Indoor Air Quality – Volume 10, Issue 4, 2001

Indoor Air Quality – Volume 10, Issue 4, 2001
Volume 10 • Issue 4 • 2001
Sponsored by the Extension Cares Initiative
Is Mold Affecting the Air Quality in Your Childcare Facility?
by Janie L. Harris, M.Ed.
deally, we would all like to have clean, healthy, and safe indoor
air to breathe. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency reports that indoor air often is more polluted than the
outdoor air we breathe. Since many systems in the young child’s
body are at critical stages of development, toxins in the indoor air
can interfere with optimum growth and development.
There are numerous potential pollutants in indoor
environments; however, the one receiving
the most media coverage recently has
been mold. While some molds can be
a serious health threat, others, like the
ones responsible for creating cheese
and penicillin, are beneficial. Molds are
fungi. Molds produce microscopic cells
called “spores,” which are very tiny and
spread easily through the air. Mold spores
are present everywhere—in indoor as well
as outdoor air. Most people are regularly
exposed to mold without being aware
of it. An estimated 10 percent of the
population is severely allergic to mold.
A visual inspection or a musty odor may
reveal the presence of mold.
The most common “problem” mold is referred to as “black
mold.” Stachybotrys atra (also called S. chartarum) is a black,
slimy mold that grows on wet materials containing cellulose. This
particular mold contains a toxic substance (called endotoxin) that
can cause serious illness and death in children (especially infants)
and some adults. Stachybotrys is one of several molds that can
produce potent mycotoxins (toxic agents). Whatever the type
of mold, “a moldy home is not a healthy home,” and the mold
problem should be corrected. Locating the mold, removing it, and
implementing routine cleaning are the first steps to solving the
mold problem. An additional step of removing the “cause” of the
mold is critical to preventing it from reoccurring.
In order to take a proactive approach to combating mold, one
must have a basic understanding of the environment that is
conducive to mold growth. Mold needs a food source,
moisture, mild to warm temperatures, and mold
spores to grow. Even when mold has dried out
and has stopped growing, the toxins can still be
harmful. Mold spores act like seeds, forming
new mold growth when they find the right
Many materials that are used in our
homes/facilities provide suitable nutrients
that encourage mold to grow. Materials
such as wood, particle board, paint,
wallpaper, insulation materials, drywall,
carpet, and upholstery commonly support
mold growth. The food source can be
anything organic, such as dust, books, paper
and paper products, animal dander, soap scum,
etc. Wet cellulose materials are particularly conducive
for the growth of mold.
Excessive moisture, reduced lighting, insufficient air circulation,
and warm temperatures produce ideal conditions for mold
growth. Flooding, pipe leaks, leaky roofs, moisture in the
building walls, relative humidity, condensation, and poor HVAC
design and operation all contribute to excessive moisture in a
building. Special attention should be given to areas subject to
continued on page 2
Educational programs of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, or national origin.
The Texas A&M University System, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the County Commissioners Courts of Texas Cooperating
continued from page 1
water damage (behind and under cabinets, around plumbing
fixtures, under carpet, inside wall cavities, attics and other areas
containing porous material). Water damage not addressed within
48 hours may result in the growth and spread of mold.
Studies indicate that mold and mildew contamination can be
significantly reduced when surfaces are routinely cleaned and
disinfected. The same applies for school-age childcare facilities.
Small areas of mold (less than a couple square feet) can be
cleaned with a solution of one cup laundry bleach to a gallon
of water. This can be applied with a sponge or spray bottle and
rinsed after 15 minutes. Bleach will kill the mold but does not
inactivate the toxin. Be sure to wear eye protection, rubber
gloves, protective clothing, and respiratory protection (N-95
respirator). Provide plenty of ventilation, and keep others out of
the work area. To get rid of the mold for good, the underlying
moisture problem must be identified and fixed! Extensive
contamination (30 or more square feet) should be assessed by
an experienced health and safety professional and remediated by
personnel with training and experience handling environmentally
contaminated material.
The major strategies for reducing mold spores in the indoor
environment include controlling moisture, thorough cleaning,
preventing amplification, and restricting the entry and buildup of
Control Moisture
• Relative Humidity: keep as low as possible within an
acceptable range (30-50 percent RH).
• Damp Areas: clean and dry them (plumbing and flooring
under sinks, around washing machines, toilets and faucets,
condensate on window frames, refrigerator drain pans,
refrigerator and freezer door gaskets, etc.). Wipe counter and
floor spills immediately. Keep refrigerator clean and mold
• Plumbing and Roof Leaks: fix immediately, and inspect
• Water-Damaged Areas: dry within 24 hours. If flooding is
extensive, utilize a trained, certified restoration specialist. Wet
drywall and insulation must be replaced, without exception.
• Heating/Air-Conditioning System: service annually; check
for standing moisture and contamination; clean or replace as
necessary (unit, ductwork, drain pan, etc.).
