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CONN-OSHA Quarterly

Volume No. 33
Spring 2003

 

Fungi
Jim Pierce and Savita Trivedi, CIH, CSP,
Occupational Hygienists

There are over 200 species of fungi to which people are routinely exposed indoors and outdoors (NAS, 2000).  Historically, biologists and more specifically, taxonomists have had difficulty in placing these organisms into the plant or into the animal kingdoms, since they contain characteristics of both plants and animals. As such, fungi have been organized into their own kingdom. Common names of fungi include mushrooms, rusts, smuts, puffballs, truffles, morels, molds, and yeasts (Alexopoulos, et al., 1996). About 70,000 species of fungi have been described, however, some estimates of total numbers suggest that 1.5 million species may exist (Hawksworth, 1991; Hawksworth et al., 1995). Fungi are known as primary decomposers in their natural habitats; therefore, they can use dead vegetation as their source of food. Not having stomachs, they live in their own food supply and grow into new food as they consume their existing supply. Fungi can exhibit sexual and asexual stages in their growth. Their vegetative growth stage is usually seen as filamentous or hyphal strands, which collectively form a mycelium. They can reproduce themselves either sexually or asexually by producing spores or conidia. Most fungal spores are 2-20 microns in size and exhibit a wide array of shapes and colors (Gravesen et al., 1994). Some spores are very resistant to drying, mechanical, chemical or biological attack. Under favorable conditions, fungal colonies can produce millions of spores which are dispersed by the wind (Gravesen, et al., 1994). This is the predominant method of dispersal.

Once deposited, the spores lay dormant until the right environmental conditions for growth occur. Temperature, moisture, and a source of food are the main variables for the propagation of the spores to a vegetative state.  Outdoors, fungal spore levels follow the seasons in the Northern Latitudes, with the lowest levels normally occurring in the winter, and the highest levels in late summer and early autumn (Bush, et al., 2001). As the fungi grow, they produce chemical substances which will break down vegetation, organic materials, leaf litter, animal materials and their wastes. Also, fungi can produce mycotoxins, which are chemical substances that are toxic to humans. These mycotoxins may be present on the surface of the fungi, inside the cells of the fungi or also present on or in the spores they produce. (EPA, 2001). They can present a health hazard from inhalation, skin contact or ingestion. Fortunately, not all fungi produce mycotoxins, and even those fungi which produce mycotoxins, do not always produce them. Typically, the fungi which produce these toxins have high water requirements, and are usually found in conditions of severe and chronic water damage (American Academy of Pediatrics, 1998).  Unfortunately, mycotoxins are not the only substance that fungi produce which may adversely affect people. 

Many fungi also produce numerous protein or glycoprotein allergens capable of causing allergic reactions in people. These substances have been found in spores and other fungal fragments (HUD, 2001). Allergic responses include hay fever type symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, and skin rash. These substances can also cause allergic reactions regardless of whether the fungi is alive or not. Repeated exposure has the otential to increase sensitivity (EPA, 2001). In those individuals who have been sensitized to fungi, exposure to fungi may trigger asthma attacks. In rarer cases, a condition called hypersensitivity pneumonitis, which resembles bacterial pneumonia, may occur to those susceptible individuals exposed to fungi. More commonly, irritant effects from fungi may occur, which include similar symptoms to allergic responses. These symptoms include irritation of the eyes, skin, nose, throat, and lungs, and sometimes can create a burning sensation in these areas (EPA, 2001). Fungi are also known to cause opportunistic infections in immune-compromised or   immune-suppressed individuals. In these individuals, Aspergillus fumigatus, can cause aspergillosis of the lungs. More commonly known fungal diseases include infections like “athletes foot,” yeast infections, ringworm, and Candida infections. The characteristic “musty odor” is caused by fungi creating microbial volatile organic compounds (mVOC’s). Exposure to these mVOC’s has been linked to symptoms such as headaches, nasal irritation, dizziness, fatigue, and nausea. Research on mVOC’s is still in the early phase (EPA, 2001).

