Did you know that mold is a fungus? But it’s not the kind of fungus that grows into cute-looking mushrooms. The thing that discolors, shrivels up, and covers that discarded peach in the garage in a fuzzy, none-too-pleasant coat is the kind of fungus that mold is. It’s the kind that could grow on everything, often turning out to be injurious to health. And mind you, you don’t have to ingest it for your health and safety to be endangered. That ashen fuzzy coat? It’s actually mold spores, billions of them, that could easily trigger a serious allergic reaction in the vulnerable individual.
Recently, mold came into the news in the worker-safety circles after two New Jersey Lottery workers filed for compensation benefits. The cause of complaint? Moldy tickets. Fred Hosier, writing for safetynewsalert.com, reported that the two had been assigned to audit thousands of lottery tickets that had been damaged by Hurricane Sandy last year and later warehoused. One worker developed respiratory problems and headaches after handling the scratch-offs.
That worker subsequently forwarded a sample of the mold on the scratch-offs for lab testing. The results returned high values for aspergillus/penicillium and stachybotrys, molds often associated with pulmonary distress and allergic reactions.
Aspergillus and penicillium are two separate mold species with similar characteristics. They both grow in environments that have been under high humidity for an extended period of time. Both produce mycotoxins. Both are major contributors to the growth of harmful bacteria. And both can lead to bronchitis and pulmonary ailments, if exposure to them is prolonged.
Stachybotrys also grows in damp conditions and is often seen as a dark stain on water-damaged surfaces. It produces mycotoxins, prolonged exposure to them could result in symptoms such as chronic fatigue, fever, headaches, irritation of the eyes and the mucus membranes of the ears, nose, and throat. Stachybotrys can induce allergic reactions and in severe instances, nausea, vomiting, and bleeding in the lungs and from the nose.
The workers’ union alerted officials to the unhealthy conditions in the warehouse on three separate occasions, but according to one union representative, the state’s handling was inadequate, characterizing it as “careless.” Bill Quintin, the Lottery spokesman, belied the characterization. He pointed out that the state actually ordered the auditing suspended after it received the first complaint, and required that the workers be supplied with personal protective gear and trained in the safe handling of the contaminated tickets as conditions for the resumption of the ticket audit.
The Lottery also received a complaint over the health conditions in the warehouse from the property manager, who contacted the state to determine when the contaminated items would be removed and if decontamination would be carried out. Eventually, environmental remediation work was performed in the warehouse, with the Lottery footing the $10,000 bill.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the most common health hazard posed by molds in the workplace is allergies. In most cases the symptoms observed or to be expected are eye irritation, sneezing, coughing, and worsening of asthma, if present in the worker. Some allergies also result in a skin rash. In extreme cases, an allergic reaction can deteriorate into a life-threatening health problem.
The most vulnerable to an allergic reaction due to molds are: persons with asthma, pulmonary condition, or an existing allergy; persons with a weakened immune system; and persons recovering from surgery or a major medical procedure such as chemotherapy.
OSHAcampus.com provides online OSHA training to teach workers how to identify, avoid, and deal with work site hazards, including molds, to keep them safe and healthy at all times.