As a precaution, some athletic practices at Terre Haute North Vigo High School were delayed Thursday as the result of early-December air quality testing that showed mold/air quality levels in the gyms were somewhat “outside the norm.”
The district received results Thursday, which prompted a delay or postposting of practices in the auxiliary gym and main gym, said Rob Haworth, district superintendent. Both gyms were immediately cleaned, and some of the practices occurred later in the day.
The levels tested were not viewed as a significant issue, he said.
Each year, the district does air quality checks, Haworth said. The December indoor air quality testing was done by ACM Engineering and Environmental Services.
At North Vigo, the “normal” mold count range (based on comparative outdoor air samples) was 430, and air quality tests in the gyms were in the high 400s and 500 range, Haworth said.
In contrast, when West Vigo High School had serious mold problems in August 2016, some of the classrooms had mold counts at 5,000 to 7,000, with the highest about 31,000.
Last month, the North Vigo gyms also were cleaned after high concentrations of mold were found on the school’s gymnasium upper-level bleachers. That and an IOSHA complaint outlining other concerns prompted the school district to contact the health department and develop an action plan to address the problems, Haworth said at the time.
Last month, the health department said the school district responded promptly and appropriately in addressing the mold.
While significant cleaning took place last month and could have also addressed the issues identified in the early December air testing, those results didn’t come back until Thursday.
“We’re not taking any chances,” Haworth said. “We went back through and cleaned again today [Thursday],” in both North Vigo gyms.
“There is a greater sense of awareness right now, specifically I think for North,” he said. “We’re trying to be transparent.”
Because of problems with mold at West Vigo High School in August 2016, the district now does annual testing for air quality in schools, he said.
Two other schools, Deming and Terre Town elementary schools, also were tested in early December and results identified some issues.
“Crews were cleaning and addressing those areas as well,” Haworth said.
At Terre Town, air tests indicated an elevated concentration of mold spores in the cafeteria relative to the outdoor air sample, while at Deming, a surface tape lift sampling was conducted of a small amount of mold on a ceiling tile.
Anyone east of the Rockies will tell you this has been a wet year. It wasn’t just that Hurricanes Florence and Michael soaked parts of the South. It wasn’t just that this year’s drenching storms were numerous and tracked unusually far north (one, Alberto, made a historic appearance all the way up in Michigan).
It was also that the rest of the Eastern Seaboard just simply got wetter. In Wilmington, N.C., 60 inches of rain broke an annual record set in 1966. Around Scranton, Pa., rainfall broke a 1945 record. Wisconsin, Colorado and Maryland all saw 1-in-1,000-year rainfall events. And dozens of locations, like Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Charleston, W.Va., had their second- or third-wettest summers on record.
In some houses, mold spores are nothing more than a nuisance—staining furniture or making the basement smell funny. But in other homes they can put people in the hospital or even kill them. Many molds are associated with allergy or asthma attacks; some have been linked to serious complications in immune-compromised populations, and cancer. It is hard to say just yet how much the latest wet year has affected people’s respiratory systems, but it is certainly already hitting their pocketbooks.
“This year there’s just a lot of mold tests being done,” says Michael Berg, the laboratory director for EMLab P&K, one of the biggest U.S. mold-testing companies. He says staffing has become a challenge after two hurricanes and relentless storms along the Eastern Seaboard: “We are struggling, as far as having enough hands on deck in a year like this.”
As climate change and CO2 emissions continue to shape life on Earth, we may be seeing a lot more flooding—with higher sea levels and more powerful storms. In some ways this year might be a glimpse into a wet and moldy future. But what will that mean in practical terms?
