Until now, organisations were unsure whether the level of mould in their buildings was considered normal or too high because official standards for airborne concentrations of mould in South Australia have never been defined.
The research, funded by SafeWork SA, took air samples from 20 workplaces across metropolitan Adelaide, including offices, council-owned buildings, hospitals and warehouses, to determine a standard acceptable level of mould across a range of environments.
Flinders University microbiologist Dr Michael Taylor (pictured), who has worked in partnership with Adelaide University’s Dr Sharyn Gaskin, said the samples were used to identify the type and amount of fungi in the air, as well as to draw comparisons between buildings.
The research was conducted over the course of a year, ending last month, to measure any “seasonal variations” in the amount of fungal spores in the air, Dr Taylor said.
“In Adelaide it’s historically been very difficult to tell what’s too high in terms of airborne mould because no one has ever found out what’s considered normal,” Dr Taylor said.
“Although there are international guidelines for acceptable mould levels, the same standards can’t be applied to Australia because our climate is much hotter than much of Europe,” he said.
“But now we’ve finally been able to determine what’s acceptable for South Australia which, not surprisingly, is slightly higher than the international standard because of our hotter, dustier climate, and in summer and autumn the levels double due to the humidity in the air.”
Dr Taylor said while all indoor air contained some mould and was generally harmless, some strains of fungi produced allergic reactions including itchy eyes, skin irritation and shortness of breath.
He said mould was a common problem for many older workplaces, particularly after heavy rain.
“If a building has a leaky roof or damaged gutters, as soon as water seeps into the walls or roof spaces it creates a damp environment, which is an ideal breeding ground for mould.
“It’s also quite common for offices below ground level to have water intrusion in winter and unless they thoroughly dry out the carpet, mould will grow under the flooring and cause a lot of problems.”
Findings of the research have been documented in a report to SafeWork SA, and are expected to be published in scientific journals in the coming months.