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NEW YORK CITY GUIDELINES 

Guidelines on Assessment and Remediation
of Fungi in Indoor Environments



Executive Summary

On May 7, 1993, the New York City Department of Health (DOH), the New York City Human Resources Administration (HRA), and the Mt. Sinai Occupational Health Clinic convened an expert panel on Stachybotrys atra in Indoor Environments. The purpose of the panel was to develop policies for medical and environmental evaluation and intervention to address Stachybotrys atra (now known as Stachybotrys chartarum (SC)) contamination. The original guidelines were developed because of mold growth problems in several New York City buildings in the early 1990's. This document revises and expands the original guidelines to include all fungi (mold). It is based both on a review of the literature regarding fungi and on comments obtained by a review panel consisting of experts in the fields of microbiology and health sciences. It is intended for use by building engineers and management, but is available for general distribution to anyone concerned about fungal contamination, such as environmental consultants, health professionals, or the general public.

We are expanding the guidelines to be inclusive of all fungi for several reasons:

Fungi are present almost everywhere in indoor and outdoor environments. The most common symptoms of fungal exposure are runny nose, eye irritation, cough, congestion, and aggravation of asthma. Although there is evidence documenting severe health effects of fungi in humans, most of this evidence is derived from ingestion of contaminated foods (i.e., grain and peanut products) or occupational exposures in agricultural settings where inhalation exposures were very high. With the possible exception of remediation to very heavily contaminated indoor environments, such high-level exposures are not expected to occur while performing remedial work.

There have been reports linking health effects in office workers to offices contaminated with moldy surfaces and in residents of homes contaminated with fungal growth. Symptoms, such as fatigue, respiratory ailments, and eye irritation were typically observed in these cases. Some studies have suggested an association between SC and pulmonary hemorrhage/hemosiderosis in infants, generally those less than six months old. Pulmonary hemosiderosis is an uncommon condition that results from bleeding in the lungs. The cause of this condition is unknown, but may result from a combination of environmental contaminants and conditions (e.g., smoking, fungal contaminants and other bioaerosols, and water-damaged homes), and currently its association with SC is unproven.

The focus of this guidance document addresses mold contamination of building components (walls, ventilation systems, support beams, etc.) that are chronically moist or water damaged. Occupants should address common household sources of mold, such as mold found in bathroom tubs or between tiles with household cleaners. Moldy food (e.g., breads, fruits, etc.) should be discarded.

Building materials supporting fungal growth must be remediated as rapidly as possible in order to ensure a healthy environment. Repair of the defects that led to water accumulation (or elevated humidity) should be conducted in conjunction with or prior to fungal remediation. Specific methods of assessing and remediating fungal contamination should be based on the extent of visible contamination and underlying damage. The simplest and most expedient remediation that is reasonable, and properly and safely removes fungal contamination, should be used. Remediation and assessment methods are described in this document.

The use of respiratory protection, gloves, and eye protection is recommended. Extensive contamination, particularly if heating, ventilating, air conditioning (HVAC) systems or large occupied spaces are involved, should be assessed by an experienced health and safety professional and remediated by personnel with training and experience handling environmentally contaminated materials. Lesser areas of contamination can usually be assessed and remediated by building maintenance personnel. In order to prevent contamination from recurring, underlying defects causing moisture buildup and water damage must be addressed. Effective communication with building occupants is an essential component of all remedial efforts.

Fungi in buildings may cause or exacerbate symptoms of allergies (such as wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, nasal congestion, and eye irritation), especially in persons who have a history of allergic diseases (such as asthma and rhinitis). Individuals with persistent health problems that appear to be related to fungi or other bioaerosol exposure should see their physicians for a referral to practitioners who are trained in occupational/environmental medicine or related specialties and are knowledgeable about these types of exposures. Decisions about removing individuals from an affected area must be based on the results of such medical evaluation, and be made on a case-by-case basis. Except in cases of widespread fungal contamination that are linked to illnesses throughout a building, building-wide evacuation is not indicated.

