WASHINGTON - The bad news: The most recent scientific evidence links mold and moisture in buildings to asthma symptoms in some people with the chronic disorder, as well as to coughing, wheezing, and upper respiratory tract symptoms in otherwise healthy people, notes a new report from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.

The moderately good news: The same report ("Damp Indoor Spaces and Health") does not support an association between mold/moisture and other health complaints - fatigue, neuropsychiatric disorders, or other health problems. True, the committee found few studies that have even examined whether mold and moisture are linked to those problems. However, the little evidence that is available does not support an association, the report says.

"An exhaustive review of the scientific literature made it clear to us that it can be very hard to tease apart the health effects of exposure to mold from all the other factors that may be influencing health in the typical indoor environment," said committee chair Noreen Clark, dean, School of Public Health, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

"That said, we were able to find sufficient evidence that certain respiratory problems, including symptoms in asthmatics who are sensitive to mold, are associated with exposure to mold and damp conditions. Even though the available evidence does not link mold or other factors associated with building moisture to all the serious health problems that some attribute to them, excessive indoor dampness is a widespread problem that warrants action at the local, state, and national levels."

The committee didn't have enough information to recommend either an appropriate level of dampness reduction, or a safe level of exposure to organisms and chemicals linked to dampness. Better standardized methods for assessing human exposure to these agents are greatly needed, the report says.

The study was sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Institute of Medicine is a private, nonprofit institution that provides health policy advice under a congressional charter granted to the National Academy of Sciences.

For copies of the report, contact the National Academies Press at 202-334-3313 or 800-624-6242; www.nap.edu.

Publication date: 06/14/2004