Today, I want to address a touchy subject: Mold in the Workplace. I have considered writing about this very subject numerous times, but didn’t know exactly which angle to take, because, for whatever reason, when people are confronted with the possibility of mold at work, they either don’t want to be a whistle-blower, or don’t know how to speak up to get the reaction that they need to get the problem fixed. So, yes, it can be very touchy. I will tell you, though, oftentimes, if you are feeling sick at work, you are not the only one. I would be willing to bet that there are others who are also feeling sick, and who also would like to know why. I am not saying that you shouldn’t speak up if you are alone in your mold suspicions, but definitely consider mentioning your issues to others before speaking up. That being said, here is the reader email that received:
I have enjoyed reading your blog. Thank you for all of the information and for taking the time to address reader questions. I have one for you—I recently moved to a new building for my job and ever since have been experiencing headaches and sinus pressure. I feel fine at home and over the weekend, but as soon as the work week begins, and I am back in the office regularly, I get the headaches and general malaise all over again. As soon as I mentioned this to some of my co-workers, many of them chimed in and agreed with me, saying that they also were feeling ill at work with similar symptoms. Because I know that I have mold-related sinus issues, I immediately suspected mold as the culprit. The building is not in the best repair and has had some pretty significant leaks in the ceiling since I have been there. I also stood up on my desk to get a closer look at the AC supply to see if I could see any dust, loose insulation from the duct, or even mold. It was completely filthy. Black dust/mold all over it. At this point, I don’t really think that it is a question of mold, but rather, a question of how to go about testing and proving the mold problem, so that I can present the evidence to my employer. I just want the problem fixed, so that we can all feel good again at work. I also fear the health repercussions of being in a toxic environment everyday. It just cannot be good for any of us. Any and all advice is much appreciated.
Since this is a tricky topic and there is a lot to consider, I am going to share my response and further dialogue with this reader. I think it may shed some light on this subject for others of you out there experiencing the same issue.
Disclaimer: Please realize that I am NOT a doctor, a naturopath, a mold remediator, lawyer or occupational health professional. My response is my OPINION and ADVICE, based ONLY on personal experience. My advice should never be considered a treatment path or plan without professional consultation.
Hi! I am so sorry to hear that you are dealing with this. What a difficult, stressful and tricky thing. Since I am not an occupational health or legal professional, I am going to steer clear of any advice in those realms and stick closely to only advice on the subject of testing for what type of mold problem you may actually have there in your work building. I really think that is where I can be most helpful to you. In my experience, the most important thing, when you are bringing up mold in a work or rental space, is that you need to be “bulletproof” with your “objective testing.” I would recommend having a mold test, your list of symptoms, some literature on indoor mold and health—preferably from a universally trusted source, like the CDC, and a list of others’ symptoms (they can be anonymous) all lined up to back up your claims from the get-go. Having evidence protects them and you. I have seen this in similar cases with apartments and rentals. Mold complaints are often met with eviction. Building owners sometimes avoid truly fixing the problem as long as they can, because they do not want to spend money. This is some hard truth, but points that must be carefully considered. I want to set you up for success as much as possible in my advice, so just be aware of the risks.
I would first suggest you speak with the person in charge of “Facilities” with the evidence. This is non-threatening. If there is a leak or water intrusion of any kind, it needs to be stopped and fixed. No amount of mold remediation or testing can diagnose or fix a mold problem if there is water still coming in and feeding the mold. This has to be done whether there is a mold problem or not to protect the integrity of the building. The facilities crew should jump all over this. If there is no obvious leak, you may need this next step of mold testing to prove a problem for them to investigate further into something like the HVAC system to see if that is where the problem is occurring. But, even if the moisture issue is fixed, if the building has unsafe mold present (levels, type, or both) full remediation of the space and its contents is required for the building to ever be safe or healthy for use. This is where testing comes in.
