What You Need to Know About Black Mold: Causes, Symptoms and Worker Safety

What You Need to Know About Black Mold: Causes, Symptoms and Worker Safety

Published by Mindy W. on May 8th 2018

There are more than 100,000 mold variations in the world. These different fungi types are located everywhere, both indoors and outdoors. When mold grows, whether from water damage, high humidity or dampness, the increased exposure to the public can cause negative health problems and allergic reactions. The mold produces spores and toxic agents that cause reactions varying from headaches to rashes. Not all mold is problematic, but black mold is a cause for concern. Below, we explain black mold basics as well as what black mold symptoms to look for when workers are exposed, and how to avoid toxic black mold in various work environments.

What Is Black Mold?

Toxic black mold, or stachybotrys charatrum as scientists call it, is a microscopic organism identifiable by its dark color. It often shows up in places that are warm, humid or damp. It “feeds” on organic material in drywall, carpet, insulation or subflooring, and spreads when it’s moist. It is impossible to eliminate all mold spores, but mold growth can be stopped and controlled in an indoor environment, based on moisture levels. Black mold growth can damage infrastructure and require extensive clean up, repair and specific steps to prevent further growth. When people are exposed to it, whether in homes or on job sites, it can cause many negative symptoms. Anyone dealing with toxic black mold should take safety precautions – such as wearing a respirator mask – and take care of the root of the moisture problem, as opposed to just cleaning it at a surface level.

What Are Black Mold Symptoms?

Black mold can cause allergic reactions and health problems when people are exposed to it. Symptoms vary depending on a variety of factors. For example, people are more at risk if they have allergies, asthma or other respiratory conditions. Infants, children, elderly people, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems also are more likely to experience black mold symptoms. In general, toxic black mold elicits a respiratory response in the form of chronic coughing, sneezing, eye irritation, headaches, fatigue and rashes. Severe reactions can occur if people are exposed to a very large area of black mold, or if it’s over an extended period. In that case, dangerous symptoms requiring immediate medical assistance include nausea, vomiting, fever, shortness of breath, and bleeding in the lungs and nose.

How to Clean Up Black Mold

Black mold thrives on moisture. Before treating it, identify the cause of the mold and excess moisture. Is there a water leak? Is there a lack of air circulation in a damp area? Once the cause is determined, figure out how to dry it out, and plan your clean-up strategy based on the damage. Many mold cases result from complications such as water damage, sewage problems or HVAC contamination. The key is to fix the underlying issue so the mold doesn’t return. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says if the moldy area is less than 10 square feet, you likely can handle the clean-up job yourself. Mold remediation – the identification and correction of moldy conditions – can be conducted by regular building maintenance staff; for instance, if the mold is in an isolated area and the size is manageable. Everyone working with the mold should be trained on proper clean-up methods, protection gear and health hazards. There are additional factors to consider for the workers cleaning up the mold – such as whether the size and scope of it will require temporary building occupant relocation. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), industrial hygienists or other environmental health and safety professionals should be brought in to help workers if the moldy space is more than 30 square feet. In all cases, it’s important to follow professional safety guidelines when cleaning up and working near any black mold on a job site.

How to Stay Safe When Working Around Black Mold

Although there are ways for homeowners to prevent black mold, many workers who are exposed are not able to do anything beforehand; they often walk into a building or maintenance situation where it’s already present. This is the case when construction workers are on a job, contactors are surveying a site or manufacturers are in a facility. Those helping with mold remediation in any work environment should take safety precautions to limit potential black mold symptoms. Any time you are working in an environment near black mold, wear personal protective equipment (PPE), including a respirator mask, gloves and goggles. The respirator helps reduce airborne exposure and prevent you from breathing in mold spores. OSHA requires fit testing for respirators worn on the job to ensure they are effective. It’s also recommended to cover the rest of your body to avoid allergic skin reactions, rashes or other black mold symptoms. It’s vital to follow safety precautions anywhere black mold may be present. This typically includes work in a variety of industries, from construction and manufacturing to energy and engineering. PK Safety, the worker safety specialists, outlines the Department of Health’s guidelines and specific mold remediation equipment types here. It covers different respirator mask models, recommend skin protection suits and more. If you’re going to be working near black mold, trust PK Safety to provide you with top-of-the-line information, resources and products to stay safe and avoid black mold symptoms. PK Safety has been specializing in worker safety for 70 years. We provide the best solutions and support for your safety needs. For more information, please visit our website, or call us at 800-829-9580.