Although fungi have been associated with causing disease and negative health effects on humans, livestock and crops, the commercial contribution of fungi to our culture cannot be overlooked. The use of yeast (Saccharomyces) to convert starches and sugars to alcohol is one of the oldest chemical reactions known to man. Baker’s yeast or brewer’s yeast have been used to ferment bread, beer, cheese, and other foods. Also, fungi are an important source of antibiotics such as penicillin, cephalosporins, and cyclosporins (Gravesen, et al., 1994). The larger fungi, morels and truffles, command some of the highest prices per pound as foods and flavorings.

The role of fungi, therefore, can be a harmful or beneficial one to man. Man’s ability to control the growth of fungi is a key determinant whether fungi can be harnessed to prevent damage, protect health, and assist man. Since fungi and the materials they decompose are everywhere, the most typical limiting factor in fungal growth is the control of moisture.

Keeping fungal levels indoors to minimum levels requires adherence to preventive maintenance programs which keep the indoor environment clean and address any unwanted sources of moisture. Potential source of moisture include roof leaks, plumbing leaks, condensation, floods, spills, and high relative humidity (greater than 60%). Water incursion may also occur via leakage through a building’s envelope. A list of “Mold Prevention Tips” excerpted from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) document, Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings includes:

  • Fix leaks in plumbing and in the building envelope as soon as possible.

  • Watch for condensation and wet spots. Fix source(s) of moisture problem(s) as soon as possible.

  • Keep heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) drip pans clean, flowing properly, and unobstructed.

  • Perform regular building/HVAC inspections and maintenance as scheduled.

  • Clean and dry wet or damp spots within 48 hours.

  • Don’t let foundations stay wet. Provide drainage and slope the ground away from the foundation.

In the event of water incursions, prompt attention and clean up is needed to prevent damage to building materials and to prevent the amplification of fungi.

Porous materials such as carpeting, sheetrock, acoustical ceiling tiles, and paper materials are hard to clean or decontaminate, once they have been flooded or subjected to periods of high moisture levels. It is typically recommended that these materials be removed as soon as possible. Hard or non-porous materials like concrete, steel, glass, and sealed hardwoods can normally be cleaned using a vacuum cleaner equipped with a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter scrubbing with water and a surfactant. Currently, there is much debate surrounding the use of strong antimicrobial cleaning agents versus the use of gentle cleaning agents like soap and water. If biocides are used unwisely, they can become health hazards.

There are many sources that one can use to find out more about fungi, its effects and what can be done to control its unwanted growth. The CONN-OSHA office, your local health department and the internet (e.g. http://www.epa.gov/iaq/pubs/moldresources.html) are some resources that are available which can provide you with more information. 

Sources:

  • Alexopoulos, C. J., C. W. Mims, and M. Blackwell. 1996. Introductory Mycology (4th Ed.). John Wiley and Sons, New York, USA. 868 pp.

  • American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Environmental Health. 1998. Toxic effects of indoor molds. Pediatrics. Published by the Connecticut Department of Labor, Project Management Office1:712-714.

  • Bush, R. K., and Portnoy, J. M. 2001. The role and abatement of    fungal allergens in allergenic diseases. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. March 2001, Part 2, Vol Published by the Connecticut Department of Labor, Project Management Office7 No 3.

  • EPA. 2001. Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings. United States Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Air and Radiation, Indoor Environments Division. Washington, D. C. 48 pp.

  • Gravesen, S., Frisvad J. C., and R. A. Samson. 1994. Microfungi. Munksgaard, Copenhagen, Denmark. 168 pp.

  • Hawksworth, D. L. 1991. The fungal dimension of biodiversity: magnitude, significance, and conservation. Mycological Research 95:641-655 

  • Hawksworth, D. L., P. M. Kirk, B. C. Sutton, and D. N. Pegler. 1995. Ainsworth and Bisby’s Dictionary of the Fungi (8th Ed.). CAB International, Wallingford, United Kingdom. 616 pp.

  • HUD. 2001. Healthy Homes Issues: Mold. United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control. Washington, D. C.  22 pp. 

  • NAS. 2000. Clearing the Air: Asthma and Indoor Air Exposures.   National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine, Division of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. 438 pp.

