What to Do When Mold at Work is Making You Sick

What to Do When Mold at Work is Making You Sick

Navigating “Mold” in Your Work Place

By Cesar Collado

Several readers have written to me to voice their concerns that they suspect mold at their place of work, because it is making them sick. At times, their reported symptoms are terrible. Just recently, vertigo, headaches, brain fog, dizziness, and nausea have been mentioned.  The symptoms sometimes coincide with their time in the office. Patients also report feeling better after a few days away from the office.  Some people have described coats or sweaters worn at work that smell “moldy and musty” when they are brought home. All of these stories offer credible reasons to test for mold and possibly mycotoxins.

Unfortunately, most people may not be aware that this can be a very delicate situation to deal with, because the information available to the public on this topic, many times, differs from reality.

On one hand, if you “Google” this issue, you will learn that the EPA has regulations and guidelines to protect us.  The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has inspectors that regulate environmental issues and may issue fines to unsafe workplaces.  Employees have won multi-million-dollar settlements.  When you report your concerns with mold, the management may, in following “OSHA Mold Remediation for Schools and Commercial Buildings Guidelines,” insist on assigning a “Remediation Manager” to address your health issue. The Remediation Manager’s highest priority must be to protect the health and safety of the building occupants and remediators, right?

On the other hand, my experience and real patient stories of these situations differ. Mold is a feared word amongst business owners and employers. Perceived complaints can be misunderstood. Even the EPA has been sued by employees for mold exposure.  Thus, if you suspect that mold at work is making you sick and you like your job and want to stay, you need to be tactful in how you approach the issue. I suggest a constructive conversations with your management about your health and avoid filing complaints.

Company Responses to Real-Life Situations:

  1. Simple” dogmatic” assurances are sometimes given to the employee. Statements that the building is cleaned regularly and is not the cause of any symptoms. Discussion closed.
  2. One company asked the employee for their medical records to prove their illness before investigating mold. (Note: This approach is both inappropriate and unlawful.)
  3. Some employees are moved, some are encouraged to leave, and some have lost their jobs for “other reasons.”
  4. Some employers have the area cleaned (not tested for mold or remediated, just cleaned) and the HVAC serviced and documented.
  5. In one case, an “inspector” compared mold levels indoors and outdoors and concluded that there are no mold problems—case closed. No visual inspection for water intrusion, HVAC inspection, or mold testing was done
  6. In a rare case, a company dared an employee to file a complaint with OSHA. I believe they recognized that an investigation was a long way away, and, in all likelihood, would never happen.

Regardless of your workplace’s initial position, even the acknowledgement of an “alleged” presence of mold is a big deal.  There is no standard for a proper response or action, mostly because the EPA currently has no position on mold testing and airborne concentrations of mold spores at this time.

Understand the Facts

Absent obvious mold infestation, there are some mold facts that must be understood by both the employee and employer.

A suffering employee can be emotional and even angry about the, but these facts remain true in all cases:

  1. Mold exists everywhere, both inside and outdoors.
  2. Any illness an employee has could be caused by any number of things, many of which have nothing to do with mold.
  3. The burden of determining a causal relationship between health symptoms and workplace air quality falls on the employee.

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  4. Mold testing, regardless of testing method, offers only limited information. Even the best testing methods only show a snapshot of specific mold in specific places at a specific time. (If the air in a space has been recently disturbed, the mold counts will be higher. If a space was just cleaned and vacuumed, the mold counts may be lower.)
  5. Mold testing results can be influenced by desired outcome. If someone wants to find mold, they likely will, and, if they do not, they likely will not.
  6. If you are suffering from serious cognitive or other toxic syndrome, mycotoxin poisoning is a possibility.

Possible Resolutions

I’d like to make some suggestions to people who want to resolve mold issues in their workplace diplomatically and constructively:

(These suggestions are assuming that there are readers who do not want to make trouble for their employer, and are motivated by a desire to be in a healthy environment while at work.)

