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Water Today Title October 25, 2021

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Update 2018/12/31
Mould - Part 2


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By Gillian Ward

Tis the season for entertaining visitors in our homes, and as such, the season of deep house cleaning. WaterToday delved elbow deep into the cleaning mode for this article, learning more than we wanted to know about common household mould, member of the Fungi Kingdom. When it comes to fungi, we are all familiar enough with mushrooms, understanding that our steaks and gravies are not right without them, yet certain mushrooms are deadly to ingest. We avoid picking the wrong mushrooms by relying upon our grocers and the great Canadian Food Inspection Agency to provide only what is safe. When it comes to the mould (fungi) growing in the basement storage room, or under the utility sink in the garage, how can we be sure which are safe to swipe at with the cleaning rags and which could do us harm just by stirring them up?

WaterToday caught up with Professor J. David Miller, Ph.D., NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Fungal Toxins and Allergens at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. Miller spends his present days concerned with specific moulds growing on field crops that are deadly for humans and capable of devastating our economy. He was kind enough to share his knowledge from the time he spent researching allergens, helping to write the Canadian building codes and reporting to the World Health Organization about harmful fungi.

According to Miller, any mould can produce compounds that can be harmful at high enough concentrations, in enclosed spaces. Being exposed to these compounds, for a long enough period of time, can contribute to troubling health conditions even in otherwise healthy individuals. Medical research around the world has reached consensus on three potential effects from exposure to mould indoors: an increase in sensitivity to allergens, an increase in asthma symptoms and an increase in upper respiratory illnesses, such as coughs and wheezing. This information is available to the public through Health Canada website, provincial Health Authorities, Occupational Health and Safety Guidelines and World Health Organization papers. What is not as well understood is the complex cascade of symptoms experienced by tens of thousands of people around the world with high sensitivity to mould, or those exposed for long enough periods of time.

Water Today heard from a number of individuals in Canada with testimonies of their own indoor mould exposure and a puzzling progression of symptoms, including persistent coughing, rapid weight loss, loss of muscle mass, extreme fatigue, loss of brain function and memory. While doctors are not able to pinpoint the precise culprit in terms of mould species or the specific compound linked to the symptoms, the lack of medical consensus cannot negate the personal experience.

If we are inclined to believe that mould damage only happens in low rentals, or older, poorly maintained buildings, we need to think again. A leaking dishwasher hose inside the wall of a busy farm home pooled enough water to grow a mould colony, which at the point of cleaning up seemed to trigger a cough that has not quit in years. A professionally installed window replacement in a child's bedroom was leaking inside the wall of the clean, executive-owned home. Nine months later, the teen dropped out of competitive dancing for exhaustion and coughing. A cracked foundation of a middle-class, owned home allowed enough moisture to seep in and grow a carpet of mould behind a finished wall. For years, this mould grew without detection while the resident family of three all suffered increasing ill effects to the point of loss of careers, loss of strength, financial loss and despair of life.

Until the late '80's, it was thought that mould indoors was a matter of cosmetic consequence only, while the reactions that allergists noted in human subjects pointed to a far more serious problem. In an interview with IAQ Radio in Sept 2016, Miller reported that volumes of medical research data compiled in studies carried out all over the world in 1989 and later, gave indication of strange findings, making no sense. It is only in the last three or four years that doctors and scientists are making sense of the human response to indoor mould. We now understand that exposure to fungi, whether living or dead, increases sensitivity in human subjects to a number of allergens, not just to moulds. We also realize that the inflammatory response in the human lung to the tiny fragments of decaying fungi proteins is problematic in itself. Scientists and medical specialists are challenged in diagnosing specific cases by the sheer number of different moulds that can be found growing in damp conditions indoors, or the fact that any single mould can produce more than one compound, which can be toxic for sensitive persons, and troublesome for anyone given long enough exposure.

While there is no consensus yet among the scientific community as to what concentration of mould makes for unhealthy indoor air quality, it is important to note that the process of cleaning, or of removal of mouldy material is enough to send microscopic spores and allergens into the air. Be sure to wear protective gloves a properly rated air filter mask when cleaning up mould, wetting the area prior to disturbance. Place the used gloves and face mask straight into the garbage bin, washing clothes and hair as a decontamination protocol if you have any sensitive persons in your home.

Maintain humidity at or below 50% and attend to leaks and condensation as soon as possible. Ensure ventilation fans are in good working order and vented to the outdoors. Clean and or change air exchange filters, dehumidifiers and furnace filters as per manufacturers recommendations.

This week Australia closed intake on submissions to a national inquiry for biotoxin illness, the major focus of which is accepting personal testimonies from those impacted by living in a mouldy indoor space. WaterToday will continue to monitor and report on this developing area of interest for public health and the scientific assessments and progress forthcoming.


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