Modelling the effects of climate change and rising CO2 levels is notoriously difficult, and even more so when it comes to the diverse world of fungi. It is a little like asking, “How will climate change affect animals?”—some may benefit while others suffer. In some cases the heat will make for fertile breeding grounds for fungi. In others the additional CO2 might irritate them, thereby prompting them to release more spores. “It’s a stress response. The fungus wants to survive, and the way it tries to survive is to produce more offspring—and that means more spores,” says Naresh Magan, a mycologist at England’s Cranfield University. Aspergillus fumigatus, a member of what is perhaps the most common genus of mold to irritate humans, seems to release far more spores when scientists raise it in warmer, CO2-rich enclosures. Other researchers have suggested that increased CO2 might create more leaf litter—where a lot of mold grows when it is not in your house—adding much-needed nitrogen for fungi.
And the spores they produce might be more harmful. In addition to the number of spores a mold puts out, evidence suggests higher CO2 might change the spores themselves. Some mold spores are more than eight times more allergenic today than in pre-industrial times (though it is not clear this trend will be maintained as CO2 levels continue to rise).
Scientists are not completely certain as to how this works. Unlike plants—which breathe in CO2 and can benefit from its increase—fungi take in oxygen, so changes in the chemistry of their spores may be due to some kind of secondary effect. Experts have suggested that more CO2 can lead to more acidic soil or indirectly change fungi respiration. Or there might be some unknown mechanism that causes different responses in different molds. Whatever that mechanism might be, higher CO2 somehow triggers the more allergenic proteins in many molds—which may be why so many more people are allergic to mold today than in generations past.
But not all fungi react the same way to environmental changes. Experiments suggest Alternaria—a genus of mold that causes respiratory problems and is often found in spoiled crops and houses—may actually decrease the allergens in its spores in a warmer, higher-CO2 world. In many cases, it is not clear what chemicals cause adverse health effects from mold spores, let alone how they will respond to a changing climate and atmosphere.
Magan has exposed many types of mold to different levels of CO2, heat and moisture. He says molds such as Stachybotrys—a dangerous group often referred to as “black mold”—might become less allergenic as CO2 increases. But when Aspergillus species are put in a higher CO2 environment, they increase production of aflatoxin B1, a potent cancer-causing chemical that the mold can deposit on some types of produce and livestock feed.
Some of these effects will change, Magan says, as molds adapt and mutate. This might mean the molds will adjust to the stress of climate change—but it could also mean they will adjust to how we treat them. The human body is an excellent place for molds to grow, but most people’s bodies are able to fight them off (though we might start coughing or get runny noses in the process). But in people with compromised immune systems—after stem cell therapy or an organ transplant, for example—Aspergillus can be lethal. Studies have documented an increasing ability among such molds to resist medical treatments including triazole, the most potent anti-fungal in such cases, even in patients who have never taken the drug.
Another problem with mold today is that many energy-efficient homes are designed to capture and conserve heat—which means they can also trap moisture and prevent ventilation, Magan adds. Heat and moisture create a perfect environment for mold. In a bitter irony, architects battling the very things that encourage molds globally may be making them more comfortable in your basement.
But people living in modern, energy-efficient homes are not the ones likely to suffer most from the long-term effects of mold. As is often the case with climate change and rising CO2 levels, the repercussions will likely be worst among the poor, especially in underdeveloped economies where many people cannot purge moisture and mold from their houses.
“With asthma and chronic pulmonary disease, it’s a vicious cycle. [Patients] go and get medication and they feel a little bit better, but they come back into the same home environment,” says Maureen Lichtveld, a global health professor at Tulane University who works with marginalized communities in the Caribbean region as well as the U.S. Southeast.
Lichtveld studies many forms of disease that follow disaster and climate change, but she finds mold especially frustrating because it is highly preventable and relatively easy to control in the home. And if it is not removed, mold can exacerbate chronic asthma and other diseases and stunt a child’s learning and growth. In Puerto Rico asthma was already 23 percent higher than on the mainland—with twice as many asthma-related deaths—before Hurricanes Irma and Maria battered the island in 2017. Many reports suggest it has spiked since then, though objective numbers are not yet available.