In summary, prompt remediation of contaminated material and infrastructure repair is the primary response to fungal contamination in buildings. Emphasis should be placed on preventing contamination through proper building and HVAC system maintenance and prompt repair of water damage.

This document is not a legal mandate and should be used as a guideline. Currently there are no United States Federal, New York State, or New York City regulations for evaluating potential health effects of fungal contamination and remediation. These guidelines are subject to change as more information regarding fungal contaminants becomes available.

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Introduction

On May 7, 1993, the New York City Department of Health (DOH), the New York City Human Resources Administration (HRA), and the Mt. Sinai Occupational Health Clinic convened an expert panel on Stachybotrys atra in Indoor Environments. The purpose of the panel was to develop policies for medical and environmental evaluation and intervention to address Stachybotrys atra (now known as Stachybotrys chartarum (SC)) contamination. The original guidelines were developed because of mold growth problems in several New York City buildings in the early 1990's. This document revises and expands the original guidelines to include all fungi (mold). It is based both on a review of the literature regarding fungi and on comments obtained by a review panel consisting of experts in the fields of microbiology and health sciences. It is intended for use by building engineers and management, but is available for general distribution to anyone concerned about fungal contamination, such as environmental consultants, health professionals, or the general public.

This document contains a discussion of potential health effects; medical evaluations; environmental assessments; protocols for remediation; and a discussion of risk communication strategy. The guidelines are divided into four sections:

1. Health Issues; 2. Environmental Assessment; 3. Remediation; and 4. Hazard Communication.

We are expanding the guidelines to be inclusive of all fungi for several reasons:

Fungi are present almost everywhere in indoor and outdoor environments. The most common symptoms of fungal exposure are runny nose, eye irritation, cough, congestion, and aggravation of asthma. Although there is evidence documenting severe health effects of fungi in humans, most of this evidence is derived from ingestion of contaminated foods (i.e., grain and peanut products) or occupational exposures in agricultural settings where inhalation exposures were very high.13, 14 With the possible exception of remediation to very heavily contaminated indoor environments, such high level exposures are not expected to occur while performing remedial work.15

There have been reports linking health effects in office workers to offices contaminated with moldy surfaces and in residents of homes contaminated with fungal growth.12, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 Symptoms, such as fatigue, respiratory ailments, and eye irritation were typically observed in these cases.

Some studies have suggested an association between SC and pulmonary hemorrhage/hemosiderosis in infants, generally those less than six months old. Pulmonary hemosiderosis is an uncommon condition that results from bleeding in the lungs. The cause of this condition is unknown, but may result from a combination of environmental contaminants and conditions (e.g., smoking, other microbial contaminants, and water-damaged homes), and currently its association with SC is unproven.21, 22, 23

The focus of this guidance document addresses mold contamination of building components (walls, ventilation systems, support beams, etc.) that are chronically moist or water damaged. Occupants should address common household sources of mold, such as mold found in bathroom tubs or between tiles with household cleaners. Moldy food (e.g., breads, fruits, etc.) should be discarded.

This document is not a legal mandate and should be used as a guideline. Currently there are no United States Federal, New York State, or New York City regulations for evaluating potential health effects of fungal contamination and remediation. These guidelines are subject to change as more information regarding fungal contaminants becomes available.

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1. Health Issues

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2. Environmental Assessment

The presence of mold, water damage, or musty odors should be addressed immediately. In all instances, any source(s) of water must be stopped and the extent of water damaged determined. Water damaged materials should be dried and repaired. Mold damaged materials should be remediated in accordance with this document (see Section 3, Remediation).