• Floors and Countertops: use an effective cleaner or
• Garbage and Trash Cans: clean and disinfect at least weekly;
use disposable liners.
• Carpet and Upholstery: professionally “steam clean” at least
twice a year. Maintain by frequent vacuuming with a highefficiency vacuum cleaner with HEPA-filtered exhaust and
double-wall dust collection bags. Central vacuum cleaner
system is best as it exhausts pollutants directly outside the
• Soft Materials: launder area rugs frequently; vacuum
upholstery at least twice a month and also mattresses, if
not encased in plastic; vacuum blinds and curtains/drapes
• Stoves and Refrigerators: clean and vacuum behind regularly.
Prevent Amplification
• Apply alcohol-based spray after cleaning moisture-prone
surfaces in kitchens and bathrooms, or use disinfectantcleaner.
• Dry tub, shower, and shower curtain surfaces after using, or
apply commercial products that dissipate moisture and prevent
mildew growth.
• Replace mildewed shower curtains and/or liners, or launder
with an effective mold and mildew-resistant product.
Restrict Pollutant Entry and Buildup
• Entry-way Mats: at each doorway to restrict moldcontaminated soil and debris.
• Building Materials: inspect prior to entering the home.
Lumber, drywall, and other materials are often stored
improperly and can harbor mold.
• Carpet: replace with hard surface flooring to reduce a
significant dust/mold reservoir.
• Upholstered Furniture: replace with leather or vinyl-covered
furniture to reduce dust/mold levels.
• Mattresses: use foam or rubber, or encase in plastic covering
that can be cleaned and disinfected.
• Houseplants and Pets: eliminate them. Soil contains mold
spores, and pets cause mold track-in; food and water trays can
quickly become fungal reservoirs.
• Heat/AC System Ductwork: have inspected and sealed,
especially if located in crawl space. Leaky system can pull
mold spores from the crawl space. Cover the soil in the crawl
space, and ensure that condensate and other water drains
properly away from the home. For HVAC systems located
in the attic or a closet, additionally check to make sure
condensate drip pan drains into the plumbing system and that
the emergency overflow drain is open and operative.
In summary, careful cleaning and disinfecting, diligent
maintenance, and immediate repair are necessary in order to
prevent the development and growth of mold in the indoor
environment. If operators and staff of childcare facilities are
aware of the harmful effects of indoor pollutants and implement
simple measures to reduce them, the facility can be a healthier
place for the children as well as the staff.
Ms. Janie Harris is an Extension Housing and Environment
Specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
Creating and Maintaining Healthy Indoor Air Quality
by Dr. Michael P. Vogel
ach working day across America, thousands of school-age
children receive some type of after-school care. Parents
want and need assurance that their children are being cared for in
a safe and secure environment. But is the school-age environment
safe from unhealthy sources that contribute to poor indoor air
quality (IAQ)?
Research has shown that children and adults are at risk from
indoor air pollutants. Poor air quality can affect the attention span
and retention ability of children,
affect scholastic performance of
children, increase absenteeism
of children from school, and
affect the care provider’s
According to Dr. Joseph
Ponessa of Rutgers University,
here are some reasons
why providing healthy
surroundings for children is
especially important:
• The young child’s body
is not as well equipped as
the adult body to deal with
harmful substances taken
into the body.
• Many important systems
in the body are still in an
important stage of growth.
Some harmful substances can interfere with this growth.
• Early childhood is a time of intense learning about many
things. Some pollutants can upset this process and harm the
child for a lifetime.
• Relative to their body size, children breathe more air and take
in more food than adults. Children get higher “doses” of any
harmful things that may be in air, food, and drink.
is evidence that passive cigarette smoke contributes to the
development of asthma in children and causes increased risk
for respiratory infections.
Asbestos: Inhalation of fibers causes inflammation and tumors.
Can also cause cancer of the lining of the lungs and in the
abdominal cavity.
Carbon Monoxide (CO): CO exposure occurs through
inhalation. Severe exposure can cause brain damage and death.
The most common source of CO poisoning in the home is
from incorrectly vented furnaces, heaters, and cook stoves.
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), including
Formaldehyde: VOCs may be emitted by home furnishings as
well as consumer-cleaning products. Ten to 20 percent of the
population reacts to formaldehyde by developing eye irritation
and respiratory effects.
Radon: Radon forms in the soil from radium
and uranium. Radon increases the risk of lung
Animal Dander: Dander from cats,
birds, dogs, etc. that live indoors is a
primary cause of allergic symptoms.
People can suffer from asthma,
allergic rhinitis, and allergic
conjunctivitis. Dander can persist
in the environment long after the
pet no longer lives in the home.
• Mites: Mites live in carpet,
bedding, etc., and consume
skin particles from humans.