In places such as South Florida, where seasonal flooding is common, the mold remediation business has become especially competitive, according to Berg. In other places hit by hurricanes or heavy rains, residents might be facing mold problems for the first time. But whether from flooding, increased spore output or changes in how it functions, mold is likely to become a bigger part of our lives.
Tips* for avoiding the effects of airborne mold spores:
In January 2018, Karen Weiss’s son, Hunter, died of carbon monoxide poisoning. He and a friend were driving home when they decided to pull over to sleep and keep warm using a small propane heater.
“I’m sure the boys thought by having one window open that would be enough,” she says. “But I have since learned that you need to have a cross draft in order for that not to happen.”
Weiss says she wants to use this tragedy to help make sure this doesn’t happen to other families.
“I don’t want any other moms, or dads for that matter, to go through what I’ve gone through because it’s horrible and if we can just save one more life, then I’ve done my job,” Weiss says.
Experts warn heating devices that burn fossil fuels, such as portable camping and heating stoves, can produce dangerous levels of carbon monoxide.
“Those are the items that produce carbon monoxide and when it’s not properly ventilated, the person becomes sick with flu-like symptoms, headache and becomes nauseous,” Reno Fire Marshal Tray Palmer says.
Palmer says it’s especially dangerous because carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless. He says if anyone is experiencing these symptoms, they should call for help.
“Don’t be afraid to call,” Palmer says. “That’s why you pay taxes. We’re here to respond.”
Palmer says RFD receives a higher volume of carbon monoxide related calls during the winter months because people turn on their heating systems and mistakenly warm their cars in garages. He recommends you to install a carbon monoxide detector in your home near the bedrooms.
The CDC has these additional tips:
– Have your heating system, water heater and any other gas or coal-burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year
– Do not use portable flame less chemical heaters indoors
– Never use a generator inside your home, basement or garage or less than 20 feet from any window, door or vent; fatal levels of carbon monoxide can be produced in just minutes
– Have your chimney checked and cleaned every year, and make sure your fireplace damper is open before lighting a fire and well after the fire is extinguished
– Make sure your gas appliances are vented properly
– Never use a gas oven for heating your home
– Never let a car idle in the garage
– Know the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning
When most people think of “air quality,” they think of the outdoors; the smog, haze, even pollen.
But what many people don’t realize is that factors inside the home can also lead to poor air quality, causing potentially serious health risks.
10TV found out why indoor air quality tends to become more of an issue when the temperature drops.
What it really comes down to, according to Alisha Hopkins, a certified nurse practitioner with the Breathing Association, is the simple fact that when it gets colder outside, people tend to stay in their homes for longer periods at a time.
That means more exposure to all the particles, molds and bacteria inside the home.
“Your home is your safe harbor and then all of a sudden, now, it’s this area of just triggers everywhere,” Hopkins said. “So no matter where you go there’s a trigger. …We always think of the outside but we forget that our home is one of the places that we literally lay our heads down, we relax in, and if you’re relaxing in a bunch of dirt, relaxing in pet dander, the fur, that too will make our breathing that much worse.
One woman told 10TV she notices a difference in her breathing as soon as the holiday decorations come out.
“I just start to get the stuffy nose, the watery eyes and then my asthma really kicks up,” said Cindy Groeniger, vice chair for the American Lung Association local leadership board.
Groeniger has suffered from asthma since she was just 10 months old, she said.
“Every fall season it’s bad because I decorate and then you have, you know, mold or dust maybe on your decorations so I have to watch that,” Groeniger said. “Sometimes I have to increase my medicine for the holidays.”
Tips for improving indoor air quality can be simple, Hopkins said.
Vacuum your mattresses, carpet, couches and chairs inside to get ride of dirt, particles and pet dander that could build up over the year.
Groom pets heading into the colder months. Many pets tend to shed more in the fall but grooming them can decrease the amount of pet dander in the air.
Use air filters and humidifiers, making sure to clean them out regularly to avoid mildew and mold buildup.
