Updated 3 sections on June 17, 2016
A person with susceptibility to biotoxins (toxins produced by some animals and plants including mold) does not have to be exposed to large amounts of toxins (relatively speaking) to become very sick. In the case of mold, we’re talking about the toxic coating on mold spores. These spores are released into the environment by active mold growth. The purpose of the coating (mycotoxins) is to kill off competing molds and bacteria that would otherwise consume a given food source.
Based upon the work of Dr. Moeller, it only takes about 6,000 molecules of some biotoxins to make people sick. This is an extremely small number. That’s less than 0.00000000000000000001 grams of biotoxins! Given that it’s not uncommon for one square inch of actively growing mold to have one million or more spores, clearly people with susceptibility to biotoxins need to be in relatively biotoxin free environments. The fact that biotoxins are very poorly cleared by susceptible people means that even relatively small exposure levels over an extended period of time results in an inflammatory response that then becomes the basis for a perpetual cascade of debilitating health effects. In the case of biotoxin illness, the dose does NOT make the poison.
Mold spores are everywhere. This is totally normal and essential for life. Without mold breaking down dead material, the planet would quickly become swamped in debris.
Spores produced by active mold growth are the seeds sent out into the environment to ensure the propagation of the species. These spores can remain dormant for months and even years waiting for the right conditions. In all cases, this means the presence of water and a food source. Once the humidity gets above roughly 45%, mold of one type or another begins to grow. A wide range of moisture levels combined with the fact that there are molds that can eat everything from dead leaves to airplane fuel means mold is everywhere.
In general, mold is benign. There are only a handful of molds that are particularly problematic and this only happens when they’re in enclosed spaces like buildings. In other words, the stachybotrys and other molds floating around outside are not in the same concentrations or nearly as virulent as their indoor counterparts. This is evidenced by work of Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker wherein people who have gotten better from mold illness remain healthy so long as they stay out of moldy buildings – outdoor exposure does not impact their health. See “SAIIE meets ERMI: Correlation of Indices of Human Health and Building Health” by Dr. Shoemaker.
To ensure a healthy living space, your best line of defense is to prevent water leaks and to keep the humidity under 45%. Once moisture levels get too high, mold can begin to grow within 48 hours. Given that mold spores are extremely light and readily float around everywhere, means that once mold begins to grow, the spores will soon be everywhere. They are spread through out the building by the heating and air conditioning ductwork and are pulled into the walls and other internal spaces by natural convection currents and wind pressures. These more potent mold spores can be very problematic for people that are particularly sensitive. With enough time, it can become impossible to remediate a building for some people without completely gutting the building.
Killing Mold – Bleach vs. Hydrogen Peroxide
Before you begin any mold remediation, you need to protect yourself. This includes wearing a full-face respirator, disposable Tyvek coveralls, and taping your suit to your rubber gloves. Mold toxins can get into your body through skin, by breathing, and by ingesting moldy foods. It doesn’t matter if your body can clear mold toxins or not, if you get enough of the wrong mold in your body, it will take up residence and start tearing you apart.
As noted, mold is incredibly small and light in weight. If you take a rag damped with diluted bleach to an active area of mold growth, you run the risk of encouraging even more mold to grow. This happens for several reasons. To begin, the bleach will only knock down the active mold on the surface of the material. If the material that the mold is growing on is at all porous, water will be absorbed into the material while the bleach remains on the surface. Furthermore, the mold will launch it’s spores into the air in response to being disturbed in an effort to ensure it’s survival.
The absorbed water brings to life to all the mold spores that you simply spread around and into the material along with those launched into the air. I don’t care how careful you wipe; there will be a lot of viable mold spores left behind with this approach. Since the food source is still present, and you just provided a drink of water, the mold will come back with a vengeance.
Nonetheless, if the surface is smooth and hard, you can be relatively successful in knocking out mold with diluted bleach. This doesn’t negate the fact that bleach is toxic and if you’re already sick, then chances are working with chemicals isn’t going to help. Not to mention the VOCs created as discussed in 3 Reasons to Avoid Chlorine Bleach. The bottom line is that bleach should not be used for mold.
Instead, use hydrogen peroxide. Begin by lightly spraying the affected area with 3% hydrogen peroxide (HO) – the kind available at any grocery and drug store. Hydrogen peroxide is safe to use and doesn’t pollute the environment. Unlike bleach, HO will penetrate into porous materials. Let the HO sit in contact with the mold for at least 10 minutes. Just make sure to not over apply the HO and wipe it up well as it is mostly water too.