First, and this is extremely important, in terms of testing, an easy, and relatively inexpensive step is to put out some mold plates. This will not only yield information, but will also yield valuable proof that there is, indeed, a mold problem. Rather than doing the most basic testing with the EC3 Mold Test Plates that I normally recommend, for mold in your workplace, I would advise using the Diagnostic Testing Kits that are sent off to the lab for a more thorough picture of what kind of mold is present and at what levels. This will automatically yield more concrete and “trustworthy” information, especially if you are faced with having to present proof to your employer. If you would prefer to not have to front this sort of testing financially yourself, you could forward the diagnostic information to your employer or facilities manager to see if they would spring for it. My only caution is that many employers will opt to do the testing themselves and will call in a local mold testing outfit. There are no regulations or certifications required for mold testing, and most companies use the cassette air sampling that I discussed in a previous post. Here is a LINK to that post. If they are only comparing the indoor molds and levels to the outside sample, they are not getting the best information about the indoor environment and the pollutants that exist there. This is old technology and has been proven to not give the best or most complete or even accurate picture of what is going on, in terms of mold, inside a home or building. The Diagnostic Test Kits come with complete instructions on how to perform the tests and how to send in the plates for diagnostic analysis. Whatever you decide, keep any receipts for expenses you incur while investigating, or testing this problem. You may need them for later evidence or reimbursement.
If your employer would like to call someone in to do the testing, it should be a professional skilled in indoor air quality diagnostics, or someone with a degree in Building Biology. This person will come out, inspect the building and any visible mold, and do air quality testing. They can also act as advisors for remediation. If remediation is required, it is important not to use chemicals that are not safe for people. When a product acquires EPA approval it does not mean that the product is not toxic; it means that it does not kill most people. Three products that are known to be safe for remediation are peroxide, EC3 Mold Solution Concentrate, and enzymes. It is also important that any remediator know how to properly set up containment, so that the space being cleaned for mold has a negative pressure, and has a HEPA air filter to the outside, with all the other space walled off with plastic.
Also, I would consult a doctor in your area who is skilled with treating patients with mold-related illness. Often just Googling your city and mold or environmental illness will yield great results. If there is not a doctor in your immediate area, you can do a search for surrounding areas to find someone who you can see. These doctors know what to look for and know the symptoms of mold exposure. They will be able to help you identify symptoms related to mold. A clinical log of your declining health since entering the building for work is a very powerful tool. In addition, a skilled doctor, lab results and the mold testing will be your best advocates. This valuable information will help you get well. Any doctor who knows about mold will stand by you in presenting your case to your employer and helping you get to a safe environment to protect your health, even if this means working from home until they can fix the problem in your building.
In the meantime, you can bring EC3 Mold Spray to treat the supply above your desk and an EC3 Candle into work to help your immediate needs. You can also treat your nasal symptoms with the CitriDrops Nasal Spray and amp your immune system with Sinus Defense. If you feel better, you should document this as well. You can also recommend these products to other employees who have symptoms. If the complaint comes from many people, the employer is more likely to respond.
I will say, that if you work for a large company, you may have someone or an organization outside of the company who is referred to for any occupational health issues, should they arise. I would put any of your queries, requests, complaints or statements on this matter in writing. Whenever possible, I would also provide visual proof, like a picture of the supply vent above your desk, a picture of where an obvious water leak occurred, etc. with these statements. The documents should be dated and their timely response is in everyone’s best interest. The key issue when it comes to mold, is that quick action is necessary. With people becoming more aware of “sick building syndrome” and the CDC’s acknowledgement of mold sickness as a real threat to human health, there is much more to back up this sort of claim in the workplace. As a result, companies are more apt to listen to and quickly fix buildings, if they are making their employees sick. I obviously cannot predict what will happen on this front, but I think it is in everyone’s best interest to be very clear and upfront with your employer from the get-go. There is also some valuable information on the OSHA website about how to handle this sort of thing and what an employer’s responsibilities are as far as workplace environmental standards. Granted, I think they are behind in terms of mold, but you definitely need to be aware of established standards and your rights as far as this is concerned. Another helpful source of information is your state and county’s public health department. You can either access this information online, or go to their website to determine your best course of action or whom you should call.
I hope I have helped. Please keep in touch and let me know how it goes. I would also love pictures and to hear of test results along the way.
Well, because I know you are curious, the reader did do some plate testing. He had actually already performed just air sample plate testing a few days prior to writing to me.
His results did reveal a pretty significant mold issue in the air alone. No contents of the building were tested. As far as I know, they are set to do the diagnostic testing, and he is going to get back to me with those results and the action steps that his company is choosing to take to fix and remediate the problem. He is encouraged by their response. I just hope that they do things correctly and that everyone who works there can be in a safe environment soon.
Your health is so important. You cannot work or do any job well, if you are sick or your body is constantly battling a toxic onslaught from mold or other indoor pollutants. It is important to be your own advocate and to stand up for your right to a safe work environment.
If you have any mold questions, please comment on the blog or write to be on Facebook. I love hearing from you!