    2.1 Visual Inspection

    A visual inspection is the most important initial step in identifying a possible contamination problem. The extent of any water damage and mold growth should be visually assessed. This assessment is important in determining remedial strategies. Ventilation systems should also be visually checked, particularly for damp filters but also for damp conditions elsewhere in the system and overall cleanliness. Ceiling tiles, gypsum wallboard (sheetrock), cardboard, paper, and other cellulosic surfaces should be given careful attention during a visual inspection. The use of equipment such as a boroscope, to view spaces in ductwork or behind walls, or a moisture meter, to detect moisture in building materials, may be helpful in identifying hidden sources of fungal growth and the extent of water damage.

    2.2 Bulk/Surface Sampling

    1. Bulk or surface sampling is not required to undertake a remediation. Remediation (as described in Section 3, Remediation) of visually identified fungal contamination should proceed without further evaluation.

    2. Bulk or surface samples may need to be collected to identify specific fungal contaminants as part of a medical evaluation if occupants are experiencing symptoms which may be related to fungal exposure or to identify the presence or absence of mold if a visual inspection is equivocal (e.g., discoloration, and staining).

    3. An individual trained in appropriate sampling methodology should perform bulk or surface sampling. Bulk samples are usually collected from visibly moldy surfaces by scraping or cutting materials with a clean tool into a clean plastic bag. Surface samples are usually collected by wiping a measured area with a sterile swab or by stripping the suspect surface with clear tape. Surface sampling is less destructive than bulk sampling. Other sampling methods may also be available. A laboratory specializing in mycology should be consulted for specific sampling and delivery instructions.

    2.3 Air Monitoring

    1. Air sampling for fungi should not be part of a routine assessment. This is because decisions about appropriate remediation strategies can usually be made on the basis of a visual inspection. In addition, air-sampling methods for some fungi are prone to false negative results and therefore cannot be used to definitively rule out contamination.

    2. Air monitoring may be necessary if an individual(s) has been diagnosed with a disease that is or may be associated with a fungal exposure (e.g., pulmonary hemorrhage/hemosiderosis, and aspergillosis).

    3. Air monitoring may be necessary if there is evidence from a visual inspection or bulk sampling that ventilation systems may be contaminated. The purpose of such air monitoring is to assess the extent of contamination throughout a building. It is preferable to conduct sampling while ventilation systems are operating.

    4. Air monitoring may be necessary if the presence of mold is suspected (e.g., musty odors) but cannot be identified by a visual inspection or bulk sampling (e.g., mold growth behind walls). The purpose of such air monitoring is to determine the location and/or extent of contamination.

    5. If air monitoring is performed, for comparative purposes, outdoor air samples should be collected concurrently at an air intake, if possible, and at a location representative of outdoor air. For additional information on air sampling, refer to the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists' document, "Bioaerosols: Assessment and Control."

    6. Personnel conducting the sampling must be trained in proper air sampling methods for microbial contaminants. A laboratory specializing in mycology should be consulted for specific sampling and shipping instructions.

    2.4 Analysis of Environmental Samples

    Microscopic identification of the spores/colonies requires considerable expertise. These services are not routinely available from commercial laboratories. Documented quality control in the laboratories used for analysis of the bulk/surface and air samples is necessary. The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) offers accreditation to microbial laboratories (Environmental Microbiology Laboratory Accreditation Program (EMLAP)). Accredited laboratories must participate in quarterly proficiency testing (Environmental Microbiology Proficiency Analytical Testing Program (EMPAT)).

    Evaluation of bulk/surface and air sampling data should be performed by an experienced health professional. The presence of few or trace amounts of fungal spores in bulk/surface sampling should be considered background. Amounts greater than this or the presence of fungal fragments (e.g., hyphae, and conidiophores) may suggest fungal colonization, growth, and/or accumulation at or near the sampled location.30 Air samples should be evaluated by means of comparison (i.e., indoors to outdoors) and by fungal type (e.g., genera, and species). In general, the levels and types of fungi found should be similar indoors (in non-problem buildings) as compared to the outdoor air. Differences in the levels or types of fungi found in air samples may indicate that moisture sources and resultant fungal growth may be problematic.