It doesn’t take much HO; just enough to get a liquid sheen on the surface. For larger areas, you may want to purchase a Fogmaster jr 5330. It does a great job at dispersing the hydrogen peroxide in a mist so you get good coverage without having to over apply the liquid. The reservoir conveniently holds a standard quart size bottle. Charles Boday recommends adding a squirt of dishwashing soap to the HO. The slightly soapy solution will spread and penetrate better into the porous material. In ten minutes, much of the mold will be dead. Of course, test on a small area as hydrogen peroxide can “bleach” the color lighter.
Update June 17, 2016
The distinction needs to be made between cleaning up household items and living spaces versus remediating moldy building materials. In the case of household items along with walls, floors, and ceilings in a home that has been remediated and now needs to be cleaned, the surfaces need to be carefully wiped with a cleaning solution. In the case of remediated framing lumber, see the section below on thwarting regrowth.
When it comes to cleaning solutions, I like to mix up QUAT in a bucket of water. Alternatively, Gregg Weatherman recommends diluting isopropyl alcohol. A typical bottle of isopropyl alcohol from the local drugstore is 70%. If you mix this with 7 parts of water, you get roughly 10% alcohol.
During cleaning, it’s important to not cross-contaminate you bucket of cleaning solution. Use a bunch of clean microfiber cloths, dip one cloth in your cleaning solution, wring it out well, and wipe the surfaces in many directions. Refold the cloth often using different sides. Change cloths frequently. Used cloths can be washed in Borax soap.
Never dip a used cloth in your cleaning solution. This will contaminate your solution. Follow up wet-wiping with a dry-wiping using a clean, dry cloth. When we cleaned our home, we ran used cloths through the washer and then re-used them in a continuous process.
Throw It Away
Even though you kill the mold, the myctoxins coating the remaining dead mold particles can still make susceptible people very sick. If too many dead pieces of mold remain, the space or item may be unsafe even though the mold is dead. For material that can’t be thrown away such as structural framing, personally I’d consider using a HEPA vacuum on the moldy surfaces that have been treated with hydrogen peroxide and allowed to dry before proceeding with bleaching and applying borate. The idea is that you want to vacuum up as many mold pieces from the framing members as you can before disturbing them with additional treatment steps.
However, for anything other than non-porous items that can be cleaned and framing members that cannot be easily replaced, it’s best to carefully remove and discard the all materials that have any degree of visible mold on them. This includes drywall, ceiling tiles, insulation exposed to mold, all carpeting, wood, and other porous materials including furniture, bedding, papers, books, and the like. Items like insulation, carpeting, ceiling tiles and the like act as mold reservoirs and need to be thrown out even if there is no visible mold on them. Basically, everything that isn’t structural to the building. The more you can remove, the lower the risk. The exception is clothing that for the most part can be run through a washer and dryer to remove the mold.
If you decide to try to clean any other porous material other than clothing by vacuuming until your fingers are blue, steam cleaning, ozonating, and placing the objects out in the sun, you run the very real risk of re-contaminating your home after it’s been cleaned up. I’m not say it can’t be done. It depends on your ability to clear toxins, the degree of contamination, and how much cleaning you perform on the object. I have talked with mold experts who relayed stories of wealthy individuals that paid to have their expensive furniture cleaned multiple times by professionals to no avail.
My advice would be to put the porous materials out in a clean and dry garage. Try to clean up each item one at a time. You’ll need to keep the cleaned material segregated from the mold items by covering with a tarp. Do not go in and out of the house via the garage, as you’ll track mold into your newly cleaned home. After you think an item like a couch has been cleaned, you could run an ERMI test on it or simply sit/lay on the item out in the garage. Of course you’re putting your health at risk doing this and you have to be a sort of expert at reading your own body to tell if you’re getting a reaction from mold or something else like what you ate for lunch.
Actually, the more I think about it, what we went through to save our couch, it wasn’t worth it. We vacuumed it with a HEPA vacuum, we cleaned it with a steam cleaner we rented, we ozonated it with our ozone cannon, we let it sit outside in the sun for several days and then repeated all these steps a second time. It was nuts. After it was all said and done, the follow-up ERMI test we performed on the couch was dramatically better but still questionable. My advice is to put these types of items into a storage locker away from your home, clean up your home, get your health back, and only then think about whether you want to try to save your furniture and other porous items. Only change is constant. Do you really want to get sick again?
