I had a nice break from cooking while I was in the UK. It was so nice, that I extended that break by a few more weeks…until we all really got sick of not eating home-cooked food and it was time to break out the pots and pans again. So reluctantly, I reached down to grab a saucepan from the kitchen cupboard and bam….mould smell. Even worse than the smell was the realisation that my pans were mouldy…eew! The next hour was spent decontaminating the entire cupboard and washing the pots and pans…and speed dialling for Mexican take out…again.
Now mould is serious stuff. Granted, I had a very minor mould problem which was resolved easily enough, but if you don’t take care of it quickly, you can end up with a multitude of health problems such as eye irritation, sneezing, coughing, nausea, diarrhoea, headaches, fatigue…the list goes on and on.
Occupational hygienists perform inspections and sampling (when needed) to assess mould damage and develop remediation action plans, and sometimes perform the remediation themselves (or they’ll specify exactly what needs to be done for a contractor). They also perform clearance testing to show that the remediation was successful.
So today I thought I’d go through some of the common questions asked about mould from an occupational hygienists perspective.
How do you identify mould indoors? This involves looking for signs of water damage through a visual inspection and collecting moisture readings, especially focussing on porous materials or hidden growth in less-commonly tracked places (such as behind the sofa). Sampling for mould is not always required…as it can be pretty obvious if you see it. If sampling is needed (for eg: legal or investigative reasons) it may include surface samples, bulk samples, or air samples…or a combination of all three.
How do you know if the mould is hazardous to my health? Whilst no Australian Standard exists containing values that you can say are “safe” or “unsafe”, there are commonly used guidelines that we can refer to. The Australian Mould Guideline is one of those guidelines and provides health risk guides for viable and non-viable fungi in indoor air and on indoor surfaces. These guidelines provide a point of reference to which an assessment of health risk can begin to be made.
How do I get rid of it? Well whenever you have mould growth indoors, you need to make sure that you fix the underlying cause of the moisture causing the problem in the first place. In the case of my mouldy pots and pans…my crappy oven is the cause. It doesn’t vent correctly and moisture is transferred to the adjacent cupboards. I’d love to tell you that I fixed the problem immediately…but it’s a work in progress!
Mould remediation can be a complex task and best left to the experts. Apart from fixing the source of the moisture, it can involve removing free water, vacuum cleaning with a HEPA filter, wet removal (such as using a damp cloth with detergent), mechanical drying and dehumidification. Mould remediation contractors will wear PPE during the remedial works to prevent them getting sick during the process.
How can I be sure it’s gone? This brings us to clearance testing. This is essentially the same process as collecting samples as part of the initial investigation, and is performed to (hopefully) show that the removal was successful.
Where can I go for more information? Speak to your friendly occupational hygienist for advice. The AIOH has a consultant directory here, if you don’t already have on on speed dial!