Meteorological factors such as relative humidity directly correlate with airborne fungal levels outdoors and indoors. While dehumidification alone is effective at reducing moisture necessary for mold growth, it is inadequate as a single intervention as it does not remove viable and non-viable fungal spores that are potentially allergenic. The purpose of this pilot study was to investigate whether dehumidification in combination with high-efficiency particulate arrestance (HEPA) filtration is effective at reducing airborne mold spore levels in day care centers. Two day care centers within a 2-mile radius of each other were selected. Day care center A was 2 years old with eight rooms while day care center B was 15 years old with six rooms. A high efficiency Santa Fe dehumidification unit equipped with a HEPA filter was installed in half the rooms (intervention) of each day care facility. Electronic HOBO data loggers continuously measured outdoor and indoor room dew point and temperature every 2 h throughout the study. Dew point and airborne fungal spore measurements from selected rooms with controlled air conditions were analyzed by comparing baseline measurements to those obtained at subsequent time periods over 1 year. Regression models accounted for correlations between measurements in the same room over time. Intervention resulted in a lowered average dew point from baseline by 8.8 degrees C compared with a decrease of 7.1 degrees C in non-intervention rooms across all time periods in both facilities (P<0.001). Fungal analyses demonstrated lower baseline (P=0.06) and follow-up means in intervention rooms (P<0.05), however the change from baseline to end of follow-up differed between intervention and non-intervention rooms in the two facilities. Log transformation was applied to approximate normality of fungal measurements. Dehumidification with HEPA filtration was effective at controlling indoor dew point in both facilities and at reducing airborne culturable fungal spore levels in one of the two facilities. These preliminary results provide a scientific rationale for using this intervention in future studies designed to investigate the impact of indoor mold exposure on health outcomes.
Practical implications: Poor indoor air quality is a recognized cause or contributing factor to health effects. Dampness and humidity have been linked to upper and lower respiratory symptoms in children and adults. This study indicates that reducing indoor relative humidity and airborne mold spore levels using high-efficiency dehumidification units equipped with HEPA filtration is feasible even in work facilities such as day care centers where traffic in and out of the building is difficult to regulate. Clinicians should emphasize to their patients the importance of dehumidification and HEPA filtration to improve indoor air quality in the home and workplace.