can lead to health problems or make certain health conditions worse.
In addition, many of these moulds make "mycotoxins". Mycotoxins are metabolites or by-products from the moulds that have been identified as being toxic to humans. These toxins can slowly wear down the immune system and can lead to allergic or respiratory problems.
In general, the most commonly reported symptoms include:
Moulds can also exacerbate (make worse) the symptoms of allergies including wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath as well as nasal congestion and eye irritation. People who are immuno-suppressed, or recovering from surgery are usually more susceptible to health problems from moulds.
Moulds can grow almost everywhere and on any substance providing moisture is present. Thus, the best method of prevention is to reduce the amount of moisture.
First, determine the source of the moisture, and eliminate the problem.
Keep the relative humidity between 30% and 50%. To accomplish this goal, prevention measures include:
* It is important to remember that when using air conditioners and dehumidifiers to keep them in good condition. Empty any water collectors regularly so this water does not contribute to the moisture problem! If you use humidifiers, ensure that they are cleaned regularly.
A visual inspection is the most reliable method of identifying mould problems. The most common signs of water damage will be discolouration and staining. Moulds will most often appear as dark spots, stains or patches.
While conducting the inspection, be sure to look at, in, or under the following places:
If possible, look behind duct work and walls (a mirror will help).
Also look for standing water - puddles of water around and under sinks, tubs, drip pans for dehumidifiers, air conditioners, and refrigerators that can be contributing to the moisture in the building and provide conditions where mould can grow.
Surface sampling can be done by scraping or swiping suspected spots if needed for medical evaluation but this should be done by a trained professional. Air monitoring is also possible, but it is not considered routine. (New York City Department of Health, 2008)
Monitoring devices are available which can measure the moisture level of drywall, wood, etc. These devices will help indicate whether or not moisture levels exists that would promote the growth of mould.
Always find out why moisture was present and fix the underlying problem. In general, once mould has been discovered, it is recommended that porous materials such as dry wall, ceiling tiles, fabric, books, paper, cardboard, etc. be thrown out and replaced rather than cleaned whenever possible. It may be necessary to throw away carpets, cushions, furnishings, mattresses, pillows, stuffed toys or bedding that cannot be properly cleaned. Non-porous materials such as metal, glass, hard plastic and semi-porous materials such as wood and concrete can be cleaned and reused (if structurally sound).
Cleaning should be done using soap or detergent. Do not generate dust while cleaning. Use a High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter when vacuuming.
How to clean the mould depends of the size or extent of the damage. Before beginning any clean up, ensure that people doing the work have received appropriate training, including how to use respiratory protection.
The following are general steps to help deal with mould issues. You may need to call a professional or contractor with experience dealing with moisture issues and mould. When dealing with mould in homes, most people can generally clean a small or moderate area themselves with soap and water. If the area is large or if the mould reappears after you have cleaned it, consider hiring professional help.
Small Isolated Areas (less than 1 square metre/10 square feet) (e.g., ceiling tiles, small areas on walls):
For medium sized areas (1-3 square metres/10-100 square feet):
For larger areas or areas of high contamination (greater than 3 square metres/100 square feet):
While large remediation projects should be done by trained professionals, some good work practices include:
If the contamination is in the Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system:
For a more detailed report on various remediation projects, please see the following*:
Guidelines on Assessment and Remediation of Fungi in Indoor Environments. The New York City Department of Health
Addressing moisture and mould in your home. Health Canada
Mould in Indoor Air. Health Canada
(*We have mentioned these organizations as a means of providing a potentially useful referral. You should contact the organization(s) directly for more information about their information and/or services. Please note that mention of these organizations does not represent a recommendation or endorsement by CCOHS of these organizations over others of which you may be aware.)