Fungal (Mold) Contamination in Indoor Environments FAQ


What is mold?

Molds are microscopic fungi that live on plant or animal matter. No one knows how many species of fungi exist but estimates range from tens of thousands to perhaps three hundred thousand or more. Most are thread-like organisms and the production of spores is characteristic of fungi in general. These spores can be air-, water-, or insect-borne.

Fungi (mold) are present almost everywhere in indoor and outdoor environments. They can cause discoloration, odor problems, and possible destruction of building materials.  They also may lead to health problems for building occupants, which may include allergic reactions in susceptible individuals.


What are the most common symptoms of fungal exposure? 

People most commonly complain of symptoms similar to what is seen with a “common cold” (i.e., runny nose, eye irritation, cough, congestion, and/ or aggravation of asthma).


What health effects have been linked to mold in offices and homes? 

Reports have linked health effects in office workers and residents to moldy building materials and elevated levels of fungi in the air. Symptoms, such as fatigue, respiratory ailments, and eye irritation, were observed in some cases.


What steps should be taken to assure a healthy environment when fungus is found in a building? 

Building materials supporting fungal growth must be remediated as rapidly as possible.  Repair of the defects that led to the accumulation of water damage, or elevated humidity should be conducted in conjunction with or prior to fungal remediation.  The simplest and most expedient remediation that is both reasonable and proper, while safely removing fungal contamination, should be used. Extensive contamination, involving the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems or large occupied spaces should be assessed by an experienced health and safety professional.  Personnel with specialized training and experience in handling environmentally contaminated materials should do the remediation. Lesser areas of contamination can usually be assessed and remediated by trained building maintenance personnel.


Can fungi in a building cause or worsen respiratory problems such as allergic disease or asthma? 

Yes, fungi in buildings may cause or worsen symptoms of allergies (such as wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, nasal congestion, and eye irritation), especially in persons who have a history of allergic diseases such as asthma and rhinitis (inflammation of the mucous membranes of the nose).


What should individuals do if they suspect that fungi in their environment may be contributing to their respiratory difficulties? 

Individuals with persistent health problems that appear to be related to fungi or other bio-aerosol exposure should see their physicians for treatment or referral to practitioners who are trained in and knowledgeable about occupational or environmental medicine or related specialties.


What is the best response to problems of mold indoors? 

Prompt remediation of contaminated material and repair of the building is the primary response to fungal (mold) contamination.  Emphasis should be placed on preventing contamination through proper building and HVAC system maintenance and prompt repair of water damage.


Is there a state agency that regulates indoor air quality problems, such as mold?


No state agency has specific regulatory authority related to indoor air quality. The Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) has provided health consultation and information to the public and others on issues and questions that relate to mold problems. 


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