In this article the indoor air quality specialists at WTS take a look at mould and the health risks associated with its growth, damp problems and exposure to airborne spores, both in the home and the workplace.
We consider who is most at risk to the effects of exposure, typical symptoms and how it can affect your health. We then look at techniques to tackle typical root-causes of the problem, how to remove the mould itself and how specialist mould testing can help resolve the issues.
What is mould?
Mould is a living organism classified by scientists as a fungus. It is made up of tiny plants that are part of the same family as yeast and mushrooms. Mould is found everywhere living alongside us inside our homes, offices, other workplaces, and outdoors.
Mould only becomes a problem for people when it settles, and begins to grow. It likes nothing better than damp, humid environments. That means it is particularly an issue in areas which are not well ventilated, that are damp or which aren’t well heated.
Inside our homes and workplaces, shower rooms and bathrooms are the classic places for mould growth, which can affect most surfaces including walls and wallpaper, ceilings, tiles and grout, even wood. It can also affect carpets, especially older carpets backed with jute.
There are lots of different types of mould found growing indoors, and they all have the potential to cause health problems in people who are exposed to it, especially if it is left to grow unchecked.
How does mould affect your health?
Moulds reproduce by creating tiny particles called spores. Usually, these spores are microscopic and are too small to be seen with the naked eye.
When mould releases its spores in to the atmosphere they become airborne, and if someone who is sensitive to mould or has an allergy to this type of material is exposed to these spores, this can cause an allergic reaction or other more serious health issues.
What are the symptoms of exposure to mould?
Mould can cause a wide range of symptoms in people. Some of the most common effects of exposure to mould and spores are sneezing, wheezing and coughing, runny nose or blocked up-nose, sore eyes or irritation to the skin.
Some people might react a more severely to mould, and find that it makes existing conditions such as eczema and asthma worse. Although it only happens rarely, some people are at greater risk of contracting more serious lung infections because they have come into contact with mould spores.
However, the majority of people who are exposed to mould spores won’t suffer any serious health issues as a consequence. If you’re worried about exposure to mould, you should speak to your doctor to get more advice.
Who is most at risk from exposure?
People who are at the most risk of developing health problems from exposure to mould are those who already have asthma, allergies or other health conditions affecting their lungs. These people might be more sensitive to the affects of mould.
People who have other health conditions which affect their immune system can also be more sensitive to mould. This includes patients with HIV, or people who are undergoing chemotherapy treatment for cancer.
People who have had an organ transplant, or who have chronic lung conditions such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) or emphysema are also more likely to develop mould infections in their lungs than the population in general.
Groups of people who may be more at risk from exposure include:
How to prevent mould growth
Mould is found everywhere, but in order for it to grow it needs both a suitable food source and moisture. Therefore, the key to stopping mould growing out of control is to limit both of these elements in your home, office or workplace. There are a few simple steps you can take to achieve this.
Moist air can quickly build up when you are having a shower, taking a bath, cooking, drying clothes or ironing. An extractor fan in a bathroom can help to quickly remove the moist air from the room.
When the weather is dry, opening windows in humid or stuffy rooms is one of the most effective ventilation methods, and won’t cost you anything either.
We tend not to use humidifiers in our homes and workplaces in the UK, but as these machines are designed to increase the moisture content of the air, they should be avoided at all costs.
Keep indoor plants and fish tanks to a minimum, or move them to a well-ventilated room.
Calor gas style heaters which do not have an exhaust flue can also make the atmosphere very damp.
Take prompt action to deal with anything that is causing damp problems in your property. The most common culprits tend to be burst water pipes, a failed or breached damp proof course, a leaky roof, or blocked or damaged gutters causing water to run down walls.
If you are unlucky and have a more serious flood, carpets and other building materials should be thoroughly cleaned, disinfected and professionally dried out. Anything which can’t be properly dried out should be thrown away.
Rising damp is often caused by a structural issue with your property, whereby moisture from the ground rises up the walls. It can be caused by a number of factors including damaged underground water pipes and drains.
It can also be caused when there is no damp proof course, or it has failed or been breached by external paving, landscaping etc.
Poor under floor ventilation will also make the problem worse.
In the UK, this type of rising damp is mainly associated with older properties. To remedy the problem you might have to install a new damp course, or insert some sort of waterproof membrane into the wall to prevent moisture rising. You should also keep any ventilation air bricks clear so that the air can flow through any under floor voids.
Rectifying rising damp is usually a job for the professionals, so if you suspect it’s an issue in your property, speak to a surveyor or structural engineer.
Always tackle the source of the problem first
If you spot mould developing inside your home, office or workplace then do not ignore the problem – it’s not going to go away by itself. It might take some effort to get rid of it but remember that if you don’t deal with its root-cause, it will simply return sooner or later.
How to get rid of mould and mildew
Once you have resolved the root-cause you can then begin to tackle the mould itself. A very effective, non-toxic way of removing mould from your property is by scrubbing it off any affected surfaces with a mild detergent such as washing up liquid, or with a four part vinegar to one part water solution.
If that doesn’t work, use a bleach solution to try to remove the mould. When using chemicals, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions and any COSHH data, open a window, use suitable protective equipment such as rubber gloves and safety glasses.
Once you have finished cleaning off the mould, leave the area to dry out completely. If you have carpet, curtains or other absorbent materials in the room, they will need to be professionally cleaned, or disposed of.
What about mould testing?
Most types of mould are easily recognised with the naked eye so a visual inspection from an expert is usually all that is required to identify which type it is. However, it could be present inside cavity walls, in ceiling voids, under floors and in roof spaces which are not easily inspected.
If you suspect that you have a problem with mould growth, then ask the professionals at WTS to come in and take a look. Our teams of specially trained technicians use special cameras, other analysis equipment and specialist laboratory mould testing procedures to identify the type of mould present, and suggest ways to treat it.
Specialist indoor mould testing and air quality solutions
WTS offer a comprehensive range of indoor air quality and mould testing solutions to support business owners, landlords and property managers, health and safety professionals, facilities management specialists and home owners. Our experts can provide advice and support to help identify the most appropriate strategies for the identification and investigation of mould problems and their remediation.
With offices in London serving the South and South East England, Manchester (North West), Birmingham (Midlands), Bristol (South East England and Wales), Leeds (North and North East) and Glasgow (Scotland), supported by regional teams of specially trained technicians, in-field specialists and consultants we can offer professional, cost effective indoor air quality solutions throughout the UK and internationally.
Contact us today to learn how our home and workplace solutions can help keep you, your staff and other people safe from exposure to mould, spores and other indoor air pollutants.
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