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3. Remediation

In all situations, the underlying cause of water accumulation must be rectified or fungal growth will recur. Any initial water infiltration should be stopped and cleaned immediately. An immediate response (within 24 to 48 hours) and thorough clean up, drying, and/or removal of water damaged materials will prevent or limit mold growth. If the source of water is elevated humidity, relative humidity should be maintained at levels below 60% to inhibit mold growth.31 Emphasis should be on ensuring proper repairs of the building infrastructure, so that water damage and moisture buildup does not recur.

Five different levels of abatement are described below. The size of the area impacted by fungal contamination primarily determines the type of remediation. The sizing levels below are based on professional judgement and practicality; currently there is not adequate data to relate the extent of contamination to frequency or severity of health effects. The goal of remediation is to remove or clean contaminated materials in a way that prevents the emission of fungi and dust contaminated with fungi from leaving a work area and entering an occupied or non-abatement area, while protecting the health of workers performing the abatement. The listed remediation methods were designed to achieve this goal, however, due to the general nature of these methods it is the responsibility of the people conducting remediation to ensure the methods enacted are adequate. The listed remediation methods are not meant to exclude other similarly effective methods. Any changes to the remediation methods listed in these guidelines, however, should be carefully considered prior to implementation.

Non-porous (e.g., metals, glass, and hard plastics) and semi-porous (e.g., wood, and concrete) materials that are structurally sound and are visibly moldy can be cleaned and reused. Cleaning should be done using a detergent solution. Porous materials such as ceiling tiles and insulation, and wallboards with more than a small area of contamination should be removed and discarded. Porous materials (e.g., wallboard, and fabrics) that can be cleaned, can be reused, but should be discarded if possible. A professional restoration consultant should be contacted when restoring porous materials with more than a small area of fungal contamination. All materials to be reused should be dry and visibly free from mold. Routine inspections should be conducted to confirm the effectiveness of remediation work.

The use of gaseous, vapor-phase, or aerosolized biocides for remedial purposes is not recommended. The use of biocides in this manner can pose health concerns for people in occupied spaces of the building and for people returning to the treated space if used improperly. Furthermore, the effectiveness of these treatments is unproven and does not address the possible health concerns from the presence of the remaining non-viable mold. For additional information on the use of biocides for remedial purposes, refer to the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists' document, "Bioaerosols: Assessment and Control."

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4. Hazard Communication

When fungal growth requiring large-scale remediation is found, the building owner, management, and/or employer should notify occupants in the affected area(s) of its presence. Notification should include a description of the remedial measures to be taken and a timetable for completion. Group meetings held before and after remediation with full disclosure of plans and results can be an effective communication mechanism. Individuals with persistent health problems that appear to be related to bioaerosol exposure should see their physicians for a referral to practitioners who are trained in occupational/environmental medicine or related specialties and are knowledgeable about these types of exposures. Individuals seeking medical attention should be provided with a copy of all inspection results and interpretation to give to their medical practitioners.

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Conclusion

In summary, the prompt remediation of contaminated material and infrastructure repair must be the primary response to fungal contamination in buildings. The simplest and most expedient remediation that properly and safely removes fungal growth from buildings should be used. In all situations, the underlying cause of water accumulation must be rectified or the fungal growth will recur. Emphasis should be placed on preventing contamination through proper building maintenance and prompt repair of water damaged areas.

Widespread contamination poses much larger problems that must be addressed on a case-by-case basis in consultation with a health and safety specialist. Effective communication with building occupants is an essential component of all remedial efforts. Individuals with persistent health problems should see their physicians for a referral to practitioners who are trained in occupational/environmental medicine or related specialties and are knowledgeable about these types of exposures.

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Notes and References

  1. Bata A, Harrach B, Kalman U, Kis-tamas A, Lasztity R. Macrocyclic Trichothecene Toxins Produced by Stachybotrys atra Strains Isolated in Middle Europe. Applied and Environmental Microbiology 1985; 49:678-81.

