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. 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 home/center
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 children are
hustled off to childcare—ranging from informal, in-home
settings to specifically designed and regulated centers. Some
children spend a few hours at childcare while others make a day
of it. For parents, childcare provides the assurance of a caring,
safe, and secure environment. But is the childcare 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 productivity.
According to Dr. Joseph Ponessa of Rutgers University, here
are some reasons why providing healthy
surroundings for children is especially
• 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
• Early childhood is a time of intense
learning about many things: about
the world, about how to speak, and
how to behave. 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.
• Young children spend a great amount of time on the floor
and put lots of things into their mouths while teething. This
exposes them to any pollutants that are on the floor.
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
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 cancer.
• 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 rhinitis).
• 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 death.
• Cockroaches and Rodents: Droppings and body parts of pests
can be asthma triggers.
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: Wash bedding in hot water (at least
130 degrees Fahrenheit) frequently; since stuffed toys are
a breeding ground for dust mites, choose toys that can be
washed and thoroughly dried; use bedding encasements that
do not allow the mites to pass through; and do not allow
children to sleep on carpeted floors.
• 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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