Home' Nova National : April 2010 Contents 24
© NOVA APRIL 2010
With more than 30% of
buildings affected by mould,
it is now belatedly being
recognised as a serious health
risk, says Dr Peter Dingle PhD.
Moulds are perhaps the
most opportunistic of the
microorganisms, and are
found virtually everywhere,
indoors and outdoors. They thrive
wherever there is the least bit of moisture
and nutrition -- in fact, they are tiny, enzyme
producing and cellulose eating factories.
There is a mould for every occasion
and almost every material. They work
continually on organic materials, breaking
them down. Moulds are vital in the process
of decomposition and recycling of organic
material, and are essential and beneficial
for life. Indoors, however, where their
populations can concentrate, moulds
become a problem.
Fungi are the most frequent cause
of biodegradation of building materials.
This "biocorrosion" happens to building
materials, such as wood, chipboard and
plaster, as organic and inorganic acids
are released from the fungi. This is not
surprising as fungi are capable of breaking
down rock in nature. Ideal conditions for
fungi growth are damp, humid conditions.
In recent years, the opportunity for
growth of fungi and hence mycotoxin
release has increased with increased
flooding and thermal modernisation
of residential buildings. Allergies and
mycotoxicosis can be caused by extended
periods of mould exposure.
Mould growths can often be seen in
the form of discolouration, ranging from
white to orange and from green to black,
and present many textures, including
slimy, powdery and hairy.
Moulds have diverse effects on our
health due primarily to their production
of spores and toxins, some of which are
Volatile Organic Compunds (VOCs).
Symptoms caused by moulds range from
allergies to liver cancer. Mould can also
cause conditions such as Sick Building
Syndrome (SBS) and skin infections. It is
inadvisable for anyone to live or work in a
mouldy indoor environment.
Much of the mould found indoors
comes from outdoor sources. It is
common to find mould spores in indoor
air and growing on damp surfaces.
Everyone is exposed to mould on a daily
basis without evident harm. The spores are
tiny and readily airborne. Their dispersal
is assisted in the indoor environment by
air conditioners, humidifiers and human
activity. When inhaled in large numbers,
they cause health problems.
The vulnerability of an individual varies
greatly, and depends upon the nature of
the mould material (allergenic, toxic, or
infectious), the amount of exposure, and
the susceptibility of the exposed person.
Some spores are allergens and may trigger
a full allergic response if the person is
susceptible, causing symptoms such as
red and watery nose and eyes, coughing,
sneezing, itching, lowered blood pressure,
rapid and strained breathing and increased
heart rate. In severe cases, anaphylactic
shock may occur, which is fatal without
immediate medical assistance.
For humans and animals, the greatest
danger posed by fungi is the ability for
some species to produce mycotoxins.
Mycotoxins are the secondary metabolites
of mould and fungi and are a chemical
combination of organic acids and aromatic
compounds. Of the 300-400 mycotoxins
recognised, only about a dozen receive
regular attention for their potential threats
to human and animal life.
There are two distinctly different
indoor environments which harbour
mould -- mould reservoirs and mould
amplifiers. A reservoir is where mould
can be deposited and even accumulate,
but will not necessarily multiply. Carpets
are perhaps the best examples of mould
A mould amplifier is an environment
which enables the mould to grow. This can
be any material with a relative humidity of
more than 65%, with the ideal range being
85% - 90%. The mould will flourish and
is able to develop and release its spores.
Bathroom ceilings or wet carpet become
mould amplifiers. The prime area is in
poorly designed bathrooms where the
ventilation is via a small window.
Some moulds produce toxins. These
varieties, such as aspergillus, penicillium,
stachybotrys and arimonium, are water
loving and their growth is harmful, but
does not usually occur in concentrated
amounts indoors. In order to grow, mould
needs water, warmth and a food source.
A leaky roof, burst pipe or other type of
water penetration provides a moist area
suitable for growth, especially if the area
is never thoroughly dried out. Cellulose-
based sheet rock, gypsum and other
standard building materials provide a
nutrient smorgasbord for mould. Many
common building techniques can prevent
moisture from drying up and incidentally
promote mould growth. The problem
is often exacerbated by tearing down a
contaminated wall and enabling the mould
and its spores to become airborne.
Mould contamination occurs most
frequently in grouting and behind silica
beading. The staining from mould growth
is obvious in these areas. Overflow from
pot plants may appear innocuous, but if
an underlying surface such as carpet or
matting becomes damp, mould will thrive.
Stains can be removed, but if action is
delayed, mould will permanently damage
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'Allergies and mycotoxicosis can be caused
by extended periods of mould exposure.'
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