Industry professionals, contractors, HVAC technicians, and building inspectors are the most susceptible to developing mold infections and diseases. It is imperative that they take proper protective measures to avoid potential health consequences, while employees who work in manufacturing industries or as firefighters, are more susceptible to developing dioxin toxicity than any other profession.
In this latest post, we discuss the potential impact of dioxin and mold to the environment, and possibly on the health of exposed individuals and the importance of ISO 14001 compliance for these cases.
What is Dioxin? Categorized with a dozen other extremely dangerous chemicals, dioxins are highly toxic, persistent organic pollutants. They are chlorinated compounds composed of three basic chemical groups, namely polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs), polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (PCDDs), and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
- Common Sources of Dioxin Exposure. While this pollutant is produced naturally, the current levels of dioxin in the environment are largely due to human activities on a global scale. You can be exposed to dioxin and its adverse effects through the air, food, and water.
- Dioxin and Water. Dioxins are stable chemical compounds. They do not break or disperse easily and are not dissolvable by water. The dioxins that enter the water surface become attached to its molecule, binding strongly and then eventually settling down as sediment. Emissions from industrial combustion activities, waste incineration, and discharges, which are deposited into water bodies, result in the contamination of the water sources.
- Dioxin and Food. Dixons are found almost everywhere in the environment. As persistent organic pollutants with a half-life of more than a decade, they tend to linger in the body for very long periods of time. Given their stability, dioxins can easily become absorbed and stored in the fatty tissue, which is where they are accumulated. This absorption and accumulation in the fatty tissue is how dioxins enter the food chain. Both aquatic and terrestrial animals consume feed that is contaminated with this organic pollutant. The dioxins consumed are accumulated into the animal’s fatty tissue. The subsequent intake of the animal fat by humans, either directly, or through its derivatives and other products, is said to be the most prominent way of dioxin toxicity in the body.
- Dioxin and Air. The air we breathe is contaminated by the high levels of dioxin due to a large number of combustion processes releasing hazardous chemical components in the environment. Much of the dioxins released in the air result from the incineration of waste from commercial, municipal, or medical industries. A majority of the industrial manufacturing processes release dioxin as a by-product. These processes include, but are not limited to:
- Chlorine bleaching of paper and pulp
- Pesticide and herbicide manufacturing
- PVC manufacturing
Other causes include smoking, burning of fuels such as coal, oil, and wood, and automotive fuel. Cement kilns, petroleum refining plants, and sewage sludge incinerators also heavily contribute to dioxin content in the environment. Natural events, such as volcanoes and wildfires, also release dioxins in the air.
Dioxin and Its Impact on Human Health
Dioxins have a particularly toxic effect on human health, causing a number of adverse reactions. They can interfere with the essential regulatory cellular processes, resulting in grave alterations in the normal growth, development, and functionality of the body.
Dioxins have been listed as a carcinogen, known to cause a variety of cancers. They can cause hormonal changes, reproductive issues, pancreatic abnormalities, immune suppressions, and other diseases and conditions. High-level exposure to dioxins can also expedite diabetic changes, cause heart diseases and liver damage, and disrupt the normal functioning of the circulatory and respiratory systems.
Some symptoms of dioxin exposure include:
- Increased fatigue
- Urinary tract disorders
- Nausea and vomiting
- Persistent burning sensation in the throat, nose, and eyes
- Increased muscular and joint discomfort
What is Mold? Mold is a multicellular type of fungi, characterized by the thread-like structures, known as hyphae. Mildews, mushrooms, and yeasts are other kinds of fungi belonging to the same family. A vast variety of mold sub-types exist, with each having a different effect on humans and their wellbeing. While some molds are known to be beneficial and play an important role in food, beverage, and antibiotic production, there is a wide range of highly destructive and damaging molds that can cause detrimental health effects.
- How Does Mold Infect a Building? Mold and other fungal spores are naturally found in the outside environment. They require an adequate amount of moisture to grow and thrive. They are generally found in plants, soil, and other decaying matter. Different types of mold have varying moisture requirements for growth. In buildings and structures, mold becomes a nuisance when there is excessive indoor moisture. Some of the common causes of mold growth include:
- Prolonged humidity
- Severe water flooding due to the surface water (from storms or river/lake overflowing)
- Rain damage and leaks
- Ice dams
- Blocked, overflowing, or back flowing gutters
- Sewer backflows
- Increased seepage from condensation on cold surfaces
- Leaking pipes
- Poor drainage in low spaces, such as basements
- The Health Impact of Mold. Indoor mold is a serious health risk for industry professionals and employees, who come in contact with mold or occupy the space exposed to it. Continuous exposure can lead to a number of significant conditions, including, but not limited to:
- Skin rashes and irritations
- Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis
- Bloody noses
- Migraine headaches
- Memory loss
- Idiopathic pulmonary hemorrhage
While allergic reactions to mold are the most common and persistent, different types of mold and its toxins are known to cause a variety of infections and diseases. For example, stachybotrys chartarum –black mold – most commonly found in homes across the globe can cause serious respiratory conditions, such as idiopathic pulmonary hemorrhage. Aspergillus mold, on the other hand, is a known carcinogen classified amongst the highly potent carcinogens out there.
While mold tends to adversely impact anyone who is directly exposed to its spores, some members of the general population might be more susceptible to its damage. They include:
- Industry workers
- Maintenance and construction personnel
- Pregnant women
- Infants and young children
- Immune compromised patients
- Older adult population
How to Prevent/Reduce Exposure to Mold?
People can be exposed to mold in a number of ways: through skin contact with infected individuals, inhalation of airborne spores, or their ingestion. The basic way to prevent and reduce mold exposure indoors is to be mindful of the moisture and temperature in a building. Mold growth is especially prevalent in flood or hurricane affected areas. To prevent diseases, it is important to dry any water-damaged area within 48 to 72 hours in order to prevent mold growth and infestation. It’s recommended to clean up the mold by scrubbing it off of hard surfaces using a strong detergent.
If soft or absorbent materials, such as soft tiles, carpets, and bedding, have become moldy, it’s best to get rid of them completely. Avoid painting over or caulking mold covered surfaces. It is highly recommended that you hire an industry professional well versed in the standard and safety protocols pertaining to mold control and removal to clean mold on your premises.