Industrial Hygiene and Occupational Health

Industrial Hygiene

Industrial hygiene is the science of protecting and enhancing the health and safety of people at work and in their communities. Health and safety hazards cover a wide range of chemical, physical, biological, and ergonomic stressors. Those dedicated to anticipating, recognizing, evaluating and controlling these hazards are known as Industrial Hygienists (ABIH).
 
The EHS Department investigates and controls or mitigates those hazards, which also includes Mold, Asbestos, and Indoor Air Quality.
 

Occupational Health

Occupational Health is the multidisciplinary field of workplace healthcare concerned with enabling the individual to undertake their job, in a way that causes the least harm to their health.  Texas law and OSHA both implement measures that require some occupations to have physicals, vaccines, blood exposure monitoring, urine samples, hearing screening, and so on. EHS makes these arrangements through an Occupational Health Clinic. 

  Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Evaluation Request Form
 

Most people are aware that outdoor air pollution can impact their health, but indoor air pollution can also have significant and harmful health effects.  EPA studies of human exposure to air pollutants indicate that indoor levels of pollutants may be higher than outdoor levels.  The levels of indoor air pollutants are of particular concern, because most people spend about 90 percent of their time indoors (EPA: Indoor Air Quality in Schools).

Texas Senate Bill 599 requires the State Office of Risk Management (SORM) "provide updated information on maintaining safe indoor air in state buildings." -SORM

If you have an Indoor Air Quality Concern on campus, please complete the  UHCL IAQ Questionnaire below, which is a fillable pdf form, and an EHS representative will investigate. Submit to EHS@uhcl.edu or PearceN@uhcl.edu

IAQ Questionnaire Form

  Asbestos
 

Asbestos was a common component of building products and materials before 1980.  It is a natural material that can break down into very fine fibers that have been found to become lodged in lung tissues.  For some, these fibers can create scar tissue over time in the lungs as the body tries to break the fibers down but cannot.   

Since then, it has been banned for sale and manufacture in the U.S., and there are requirements for prevention of disturbance to become airborne, and handling requirements for removal.  This includes testing for presence, notifying the state two weeks prior to removal, turning off and closing off air to the area asbestos is being removed during a renovation, using asbestos trained contractors, special PPE, and follow-up air testing of the area during and after renovation. 

UHCL goes above requirements by following an asbestos management plan.

If you should come across any materials that are suspected to be asbestos, or have a question or concern about a renovation or asbestos remediation project on campus, please submit your inquiry to  EHS@uhcl.edu or PearceN@uhcl.edu.

UH Systems General Administrative Memorandum 01.C.16 Asbestos-Containing Material

  Mold
 

Mold is a type of microorganism classified as a fungus. Molds are a natural part of the environment and can live virtually everywhere, indoors and outdoors. Depending on where you live, mold spores can reach high levels in the outdoor air. Hot and humid climate regions, such as the Houston area, have high mold levels in the summer and then lower in the winter as the temperature and humidity decreases.

The American Academy of Asthma Allergy and Immunology posts the National Allergy Bureau and Mold Report to monitor outdoor allergens, including mold spores. You can look at the daily report, which includes, grass, pollen, weeds and mold for the Houston area. This website can be found at the National Allergy Bureau.

Mold spores start to rise in the late spring and summer months. As the temperature increases, so do air quality complaints. Houston mold levels have been known to reach over 50,000 spores outside in the summer months. Currently, there is no regulatory level in the U.S. that establishes thresholds for molds.

Below are common questions and information regarding mold.

1. Is mold a health concern?

Some people do not have adverse reactions to mold. While others can be sensitized to molds and exhibit symptoms such as asthma, rhinitis, skin and throat sensitivities, conjunctivitis, etc. The American Industrial Hygiene Associations (AIHA) states:

"Small amounts of mold growth in workplaces or homes (such as mildew on a shower curtain) are not a major health concern. Large quantities of mold growth, however, are an important public health concern."

"People who may be affected more severely and quickly than others include:

  • Infants and children
  • Elderly people
  • Pregnant women
  • Individuals with respiratory conditions or allergies and asthma
  • Persons with weakened immune systems

Those with special health concerns should consult their doctor if they are concerned about mold exposure. Symptoms that may seem to occur from mold exposure may be due to other causes, such as bacterial or viral infections or other allergies."-AIHA.