If wood structure has been stained and removal isn’t possible, you may want to remove the discoloration. This is especially true for resale value. In this case, bleach has to be used. Charles Boday recommends using the more concentrated forms labeled “ultra” or “outdoor” and spraying it on directly from the bottle – without diluting. Watch for any signs of burning on your skin. If you get bleach on your skin, rinse with water and apply a little vinegar to neutralize the bleach. Be careful, as toxic fumes will be released when the bleach is applied so make sure to ventilate the area extremely well.
Update June 17, 2016
When it comes to dealing with wood structure that can’t be replaced and where soda blasting, sanding, or some other method can’t remove deeply embedded mold, then the use of hydrogen peroxide (HO) to kill the deeply embedded mold roots followed by Timbor, “encapsulation” with latex paint, or whitewashing may make sense. The use of Timbor or a lime whitewash is good insurance if there is a risk that materials may be re-exposed to higher moisture conditions as they will inhibit re-growth.
Having said this, the main focus should be on drying out materials and ensuring moisture issues have been addressed. Personally, if I had structure that couldn’t be thoroughly cleaned, I would either “encapsulate” these surfaces with a couple of coats of good quality latex paint or “whitewash” the surfaces like they do in barns.
For example, we whitewashed the wood studs in our basement walls during remediation. The studs did not have embedded mold but I wanted the extra insurance. I knew lime would inhibit re-growth and liked the fact that its an age-old recipe. Lime is antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral. For whitewashing, mix 2 cups of salt and 6-8 cups of hydrated lime in a gallon of water. The solution can be sprayed onto the framing with a pump sprayer.
The salt helps the whitewash stick to the wood. A large 40-pound bag of hydrated lime can be purchased at some big-box hardware stores. At 8 cups per gallon of water, the nozzle starts to plug up to the extent that you have to frequently bang the spray wand against the framing to keep the liquid flowing. It’s a bit of nuisance but I like the stronger mix. Important: You can get burns from lime. Wear protective clothing and a mask.
When mold is deeply embedded in wood structure and can’t be removed then the use of a borate solution like Timbor or hydrogen peroxide to kill the still viable, deeply embedded mold roots may make sense. Neither leavse behind signs of the re-mediation like painting or whitewashing the surfaces. Timbor will also thwart re-growth.
When it comes to a borate solution, you can mix up your own solution as Charles Boday describes, or just buy Timbor. Mix Timbor with distilled water or hot tap water and add a small amount of dish soap. The material should be soaked with the Timbor solution and allowed to dry.
Essentially, you have to mix and match wood treatments based upon your situation. If you want to kill mold roots then use hydrogen peroxide or Timbor. In places where mold is deeply embedded and you don’t want to leave behind signs of remediation, you may want to use Timbor as it dries clear. On lumber that will be covered over, latex paint or whitewashing may make sense. I’d use whitewash in areas where there may be intermittent higher humidity. I’d use latex paint elsewhere. For examples, I’d whitewash basement wall studs, and paint attic framing.
The second to last step is to ozonate the cleaned area. I purchase an ozone cannon from Mr. Boday. The guy is serious about mold remediation and knows first hand how bad for your health mold can be. From my research, his machines are far superior with a heavy electric blower motor and serious ozone generating plates housed inside a rugged box. Being a former residential contractor, I really appreciate the power and durability. Note: I like ozone for the extra protection but it’s not absolutely necessary if the place is properly wiped clean and either air-washed or fogged.
I set the machine outside so it had an infinite supply of oxygen rich air to convert to ozone and then tied the ozone supply pipe into my ductwork. You don’t want the machine inside the space you’re treating, as it will use up the available oxygen to make ozone and then start making noxious by-products when there isn’t enough oxygen left in the space. By running the supply pipe into an access hole I cut into my return ductwork and removing the furnace filter, I was able to disperse the ozone through out my entire house by simply running the furnace fan only. Of course, you need to keep plants, animals, and people out of the building. Call me crazy, but I let it run for 24 hours before opening all the windows and doors to air out the building.
