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Mold, Allergies and a Healthful Work Environment

Workplace allergy action can identify common allergy triggers and steps to remove offending items.

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Bread mold - EPA image Allergies differ from person to person and when you work in close quarters, someone is likely to be allergic to environmental conditions. What to do! Maybe a workplace allergy day could help identify common allergy triggers and steps could be taken to remove the most offending items -- such as dusty blinds -- and alter cleaning procedures to keep the dust, mold, pollens, etc. to a minimum.

Here are a few thoughts on what to consider in your workplace cleanup!

Indoor Mold

Mold is an organism that is present is most places, outdoors and indoors. It is a type of fungus that works to break down dead material and return nutrients to the environment. Mold grows by digesting plant or animal matter, such as leaves, wood, paper, dirt, and food and spreads by releasing tiny, lightweight spores that travel through the air. Mold grows quickly in moist dark spaces, such as basements, garbage cans and piles of rotting leaves.

All of us are exposed to some mold every day with no bad effects. We may breathe in mold spores that are present in the air or eat foods in which mold has begun to grow. People with mold allergies, however, may have a reaction if exposed to too much of the fungus.

Even innocuous workplace items such as a Christmas tree could provide mold exposure that should be considered in your workspace review.

Connecticut researchers found that the mold count from a live Christmas tree rose to more than six times the original level after two weeks indoors. The study "demonstrates that mold-sensitive patients may experience allergic symptoms due to an increasing mold spore exposure from having a live Christmas tree in the home."

So...maybe an artificial tree is a better answer ... or a short timeframe of a week if everyone loves the idea of a living tree. Or decorating an outdoor tree for the local birds and squirrels might bring a touch of holiday magic to the office!

Allergic Symptoms to Mold

Symptoms of a mold reaction are those typical of many other allergies. They include:
  • Wheezing
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Rash or hives
If a coworker has a mold allergy, avoiding all exposure to mold may not be possible. However, risk of reaction can be reduced by choosing foods carefully for shared meals ...and in shared refrigerators in the snack room. Check all foods for signs of mold frequently.

Sensitive people should not smell foods to see if they are spoiled because inhaling mold spores can set off an allergic reaction. In addition, foods should be avoided that are more likely to contain mold or other fungi -- such as mushrooms and yeast.

Clean out the Office Refrigerator...Often!

Common food sources of mold include:
  • Cheese
  • Mushrooms
  • Vinegar and foods containing vinegar, such as salad dressing, catsup and pickles
  • Sour cream, sour milk, and buttermilk
  • Meat or fish more than 24 hours old
  • Breads and other food made with yeast
  • Sauerkraut
  • Pickled and smoked meats and fish
  • Dried fruits such as dates, prunes, figs and raisins
  • Soy sauce
  • Hot dogs, sausages
  • Canned juices

Cleaning Mold Effectively

Diluted bleach can kill some common household molds and cut allergy triggers. Testing was conducted on common building materials: plywood, gypsum drywall, and oriented strand board. The scientists sprayed the mold with distilled water, diluted bleach, or Tilex (a Clorox cleaning product that includes bleach as one of its ingredients). The mold died after being sprayed with diluted bleach or Tilex. Allergy triggers in the dead mold also faded. Distilled water didn't kill the mold or tame its allergy triggers.

The researchers' recipe for the diluted bleach was 1 cup of household-strength bleach per gallon of water. Some government agencies and mold contamination authorities do not recommend using household bleach to treat mold-contaminated buildings, partly because of concerns about allergies, but these researchers encourage revisiting that position.

Allergy-Proofing Building Interiors

  • Filter the air. Cover air conditioning vents with cheesecloth to filter pollen and use high efficiency particulate air filters. Clean air filters frequently and air ducts at least once a year.

  • Keep the humidity in the building below 50% to prevent mold growth.

  • Clean areas often where molds may collect, including basements, garages, crawl spaces, barns, and compost heaps.

  • Install dehumidifiers in basements and other areas where molds tend to collect. Clean these devices every week.

  • Don't leave wet fabrics (uniforms, cleaning towels, etc) in the washer where mold can quickly grow.

  • Wash bathroom tiles and surfaces with mold-killing solutions.

  • Don't collect too many indoor plants as soil encourages mold growth.

  • Avoid overstuffed and down-filled furniture and pillows.

  • Don't allow smoking

  • Wear a mask and gloves when cleaning, vacuuming, or painting to limit dust and chemical exposure.

  • Vacuum twice a week.

  • Limit throw rugs to reduce dust and mold. If you do have rugs, make sure they are washable.

  • When possible, choose hardwood floors instead of carpeting. If you must have carpeting, choose low-pile material.

  • Avoid dust-collecting Venetian blinds or long drapes. Replace old drapes with window shades instead.

Edited by Carolyn Allen
| health | workspace |


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