Parliamentary report on mould hands down its finding, but there are sceptics
Mould finally hit the federal government radar

Federal member for Robertson and Liberal MP Lucy Wicks knows first hand what mould related issues are like: she’s been sensitised to such an extent she could no longer tolerate shopping centres, meeting rooms – even the then-Prime Minister’s office. But the sceptics are questioning the science.

After years of agitation it looks like the issue of mould has finally hit the federal government radar. Thanks in part to the work of professional bodies such as AIRAH that’s been trying to get the issue on the national agenda, and the work of tenants and health experts.

A recent Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport inquiry into biotoxin-related illnesses has released its final report on the topic.

Among key recommendations are changes to the National Construction Code, disclosure of potential problems to would-be tenants, rectification of existing mould issues in a property before leasing and research into whether existing building standards and codes are adequate.

One of the issues the inquiry identified was a lack of education and awareness among medical practitioners that sick building syndrome and other manifestations of biotoxin-caused illness really are a problem and can cause a range of symptoms.

Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS) is one condition that can cause a lasting sensitivity to poor quality indoor environments and other contamination such as vehicle pollution.

Others problems include fungal fragments, mycotoxins, mVOCS (microbial volatile organic compounds), volatile organic compounds from building materials, bacteria and bacterial toxins, viruses, parasites and more.

After release of the inquiry’s findings, ABC reported on the experience of tenants who are generally told to “use the bathroom exhaust fan” and “open windows for ventilation”.

President of the Real Estate Institute of NSW Tim McKibbin questioned the science.

“Where is the science in this? There just isn’t any at this stage,” he’s quoted as saying in the ABC report.

“Provide us with some science, provide us with some guidance as property managers on how we can deal with this issue.”

The sceptical viewpoint is unlikely to wash with federal member for Robertson and Liberal MP Lucy Wicks, who was one of the parliamentarians behind the launching of the inquiry.

Wicks has experienced mould-related illness first-hand and was sensitised by it to the extent she could no longer tolerate shopping centres, meeting rooms – even the then-Prime Minister’s office.

In a speech to Parliament following the release of the report she says the inquiry’s findings are an “important outcome for people struggling with mould-related illness or living in water-damaged buildings.”

She is urging the federal government to carefully consider all seven recommendations of the report and the significant impact they could have to help those suffering from Biotoxin-related illness. 

“With the adoption of some of [the inquiry’s] recommendations, we could see a more a widespread knowledge of Biotoxin-related illness, standards of practice around mould in building codes and better health outcomes, both in diagnosis and treatment for people with CIRS-like symptoms.

“This report validates the experiences of the hundreds of people that have contacted me with their stories and experiences suffering with a Biotoxin-related illness. It lets people know who are suffering with is this particular condition that their voice is being heard.”

The inquiry received over 140 submissions and took direct evidence from medical professionals, construction experts and mould remediation practitioners at public hearings.

California has a plan

There is a precedent for tackling the impact of mould on health through regulations specific to rental properties. While there is no Australian jurisdiction The Fifth Estate is aware that in California, visible mould potentially deems a property substandard and unfit for leasing under the California Housing Code.

The issues around mould and building quality will be tackled at AIRAH’s building physics forum in late November in Wollongong, under the heading of, “Do we have a sick, rotten, leaky, condo crisis? Managing design conflict: fire versus moisture.”

President of AIRAH’s Building Physics Special Technical Group, Jesse Clarke will chair the roundtable, which will feature University of Tasmania’s Dr Mark Dewsbury, Mycolab’s Dr Heike Neumeister Kemp, Inhabit Group’s Samantha Anderson, Ignis Fire’s Benjamin Hughes-Brown, Prof. Dr Hartwig Künzel and Terry Brennan from Camroden & Associates.

A recent article about the inquiry’s findings in AIRAH’s HVAC&R News highlights the role of standards in addressing the causes – not only in terms of requirements for new buildings, but also mandatory standards for the prevention and remediation of mould in existing buildings.

It notes that while the Australian Building Codes Board has a non-mandatory guide for condensation in buildings, it is not part of the National Construction Code.

“Prevention is better than cure – or a band aid,” Clarke says.

“This comes back to good design of the building envelope, and includes looking at the moisture storage and vapour-diffusion properties of materials in combination with the chosen HVAC systems for ventilation, heating and cooling set-points and indoor humidity levels.”

The article also singled out a number of practices that can potentially increase mould levels or dampness including some relating to materials choice, build methodology, build quality and operational aspects.

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  1. Yes Good Lord indeed Ryan.
    So many interconnecting issues require open transparent public discussion, instead of being locked away by commercial vested interests who write Standards. Everyone knows this is true.

    My comments Ryan have been submitted to two Senate Inquiries and one Royal Commission.

