What Is “Sick Home Syndrome”?
Sick building syndrome has become such a big problem in the United States in recent years, it’s a phrase you can now find in the dictionary. It is defined as an illness characterized by skin irritations, headache, and respiratory problems that is caused by indoor pollutants, inadequate ventilation, and microorganisms, which include mold.
Toxic molds have been making people sick since biblical times, but the scope of the problem really came to the forefront in 1996 when tests by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) revealed the probable cause of the mysterious illness that killed one infant and sickened nine others at a Cleveland, Ohio, housing project. The babies, who lived within close proximity to one another, all suffered from the same rare lung disorder characterized by pulmonary hemorrhaging. The likely cause: Stachybotrys chartarum, a greenish-black mold. It was found in every one of their homes.
In recent years, the same toxic mold has been responsible for countless other incidents of sick building syndrome at schools, public offices and even single family homes. “Part of the problem is our current construction practices,” says Seth Norman, CEO of Walled Lake, Mich.-based Mold Free, a nationwide mold inspection and remediation service. “We close our buildings tight to make them energy efficient, and as a result, building materials exposed to moisture never get a chance to dry out.”
Visible mold can be cleaned off surfaces with a weak bleach solution. Mold under carpets typically requires that the carpets be removed and replaced. But what do you do about mold in the insulation or wallboard? It goes without saying, they too have to be replaced, but how do you know you have a mold problem behind your walls?
“That’s the first place we look if there aren’t any other visible signs of what’s making someone sick in their home,” says Norman. Signs of mold exposure include nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, wheezing, fever and even shortness of breath. People with chronic illnesses, such as obstructive lung disease, may develop mold infections in their lungs.
Mold enters the home through open doors and windows or on clothing, shoes and pets. Inside, mold can grow on virtually any surface when moisture is present. According to the National Association of Mold Professionals (NAMP) and the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), you can reduce mold growth throughout the home by:
- Keeping humidity below 40 percent.
- Using an air conditioner or dehumidifier during humid months.
- Making sure your home has adequate ventilation.
- Drying any water leak within 24 hours.
- Removing carpet in bathrooms and basements.
- Disposing of moldy materials immediately.
- Cleaning hard surfaces regularly with mold-killing products. Allergy or asthma sufferers should ask non-sensitive people to apply cleaning products.
Solutions of soap and water may remove mold stains, but can leave mold spores behind. Those remaining spores, which are often invisible to the naked eye, can then quickly re-colonize. To decrease mold in homes, clean regularly with products designed to kill common household molds.