NIOSH: Address building moisture early to protect health, save costs
A plethora of respiratory and other ailments may result from exposure to dampness in buildings, say government researchers.
Employers that understand and address moisture in their buildings can protect their employees and save themselves headaches and money, suggests a new alert.
The alert from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health outlines the ways moisture and dampness can develop in buildings and what employers and building owners can do. It also warns of the potential health problems that may result.
Among the symptoms and illnesses related to damp office buildings are headache, fatigue, irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, lack of concentration, rhinitis and sinusitis, lower respiratory symptoms, exacerbation and onset of asthma, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, respiratory infections, bronchitis, eczema, and neurological effects. "Individuals with asthma or hypersensitivity pneumonitis may be at risk for progression to more severe disease if the relationship between illness and exposure to the damp building is not recognized and exposures continue," the alert cautions.
Moisture can enter buildings through roof and window leaks, high indoor humidity, and flooding events and can lead to the growth of mold, fungi, and bacteria. Also, volatile organic compounds can be released along with a breakdown of building materials.
Proper building maintenance is imperative to preventing moisture from accumulating in buildings. "The best current evidence suggests observations of dampness, water damage, mold, or mold odors are the best indicators of dampness-related health hazards, rather than microbiologic measurements," the alert says. It suggests employers and building owners use the following approaches to minimize the likelihood of persistent building dampness and subsequent respiratory problems in exposed occupants:
- Always respond when occupant health concerns are reported.
- Regularly inspect building areas such as roofs, ceilings, walls, basements, crawl spaces, and slab construction for evidence of dampness; take prompt steps to identify and correct the causes of any dampness problems found.
- Conduct regularly scheduled inspections of heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems and promptly correct any problems.
- Prevent high indoor humidity through the proper design and operation of HVAC systems.
- Dry any porous building materials that have become wet from leaks or flooding within 48 hours.
- Clean and repair or replace any building materials that are moisture-damaged or show evidence of visible mold growth.
- Encourage occupants who have developed persistent or worsening respiratory symptoms while working in the building to see a health care provider.
- Follow recommendations from a health care provider for relocation of occupants diagnosed with building-related respiratory disease.
- Establish an indoor environmental quality team to oversee implementation of an IEQ program. The team should consist of a coordinator and representatives of the building employees, employers, and building management.
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January 18, 2013
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