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CONN-OSHA Quarterly Update - Last Paper Edition

In order to keep up with technology, the CONN-OSHA Quarterly soon will be available for electronic distribution.  Once we make this transition, The Quarterly no longer will be available through U.S. mail.  We anticipate that this will be the last paper edition. 

If you would like to receive The Quarterly electronically, you must e-mail Lisa Costanzo at lisa.costanzo@po.state.ct.us, who will notify you with subscription information when it becomes available.  Please be sure to indicate that you already receive The Quarterly by mail and include your mailing information as it appears on the mailing label on Page 4.

We understand that not everyone has a means to receive mail electronically.  If you do not have electronic access, please contact Lisa at (860) 566-4550 to discuss accessibility options.

In addition, all current and past issues of the CONN-OSHA Quarterly are available on the CONN-OSHA web site at www.ctdol.state.ct.us/osha/osha.htm.

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CONN-OSHA TRAINING UPDATE

Improve Your Air Quality
May 6, 2003, 9 am – 12 noon

Air quality in the workplace is frequently a controversial issue for employees. Poor air quality can lead to unnecessary    complaints and poor morale – factors that impact performance and productivity. This class provides guidance and proactive measures for ensuring that your indoor air quality is the best that it can be. Find out what factors affect indoor air quality, how to identify potential sources of indoor air contaminants, and learn what strategies are available for preventing and   resolving indoor air quality problems.

This session will be held at the Connecticut Department of Labor Staff Development Conference Room “A,” 200 Folly Brook Blvd., Wethersfield, CT

Breakfast Roundtable Discussion Group
Contact John Able for specific meeting dates and locations

Interest has been expressed for a monthly, early morning,   informal forum to interact with other people to discuss safety and health issues.  These sessions are designed to be an interactive type of meeting that will allow participants the opportunity to ask questions, offer solutions, network with other safety and health professionals, drink free coffee and learn what is happening in other places of employment, all in a friendly, professional atmosphere. 

These meetings are held in Conference Room C at the CONN-OSHA office, 38 Wolcott Hill Road, Wethersfield, CT.

To register for one these sessions, please call John Able at (860) 566-4550 or send an e-mail to john.able@osha.gov.

**There is no charge for these training sessions.**

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Hazard Corner ...

Three employees from a utility company were working on a road locating utilities for a repaving project.  The employees were heading eastbound on this road and were completed with the location at which they were working.  They had just finished breaking down the work zone cones in that area.  There was one employee in the back of the truck, the second employee in the driver seat, and the third employee was getting into the back of the truck with the last two cones from the work zone in his hand. 

As this employee walked or started to walk up the bottom two steps of the truck, a car traveling at approximately 40 miles per hour hit the back of the truck trapping the employee between the steps of the truck.  This employee suffered an amputated right leg and a partially severed left leg upon impact.  The Police Department and Emergency Services responded to the scene.  The employee was transported to a local hospital, was stabilized, and the left leg that was partially severed at the scene, was then amputated at the hospital.

Could this have been a preventable accident?  Should the work zone in which these employees were working have been configured differently?  Every work zone is different and could change from job to job.  This is why employers should ensure that they have an effective work zone safety program in place to help protect their employees while performing work within the work zones.  The work zone safety program should also address proper procedures that protect employees dismantling the work zone when work is complete.

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Connecticut Company Recognized for Workplace Safety and Health Achievements

Wafios Machinery Corporation in Branford received CONN-OSHA’s highest safety recognition award honoring the company’s renewal of the Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP).  SHARP recognizes employers who make a commitment to improving workplace safety, reducing their injury and illness rates, and developing safe practices that become models for safe workplaces in Connecticut.  The company, which originally earned the distinction in 2000, was the first Connecticut company to earn the SHARP award.  Safety and health programs in place at Wafios have resulted in zero reportable injuries during the past seven years.  In addition to the honor, the award carries with it an exemption from all programmed OSHA inspections until December 2003.  For more information about SHARP, see the CONN-OSHA Quarterly, Fall 2002 edition (Volume 31) or our web site at:  www.ctdol.state.ct.us/osha/sharp_intro.html.

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Last Updated: March 01, 2017


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