Interpreting Mold Samples

A useful method for interpreting microbiological results is to compare the kinds and levels of organisms detected in different environments. Usual comparisons include indoors versus outdoors, or complaint areas versus non‐complaint areas. Specifically, in buildings without mold problems, the qualitative diversity (types) of airborne fungi indoors and outdoors should be similar. Conversely, the dominating presence of one or two kinds of fungi indoors, coupled with the absence of the same kind of fungi outdoors, may indicate a moisture problem and degraded air quality.

Also, the consistent presence of certain fungi, such as Stachybotrys chartarum, Aspergillus versicolor, or various Penicillium species, over and beyond background concentrations may indicate the occurrence of a moisture problem and a potential atypical exposure. Generally, indoor mold types should be similar to, and airborne concentrations should be no greater than, those found outdoors and in non-complaint areas. Analytical results from bulk material or dust samples may also be compared to results of similar samples collected from reasonable comparison areas.

Comparisons of total bacterial levels indoors versus outdoors may not be as useful as with fungi, since natural bacteria reservoirs exist in both places. Comparisons of the specific types of bacteria present, excluding those of known human origin, can help determine building-related sources.

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Breast Cancer Awareness month is an annual international health campaign organized by major breast cancer charities every October to increase awareness of the disease and to raise funds for research into its cause, prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure. The campaign also offers information and support to those affected by breast cancer.


How Molds Affect Humans

After pollens, molds are the leading cause of outdoor airborne allergies, which can recur year-round. Some of the most common symptoms of those sensitive to molds include nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, wheezing, cold and flu-like symptoms, rashes, conjunctivitis, inability to concentrate, and fatigue. Mold exposure has also been associated with asthma onset. Symptoms usually disappear when the mold is removed. However, under certain conditions, exposure to mold can cause serious health problems. Some people with chronic illnesses, such as obstructive lung disease, for example, may develop mold infections in their lungs. Also, some people exposed to large amounts of mold at work, such as farmers working with moldy hay, may develop even more severe reactions, including fever and shortness of breath. Some molds are toxic, producing chemicals called “mycotoxins,” which in large doses may affect human health, usually by causing allergy-like symptoms such as watery eyes or eye irritation, runny nose and sneezing or nasal congestion, wheezing and difficulty breathing, aggravation of asthma, coughing, itching, or rashes.
Other health problems that have been linked to mold exposure involve the odors produced by mold “volatiles” during the degradation of substrates. These have been discovered to irritate mucous membranes, and they have been associated with a number of symptoms from headaches and nausea to fatigue in individuals exposed to them. For those suffering from multiple chemical sensitivities, the simple presence of these microbial volatile organic compounds (MVOCs) can trigger a reaction just as strong and serious as exposure to chemical VOCs. Fungi or microorganisms related to them may cause other health problems similar to allergy. Some kinds of Aspergillus especially may cause several different illnesses, including both infections and allergy. These fungi may lodge in the airways or a distant part of the lung and grow until they form a compact sphere known as a “fungus ball.” In people with lung damage or serious underlying illnesses, Aspergillus may grasp the opportunity to invade and actually infect the lungs or the whole body.

In some individuals, exposure to these fungi can also lead to asthma or to an illness known as “allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis.” This latter condition, which occurs occasionally in people with asthma, is characterized by wheezing, low-grade fever, and coughing up of brown-flecked masses or mucous plugs. Skin testing, blood tests, x-rays, and examination of the sputum for fungi can help establish the diagnosis. Corticosteroid drugs are usually effective in treating this reaction; immunotherapy (allergy shots) is not helpful. The occurrence of allergic aspergillosis suggests that other fungi might cause similar respiratory conditions. Inhalation of spores from fungus-like bacteria, called “actinomycetes,” and from mold can cause a lung disease called “hypersensitivity pneumonitis.” This condition is often associated with specific occupations. For example, farmer’s lung disease results from inhaling spores growing in moldy hay and grains in silos. Occasionally, “hypersensitivity pneumonitis” develops in people who live or work where an air conditioning or a humidifying unit that is contaminated with these spores emits them.

The symptoms of “hypersensitivity pneumonitis” may resemble those of a bacterial or viral infection such as the flu. Bouts of chills, fever, weakness, muscle pains, cough, and shortness of breath develop 4 to 8 hours after exposure to the offending organism. The symptoms gradually disappear when the source of exposure is removed and the area properly ventilated. If it is not removed, workers having to be in those contaminated areas must wear a protective mask with a filter capable of removing spores or change jobs. If “hypersensitivity pneumonitis” is allowed to progress, it can lead to serious heart and lung problems. Also, air with a high concentration of fungal spores of a number of different types of molds may contain toxins that, when breathed over a long period of time, may result in a kind of poisoning. Stachybotrys atra, a mold that is commonly found on wet cellulose products (for example, drywall) and is causing growing concern among physicians, is one of these molds. In one recent study, it was linked to lung bleeding in infants. This mold has also been linked to sudden infant death syndrome and to central nervous system symptoms such as personality changes, sleep disorders, and memory loss.

5 Risks Using Public Pools – Part 1

Before you go for a swim at the public pool, you may want to think twice about what you’re plunging into. The Centers for Control and Disease’s (CDC) jaw-dropping discovery of high levels of fecal matter in indoor and outdoor pools has caused an alert for stronger reinforcement of public health and safety regulations. With 309,000 public swimming pools in the United States, approximately 300 million Americans over the age of six visit these pools every year, reports the United States Census Bureau. Frequent pool visits can result in long-term chronic illnesses due to continuous exposure to disinfectants. Although the utilization of disinfectants is used to promote healthy swimming, the chemical agents can react with organic and inorganic material in the water to form disinfectant byproducts (DBPs).

If you and four other people are going swimming, chances are one of you will pee in the pool, says a survey conducted by the Water Quality and Health Council. The unhealthy behavior of pool goers has put swimmers at risk with a whopping 200 percent increase in risk from 2004 to 2008 of developing recreational water illnesses. Poor practice of pool compliances, such as the lack of maintaining appropriate disinfectant and pH levels, will make swimmers and, especially kids, sick. A CDC report confirms that one in eight pools were shut down two years ago due to negligence of public health and safety regulations, with fecal matter being a common factor in the 120,000 swimming facilities inspected.


Chlorine has been shown to increase the risk of developing asthma. The chlorine scent in pools causes lung irritation in swimmers because of the presence of chloramine byproducts. Chlorine produces nitrogen trichloride (a byproduct of chemical reactions between ammonia and chlorine), which is the cause of occupational asthma for indoor pool workers. Chances are if you work as a lifeguard, you are at higher risk of developing asthma. In a study published in the European Respiratory Journal (ERJ), workers who suffered from asthma or asthma symptoms at an indoor swimming pool were observed by Dr. K. Thickett, a physician in the occupational lung diseases unit at the Birmingham Heartlands Hospital. The participants in study changed their jobs or were told to stay away from the swimming pool to determine if limited exposure to swimming facilities affected their asthma. Results showed that the participants either had lessened asthma symptoms or no longer had a dependency on inhalers. “…the chemical reaction that takes place when chlorine mixes with sweat, urine, skin, and hair” is what contributes to asthma, according to Thickett.

Respiratory ailments apply to not only swimming pool employees but also children who swim in these pools. In a Belgian study, researchers found that kids who frequently swam had proteins that were linked to a high risk of asthma just like smokers. If the pool has an overwhelmingly strong chlorine smell, it most likely contains higher levels of the toxic chemicals that form DBPs.

Check for Part 2

Natural Allergy Remedies – Part 2


Quercetin belongs to a group of plant pigments called flavonoids that give many fruits, flowers, and vegetables their colors. Flavonoids, such as quercetin, are antioxidants. They scavenge particles in the body known as free radicals which damage cell membranes, tamper with DNA, and even cause cell death. Antioxidants can neutralize free radicals. They may reduce or even help prevent some of the damage free radicals cause. In test tubes, quercetin has strong antioxidant properties. But researchers are not sure whether taking quercetin (and many other antioxidants) has the same effects inside the body. Quercetin may help protect against heart disease and cancer. Quercetin can also help stabilize the cells that release histamine in the body and thereby have an anti-inflammatory and antihistamine effect.

For Allergies

In test tubes, quercetin prevents immune cells from releasing histamines, which are chemicals that cause allergic reactions. As a result, researchers think that quercetin may help reduce symptoms of allergies, including runny nose, watery eyes, hives, and swelling of the face and lips. However, there is no evidence yet that it works in humans.

