Following the tragic and preventable death of a Awaab Ishak, there has understandably been much interest in damp and mould in the home environment and what can be done about it. In November 2022 HM Senior Coroner Joanne Kearsley found that:
“Awaab Ishak died as a result of a severe respiratory condition caused due to prolonged exposure to mould in his home environment. Action to treat and prevent the [condition] was not taken.”
More on this case was reported in Inside Housing (16 November 2022).
I was interviewed along with colleagues Henry Dawson and Ellis Turner in a recent edition of Environmental Health News, exploring what we can do to intervene more effectively in such cases. This article is available here for those able to access it: CIEH EHN Extra February 2023
More recently, numerous other cases of severe damp and mould in the home have been shared. A recent case was reported by @RubyLGregory on 6th April 2023 of a family living in temporary accommodation and suffering extreme damp and mould growth. It documented the physical and mental health toll the conditions were having on the family and the lack of effective intervention, despite a range of agencies apparently being involved.
Health effects of damp and mould
There are multiple health effects caused by living in damp and mouldy homes across the life-course including causing or exacerbating respiratory conditions including asthma and COPD, allergies, immunological reactions, rhinitis, wheeze and emotional effects including anxiety and depression.
Vulnerable groups can be particularly affected and there can be knock on effects for example in children’s development and education. Other vulnerable groups present increased inequalities and co-morbidities. Damp and mould can also have a detrimental effect on the property and older, privately rented housing can present particular challenges.
Dampness and mould growth can be – very briefly – caused by:
Condensation damp (with mould) – normally a combination of inadequate thermal insulation, poor heating and ventilation; lifestyle issues can contribute and are sometimes incorrectly identified as the cause. Cases will be further exacerbated by the cost of living crisis.
Penetrating damp – damp coming in from the outside due to a related deficiency outside (e.g. missing tile).
Damp from the ground (rising damp) – usually indicated around a meter in height indoors with presence of salts.
Traumatic damp (e.g. burst pipes, dripping pipes) – immediate or longer term, may come from another property
This short YouTube film shows condensation and mould dampness, demonstrates some of the effects it has on children’s health and how it feels to them.
What to do?
Damp and mouldy conditions need to be addressed with far greater priority. Interventions need to involve all relevant agencies who can offer effective and sustainable solutions, whomever first identifies conditions and there needs to be greater awareness of who can do what to help. Many have turned to their GP or Citizens Advice for support and this recent BMJ paper illustrates what one doctor has done to address damp and mouldy homes (The doctor forcing landlords to act on mouldy homes)
Those visiting homes with damp and mould need to be skilled in identifying the causes and effects as well as appropriate remedy. This may be by regulation or guidance and advice but needs to be correctly actioned and followed up by the relevant organisation.
There are numerous helpful resources available, some of which are available as open access and free of change. These include:
- House of Commons Library on damp and mould (2023) (see also additional links there)
- House of Commons Research Briefing on health inequalities in cold or damp housing (2023)
- Shelter’s advice on damp and mould in rented homes:
- Citizens Advice (February 2023)
- Citizens Advice Toolkit (see also YouTube film):
- Centre for Sustainable Energy and this
- Centre for Sustainable Energy (2016) Affordable Warmth and Health Evaluation Toolkit
- Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (2019) Excess Cold Enforcement Guidance
- World Health Organization (2009) WHO Guidelines for Indoor Air Quality: Dampness and Mould
- NB – there is forthcoming new Guidance anticipated, resulting from the Housing Health and Safety Rating System Review
Who can help with housing conditions?
Environmental Health Practitioners and others working in local authority housing teams help in applying appropriate regulation and making referrals to other relevant agencies. These books offer more information:
Also in this series, see Dampness in Dwellings: Causes and Effects
If you have other resources on damp and mould you think would be helpful to others, please do let me know and I will add them here, with an acknowledgement.
With thanks to CIEH for permission to use the EHN copy in the featured image.