The Toxic Aftermath of Frozen and Broken Water Pipes – Part 1
Thanks to the severe cold and multitude of frozen and broken pipes, many home and business owners are now intimately familiar with mold. But what is it? How does it form? And how can mold affect your health?
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, molds are fungi that can be found both indoors and outdoors. No one knows how many species of fungi exist, but estimates range from tens of thousands to perhaps 300,000 or more. Molds grow best in warm, damp, and humid conditions, and spread and reproduce by making spores. Mold spores can survive harsh environmental conditions, such as dry conditions, that do not support normal mold growth.
Impact on Health
“Healthy indoor air is recognized as a basic right,” the World Health Organization stated in its Guidelines for Indoor Air Quality: Dampness and Mold. “People spend a large part of their time each day indoors: in homes, offices, schools, healthcare facilities, or other private or public buildings. The quality of the air they breathe in those buildings is an important determinant of their health and well-being. The inadequate control of indoor air quality therefore creates a considerable health burden.”
Extensive mold contamination may cause health problems as well as damage to the home.
Exposure to high amounts of mold is not healthy for anyone, so obvious mold growth in the home should be cleaned up. However, some people may be more susceptible to health problems from mold exposure. These include: individuals with respiratory sensitivities such as allergies, asthma, or emphysema; individuals with a compromised immune system such as HIV/AIDS infection, organ transplant patients, or chemotherapy patients.
Exposure to mold can cause health effects in some people, according to the State Department of Health. The most common effects are allergic responses from breathing mold spores. These allergic responses include hay fever or asthma and irritation of the eyes, nose, throat or lungs. Scientists usually cannot say how much mold is too much as our reactions to allergens can vary greatly depending on individual sensitivity. Allergic responses can come from exposure to dead as well as to living mold spores. Therefore, killing mold with bleach and or other disinfectants may not prevent allergic responses.
Less common effects of mold exposure include infections and toxic effects, DOH added. Serious infections from living molds are relatively rare and occur mainly in people with severely suppressed immune systems. Many types of molds may produce toxins but only under certain growth conditions. Toxic effects have been reported from eating moldy grain, but evidence is weak that breathing mold spores in buildings causes toxic effects.
However, in 2004 the Institute of Medicine found there was sufficient evidence to link indoor exposure to mold with upper respiratory tract symptoms, cough, and wheeze in otherwise healthy people; with asthma symptoms in people with asthma; and with hypersensitivity pneumonitis in individuals susceptible to that immune-mediated condition. The IOM also found limited or suggestive evidence linking indoor mold exposure and respiratory illness in otherwise healthy children. Other recent studies have suggested a potential link of early mold exposure to development of asthma in some children, the CDC has said, particularly among children who may be genetically susceptible to asthma development, and that selected interventions that improve housing conditions can reduce morbidity from asthma and respiratory allergies, but more research is needed.