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NIOSH Alert: Preventing Occupational Respiratory Disease from Exposures Caused by Dampness in Office Buildings, Schools, and Other Nonindustrial Buildings

November 2012
DHHS (NIOSH) Publication Number 2013-102
cover of 2013-102

Office buildings, schools, and other nonindustrial buildings may develop moisture and dampness problems from roof and window leaks, high indoor humidity, and flooding events, among other things. For this Alert, we define "dampness" as the presence of unwanted and excessive moisture in buildings [AIHA 2008]. This can lead to the growth of mold, fungi, and bacteria; the release of volatile organic compounds; and the breakdown of building materials. We use the term "mold" for a group of fungi that are common on wet materials. Outdoors, molds live in the soil, on plants, and on dead or decaying matter. There are thousands of species of molds and they can be any color. Different mold species can adapt to different moisture conditions. Research studies have shown that exposures to building dampness and mold have been associated with respiratory symptoms, asthma, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, rhinosinusitis, bronchitis, and respiratory infections. 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.