By Russell WickeOctober 17, 2010
IMCOM Korea Public Affairs
YONGSAN GARRISON, Korea - Officials here expressed concern that the unusual amounts of rain, flooding and storms may extend the mold season longer than expected.
Although mold is typically a summer nuisance, flooded vehicles and buildings along with a general rise in humidity are good reasons for people to take extra precautions to prevent mold in their households, said Col. (Dr.) Lee Hee-choon, 65th Medical Brigade preventative medicine chief.
Mold can be a serious health concern for some people said Lee, especially those who have allergic reactions. Signs of mold infestation include musty odors, dark patches or discoloration in areas prone to moisture and any number of respiratory problems. Lee said more serious physiological symptoms of mold include sinus congestion, chronic coughing and difficulty breathing. In some cases allergic reactions to mold may even lead to death.
William Dingui, an industrial hygienist here, said there are two main contributing factors to mold infestation: temperature and humidity. He said that mold grows best when temperatures are between 68 and 78 degrees and when the relative humidity is more than 50 percent. Since most people are comfortable in the temperature range suitable for mold, the single best way to prevent mold is humidity control. Some cooling units have automatic dehumidifiers built in and regulate the humidity of the area it cools. But Lee said there are many kinds of cooling units that do not draw water out of the air - and people are comfortable when the air is cool despite humidity. Most central heating and cooling units as well as units that use a cooling tower do not draw moister from the air, and Dingui said this can be a contributing factor to mold. Both Dingui and Lee agree that use of a dehumidifier will go a long way in prevent mold especially in environments like Korea.
Other more direct causes of mold include leaking pipes or pipes without insulation that drip condensation. Even something as simple as bathrooms that aren't cleaned frequently can cause mold. All it takes is moisture and a food source - and Dingui said food sources are everywhere: dust, clothing, carpet and filth are just a few examples.
The easiest way to avoid issues with mold, said Lee, is to take preventative steps before it's a problem. He said the potential for mold in Korea is so strong that the Korean government has launched a media campaign that promotes three simple steps:
A-A?A1/2 [bullet]Control Humidity
These three steps are so effective against mold, said Lee, that even if there's already an infestation, taking these steps will usually solve the problem. Use of a humidity gauge and dehumidifier will help with the third step.
"If these steps don't resolve a mold problem, look for underling causes," said Lee, such as leaking pipes or signs of water damage.
John Burtch, Department of Public Works chief, summed it up best: "Mold prevention begins with the occupant." He said serious mold problems don't develop over a short period of time and in most cases mold is noticeable before it's a real problem. Occupants who suspect the beginnings of mold infestation should enlist professional help, especially if they have already engaged the above-mentioned steps. For those in base housing that means calling the housing office. For off-base renters, contacting the landlord is recommended.
Lee cautions however that sometimes repairmen attempt a quick fix instead of addressing the root problem, and this requires persistence of the occupant.
"When I was first offered base quarters I suspected mold during the house inspection," said Lee. "I had it sampled and it turned out the house had high levels of mold. When contractors came to address the problem, they began to paint over the molded areas." Lee said he wasn't satisfied with this repair and later, when engineers opened the wall they found a leaking pipe. "This issue had an emotional impact on me," added Lee, stating that moving is difficult enough without experiencing problems and delays with finding a house.
Lee said the summer months are the most critical concerning mold for obvious environmental reasons combined with people taking leave and turning off their cooling units. He suggested that when a person leaves their house unoccupied in the summer, they should have a trusted person monitor a dehumidifier and occasionally open windows during their absence.
Lee said all people in Korea should ventilate, clean and control their humidity to prevent mold. But if these steps are not effective, call your local housing office or landlord to investigate for mold.