Quercetin has also been tested and has shown some positive signs for:

  • Hypertension
  • Heart Disease
  • High Cholesterol
  • Interstitial cystitis
  • Prostatitis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
  • Cancer

Scientists have long considered quercetin, and other flavonoids contained in fruits and vegetables, important in cancer prevention. People who eat more fruits and vegetables tend to have lower risk of certain types of cancer. Animal and test tube studies suggest that flavonoids have anti-cancer properties. Quercetin and other flavonoids have been shown in these studies to inhibit the growth of cancer cells from breast, colon, prostate, ovarian, endometrial, and lung tumors. One study even suggests that quercetin is more effective than resveratrol in terms of inhibiting tumor growth. Another found that frequent intake of quercetin-rich foods was associated with lower lung cancer risk. The association was even stronger among subjects who smoked more than 20 cigarettes daily, and a third suggests that quercetin slows tumor growth in the laboratory (in leukemia cells). More research is needed.


Quercetin is generally considered safe. Side effects may include headache and upset stomach. Preliminary evidence suggests that a byproduct of quercetin can lead to a loss of protein function. Very high doses of quercetin may damage the kidneys. You should take periodic breaks from taking quercetin. Pregnant women, breastfeeding women, and people with kidney disease should avoid quercetin. At doses greater than 1 g per day, there have been reports of damage to the kidneys.



Breathing in Dust

The lungs are protected by a series of defense mechanisms in different regions of the respiratory tract. When a person breathes in, particles suspended in the air enter the nose, but not all of them reach the lungs. The nose is an efficient filter. Most large particles are stopped in it, until they are removed mechanically by blowing the nose or sneezing. Some of the smaller particles succeed in passing through the nose to reach the windpipe and the dividing air tubes that lead to the lungs [more information about how particles entering the lungs].

These tubes are called bronchi and bronchioles. All of these airways are lined by cells. The mucus they produce catches most of the dust particles. Tiny hairs called cilia, covering the walls of the air tubes, move the mucus upward and out into the throat, where it is either coughed up and spat out, or swallowed. The air reaches the tiny air sacs (alveoli) in the inner part of the lungs with any dust particles that avoided the defenses in the nose and airways. The air sacs are very important because through them, the body receives oxygen and releases carbon dioxide. Dust that reaches the sacs and the lower part of the airways where there are no cilia is attacked by special cells called macrophages. These are extremely important for the defense of the lungs. They keep the air sacs clean. Macrophages virtually swallow the particles. Then the macrophages, in a way which is not well understood, reach the part of the airways that is covered by cilia. The wavelike motions of the cilia move the macrophages which contain dust to the throat, where they are spat out or swallowed.

Besides macrophages, the lungs have another system for the removal of dust. The lungs can react to the presence of germ-bearing particles by producing certain proteins. These proteins attach to particles to neutralize them. Dusts are tiny solid particles scattered or suspended in the air. The particles are “inorganic” or “organic,” depending on the source of the dust. Inorganic dusts can come from grinding metals or minerals such as rock or soil. Examples of inorganic dusts are silica, asbestos, and coal.

Organic dusts originate from plants or animals. An example of organic dust is dust that arises from handling grain. These dusts can contain a great number of substances. Aside from the vegetable or animal component, organic dusts may also contain fungi or microbes and the toxic substances given off by microbes. For example, histoplasmosis, psittacosis and Q Fever are diseases that people can get if they breathe in organic that are infected with a certain microorganisms. Dusts can also come from organic chemicals (e.g., dyes, pesticides). However, in this OSH Answers document, we are only considering dust particles that cause fibrosis or allergic reactions in the lungs. We are not including chemical dusts that cause cancer or acute toxic effects, for example.

Exposure to Smoke From Fires – Part 1

The smoke released by any type of fire (forest, brush, crop, structure, tires, waste or wood burning) is a mixture of particles and chemicals produced by incomplete burning of carbon-containing materials. All smoke contains carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and particulate matter (PM or soot). Smoke can contain many different chemicals, including aldehydes, acid gases, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), benzene, toluene, styrene, metals and dioxins. The type and amount of particles and chemicals in smoke varies depending on what is burning, how much oxygen is available, and the burn temperature.

Exposure to high levels of smoke should be avoided. Individuals are advised to limit their physical exertion if exposure to high levels of smoke cannot be avoided. Individuals with cardiovascular or respiratory conditions (e.g., asthma), fetuses, infants, young children, and the elderly may be more vulnerable to the health effects of smoke exposure.

Inhaling smoke for a short time can cause immediate (acute) effects. Smoke is irritating to the eyes, nose, and throat, and its odor may be nauseating. Studies have shown that some people exposed to heavy smoke have temporary changes in lung function, which makes breathing more difficult. Two of the major agents in smoke that can cause health effects are carbon monoxide gas and very small particles (fine particles, or PM2.5 ). These particles are two and one half (2.5) microns or less in size (25,400 microns equal an inch) and individual particles are too small to be seen with the naked eye.