NOTE TO EDITORS: The following represents the opinion of IAGA
ROCKVILLE, MD — A recent report by the Institute of Medicine, which finds an association between conditions caused by indoor dampness and a laundry list of health effects, has largely been misunderstood and misrepresented among members of the general media. The Institute of Medicine has found sufficient evidence of an association between the presence of mold or other agents in damp indoor environments and the following health outcomes: upper respiratory tract symptoms, cough, wheeze, asthma symptoms in sensitized persons. It found limited or suggestive evidence of an association between the presence of agents in damp indoor environments and lower respiratory illness in otherwise healthy children.
It is the position of the Indoor Air Quality Association (IAQA) that these findings should not be minimized. IAQA also believes that these findings should not be blown out of proportion. It is unfortunate that the public has already been exposed to both from the general media following the report’s May 25 release.
— Scripps Howard News Service issued an article bearing the headline, “Study: No evidence household mold causes major illness.”
— The Wall Street Journal printed an article bearing the headline, “Indoor Mold Linked to Problems Such as Asthma and Coughing.”
IAQA believes that confusion over this sensitive topic could either prolong mass hysteria or lead to an unduly apathetic attitude. Either approach is counterproductive to the common good. On one hand, homeowners and building managers reading one article may think they have nothing to worry about if mold is in their buildings and it is, as one journalist notes, “about as dangerous as spoiled ketchup.” On the other hand, the people reading another article may be led to believe they should evacuate their homes and business immediately or else so-called “toxic mold” will kill them.
Not only do the Institute of Medicine authors clearly state that there are no such things as toxic molds, but they rightfully suggest a middle-of-the-road viewpoint. While they have found no current science to establish a clear, causal link between mold and adverse health effects, they did not rule out that such a link exists. This is a crucial point that has overwhelmingly been lost in translation by the media.
In the eyes of scientists, there is a clear-cut distinction between what they call an “association” and what they call a “link,” simply put, an association describes the relationship between two conditions that merely coexist, while a link describes the cause-and-effect relationship between one condition and another. This important distinction is often glossed over by the media, or the terms are incorrectly used interchangeably.
Authors of the Institute of Medicine report have stated repeatedly that there is “a dearth of research” proving whether a causal link exists between indoor dampness and any health effects. Because of this, they have requested further study and presented guidelines for those studies. They also list no less than 15 other health symptoms that have been attributed to mold and other agents and that scientific research has not yet established sufficient evidence to determine whether an association exists between them and the presence of mold or other agents in damp environments. These include cancer, fatigue, reproductive effects, skin symptoms, lower respiratory illness in otherwise healthy adults, and airflow obstruction in otherwise healthy people.
Furthermore, the authors have listed numerous concerns for damp buildings. Indoor dampness in general is “not your friend,” as stated by one member of the panel introducing the report at a May 25 press conference in Washington, D.C. Thus, the report urges the building community to develop steps to prevent indoor dampness before it should ever become a problem.
Authors recommend action on the federal, state and local levels, and the report specifically recommends that a federal agency develop and disseminate consensus guidelines on building design, construction, operation and maintenance, with the goal of preventing indoor dampness. IAQA staff is working closely with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to determine whether the association could assist with such a project.
The Institute of Medicine is a private, nonprofit institution that provides health policy advice under a congressional charter granted to the National Academy of Sciences. The full report, which was requested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, can be read online at http://books.nap.edu/catalog/11011.html.
The Indoor Air Quality Association (IAQA) is a nonprofit, multidisciplinary organization, dedicated to promoting the exchange of indoor environmental information, through education and research, for the safety and well being of the general public. For more information on IAQA, visit www.iaqa.org.
Indoor Air Quality Association
1120 Rt 73, Suite 200
Mt Laurel, NJ 08054