On a rainy late fall day (not too unlike today) towards the end of the semester when I was a sophomore in college, my household of roommates and I decided to blow off working on term papers and studying for finals and instead ate a cookie sheet full of freshly picked magic mushrooms. After bouncing off the walls for a couple of hours and then running around a wet, muddy cemetery in Portland, playing slip and slide through the gravestones, while subconsciously recreating scenes from Easy Rider and Woodstock, we all came to a brilliant epiphany. EVERYTHING GROWS MOLD!
I was reminded by this epiphany when I read the headline story of my local paper yesterday,
Mold is a growing problem One wouldn’t intuitively think that mold could be a problem in the desert, but the desert states of Arizona and Nevada tied for the rank of 5th in the nation for mold-related insurance claims. This is in part due to cheap housing construction materials combined with the predominant use of air conditioners and evaporative coolers to counter extreme heat.
Breathing mold spores, in general, can cause respiratory problems such as allergies and asthma. Breathing mycotoxins generated by certain mold spores can cause severe illness and even death. It also turns out that breathing at home, taking in regular accumulations of dust and their bunnies can be a real problem too, especially for children. That is why so many people decide to find a company who provide mold remediation services as soon as they discover any mold. It really is that important. Did you know that household dust is toxic? Yes, the dust in the wind (cue song by Kansas that annoys the living hell out of me) can be incredibly nasty. This brief article from my same local paper, Household dust laden with toxins, includes this lovely snippet:
From home dust, the average U.S. child ingests the same amount of cancer-causing benzo(a)pyrene as he would get by smoking three cigarettes a day, says a 1998 Scientific American article by researchers Wayne Ott of Stanford University and John Roberts, a Seattle environmental engineer.
In this edition of Doing It For Ourselves, I’ll provide some basic information about molds and household dusts, and what we can do ourselves to control their presence in our homes and workplaces.
As anyone knows who lives in the tropics or in any areas with annual rainfall greater than 15 inches, mold is not only a problem in the desert. Molds and their impact may become the next big environmental health concern.
Many insurance and environmental experts see mold as the next lead or asbestos, meaning it could lead to a wave of health concerns, lawsuits and expensive cleanups.
Mold is not nearly as toxic as lead, which can cause central nervous system damage, or asbestos, which can trigger lung cancer. But it poses a more difficult problem in one respect. Homeowners who find themselves worried about asbestos in their homes may look to somewhere similar to Prodan Construction asbestos testing in Gresham to find out if they require assistance to get rid of it since it can pose a serious health risk.
“You can seal or encapsulate lead or asbestos. If you have asbestos in the ceiling, you can coat it. But you can’t do that with mold,” said Martin Pur- pura, sales vice president for Global Prevention Services, a mold cleanup firm.
“If you do it with mold, it will continue to grow. Mold is a living organism. Even if you kill the mold, any that is left behind can cause health effects.”
Molds are members of the fungi family, and like fungi, derive their energy from digesting dead things. The process of digestion or fermentation can produce metabolites in some species of mold and some of these metabolites are extremely toxic. They are called mycotoxins. The molds that produce mycotoxins are the ones we need to be most careful of when “doing it for ourselves.” I will provide some information about the dangerous molds below. I encourage everyone who deals with mold infestations to learn to identify them and to utilize professionals for testing and clean up of the more toxic types. To be on the safe side, it might be worth contacting professionals for any mold removal. This way, homeowners can be confident that the mold has been removed carefully, making the home safer for people to live in. By contacting ASK Environmental, for example, homeowners can be sure that the mold has been removed properly, so it’s sometimes easier to allow professionals to remove this mold.
Stachybotrys Chartarum and some of the Aspergillus molds are typical of the black molds (see pics below) that can cause severe health problems. The dangerous molds can cause illnesses such as chronic bronchitis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, chronic fatigue and fibromyalfia, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer and more.
The CDC provides a list of diseases that are caused by specific types of molds
Aspergillosis Agents: Aspergillus fumigatus, A. flavus. Less commonly A. terreus, A. nidulans, A. niger.
Blastomycosis Agents: Blastomyces dermatitidis.
Candidiasis Agents: Candida albicans and C. glabrata. Less commonly, C.tropicalis, C. parapsilosis, and C. krusei. Rarely, other Candida species.
Coccidioidomycosis Agents: Coccidioides immitis.
Histoplasmosis Agents: Histoplasma capsulatum var. capsulatum. (related to bird and bat guano)
Sporotrichosis Agents: Sporothrix schenckii
Here is a list of 29 toxic molds with links to information about each type.
Recent studies have shown that house dust around America carries not only the completely freaky looking dust mites illustrated above, but also contain numerous pollutants, many of which are highly toxic.
Pollutants found in house dust include lead, cadmium, chromium, mercury, arsenic, other toxic metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dichlorio diphenyl trichloroethane (DDT), phthalates, fire retardants, and other persistent pesticides. House dust is a major pathway for children and adults for the flame retardants polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDE’s). House dusts also contain pollutants that come from window cleaners, laundry detergents, spot removers, plastics, electronics and carpeting. Concentrations of these pollutants may exceed US EPA health based standards.
Source: Ott, Wayne, Anne C. Steinemann, & Lance A. Wallace. 2007. Exposure Analysis. CRC Press, LLC.
This extremely comprehensive study of house dust, published in 2005,
Sick of Dust (pdf) says in its executive summary,
This study shows that the US federal regulatory system has failed in protecting people from exposure to hazardous chemicals including toxic flame retardants, pesticides, and hormone disrupting chemicals. Exposure to these chemicals is unnecessary and avoidable. Europe is overhauling chemical legislation to protect public health and promote the production of safer chemicals and products. Some US states across the country are working to pass protective legislation for safer alternatives.
