As our kids returned to school this month, many parents likely noticed recent news stories about mold problems in some communities’ school buildings. It will probably come as no surprise that this year has been particularly bad for mold in home basements, schools, libraries and other public buildings. The many days of hot and humid weather in New England during this past summer created ideal conditions for mold – and difficult decisions for many school and health officials faced with closing or delaying the start of schools throughout our region, as well as for many families who have had to toss mold-laden items from their homes.
Unfortunately, our concern for mold does not end with odor inconvenience. Mold is a known asthma trigger, meaning it can cause asthma attacks in people who suffer from the disease. Mold can also incite allergic reactions and respiratory irritation in otherwise healthy individuals. While we don’t know the full health consequences of mold, fortunately there are some common sense things we can do to safeguard our health and protect our homes and communities from mold.
We all know that mold infestations can create costly and complicated cleanup problems. However, the good news is there are a number of simple-and effective-steps to prevent mold from growing. Our basic advice is clear: eliminate excess moisture and humidity to prevent mold from growing. For example, in enclosed spaces, particularly those below ground level, air conditioning and/or dehumidifying is critical when summer humidity arrives. Eliminating other sources of moisture, such as by fixing leaking pipes, or by cleaning up spills quickly, are also very effective ways to stop mold before it grows.
In order to help provide accurate, useful information to both private citizens and public officials, during the past two years EPA has developed several acclaimed materials to inform people about mold and moisture control. The Agency recognizes the needs of school and health officials and building managers to have specific guidance on how to investigate, evaluate and remediation moisture and mold problems in schools and other large buildings. Similarly, EPA is working hard to inform homeowners and tenants on how to clean up residential mold problems and how to prevent mold growth. EPA has many resources targeted to homeowners and public officials, as well as useful background information, available on our website.
Of course, we are not the only producing documents. EPA New England is working closely with the states of our region to address potential mold problems in our schools and public buildings. We have held a number of workshops in each state (CT, ME, MA, NH, RI, VT) dealing exclusively with mold contamination in schools and residences, with additional workshops being planned. Working together, EPA and state health departments have responded to the high level of mold concern by issuing guidance to local health agents and shool officials.
Probably any physician will confirm the old adage “an ounce of preservation is better than a pound of cure.” This is absolutely the case with mold. If you are a homeowner, a building supervisor or a public official managing schools, please remember: By eliminating excess moisture and humidity, you help eliminate the conditions that allow molds to grow and become a nuisance.
More information on mold and what you can do to prevent this problem is available 24/7 on EPA’s indoor air quality website at: http://www.epa.gov/iaq/molds/ (EPA HQ). People who wish to find out more about local training seminars on mold issues may contact EPA New England’s Indoor Air Program at 617-918-1639.