2. Is mold harmful?

There are thousands of species of mold. Some species are toxic and can produce mycotoxins. While others can cause a variety of symptoms and infections, especially to sensitive individuals. Visual mold should not be allowed to grow into larger quantities to create a public health concern. Mold, no matter what the species, should be removed immediately when identified in indoors to prevent any adverse health reactions. In addition, the reason for the mold growth needs to be fixed to prevent reoccurrence.  

The most common mold genus' (categories of species) found inside are:

  • Cladosporium
  • Penicillium
  • Alternaria
  • Aspergillus

 3. Do specific molds grow when there is a leak or condensation issues?

Yes, certain molds are indicator species. Aspergillus is the most common, and is typical found where there is condensation issues. Stachybotrys chartarum on the other hand, is a strong indicator species for water leaks in a building. Stachybotrys chartarum is a fungus commonly named "black mold" that releases a mycotoxin. Many molds are black, and it is important to note that testing is the only way to confirm the genus and species found.

4. Is Mold a concern inside a business or home?

"Most typical indoor air exposures to mold do not present a risk of adverse health effects." (A Brief Guide to Mold in the Workplace. OSHA: Safety and Health Information Bulletin. 1/14/2019. https://www.osha.gov/dts/shib/shib101003.html )

To avoid Indoor Air Quality concerns and to correct any damage to your workplace or home, mold should be immediately removed when found. One or two species typically dominate and grow high concentrations when uncontrolled. As the mold spreads, it becomes a public health concern. In Texas, Mold beyond 25 sq. feet must be removed by a Licensed Mold Remediator and must be reported to the state.  

To investigate and remediate mold in Texas, an individual must be licensed in the state of Texas to perform this task. This law can be found under the Texas Administrative Code (TAC) Title 16. Part 4. Texas Department of Licenses. Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR). Chapter 78. Mold Assessors and Remediators (Effective September 1, 2018).

There are currently no federal regulations focused on mold; however, there are nationally accepted testing methods and best practices created by EPA, CDC, NIH, AIHA, and OSHA.

Q: What do you do if you see mold at work?

Contact EHS. EHS will determine if mold is present by visually inspecting the area. EHS will then determine if mold sampling necessary. The need for sampling is determined by the EHS department and is dependent upon the situation. Small quantities of mold are not typically hazardous, but identifying them can help us prevent additional growth, find hidden mold, locate humidity or temperature issues, housekeeping problems, or a leaks in the area. Report all mold concerns to EHS for investigation.  

Q: What happens when mold is confirmed?

EHS will determine if the mold can be cleaned internally or by a contracting firm. Visual mold beyond 25 sq. requires notification to the state, two weeks in advance of proposed project start. A Remediation Plan must be written by a Licensed Mold Consultant and then a Licensed Remediation Contractor removes the mold. Once the Remediation Contractor determines that the mold has been removed, a separate Mold Consultant performs clearance sampling to assure it is clean. Clearance sampling is typically done by comparing the samples taken before and after the remediation with the natural levels identified outside. If the amount of mold is less than outside, it is considered cleared.

Q: What happens if mold is identified in air samples?

As mentioned above, mold is present naturally all over the Houston area. The work place is only responsible for maintaining mold levels below outside levels in airborne samples. If airborne samples determine mold levels are elevated inside compared to outdoor samples, or there is significant difference between the outside and inside flora- the workplace must continue to investigate.

Q: How does mold grow in a building?

Mold must have a food source, water, and comfortable temperatures for continuous growth. Mold spores can enter a building through entrance doors, open windows, indoor plants, ventilation system, your shoes, etc.  Mold can grow on any organic surface, such as wood, paper, carpet, foods, insulation material, etc.

Q: What do I do when I see a water leak?

Call FMC and EHS as soon as possible. Water must be removed within 24-48 hours to prevent mold growth. Wet Vacuums can be used to remove water out of carpet and dehumidifiers can be used to remove moisture from the air.

For more information on mold, please refer to the resources below: