Be Prepared for Environmental Hazards

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An example of mould on a wall


When working on a building site, especially a renovation site the chance of being affected by environmental hazards is great. The most commonly occurring environmental hazards are mould, asbestos and lead.

While a lot of attention is given to asbestos and occasionally lead, mould is something that is often ignored by construction workers which can be damaging to their health.

The height of asbestos use was between 1930 and 1950, when it was commonly used in the production of insulation for mechanical and plumbing system components such as pipes, duct, boilers, and tanks. It was also used as an ingredient in insulation and for decorative purposes on ceilings and walls. As a fire-retardant insulation, it was used on structural beams and firewalls, and in fire doors.  Long term asbestos exposure can lead to incurable diseases such as Mesothelioma, Pleural disease and Asbestosis.

Lead is a naturally occurring highly toxic metal found throughout the environment and created by human activities such as burning fossil fuel, mining, and manufacturing. It has many different uses, including use in the production of batteries, ammunition, metal products like solder and pipe, and devices to shield X-rays. Because of health concerns, lead from paints and ceramic products and pipe solder has been substantially cut. The primary sources of lead exposure to humans in the daily environment are deteriorating lead-based paint and lead-contaminated dust.  But do not panic, lead paint in good condition is not a cause for concern unless it’s loose, flaking, or forming dust.

Moulds and mildew are microscopic fungi that grow on surfaces where there is an organic food source. Many of the construction materials used, such as wood, carpet, glue, and cellulose-based objects like ceiling panels and drywall, are hosts for indoor mould growth. Thousands of species of mould exists and when inhaled or ingested by humans it can be dangerous. Understanding the impact of moisture and mould on building materials and the construction process is integral to developing good design and construction practices.

Most types of mould are not hazardous to healthy individuals. However, excessive exposure to mould may cause or worsen conditions such as asthma, hay fever or other allergies. The most common symptoms of overexposure are cough, congestion, runny nose, eye irritation and aggravation of asthma. Depending on the amount of exposure and an individual’s vulnerability, more serious health effects such as fever and breathing problems can occur.

All moulds need water to grow. Mould can grow almost anywhere there is water damage, high humidity or dampness. Most often moulds are confined to areas near the source of water. Removing the source of moisture is vital to preventing mould growth.