They are a common source of
allergy (asthma and allergic
• Mold Spores: Molds can
cause an allergic reaction. Hypersensitivity pneumonitis is
a type of allergic reaction that consists of fever, chills, dry
cough, and a flu-like feeling. All or some of these symptoms
can appear after repeated mold spore inhalation.
Lead Dust: From lead paint in pre-1978 buildings. In children,
small amounts affect the nervous system. Larger doses can
cause kidney and reproductive disorders, convulsions, and
Cockroaches and Rodents: Droppings and body parts of pests
can be asthma triggers.
What Factors Affect Indoor Air Quality in
Childcare Facilities?
• Relative Humidity: Should remain between 35 and 55 percent.
Lower humidity leads to dry and irritated skin. High humidity
leads to growth of molds and bacteria, which cause other
• Ventilation: Poor ventilation allows carbon dioxide to
accumulate as well as other gases. This can be a problem in
airtight buildings.
• Second-hand Smoke: Short-term effects include mucous
membrane irritation. Long-term effects include lung cancer
from inhalation of carcinogens within the smoke. There
Indoor Air Quality and Asthma
Asthma associated with poor indoor air quality is especially
worrisome because it is more prevalent among low income and
minority groups. The national health and economic consequences
of asthma are substantial. Control of asthma can be accomplished
through identification and control of these primary “triggers”:
secondhand smoke, dust mites, pets, molds, and pests.
continued from page 3
Tips for Controlling IAQ in Childcare Facilities
• Control Secondhand Smoke: Never allow smoking around
• Control Dust Mites: Do not allow children to sleep on carpeted
• Control Pet Problems: Do not allow pets in the childcare
facility—keep pets outdoors; if you do remove an animal, do a
thorough cleaning of floors, walls, and especially carpets and
upholstered furniture.
• Control Molds: There is no practical way to eliminate all mold
and mold spores in the indoor environment; however, you can
control indoor mold growth by controlling moisture (repair
plumbing leaks; remove soaked and molded carpeting, and
maintain indoor humidity of between 35–55 percent relative
• Control Pests: Lowering moisture also helps reduce dust mites
and cockroaches; do not leave food or garbage out; store food
in airtight containers; clean all food crumbs or spilled liquids
right away; wash dishes when you are done using them, and
do not leave dirty dishes in the sink, especially overnight; and
fix plumbing leaks and other moisture problems.
• Housekeeping/Housecleaning: Avoid clutter, dust catchers;
reduce or eliminate carpeting or clean/shampoo carpets regularly without chemicals; and use a high-performance “HEPA”
vacuum cleaner.
Indoor Air Quality Checklist for Childcare Providers
• If the building was built before 1978, has it been tested for
• Is there evidence of peeling interior and/or exterior paint? (It
could contain lead paint.)
• Do children occupy basement area where radon levels could
be high? Has building been tested for radon?
• Is there evidence of water around foundation and basement?
(Mold could be present.)
• Is there evidence of mold growth in restrooms?
• Are chemical containers present in restrooms, utility areas,
and food-service areas?
• Are solvent-based art supplies used?
• Can you smell fuel or exhaust? (It could be a problem with
the fossil fuel heating system or water heater.)
• Is combustion equipment checked and tuned-up annually?
• If combustion equipment is used, are carbon monoxide
detectors present in the childcare facility?
• If an older building, is there evidence of ductwork, pipes,
and siding that may contain asbestos?
• Are there strong chemical odors following maintenance and
renovation, such as carpeting and painting?
• Is there evidence of insects and rodents?
Child Care Center Connections Editorial Staff
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service
Linda Ladd, Ph.D. and Stephen Green, Ph.D.
Managing Editors
Janie Harris, M.Ed.
Guest Editor
Susan Lee, B.A.
Design Editor
Carleen Cook, Ed.M.
Managing Supervisor
Laura Strawn, M.A.
Associate Editor
• Are there piles of trash outside of garbage containers?
• Are there indoor pets, such rodents, birds, cats, dogs, etc.?
• Does the childcare staff smoke—even outdoors around
• Are carpets poorly maintained and cleaned (especially if
children nap on the floor)?
• If beds, daybeds, and sofas are used for sleeping, is bedding
changed daily?
• Is food left out and unattended?
• Are toys regularly disinfected?
• Are stuffed toys used?
• Does the childcare facility feel stuffy and smell stale?
• Do children complain or experience itchy eyes or sore throat
while in your care?
• Do children feel less stuffy outside the childcare facility?
• Do you allow sick children to attend?
• Do you and other childcare staff practice handwashing and
require children to comply as well?
• Is the childcare facility located adjacent to environmentally
hazardous properties?
• What is the attitude of staff toward indoor air quality (good
role models or defensive)?
Learn more about indoor air quality and childcare facilities by
checking out the USDA–CSREES Program, Healthy Indoor Air
for America’s Homes website at
Dr. Michael P. Vogel is Professor and Housing Specialist for
Montana State University Extension Service. He is also the director of Healthy Indoor Air for America’s Home.
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