Progressive companies such as Dell, IKEA, Herman Miller and Shaw Carpets have achieved
success in finding safer chemicals for their product lines. But to date, the U.S. federal government
has taken little action and the majority of US companies have no policies in place to favor safer chemicals and production methods.
This report documents the presence of hazardous chemicals in household dust, the health risks associated with the chemicals and the products they are found in. The report also ranks brand name companies and retailers on their use of hazardous chemicals and reveals the fundamental changes that are needed to bring American chemical regulation up to a level that will protect our basic health and that of future generations.
Findings from the study showed that household dust samples contained substances from these six types of chemicals:
• Phthalates are used primarily as plasticizers in flexible polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic (commonly known as vinyl), which accounts for 80-90 percent of the world plasticizer consumption. Phthalates are
also used in nail polishes, hair sprays, and as solvents and perfume fixatives in various other products, as well as in the enteric coatings of some medications.
• Alkylphenols are mainly used to make alkylphenol ethoxylates found in household and industrial cleaners, paints, textile and leather treatments, pulp and paper processing, and agricultural chemicals.
• Pesticides are directly released, indoors and outdoors, to get rid of insects, weeds and molds. They are also incorporated into soaps and household cleaning products, paints, wall papers, etc. They are also applied to carpets, textiles, and other products prior to sale.
• Polybrominated diphenyl ethers are used as flame retardants primarily in plastics, especially polyurethane foam and high impact polystyrene, but also in paints, textiles and electronics.
• Organotins are used as additives for polyvinyl chloride (PVC); as stabilizers in PVC pips, as catalysts in the production of rigid polyurethanes and silicones; as fungicides and miticides in agriculture; and as preservatives/antifoulants on wood surfaces, in closed-circuit cooling towers and in marine paints. Additives for PVC account for about 70 percent of organotin use.
• Perfluorinated surfactants: Perfluorooctanyl sulfate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) are used in floor polishes, photographic film, denture cleaners, shampoos, herbicides, insecticides, and adhesives in a wide range of products, as well as for surface treatment for clothing, carpets and cookware. PFOA is the best-known of the PFCs, because it is used to make Teflon, Goretex, and other oil-, water-, and stain resistant materials used in many common items. (pp. 9-10)
Many of these chemicals are toxic, because they act as endocrine or hormone disruptors. Others are associated with respiratory diseases, suppressed or hyperactive immune systems, or cause problems with human cardiovascular and nervous systems. Others are carcinogenic or cause developmental problems. (p.8)
The chemicals found in the dust come not only from contaminants outside that we, our pets and the wind bring indoors, but from ordinary consumer products we bring into our homes such as vinyl flooring, foam cushions, pest control products, fire retardant fabrics, furniture adhesives and coatings, and cookware. As we now know, we also are introducing lead into our homes when we introduce lead contaminated products produced in China.
To clean surface dust from the home that likely contains molds and/or toxic substances the use of regular conventional vacuums and feather dusters is not effective or wise. Conventional vacuums pick up particles, but spew fine dust and mold spores out the exhaust side. Sweeping and “dusting” only moves mold and fine dust particles from the floor and objects into the air. Instead, consider investing in a good quality HEPA (High Efficiency Particle Arrestor) vacuum, which has the filtration system to pick up and hold mold spores and other extremely small and fine dusts.
I recommend either the Nilfisk or Miele brands. They are expensive, but they work.
Here is a site that sells them, plus other cleaning products for the allergy sensitive.
For areas or objects that you would normally clean with a feather duster or cloth, I instead recommend using a soft paint brush and brush the dust directly into the vacuum hose held a few inches away.
There are mold spores and other parts all around us all the time. The thing that is required for the mold to grow is a food source (just about anything organic, but especially cellulose based materials) and moisture, at least 68% RH (relative humidity). So the first step to take when dealing with mold is to get rid of the moisture from which it thrives. If you have had a flood, leak, burst pipe, drippy faucet, first remove the source of the water. Then isolate the problem area by closing it off or containing it with plastic sheeting. You don’t want those spores to move around and infect other areas. Then set about reducing ambient humidity with a dehumidifier. Objects can also be brought outside to dry out and be ventilated if it is sunny. Ventillation is important to control mold, but you want to be sure not to blow the spores into unifected areas.
Before dealing with any mold outbreak, especially if you have respiratory sensitivities, it is wise to defend yourself with personal protective gear, including: NIOSH approved N-95 face mask or even better, a particulate filter respirator. You’re able to find protective masks and the N95 Mask, as well as other protective equipment on the many different approved medical supply vendors, whether online or physical stores. Long gloves – neoprene, nitrile, polyurethane; and eye-protecting goggles are all suggested too. Rubber boots and a hazmat type suit would be recommended for a flood sized mold infestation.
See this link for more: Mold clean up guidelines
For the small mold outbreaks that one typically finds in the vegetable bin of the fridge or around kitchen sinks, laundry rooms or bathrooms, use a solution of soapy water to remove the mold and one cup of chlorine bleach to one gallon of water to disinfect/kill the spores and then dry the area completely. For materials that cannot tolerate bleach, such as sensitive fabrics, use instead isopropyl alcohol in a spray bottle.
If you have a serious mold infestation of the type that happened after Hurricane Katrina or if you have a major roof leak or plumbing disaster and the mold is extensive and very dark in color I would recommend having the mold tested, either through a do it your self kit or by a professional before exposing yourself or others to it. The dangerous molds needs to be treated as a hazardous material cleanup and require extra precautions that would best be handled by pros.