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There’s a fungus among us

What’s the difference between mushroom pizza and the fuzzy stuff that grows on two-week-old pizza?

Not much. They have more in common than you think! Both are fungi – a vital part of our ecosystem.

During a risk assessment, scientists, physicians and public health officials seek to estimate the increased risk of adverse health effects as a result of exposure to environmental health hazards, such as mold or fungi. Identification of mold and fungi and their health problems is the first step of the risk assessment process.

What are fungi and mold?

Fungi are organisms that lack chlorophyll, have cell walls composed of chitin, and usually produce spores. Molds, along with mushrooms and yeast, are types of fungi ubiquitous on our planet. They play a vital role in the earth’s ecology by decomposing organic substances necessary for sustaining plant and animal life. Molds survive by using plants and other decaying organic matter for food and reproduce by releasing tiny spores that are carried by air currents to other locations.

What causes mold to grow?

Only three requirements are needed for mold to germinate and grow: an available food source, water, and time. Molds and fungi grow in areas that contain favorable conditions, notably moisture, oxygen, light and a suitable substrate. In an indoor environment, water and moisture sources can be from floods, as well as leaking pipes, windows and roofs that can lead to mold amplification. Prolonged increased ambient humidity, e.g., inadequate ventilation, inadequate conditioning of air, improper drying of flooded areas, etc., can also lead to mold growth. Typically, outdoor concentrations of most molds and fungi are higher than indoor concentrations, unless there is a local source of mold growth within a building.

Health effects of mold growth

A small percentage of people may experience symptoms when exposed to mold, such as mucus membrane irritation, runny nose and upper airway congestion. Less common symptoms such as breathing difficulties may also occur. The type and severity of symptoms depends upon the type and amount of mold present, the extent of the individual’s exposure, the susceptibility of the individual (for example, whether they have preexisting allergies, asthma or whether they are immune-compromised), and/or if the molds produce toxins (termed “mycotoxins”).

Reduce your health risk by preventing mold growth

To prevent mold growth, you must first control the moisture. Ways to prevent moisture from accumulating inside a building include:

  • Clean water leaks or spills immediately. If wet or damp materials or areas are dried within 24 to 48 hours after a leak or spill happens, in most cases mold will not grow.
  • Clean and repair roof gutters regularly.
  • Make sure the ground slopes away from the building foundation, so that water does collect around the foundation or enter into the crawlspace or basement.
  • Keep air conditioning drip pans clean and the drain lines unobstructed and flowing properly.
  • Keep indoor humidity low. If possible, keep indoor humidity below 60 percent (ideally between 30 and 50 percent) relative humidity.
  • Clean and dry condensation or moisture collecting on windows, walls or pipes immediately. Condensation can be a sign of high indoor humidity.
  • Use air conditioners and/or dehumidifiers when needed.
  • Cover cold surfaces, such as cold water pipes, with insulation and check regularly for gaps.
  • Increase ventilation or air movement by using fans.

If you have questions about mold in your community, facility, office or work place and how it could affect the health of those exposed, contact the experts at Cogency at solutions@cogencyteam.com. With our team of physicians, industrial hygienists and public health professionals, Cogency brings swift focus to environment risk assessments and risk characterization for groups and individuals by conducting targeted, but thorough, building inspections and interviews with affected or potentially exposed individuals. Cogency has a wealth of experience in diagnosing hard to detect building issues and peculiar occupant illnesses possibly related to environmental or toxicological exposures.

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