Volume No. 33
Jim Pierce and
Savita Trivedi, CIH, CSP,
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
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.
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.
regular building/HVAC inspections and maintenance as scheduled.
Clean and dry wet or
damp spots within 48 hours.
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.
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
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
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.
- Last Paper Edition
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.
you would like to receive The Quarterly electronically, you must e-mail
Lisa Costanzo at email@example.com, who will notify you with
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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.
Improve Your Air
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
Roundtable Discussion Group
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
These meetings are held in Conference Room C at the
CONN-OSHA office, 38 Wolcott Hill Road, Wethersfield, CT.
register for one these sessions, please call John Able at (860) 566-4550 or send
an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
**There is no charge for these training
Hazard Corner ...
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
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
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.
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.
April 17, 2018