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Finland's sick buildings: Is it all in your head?

This week All Points North sniffs out the topic of mould exposure--a phenomenon many people claim is making them sick.

Building renovations
Mould damage has shuttered many schools and hospitals in Finland as inspectors find mould in daycares, police stations, jails and many other public offices. Image: Yle / Marja Väänänen
Yle News

Two environmental health experts agree to disagree on whether or not Finland really has a mould problem or if symptoms are caused by exaggerating the risks of poor indoor air quality.

This week our All Points North podcast looks at the mushrooming debate around mould sensitivity in Finland. While the international scientific community has established mould as a health hazard, major Finnish health institutes today suggest that mould sensitivity is partly psychological.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health says that every day up to 800,000 people in Finland are exposed to mold-contaminated indoor air.

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Medical professionals and mould experts Tuula Putus from Turku University and Markku Sainio from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health represent diverging views on the issue.

"In the late 1980s authorities recognised that in residential buildings there were mould infestations and related health problems. This marked the start of mould research in Finland," Putus told APN.

Finnish winters are usually cold, meaning there's not much humidity and lots of dry air, but Putus said the damp comes from several other sources.

"Damp is coming from the soil, the rain, pipe leakage. Water damage is not always needed, because building materials have the mould infestation and sometimes quite large counts of mould spores. So building materials are not sterile and then you just add water so they grow, flourish and sporulate."

"Exaggerating the danger of mould"

According to the FinTerveys 2017 national health survey, nearly half a million people in Finland reported health symptoms related to poor indoor air quality.

Sainio, however, said he doesn't believe mould exposure can trigger symptoms affecting hundreds of thousands of people.

"It’s totally clear that the moulds are not something we should be afraid of. We have actually caused health problems because we have exaggerated the danger of mould."

The Occupational Health Institute and the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) say that 90 percent of indoor air-related problems are mild or moderate at the most.

"In other countries there are more moulds than here indoors. We cannot dispute moulds are dangerous, but it’s [a question of] how much mould there is. We have such low levels of mould that it is speculation that the symptoms are due to moulds."

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This week's show was presented by Zena Iovino and produced by Denise Wall. The sound engineer this week was Laura Koso.

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