Got mold?

Photo: Ralf Geithe/iStockphoto

Clean it up

In its guidance document, EPA provides a flowchart for mold remediation efforts, along with information on cleanup methods, personal protective equipment and containment. Cleanup methods include the use of a detergent-water solution, wet vacuum or HEPA vacuum. The document also includes safety tips when evaluating or investigating mold and moisture issues. Among EPA’s advice: 

  • Don’t touch mold or moldy items with your bare hands.
  • Don’t get mold or mold spores in your eyes.
  • Don’t breathe in mold or mold spores.
  • Use an N95 respirator, gloves and eye protection, at a minimum, when disturbing mold.

“The remediation manager’s highest priority must be to protect the health and safety of the building occupants and remediators,” the document states. “It is also important to communicate with building occupants when mold problems are identified.”

Moriarty and Johnson added that employers should communicate to employees a time frame for forthcoming actions, including investigation and remediation. 

Employees also should be informed about what engineering controls, such as air filtration and negative pressure containment, will be used to minimize the release of mold spores during the remediation process.

“If biocides and encapsulants are to be utilized during mold remediation, the employer should have copies of the Safety Data Sheets,” they said.

Addressing health concerns or questions

Symptoms of mold exposure can include sore throat, sneezing, runny nose, eye irritation, congestion and skin rash.

Employees should have a method to report health concerns to supervisors or management. 

Bailey and Park said employers should follow up on all reports by taking prompt steps to identify and correct any issues, including ones involving moisture intrusion. They advise employers to encourage workers “who have developed persistent or worsening symptoms while working in a building” to see a doctor or health care provider. 

Bailey and Park also highlighted 2009 guidelines from the World Health Organization, as well as a June 2011 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives that notes sufficient evidence of links between exposures to mold/dampness and:

  • Upper respiratory tract symptoms
  • Lower respiratory symptoms (coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath)
  • Asthma development and exacerbation
  • Respiratory infections
  • Allergic rhinitis
  • Bronchitis
  • Eczema

Health issues also may arise because certain molds can produce mycotoxins – a naturally occurring toxic substance. However, EPA says mold in a building “does not necessarily mean that mycotoxins are present or that they are present in large quantities.”

Individual differences can mean two people aren’t affected in the same way by mold in a facility, and other factors include the amount of mold in a building and the duration of exposure.

Another potential difficulty for employers is determining the work-relatedness of a mold-based illness. With mold all around us, symptoms can stem from issues in the home or even a car’s air conditioner, Springston said. That’s why it’s important for employers to do their due diligence while helping employees seek medical assistance to find the cause(s) of health issues. 

One helpful step, Springston said, is to provide mold awareness training to facility personnel. This can help them identify problems in a facility.

“A short, two-hour mold awareness class can go a long way to demystify some of the hype and false narrative out there regarding mold,” he said.

Employers also should follow up with affected employees to see if corrective actions have improved the situation. 

Baily and Park suggested that employers might have to develop an “individualized management plan.” This can include assignment to a different location or working remotely. That will typically depend on the findings and recommendations from a licensed medical professional.

“Basically, the main ideas that we would like building occupants to know after a discussion about mold is that they respect the potential health risks associated with the presence of mold, that they understand what is involved in addressing mold growth, and that they call for help when they need it,” Weekes said. 

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