  • Any mold testing and actions you employ should be addressed with objectivity, facts, documentation, and communicated carefully and delicately to mitigate any risk to you, your standing, and your position in the company.
  • Develop an understanding of the mold testing method selected by your employer by researching it online and elsewhere.
  • Recognize that all mold testing methods have their flaws. Some methods compare mold or particle counts believed to be mold from the indoors to the outdoor air.  Some methods are scientifically very accurate, but the distribution of mold indoors is often impossible to calibrate accurately. As a result, many businesses may choose to conduct a “Deep Clean” to address the issue, as that tactic is much less expensive than any kind of mold-specific cleaning or remediation.  I’ve even heard of situations where a company does a deep clean prior to mold testing, securing the results.

Is a Better Outcome Possible?

I believe that there are some approaches to this problem that may make a difference in what and how the information is perceived and may pose a positive influence for more constructive outcomes. To start, framing the problem, situation, and consequences carefully leaves little room for a company or business to respond inappropriately. Here is what I mean:

  1. Don’t rely on circumstantial evidence: Even if it is not scientifically conclusive, it is helpful to have some evidence of mold.  Utilization of EC3 Mold Testing Plates in an inexpensive way for you to determine and document the presence of mold in your office.   Multiple plates, tap tests, and pictures are cost effective and provide physical evidence of mold.
  2. Select the appropriate places to test. Make sure to test in the areas where you spend the most time, and in areas that smell musty or have evidence of mold. Just randomly picking places in the office to set mold plates may not produce results helpful to your cause.
  3. Use lab testing with the Immunolytics mold plates to identify the molds that are present and provide data from an objective and credible source. Knowledge of the mold species and whether it is mycotoxin producing is valuable. This can both “scare” your employer into action and help you provide your physician with information that will aid your treatment plan.  Immunolytics provides both video and written explanations to aid you.
  4. Include your colleagues in your plight by discretely asking them if they have had any reactions or symptoms to the workplace in line with what you are experiencing. Encourage your colleagues to put this in writing. Two voices are better than one, so the more people who express concern, the more likely it is to be taken seriously and addressed properly.
  5. Identify any sources of excess moisture, water leakage, humidity, and “mold” food sources where mold you know that accumulates.

    Leaking ceiling, green discoloration

    This provides a causal explanation of the presence of mold in the physical space where you work. Take pictures.

  6. Ask your physician to document any diagnostics that point to mold in your health issues with an explanation of the symptoms as they relate to those findings.
  7. If mold testing is positive for mycotoxin producing mold and you have severe toxic symptoms, you can take an environmental test for mycotoxins by sending dust or filter samples to Real Time Labs (realtime labs.com).

Be Prepared:

  1. Most likely, the company will be reluctant to make the required changes or remediation steps. If you are severely impacted by mold, you may have to change jobs.  This solution is often easiest and fastest as companies rarely react quickly and decisively when investment and legal issues may be part of the outcome.
  2. I would suggest avoiding making the situation a legal matter. This brings out the worst in people and organizations and rarely ends with an acceptable outcome for all parties involved
  3. Purchase a SANI+TIZER fogger, EC3 Mold Solution Concentrate, and distilled water to fog your office as often as you need to keep mold air counts down until some action is taken by your employer. This will show how seriously you take the situation and that you are willing to invest your own money to safeguard your health. Following fogging, mold counts usually stay close to zero for a while and take time to reproduce to levels that will be as dangerous to your health.
  4. I suggest doing your own testing with mold test plates. I would perform tests during the weeks following any remediation or fogging. It is always wise to assure that any actions taken by your employer worked and that mold does not increase to dangerous levels over time.

Finally, good luck. I sincerely hope that if you face this issue, your employer responds with concern, swift action, and detailed follow-up. No one wants the people they depend on to be functioning at sub-optimal health due to a toxic work environment. But, if you do meet with challenges, I hope this article has offered some tactics and actions that will help you to have a positive outcome.

Please feel free comment or contact me if you have any questions at cesarcollado@icloud.com

Cesar Collado is a former pharmaceutical R&D executive, venture capitalist, and seasoned strategy consultant in biotechnology and technology in general. He currently works as an advisor to multiple technology  start-ups and advises several companies that provide healthcare and other services for environmental illness.

About the Author:

Cesar Collado is a former pharmaceutical R&D executive, venture capitalist, and seasoned strategy consultant in biotechnology and technology industries in general. He currently works as an advisor to multiple technology start-ups and advises several companies that provide healthcare and other services for environmental illness. Read More

11 Comments

  1. Harry (Butch) Trimble April 23, 2018 at 8:41 am - Reply

    I work for a company that recently decided to re open a former building they have , that’s been sitting for 10 years. I had to clean all the walls and ceilings that were covered with mold. Using pump spray bottles of bleach and water. I was also moving unmarked chemicals by the barrels. Opened and unopened. With no PPE I decided to buy my own “dust masks” it took me about 3 weeks to do that job. And lately I’ve been sick. Been to the e.r and seen my family doctor. I have been getting sick , dizzy and have breathing problems now. I am back at the original factory now but I’m still getting sick

    • Cesar Collado April 23, 2018 at 9:27 pm - Reply

      I am not a physician or have any diagnostics. It is probable that you encountered mold and/ or chemicals that may make you sick. First, Bleach is ok to kill mold on non-porous surfaces. If the surface has pours, the hyphae (or roots) will not be eliminated as bleach does not penetrate. Second, large mold removal jobs should be done by professionals that are equipped with full body protection, gloves, and a respirator or N95 mask.

      The main thing is that most physicians will not know what to make with the information on the mold and chemicals. You might want to consider seeing a naturopathic doctor or one who treats environmental illness. They are well versed in mold, toxins, and the process of detoxing the body. That takes a little time. It is also important to make sure your air at home is clean. No mold issues. You can test your home and get an air purifier. The body needs to heal itself in this regard. Clean air and rest is a necessity for your body to heal.

  2. Nikki April 11, 2018 at 6:32 pm - Reply

    I work at a very old gym with childcare. I watch babies from 6 months old to about 6 years old. It has taken me two years to finally realize why myself and all the kids I get are so sick all the time. My boss did not believe me so I did a mold test and sure enough mold grew in the plates. I showed my boss and he isn’t doing anything about it. I love the kids I see everyday like they are my own and it really sucks that they don’t know what is making their kids sick and constantly going to the dr. What can I do for this to be taken seriously? He won’t even fix the leaks that caused it. It leaks so bad that I’ve taped a towel to the wall and within an hour it was dripping soaked.

    • Cesar Collado April 12, 2018 at 6:22 pm - Reply

      Nikki,

      I’m sorry to hear about your situation. Unfortunately, this happens with schools and other places where children are taken care of. Children have undeveloped immune systems and are at risk to become further immunocompromised, leading to asthma or other autoimmune illness. The owners may ignore the issue due to ignorance or fear that it would be prohibitively expenses. However, they are ultimately responsible for their place of business to be safe.

      First, gather as many facts that you can affordably. Your’s and the children’s health is worth much more than any mold fix.
      Use a mold test kit that gets sent to a lab like the Immunolytics kit that provides test plates. It will give you a snapshot of what molds are there and if they produce mycotoxins. Do multiple tests and take pictures and mark dates, location, etc. to avoid confusion and document. Take pictures of the leak and any building materials that are moist. you can rake a swab to the materials for it’s own test. When you get results, they will tell you what molds create health risks and if the molds produce mycotoxins. If the results are alarming, there is a significant health issue to deal with and you should consider leaving if it is causing debilitating symptoms. They will only get worse. Document some of the issues you are observing with the children. Do not alarm others at this time.

      If you want to determine if it is impacting yourself severely, Ask any doctor for an immunoglobulin test (IgG and IgE, make sure the panel includes molds). This is a blood test that shows which antibodies are produced and what molds and levels they are produced.