By the way, if you’re like I was, I used to think ozone was “bad”. After all, weather forecasters are always talking about ozone in relation to air pollution. In fact, ozone is what the planet uses to clean up the air. Since it’s too difficult to measure actual pollutants in the air, they measure ozone levels instead as they know when the weather is making a lot of ozone it is in an attempt to clean the air. Likewise, ozone is produced at waterfalls and during lighting storms and that’s why the air smells so fresh near a falls or after a storm. I could go on, but if you use ozone correctly, it can be very helpful. Of course, you can always hurt yourself with anything. All I’m saying is you’re going to need an open mind to get better; otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this site.
Although I’m not totally convinced that ozone neutralizes all the mycotoxins remaining after all other cleaning is preformed, there was enough evidence to merit using it. For example, I found some PubMed articles that talked about the use of ozone to neutralize mycotoxins. This along with discussions with Mr. Boday convinced me it was worth a try. You can read more about ozone in my Clean Driving Machine article.
In addition to ozonating our entire house, we also applied ozone directly to the carpeting and furniture using regular vacuum tools attached to the ozone supply house. You need to wear full protection while doing this. Before and after ERMI testing showed a marked reduction in mold counts although I don’t know if this was from the ozone, vacuuming, exposure to sun, or some combination of these three.
Fogging & Air-Washing
Update June 17, 2016
The biotoxins left behind by mold are super small. Ozone isn’t going to knock them all out. The last step is to remove these super small toxins by either flushing your house with massive amounts of clean, outside air, or by using the fogging method developed by Gregg Weatherman. This step can not be skipped.
If you decide to fog, the SurvivingRemediation.com Video Series by Gregg Weatherman is a good place to start. If you decide to “air-wash”, you have to use large 2,000 cfm fans along with numerous box fans. Eventually, I’ll do a full article on air-washing and fogging. For now, you have the fogging videos and I’ll briefly touch on air-washing.
When it comes to air-washing, portions of the house are flushed with outside air in a step-wise fashion. You want to make sure to exhaust dirty air out the leeward side of the house while opening windows for fresh air on the side where the breeze is coming from. Make sure that the exhaust air pipe is sealed in the window opening. With a large blower, the entire house is going to be under negative pressure. The key is that you do not want to be drawing dirty air back in.
You really have to mix up the air a lot and for several hours in each area. Gregg Weatherman has done some nice videos showing how little turbulence there is even when a large blower is used. By placing numerous inexpensive box fans in the rooms being flushed, otherwise stagnant air in corners, along the ceiling, and elsewhere gets mixed in with the jet stream. This jet stream runs from the open, fresh air window(s) over to the blower. Without additional fans, most of the air in the rooms will not be removed. Given this, you want a lot of turbulent mixing.
Sunlight Neutralizes Toxins
Related to sunlight, not long ago, every housewife knew the importance of “airing” out bedding and furniture. In fact, sunlight destroys mycotoxins. Exposure to sunlight may in part explain why mold counts can be high outside and yet moldy people don’t get sick from being outdoors as the mycotoxins coating mold spores have been rendered inactive.
The Journal of Applied Poultry Research published the article, “Aflatoxin Decontamination of Artificially Contaminated Feeds by Sunlight, Y-Radiation, and Microwave Heating” where the authors wrote, …The photodegradation of aflatoxins (a type of mycotoxin) was found to increase with increased duration of exposure time (Table 1). Greater degrees of aflatoxin degradation were observed with increasing the length (time) of exposure to solar radiation. The calculated percentages of AFB1 and total aflatoxin degradation when exposed to sunlight are presented in Table 2. More than 60% of the aflatoxin was found to be degraded after 30 hours of exposure to sunlight…
More Details To Follow
Well that’s enough for today. Hopefully tomorrow I can write about detailed procedures as we’ve just learned that a friend’s house has a major mold issue in the attic. This was a result of an ill-fitting attic access panel right next to a bathroom. In winter, the warm damp air from the bathroom seeped past the access panel and condensed on the underside of the cold roof OSB. There is quite a bit of black mold to deal with. I’m guessing it’s aspergillus/penicillium.
In addition, the crawlspace of this house has an ejector pit wherein waste from a basement toilet is ground up and pumped to a higher level where it can gravity flow into the sewer system. There is a missing grommet around one of the electrical wires. When I inspected this space, I started getting “loopy” in about 15 minutes. Loopy for me means toxins are present. Oh well, stay tuned and I’ll get my step-by-step notes on how to clean up this mess posted.