Toxic Mold: Preventing Mold-Related Problems in Indoor Workplaces; Guidance from Federal OSHA and California
California was the first state in the nation to pass a law addressing the hazards of toxic mold in buildings: the Toxic Mold Protection Act of 2001. This act required the California Department of Health Services (DHS) to present a study to the legislature evaluating the feasibility of establishing a permissible exposure limit (PEL) for indoor molds. The state agency must also convene a task force to help develop enforceable standards and voluntary guidelines to prevent adverse health effects from exposure to mold in buildings.
The DHS report, published in June 2005, determined that it would be very difficult to establish a PEL for mold in buildings because of inadequate toxicity data, the wide variety of potentially harmful molds and their toxins, and other factors that affect indoor air quality. DHS did determine that to protect human health, indoor dampness, water intrusion, and fungal growth must be prevented.
Controlling these factors is the subject of a federal OSHA guidance booklet published in 2006, "Preventing Mold-Related Problems in the Indoor Workplace: A Guide for Building Owners, Managers, and Occupants." We've summarized the information from both the state DHS and federal OSHA below to help you to minimize workplace mold hazards.
Human Health Effects
Molds are fungi—nonplant, non-animal living organisms in the same family as yeasts and mushrooms. They reproduce through spore formation; these tiny cells are in the air we breathe, indoors and out, everywhere we go. When mold spores find a moist place to settle, on just about any type of surface, they may make themselves at home and begin digesting the surface they've colonized. If mold colonies proliferate indoors, humans can experience symptoms of exposure, including:
Drying Up the Problem
Because mold needs moisture to grow, dry surfaces are your main defense, and visual inspections are a key weapon. OSHA's guidelines recommend:
If dampness or mold is found in a building, these general steps should be taken:
Find Out More
The complete booklet can be downloaded from federal OSHA's web site. The California Department of Health Services maintains an indoor air quality page with many technical links regarding mold and mold remediation in buildings. The Report to the California Legislature on the Implementation of the Toxic Mold Protection Act of 2001 is available online. Federal OSHA maintains a "Molds and Fungi" safety and health topics webpage.
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