WASHINGTON - A committee of the Institute of Medicine has reviewed all the studies that have been conducted to date on the health effects of exposure to visible mold in buildings. A report on its findings links mold and certain respiratory illnesses.

The committee found enough evidence to conclude that the presence of visible mold on damp building materials is associated with the flare up of asthma symptoms in some asthmatics, as well as coughing, wheezing, and upper respiratory tract symptoms in otherwise healthy people. All of the factors related to dampness - mold, bacteria, dust mites, chemical emissions from wet materials, etc. - may be associated with the onset of asthma and shortness of breath, but the evidence is less certain in these circumstances. Likewise, the presence of either visible mold or damp conditions in general may be linked to lower respiratory tract illnesses in children, but the evidence is not as strong in this case.

The committee found few studies that have examined whether mold or other aspects of indoor dampness are linked to fatigue, neuropsychiatric symptoms, or other health problems that some people have attributed to fungal infestations of buildings. The evidence that is available does not support an association, but because there are minimal studies, the committee could not rule out the possibility.

The connection between wet or moldy conditions and respiratory problems, plus the widespread prevalence of moisture problems in buildings, make indoor dampness a public health concern that warrants action, states the report.

The committee urged changes in how buildings are designed, constructed, and maintained. Architects, engineers, building contractors, facility managers, and maintenance staff do not always apply existing technical information on how to control dampness, the report notes. Training curricula and national guidelines on how to prevent moisture problems should be produced and disseminated. Guidelines for these professionals should be developed at the national level to ensure consistency, the committee says.

Publication date: 02/14/2005