      If the mold tests show molds which produce mycotoxins, you can also get an environmental test for mycotoxins from Real Time Labs. http://www.Realtimelab.com. These are expensive A test costs around $300 and their website will give directions to get dust, air filter, or carpet sample. Urine tests can be done; but they cost $700.

      Share the documentation with your landlord telling him that you are asking for safety on the children and business’s behalf. Ensure you are not trying to make trouble; only that you want to remove health hazards. Ask him nicely if he will fix the issue due to the children at risk.

      Filing a complaint with the senior executive if there is one. Filing a complaint with OSHA would be the next official step; however, I cannot guarantee the proprietor will not eliminate your position to avoid the issue, even if it is not legal. Legal battles take lots of time and money for everyone.

      On a practice note, I would consider buying a cold fogger and EC3 Mold solution concentrate. It is all natural botanical, safe, non-toxic product that will bring the mold counts in the air to almost none for a period. The fogger aerosols into a mist or vapor that will reach everywhere and will bring fungal loads in the air down. This can be done economically as a bottle of EC3 concentrate (29.99) will mix to a gallon and will last more than a month (assuming weekly and a 4000 sq. ft floorpan). I have heard from distributors that many schools use this approach to disinfect daily.

      You can find a fogger package here. https://microbalancehealthproducts.com/products/home-and-clothes-special-bundle.html

      I’m trying to provide an option that will protect health. This approach costs around $350 but you will know if it works almost immediately. If it does work, share this with the owner. He may want to do it regularly as a band aid solution; however, the mold must be removed for the space to be safe in the long run. I don’t know their risk profile; but, a wise manager would want to mitigate risk of of liability or parents filing complaints if it is as bad as described.

      I hope this helps. I am not a physician so take this advise for what it is, advise on getting healthy indoor air. If you are sick, you should leave the position if it involves staying in the moldy space. Your body will not heal if it is constantly exposed to mold. Mycotoxin poisoning requires a Naturopath or Integrative physician (who treats environmental illness) to provide your body what it needs to detoxify over time. I will reiterate that if it is a serious mold issue, you should avoid it for your health. However, I also want to provide an option that isn’t prohibitively expensive and will protect your health.

      Ultimately, OSHA exists to prevent these unsafe working and care conditions, especially if there are children involved as the consequences can last a lifetime for some if it is in fact mold.

      I hope this helps. Cesar

  3. Bethany Birchridge March 20, 2018 at 4:41 pm - Reply

    I thought it was surprising that individuals allergic to mold could suffer from flu like symptoms. My brother has had cold-like symptoms for the past year and we thought it was due to all the pollen content in the area. Now I’m a bit worried he may be allergic to mold. I think mold testing could help us determine if we have mold and if removing it helps him.

  4. Julie February 22, 2018 at 8:50 pm - Reply

    I too became ill from my the school I worked in. I also made my home sick as well by coming home from work with moldy clothing and books. I would love to have you write an article about how to address our child’s school if we believe it is moldy.

    • Cesar Collado February 23, 2018 at 4:19 pm - Reply

      Thank you for your comment. Schools is a topic worthy of some research and writing! An eternal budget crisis in education really handicaps schools to make needed changes. One piece of information I do know as fact is that on behalf of some schools (parents, administrators, teachers), Foggers are used to fog the room to keep mold counts in air down. I do not know if it is within policy or not. But, Doctors offices, homes, kennels, and water damaged buildings are sometimes regularly fogged with EC3 Mold Solution Concentrate to keep mold levels down and it seems to work in the sense that people feel better. It doesn’t address if there is a real mold problemm. But it appears to be an effective “band aid” solution.Once counts are lowered, it takes time for mold to reproduce to dangerous levels. So people just keep fogging so they don’t find out. Foggers are very efficient and the product goes a long way.

