How could toxic mould affect me?

What is toxic mould?
Mould is a form of fungus that thrives in warm, damp and humid environments. In high enough concentrations, exposure can cause health problems, as a result, it can be referred to as ‘toxic mould’.


What causes toxic mould?
Minute mould spores can be detected in the air that we breathe. However, like most organisms, they need moisture and nutrients to grow and develop into mould. All types of mould (whether they are toxic or not), need a significant amount of moisture to grow. Mould tends to be more prevalent in environments with high levels of humidity or dampness.


Where is it found?
Toxic mould feeds on organic material such as cellulose (found in wood), wallpaper and plasterboard; and also carpets and even the rubber underlay. It has been described as eating into plaster and brickwork. Modern warehouse conversions are particularly susceptible since they are generally old buildings which have previously never been heated. Once central heating and partitions have been installed in these buildings, they have been found to be the ideal breeding ground for moulds. This is due to the increase in the local relative humidity level (often to above 70%), which is usually required for germination while the building “dries out”.


What are the health implications of exposure to toxic mould?
Currently, there is no authoritative scientific study which clearly demonstrates that exposure to any kind of airborne mould is toxic to human beings, except to persons with specific allergies or who have existing underlying medical conditions. In these instances, infection of the respiratory tract and lungs has been recorded.


Why is toxic mould an issue?
In the US, toxic mould is recognised as affecting people from all walks of life and has resulted in both property and personal injury losses. A Texan family was awarded $32 million after a subsidiary of The Farmers Insurance Group allegedly mishandled a claim for water damage arising as a result of toxic mould, which resulted in their mansion being demolished. In Delaware, another claimant was awarded $1 million in respect of a mould outbreak which aggravated an asthmatic condition. California is so concerned about toxic mould that it has brought in legislation requiring anyone selling or leasing the property to disclose any potentially dangerous mould problems by its “Toxic Mould Disclosure Act 2001”. If the UK follows the US trend, it is feared that toxic mould could become the next big insurance claims issue!


Is there any legislation governing toxic mould?
There is no specific UK legislation governing toxic mould. If toxic mould were detected in your building, it could potentially be classified as a hazardous substance under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations. This would mean that the employer would be liable if an employee were exposed to the mould and suffered any ill effects. In order to comply with the COSHH Regulations, the employer must conduct a suitable and sufficient assessment of risks presented to the staff and identify the steps which need to be taken to prevent any risks to such employees.


This guide is of a general nature; specific advice can be obtained from Assurity Consulting. Assurity Consulting is the UK's leading independent compliance consultancy specialising in workplace health, safety and environmental solutions. We have over 30 years' experience of helping customers of all sizes, from across all sectors, manage their compliance responsibilities, making sure that their organisation is compliant, their employees are safe, their processes are cost-effective and their management team is in control.

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