Wipe down handles, door knobs and surfaces, keeping them free of germs. Because people tend to stay inside more through the winter, illnesses can spread easier from person to person.
Replace furnace filters before cranking up the heat.
Fall is also a good time to make sure that furnaces are carbon monoxide-free, Hopkins said that. Double check carbon monoxide detectors in the home to make sure they are working properly.
For more information on indoor air quality, click here.
Dorms are being deep cleaned at the University of Maryland, as students are growing increasingly concerned that mold problems may be linked to the death of a freshman. According to Fox News reporting, Olivia Paregol, 18, died from the same rare virus that killed 11 children in a New Jersey healthcare facility.
Paregol developed a cough, which later worsened to pneumonia. She died from adenovirus on Nov. 18 at Johns Hopkins Hospital. This is less than three weeks after the school learned she had the illness. The university has since said five more students have illnesses tied to the same rare virus.
Some students said they found mold on their shoes and clothes in their dorm back in August — and believes the fungus caused them to fall ill. After they repeatedly alerted university officials, about 500 students were moved to temporary housing while the school worked to clean the dorms.
Paregol – who suffered from Crohn’s disease and a weakened immune system – lived in Elkton Hall, one of the dorms evacuated for cleaning.
Dr. David McBride, head of the university’s campus health center, said the university has stepped up the cleaning efforts and is on high alert.
Earlier this year these same dorms were involved in a study that looked at how influenza spread in close quarters.
We’re all aware of the potential risks associated with air pollution like factory fumes and car exhausts, but don’t always give the same attention to the pollution that can affect our air indoors.
In fact, research found that the quality of indoor air can be up to 5 times worse for you compared with that outside, and can cause a number of health hazards – headaches, sinus problems and sore throats being just a few.
It’s probably unsurprising that office air quality can be quite poor, what with multiple people sharing an enclosed space. Dust and dirt can build up, and outdoor air pollution can even become trapped and concentrated inside.
When many of us spend such a large portion of our lives working in an office environment, it’s important to take steps to ensure the air quality is as clean as it can be. Here, Envirovent share their top tips on how to improve the air quality in your office.
Keep the office clean
A clean, clear workspace is integral to good quality air. Dusting, de-cluttering and general good housekeeping can help to prevent pollutants and allergens. Regular hoovering helps too – try to do it at least 2 times a week, and clean out the filter of the vacuum often.
Introduce office plants
Plants are thought to be really effective in absorbing toxins and chemicals from the air, including the likes of carbon monoxide and formaldehyde. Plus, they’re a nice way to brighten up the office! Ferns, lilies and palms are all great choices for additional air purification, according to NASA’s famous study.
Clean up spillages
Moisture and dampness creates the perfect home for fungi or mould to grow. Not just unsightly, mould can also exacerbate conditions such as asthma and eczema, so it’s important it’s not given an environment in which it can thrive. Make sure spillages are mopped up promptly, and be sure to report any water leaks as soon as they occur.
Warm, humid air also encourages mould, as well as dust mites and other allergens. To prevent this, the humidity should ideally sit at around 30-50%. Using dehumidifiers and air conditioning, especially during spring and summer, can help keep it at an optimum level, while simultaneously working to filter out pollutants.
Adequate ventilation is a key part to ensuring good air quality in any office environment. Regulations, such as approved document F provide guidance on the requirements for ventilation to provide a good healthy environment.
Don’t block air vents
Furniture, boxes or other items that have been placed in front of air vents can block the airflow, negatively affecting the circulation of fresh air. Bear this in mind when designing the office layout, or when it comes to storage.
Share the responsibility
Ultimately, it’s everyone’s responsibility to contribute towards cleaner indoor air; after all, it affects everyone’s health and happiness. Common sense and vigilance go a long way, so encourage everyone in the office to be aware of policies and best practices. Whether it’s storing food correctly, disposing of rubbish, or simply not smoking in certain areas, small steps can have a great influence.