Do people, especially children, get sick in damp buildings? Is it because of the mold? Or is it the bacteria, insects and rodents attracted to the moisture causing the problems? Or is it a combination of these exposures having a negative synergistic effect?
Although the answers to these questions are not well understood, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) just released a 2-page statement to clarify some issues.
To the question, “Do people get sick in damp buildings?” here is what the statement says…
CDPH has concluded that the presence of water damage, dampness, visible mold, or mold odor
in schools, workplaces, residences, and other indoor environments is unhealthy.
Now that we’ve established it’s unhealthy, how should we as professionals diagnose these problems? Here is what the statement says…
We recommend against measuring indoor microorganisms or using the presence of specific microorganisms to determine the level of health hazard or the need for urgent remediation.
This advice is contrary to current practice in the field of indoor air quality. The truth probably lies somewhere between never measuring for microorganisms and always measuring for them. In place of sampling for mold, the statement strongly recommends visually identifying the source of moisture causing the growth and correcting the problem. The statement indirectly suggests that money is best spend fixing the water problem and drying, cleaning or removing impacted materials, rather than taking more samples.
The statement specifically recommends against “traditional methods” of sampling. I presume they are specifically referring to air sampling for mold. It seems like they are leaving the window open for other types of sampling, such as dust samples analyzed by PCR for the ERMI method (Environmental Relative Moldiness Index). A recent study showed a correlation between ERMI levels at 1 year of age and developing asthma at 7 years of age (High environmental relative moldiness index during infancy as a predictor of asthma at 7 years of age, Reponen et al).
Although this advice is contrary to what many readers actually practice, I think we can learn something from the statement. We need to double our efforts at solving moisture problems and spend less time chasing spores. I recommend you download and read the 2-page document: Statement on Building Dampness, Mold, and Health