Dampness in office buildings, nonindustrial buildings, and schools can create mold growth which can lead to respiratory issues for some susceptible building occupants.
Some causes of dampness in indoor environments include water intrusion into the building (such as roof leaks and window leaks), leaks from plumbing and HVAC units, and uncontrolled relative humidity.
NIOSH recently released an alert Preventing Occupational Respiratory Disease from Exposures Caused by Dampness in Office Buildings, Schools, and Other Nonindustrial Buildings. According to NIOSH, “research studies have shown that dampness-related exposures from building dampness and mold have been associated with respiratory symptoms, asthma, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, rhinosinusitis, bronchitis, and respiratory infections in research studies. Individuals with asthma or hypersensitivity pneumonitis may be at risk for progression to more severe disease if the relationship between illness and exposure to the damp building is not recognized and exposures continue.”
This new alert makes recommendations for building owners and employers as well as building occupants.
NIOSH Recommendations for Building Owners and Employers to Prevent Dampness and Control Mold Growth
- Always respond when occupant health concerns are reported.
- Regularly inspect building areas such as roofs, ceilings, walls, basements, crawl spaces, and slab construction for evidence of dampness; take prompt steps to identify and correct the causes of any dampness problems found.
- Conduct regularly scheduled inspections of heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems and promptly correct any problems.
- Prevent high indoor humidity through the proper design and operation of HVAC systems.
- Dry any porous building materials that have become wet from leaks or flooding within 48 hours.
- Clean and repair or replace any building materials that are moisture damaged or show evidence of visible mold growth. Follow remediation guidelines such as those established by the following agencies: Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s New York City Guidelines on Assessment and Remediation of Fungi in Indoor Environments, or American Industrial Hygiene Association’s Recognition, Evaluation, and Control of Indoor Mold.
- Inform occupants that respiratory effects from exposure in damp buildings can occur and implement a system for response to building dampness and musty or moldy odors, leaks, and flooding incidents as well as building-related respiratory symptoms or disease.
- Encourage occupants who have developed persistent or worsening respiratory symptoms while working in the building to see a healthcare provider; refer to local or state listings of occupational medicine physicians or the Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics.
- Follow recommendations from a healthcare provider for relocation of occupants diagnosed with building-related respiratory disease.
- Establish an indoor environmental quality (IEQ) team to oversee implementation of an IEQ program. The IEQ team should consist of a coordinator and representatives of the building employees, employers, and building management. IEQ teams for schools may wish to include nurses, school board officials, and parents.The EPA’s Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools can be used as a model for such a program.
NIOSH Recommendations for Building Occupants
- Inform your building manager/owner about signs of leaks, flooding, dampness, musty or moldy odors, and ventilation problems in the building; also, let your employer or building manager/owner know of any respiratory problems that may be building-related.
- See your healthcare provider if you have developed persistent or worsening health symptoms while working in the building. Let your employer or building manager/ owner know if your healthcare provider recommends relocation to another work area to prevent exposure to mold or dampness related contaminants that may be causing or exacerbating your symptoms in situations where dampness problems persist.
- Familiarize yourself with the IEQ program at your workplace and become an active member of the IEQ team, if needed. If there is no IEQ program at your workplace, strive for one to be established.