  2. Jarvis B, "Mycotoxins and Indoor Air Quality," Biological Contaminants in Indoor Environments, ASTM STP 1071, Morey P, Feely Sr. J, Otten J, Editors, American Society for Testing and Materials, Philadelphia, 1990.

  3. Yang C, Johanning E, "Airborne Fungi and Mycotoxins," Manual of Environmental Microbiology, Hurst C, Editor in Chief, ASM Press, Washington, D.C., 1996

  4. Jarvis B, Mazzola E. Macrocyclic and Other Novel Trichothecenes: Their Structure, Synthesis, and Biological Significance. Acc. Chem. Res. 1982; 15:388-95.

  5. Von Essen S, Robbins R, Thompson A, Rennard S. Organic Dust Toxic Syndrome: An Acute Febrile Reaction to Organic Dust Exposure Distinct from Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis. Clinical Toxicology 1990; 28(4):389-420.

  6. Richerson H. Unifying Concepts Underlying the Effects of Organic Dust Exposures. American Journal of Industrial Medicine 1990; 17:139-42.

  7. Malmberg P, Rask-Andersen A, Lundholm M, Palmgren U. Can Spores from Molds and Actinomycetes Cause an Organic Dust Toxic Syndrome Reaction?. American Journal of Industrial Medicine 1990; 17:109-10.

  8. Malmberg P. Health Effects of Organic Dust Exposure in Dairy Farmers. American Journal of Industrial Medicine 1990; 17:7-15.

  9. Yoshida K, Masayuki A, Shukuro A. Acute Pulmonary Edema in a Storehouse of Moldy Oranges: A Severe Case of the Organic Dust Toxic Syndrome. Archives of Environmental Health 1989; 44(6): 382-84.

  10. Lecours R, Laviolette M, Cormier Y. Bronchoalveolar Lavage in Pulmonary Mycotoxicosis. Thorax 1986; 41:924-6.

  11. Levetin E. "Fungi," Bioaerosols, Burge H, Editor, CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida, 1995.

  12. Husman T. Health Effects of Indoor-air Microorganisms. Scand J Work Environ Health 1996; 22:5-13.

  13. Miller J D. Fungi and Mycotoxins in Grain: Implications for Stored Product Research. J Stored Prod Res 1995; 31(1):1-16.

  14. Cookingham C, Solomon W. "Bioaerosol-Induced Hypersensitivity Diseases," Bioaerosols, Burge H, Editor, CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida, 1995.

  15. Rautiala S, Reponen T, Nevalainen A, Husman T, Kalliokoski P. Control of Exposure to Airborne Viable Microorganisms During Remediation of Moldy Buildings; Report of Three Case Studies. American Industrial Hygiene Association Journal 1998; 59:455-60.

  16. Dales R, Zwanenburg H, Burnett R, Franklin C. Respiratory Health Effects of Home Dampness and Molds among Canadian Children. American Journal of Epidemiology 1991; 134(2): 196-203.

  17. Hodgson M, Morey P, Leung W, Morrow L, Miller J D, Jarvis B, Robbins H, Halsey J, Storey E. Building-Associated Pulmonary Disease from Exposure to Stachybotrys chartarum and Aspergillus versicolor. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine 1998; 40(3)241-9.

  18. Croft W, Jarvis B, Yatawara C. Airborne Outbreak of Trichothecene Toxicosis. Atmospheric Environment 1986; 20(3)549-52.

  19. DeKoster J, Thorne P. Bioaerosol Concentrations in Noncomplaint, Complaint, and Intervention Homes in the Midwest. American Industrial Hygiene Association Journal 1995; 56:573-80.

  20. Johanning E, Biagini R, Hull D, Morey P, Jarvis B, Landbergis P. Health and Immunological Study Following Exposure to Toxigenic Fungi (Stachybotrys chartarum) in a Water-Damaged Office Environment. Int Arch Occup Environ Health 1996; 68:207-18.