    If you want to check my waffle, then go and read Recommendations 6-11 of the 2010 Senate Inquiry – Home Insulation Program, which called for an independent review of the insulation standard 4859.1 as well as an entire overall of the residential building energy efficiency regulations.

    Ryan, have you read the 2010 Senate Inquiry? The Oct 2018 Parliamentary REPS Committee is questioning building energy efficiency levels, as it affects human health. The overlap between the two Inquiries is worthy of physical investigation.

    Thats all.

  2. Very important subject,and very complex.

    Houses need to encourage natural ventilation wherever possible, taking into account external air quality eg living next to busy roads.

    The national residential building energy efficiency regulations are the smoking gun here, with overinsulated houses, via the high product R-values listed to meet the 6 Star level. These high values invariably mean the adoption of R4,5,6 and yes there are even R7 fibreglass batts. The mantra – thicker is better – is the root of the condensation-mould issue coupled with “sealed” houses. After 40 years of Canadian thermal regulations, building failures were apoearing about 15 years ago.

    The high insulation levels in Australia forced onto the poor ignorant and sick public, are completely unvalidated because there is no real house testing. The ABCB’s process of accepting consultants computer modelling for rising Star ratings is false.

    Its a racket to sell thicker batts, plain and simple. And also in complete defiance of the Law of Diminishing Returns, ie doing more of something not equating with NET BENEFIT, the underpinning goal of Australian Standards. And as I have relentlessly said in earlier FIFTH ESTATE stories, guess where NET BENEFIT really flows – to the bulk insulation industry.

    The mould Report here mentions foil house wraps being a contributer to unhealthy houses. Sorry, wrong.

    Victoria’s 1991 mandatory residential inulation levels, started with an unsealed house wrap in walls, foil under framed floors, and R2.5 in ceilings.

    Just think back then, was there any mould or condensation problems? No there wasn’t. As the Star ratings rose so did the insane creep for energy tight buildings and consequent sick building syndrome ensued.

    The ABCB have alot of explaining to do. Their regulations are premised on closed conditioned houses that are not ventilated, and underpinned by a suite of insulation standards, which are written by big insulation companies. These standards have a distinct pro- bulk and anti-foil bias.

    Foil plays second fiddle to bulk since 1953 and this has to stop and be reversed. We aren’t living in Europe or Canada where snows lies on the ground for 5 months or more, and yes higher Rvalues can be justified, and the tricky part for them is balancing a breathing house.

    Australia is utterly different, with much milder winter coupled with high radiation levels across the continent
    We have open living lifestyle that lends itself to moderate to high ventilation levels.

    Tape sealing of foil insulations crept in. Overlapped foil insulations in walls have been the norm since 1953, with no health issues until the ratings crept above 3 Star. High Rvalues have been identified as a contributor to condensation problems in houses. Yes, tape sealing of houses will make matters worse. All building structures must have a capacity for vapour exchange and not be sealed up.

    CSIRO (Melb) thermal testing of foil wraps in BV walls in 1983-85, found that foil moderately damaged had little effect on performance.

    My point is, where is the real house testing today to understand the correlation of high NCC Rvalues and insulation installation? There isn’t any. The standards are meant to be the font of all wisdom. I can assure you, they are not and are full of scientific flaws, deliberately incomprehensible, and mislead the public to a shocking level. Any attempt to challenge a standard is near impossible. Its an utter fortress.

    As houses produce sicker people, the fortress walls will finally be breached, and let the daylight of TRUTH come im.

    Starting in 2000 the HERS House Energy Star ratings have risen steadily from 3 to 6 Star. As they rose, people got sicker, across Australia. Pull back the Star ratings snd insulation levels as fast as possible.

    Remember the 2014 NEEBP Pitt & Sherry report (govt funded) that I have hammered? In the Tropics, building designers are demanding double foil layers in ceilings, and no bulk insulations. Bulk insulations are hydroscopic where small moisture content results in severe Rvalue degradation. Compounded by radiation heat saturation and trapping of heat inside houses in any dominant hot climate.

    Sounds sort of logical doesn’t it? Houses with no winter heating, just constant radiation entry into buildings. What does the ABCB do? Nothing. Must not upset the bulk insulation industry.

    Alot don’t know and will find it hard to believe that a simple foil house wrap neatly fitted alone in walls will be adequate wall insulation for vast regions of Australia. Then add R2.5-max 3.5 in ceilings for winter and absolutely fit at least one foil product in roof spaces for incoming radiation control.

    An open public forum on health and residential energy efficiency levels is required, very urgently. I have repeatedly asked for this over many years. All the thermal regulations are unvalidated and written by Industry, and rubber stamped by the ABCB. The ABCB have a lot to answer for.

    Watch the silence here. What’s wrong with a Public Forum? Just think about what comes tumbling out from all those Royal Commissions happenimg around us. It becomes a flood.

    The public are sick – literally – of being lied to.

  3. What tenant rights do we have if damaged in public housing built by public housing that was never built to code?