Understanding the health concerns of mold and mildew in the air

March 4, 2013

As winter gives way to spring many people finally realize it’s time to start doing some cleaning around the house. During the cold winter months …

As winter gives way to spring many people finally realize it’s time to start doing some cleaning around the house. During the cold winter months a house becomes a sanctuary for some contaminants to hide from the weather outside. Attributed to wet weather, warm conditions and lack of ventilation, mold and mildew problems can mount during this time of year.

This issue has been a hot topic in recent years as homeowners and business owners become more educated on the health risks involved. This presents a great opportunity for water treatment dealers and air purification specialists to warn everyone about the severity of mold and mildew problems.

Just in time for spring cleaning, make sure you’re educating customers on these contaminants and how they can be prevented before causing further damage.

Health concerns

Before implementing ways to prevent or minimize mold and mildew, it’s important to understand the reasons to keep these contaminants at safe levels in homes or offices. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the following advisory statement, along with a study by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), “In 2004 the Institute of Medicine (IOM) 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.”

Certain cases of exposure to toxic levels of indoor mold have been fatal. A serious problem is fueled by moisture and it will attach to any source it can find. It’s almost impossible to completely eliminate mold in a built structure, but it’s important to minimize levels as much as possible.

“EPA says that poor indoor air quality (IAQ) is one of our biggest environmental health dangers,” notes Marc DeBrum, assistant sales manager and applications engineer for ClearWater Tech LLC. “It estimates that the air we breathe inside, even in the best kept homes, is four to 40 times worse than outside air. That’s because when windows are closed, it traps stale air [in] that gets recirculated when the heat or air conditioning units are being used.”

Bad indoor air is directly related to mold and mildew problems. Notable symptoms due to poor IAQ are sneezing, coughing, eye and nasal passage discomfort, headaches and allergies. Those with asthma are at an even higher risk when living in houses with bad air quality mixed with mold and mildew problems.

“Airborne contaminants are a result of poor indoor air quality, which contributes to allergies,” says Richard Verson, director of marketing for RainSoft. “Since 90 percent of our time is spent indoors, EPA recommends filtering indoor air as one way to improve indoor air quality.”

But, even the healthiest of people are a target for indoor air quality issues. This is why it’s important to make all people aware of these issues and confront them before a situation escalates.

Mold and mildew problems

“The scary truth of the matter is that mold is everywhere. Mold spores may enter your house from the outside through open doorways, windows, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems with outdoor air intakes,” educates Ryan Richie, national sales manager for Healthway Products. “Spores in the air outside also attach themselves to people and animals, making clothing, shoes, bags and pets convenient vehicles for carrying mold indoors. When the spores find a moisture source they grow.”

With so many avenues for growth, it makes preventing these contaminants even more difficult. The best way to reduce mold growth is to limit the opportunities or areas for it to emerge. It’s also important to be aware of water leaks, especially within the walls. Leaks allow the mold to grow inside without you knowing it, becoming even more dangerous.

“Water or moisture within the structure is the typical culprit,” advises DeBrum. “I’d recommend business owners or homeowners to check for possible water leak areas that can cause moisture buildup. This would include under sinks areas, plumbing lines and ingress water from the exterior.”

Another common problem that came up when talking to experts was trapped moisture within the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system. 

“The furnace and a central air conditioning system both produce a lot of condensation when the units are being used,” adds Verson. “It’s difficult to avoid since one goes with the other so you need to treat the symptoms.”

Showers and bathrooms are also common places for mold and mildew to arise. The corners where water rests should be cleaned regularly to prevent the contaminants from growing.

Spring cleaning tips

While extensive cleaning every spring has become a tradition many people follow, we all know just one cleaning project a year isn’t going to get the job done, especially when dealing with mold and mildew. Preventative measures should be taken throughout the year to stop mold and mildew in their tracks and to cut it off before it can spread.

When customers start cleaning, make sure they are doing it correctly and in a safe manner. For substantial issues, advise them to wear protective gear, including gloves and a mask. Mold can be found almost anywhere and most of the time customers may not even realize breathing it in. “Molds do live in the dust you would find in your home so try to clean when the doors and windows can be opened,” educates Richie, adding that an air purifier would also help keep spores out of the air and this presents a business opportunity for water treatment dealers.

There are many air purification systems available that can help combat mold and mildew problems and even some that will help prevent issues from an HVAC system. Additionally, there are air purification systems on the market that use UV light.  

Here are some other tips and ways water treatment dealers can help their customers avoid mold and mildew from spreading:

• Keep humidity levels as low as possible, lower than 50 percent. 

• Use an air conditioner or a dehumidifier during humid months.

• Be sure the home has adequate ventilation, including exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathrooms.

• Clean the bathroom and other susceptible areas with mold and mildew specific products.

• Do not carpet mold-prone areas, such as bathrooms.

Simply, you can help your customers reduce mold and mildew levels on surfaces by limiting possible sources of moisture and cleaning their air. In previous issues and on WaterTechOnline.com, we have covered the many synergies between treating air and treating water. Take advantage of this add-on service.

These are simple, but important steps outlined in this article that can go a long way in preventing severe health problems. Dealers need to stress the importance of not just having a good spring cleaning once a year, but maintaining those good cleaning techniques regularly. It is crucial that the indoor air we breathe is as clean as possible and educating people on its importance will not only boost sales, but also protect the health of your customers.

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