  21. Montana E, Etzel R, Allan T, Horgan T, Dearborn D. Environmental Risk Factor Associated with Pediatric Idiopathic Pulmonary Hemorrhage and Hemosiderosis in a Cleveland Community. Pediatrics 1997; 99(1)

  22. Etzel R, Montana E, Sorenson W G, Kullman G, Allan T, Dearborn D. Acute Pulmonary Hemorrhage in Infants Associated with Exposure to Stachybotrys atra and Other Fungi. Ach Pediatr Adolesc Med 1998; 152:757-62.

  23. CDC. Update: Pulmonary Hemorrhage/Hemosiderosis Among Infants --- Cleveland, Ohio, 1993 - 1996. MMWR 2000; 49(9): 180-4.

  24. Burge H, Otten J. "Fungi," Bioaerosols Assessment and Control, Macher J, Editor, American Conference of Industrial Hygienists, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1999.

  25. do Pico G. Hazardous Exposure and Lung Disease Among Farm Workers. Clinics in Chest Medicine 1992; 13(2):311-28.

  26. Hodgson M, Morey P, Attfield M, Sorenson W, Fink J, Rhodes W, Visvesvara G. Pulmonary Disease Associated with Cafeteria Flooding. Archives of Environmental Health 1985; 40(2):96-101.

  27. Weltermann B, Hodgson M, Storey E, DeGraff, Jr. A, Bracker A, Groseclose S, Cole S, Cartter M, Phillips D. Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis: A Sentinel Event Investigation in a Wet Building. American Journal of Industrial Medicine 1998; 34:499-505.

  28. Band J. "Histoplasmosis," Occupational Respiratory Diseases, Merchant J, Editor, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Washington D.C., 1986.

  29. Bertolini R. "Histoplasmosis A Summary of the Occupational Health Concern," Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, 1988.

  30. Yang C. P&K Microbiology Services, Inc. Microscopic Examination of Sticky Tape or Bulk Samples for the Evaluation and Identification of Fungi. Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

  31. American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, Inc. Thermal Environmental Conditions for Human Occupancy - ASHRAE Standard (ANSI/ASHRAE 55-1992). Atlanta, Georgia, 1992.

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Acknowledgments

The New York City Department of Health would like to thank the following individuals and organizations for participating in the revision of these guidelines. Please note that these guidelines do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the participants nor their organizations.

Name

     

Company/Institution

Dr. Susan Klitzman


Hunter College

Dr. Philip Morey


AQS Services, Inc

Dr. Donald Ahearn


Georgia State University

Dr. Sidney Crow


Georgia State University

Dr. J. David Miller


Carleton University

Dr. Bruce Jarvis


University of Maryland at College Park

Mr. Ed Light


Building Dynamics, LLC

Dr. Chin Yang


P&K Microbiology Services, Inc

Dr. Harriet Burge


Harvard School of Public Health

Dr. Dorr Dearborn


Rainbow Children's Hospital

Mr. Eric Esswein


National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

Dr. Ed Horn


The New York State Department of Health

Dr. Judith Schreiber


The New York State Department of Health

Mr. Gregg Recer


The New York State Department of Health

Dr. Gerald Llewellyn


State of Delaware, Division of Public Health

Mr. Daniel Price


Interface Research Corporation

Ms. Sylvia Pryce


The NYC Citywide Office of Occupational Safety and Health

Mr. Armando Chamorro


Ambient Environmental

Ms. Marie-Alix d'Halewyn


Laboratoire de santé publique du Québec

Dr. Elissa A. Favata


Environmental and Occupational Health Associates

Dr. Harriet Ammann


Washington State Department of Health

Mr. Terry Allan


Cuyahoga County Board of Health

We would also like to thank the many others who offered opinions, comments, and assistance at various stages during the development of these guidelines.

Christopher D'Andrea, M.S. of the Environmental and Occupational Disease Epidemiology Unit, was the editor of this document.

For further information regarding this document please contact the New York City Department of Health at (212) 788-4290 / 4288.


(April 2000) January 2002

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