      You also make an important point that you can bring mold into your home. Dr. Dennis test patients clothes for mold as an indicator of a mold problem at home. He then asks patients to test their homes. Im sure you can imagine that throwing moldy clothes in a hamper which may be damp is treating a home for mold to reproduce. Washing machines (especially front loaded) can harbor mold and spread to other clothes if not cleaned for mold regularly or EC3 laundry additive is not used.The same goes for placing moldy clothes into a clothes closet. It is like spreading the flu.

      Books are a tricky topic that needs research. All of the literature that I have read to date on books are significant efforts to keep or maintain collectors items and not regular test books. Some of the laborious and time consuming techniques even require rebinding. I will put this on my radar.

  5. Doris D. Thompson February 21, 2018 at 4:02 am - Reply

    I know exactly what Alyssia is talking about. I was in two molded school buildings. I gave the principal at the last building I taught in a copy of my allergy testing because I knew the basement was molded. He told me he was going to put me in the basement anyway and see how it worked out. I survived the first year but stayed sick all the time. During summer vacation pipes burst. They had someone clean and paint the walls. We were told we could not enter the basement until they had finished. All the furniture and supplies were covered with mold which I had to clean. The second year I stayed sick all year. I used an air purifier and bought test kits which grew mold that I was allergic to. I was so sick I called the AEA representative. She sechuled a meeting with the superintendent and principal. When I showed the mold sample pictures the superintendent told the principal that I would be moved. I was allowed to move up stairs for the last six weeks of school upon the AEA representative’s recommendation. The principal did not help move a single item. A coworker and myself packed and moved all my supplies except for the computer which the assistant principal moved. During the summer I was called to move across the street to the new building. Again my family and myself had to move the furniture and supplies. We cleaned everything but all I did was move mold from one building to another. I retired early because I continued to have health problems even though I was taking allergy shots.

    • Cesar Collado February 21, 2018 at 4:48 am - Reply

      Thank you for this comment! This is the reason I wrote this article. I believe people have to “finesse” the issue in a manner that is objective and puts the management in a corner without looking like you are the “problem” I am learning that schools are different beasts. Possibly because the never ending budget crisis. Like I said in an earlier post, daily fogging in daycares and schools seems to be enough to shield sensitive people from over exposure to mold and symptoms. Thank you again!

  6. Cesar Collado February 20, 2018 at 10:29 pm - Reply

    Thank you for your comment. I have heard these stories before. Test plates may have helped. I have also heard from the company that makes the Sani+tizer fogger that schools and daycares purchase foggers. When budget starved schools take mold seriously, fogging daily is cost effective disinfection of the rooms. I also know that Kennels use disinfecting foggers. What does that say about your former school system?

  7. Alyssia Wechsler February 20, 2018 at 1:48 pm - Reply

    I was exposed to mold so badly at my school, that I had to leave my teaching position after 12 years. I had inflammation in my joints, tightening in my chest, coolness in my lungs, pounding earaches, severe sinus pressure and headaches, and I was so tired I could barely function. It was awful. I was depressed all last year, and my school said, “It must be you, because no one else had these severe symptoms.” I finally found an environmental doctor who knew exactly what I was going through. Unfortunately my school was not supportive and after their “air quality test” they were done when it came back in “normal range.” Sadly they did nothing to help me. In fact, they harassed me for being sick. Why should anyone go to work and be in an environment that makes them deathly ill? I tried calling EPA and they just referred me to TOOLS FOR SCHOOLS, which my school didn’t want to hear. I left my 80k job that was 5 minutes from my house. But, I could no longer take being sick and harassed. I have 3 children who need a mother. I missed out on many things last year including Trick or Treating! I feel an entire year of my life was taken from me. Now, I am hypersensitive to any mold exposure and need to be careful what schools I substitute in. I cannot believe we do not have more strict laws and inspections for our schools to prevent this nightmare! I pray no one ever had to go through the literal hell I went through and the long recuperation I am still going through almost a year later. Financially, emotionally, and physically mold had destroyed me, and I cannot believe our government is not concerned with the health and well being of our students and teachers in our schools.

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