This post is definitely late for me, but after I read the excellent article published on SinusitisWellness.com as a tribute to Dr. Jack Thrasher and his most recent paper with Dr. Dennis, I just had to go ahead and write this. (The paper is entitled, “Surgical and Medical Management of Sinus Mucosal and Systemic Mycotoxicosis.” The synopsis and explanation is excellent on SinusitisWellness.com, so I won’t go into that here. (Click through with the link to read more.) I want to always provide you guys with the whole story when it comes to mold, so that is where this post comes in. Sadly, Dr. Jack Thrasher passed away at the beginning of the year, so this will have to serve as my small acknowledgement of his work and his insights into the worlds of toxicology, immunotoxicology and teratology (the study of abnormalities of physiological development and what causes those abnormalities). We all benefit from his accomplishments and the safety implications and policies that resulted.
First, if you are not familiar with Dr. Thrasher, I want to give you a brief rundown of who he was, what he believed, in terms of environmental illness and toxicology, and some of the formidable work he accomplished in his lifetime. I had the privilege to have his insights and professional opinion during our mold ordeal, so I really hope I can convey what a true pioneer he was in my writing.
Dr. Thrasher started his career in California in the 1960s. When asked, he would tell the story that his first foray into toxicology came when he was using a popular nasal spray to relieve his nasal congestion. Always one to examine the details, he turned the spray bottle over to the ingredients list and found, to his dismay, that the spray contained mercury. He knew mercury was toxic to humans, so he started questioning why we were being exposed to that sort of poison in medications and otherwise. In short, why would something created to heal, contain an ingredient that could also poison? This was a dichotomy that he would never be able to ignore again. Hence, he heeded his calling and began his career.
In 1988, he became interested in a group of people living in mobile homes that were all chronically ill. Many of them were elderly or immunocompromised in some way, so their being sick wasn’t really taken very seriously by most doctors. Dr. Thrasher wanted to look closer to figure out what was causing their sickness. He began investigating their homes. What he found was that the materials used to build the mobile homes contained formaldehyde. Their homes were making them sick. Once they got out of the poisonous environments, they could get well. A novel concept at the time, but one that would lead Dr. Thrasher into the bulk of his work that centered around indoor environments and the contaminants present that could cause sickness. Today, formaldehyde is recognized as a known carcinogen with regulations on the amounts allowed to be utilized in building; however, there is more work to do here.
This led Dr. Thrasher to his extensive work investigating, “Water-Damaged Building Syndrome.” He and his partner, Sandra Crawley, actually published a well-known and highly-regarded paper, entitled, The biocontaminants and complexity of damp indoor spaces: more than what meets the eyes. Very basically, the paper presents their findings of indicator molds; Gram negative and positive bacteria; microbial particulates; mycotoxins; volatile organic compounds, both microbial (MVOCs) and non-microbial (VOCs); proteins; galactomannans; 1-3-β-D-glucans (glucans); and ipopolysaccharides (LPS — endotoxins) in high concentrations throughout water-damaged indoor environments. The paper discusses the dire health implications of all of these particulates in a building or indoor environment, where humans are working or reside. He shows how the bacteria and molds are equally infectious and work together to cause significant and sometimes deadly (cancer) health problems. Thrasher would go on to point out the existence of protozoa also present in these wet indoor spaces, capable of causing infestation and infection—which was never indicated or tested before this paper.
Dr. Thrasher wholeheartedly believed that excessive mold was more dangerous to the human body than heavy metals or pesticides, simply because his work and testing had shown him that mold could adapt and mutate. Mycotoxic molds would affect human biology from a person’s head to their toes, interfering with protein synthesis, and suppressing the immune system, so that humans can never become resistant to them. His paper with Dr. Dennis highlighted the impact that mycotoxins can have in the sinuses and the complex diagnosis and treatment required for patients to get well.
I am merely scratching the surface here with my synopsis and description, but I want to bring you more and different information than what is everywhere on the internet about him. When I was working from afar with Dr. Thrasher and having him advocate for me and my family during our mold ordeal, I was able to send him the results of some of our air testing. He pointed out mold species and particulate counts that were of particular concern to him. When we dug deeper and investigated, we found the HVAC infestation and contamination that was causing us horrible sickness and distress. As a matter of fact, Dr. Thrasher and his passion for helping people in similar situations was unparalleled. He testified for people in countless court cases, and was able to provide the scientific proof and expertise needed for people to see and understand why homes, buildings, offices, etc., that were water-damaged and contaminated were health hazards and were, indeed, the reason why the patients were sick.
Because I had the unique honor of having Dr. Thrasher’s input in our situation, I also would like to share a little bit about what I learned from him. I think this information will help anyone looking to test or determine what about their work or living space is making them sick.
First, Dr. Thrasher always, always recommended multiple testing mechanisms for the same space. He liked dust sample testing from at least 4-5 places and ERMI (Environmental Relative Moldiness Index) testing to find out the species of mold present—he was BIG on knowing what you are dealing with, so that you could fight the battle properly. Dr. Thrasher was also a proponent of culturing surfaces, even hidden surfaces, like refrigerator coils for bacteria. For example, if everyone is getting sick in the kitchen, but the mold counts in the undisturbed air read ok, and there doesn’t seem to be moisture intrusion, start looking behind things. In this case, when he pulled out the refrigerator and tested the damp coils, he found rare and dangerous bacterial cultures. So, when the fridge was opened or closed or disturbed in anyway, a poof of bacteria and particulates was flying around, making folks sick. There’s your answer. Always dig deeper was his motto. He wasn’t a huge fan of just air testing, because it really has no bearing on your actual indoor space when you are comparing indoor counts to outdoor counts. (Here is a LINK to my post air testing, if you want to go deeper. Here is another LINK for using EC3 Mold Test Plates for surface testing and TAP testing.) If you must do air testing, Dr. Thrasher would recommend you do one test where the “still” air is tested, and then one test where the air is disturbed with a fan or burst of air. The disturbance causes the smallest particulates that no one is looking at to come to light. He taught me that mycotoxins are associated with the tiniest of particulates. These are the particulates that enter the body easiest by inhalation or ingestion and can get into the bloodstream, or breach the blood-brain barrier through the sinus. This is of great concern and is often totally overlooked with indoor air quality testing.
Second, Dr. Thrasher cautioned the “mold folks” to never downplay or discount the existence of Aspergillus, or Penicillium, even in small amounts, when they pop up on mold testing cultures. (We actually had elevated levels of Penicillium in our bedroom when we tested during our ordeal.) In Thrasher’s studies, Aspergillus had proved to cause illness in humans, even those not susceptible to mold illness or those who were immunocompromised. Aspergillus also is one of the only molds to produce a Gleotoxin that is proven to cause cancer. Penicillium indicates indoor moisture, produces mycotoxins and is even thought to be carcinogenic. So, just because you don’t have Stachybotrys, or what is called “black mold,” you are not in the clear, if you do have some of these other molds.
Third, VOCs, both man-made, like perfumes and solvents, and microbial, are extremely irritating to the respiratory system and should be avoided, especially in indoor environments. Also, if you are living or working in a water-damaged space, you are in a literal soup of contaminates already. VOCs can magnify their deleterious effects and make everything all the more toxic.
Fourth, remediation techniques that Dr. Thrasher liked always, always involved investigating and examining the WHOLE home or building to find and stop moisture intrusion first. If moisture cannot be stopped, then the house or building must be demoed or vacated. It cannot be fixed or remediated. If the moisture issues can be fixed, remediation that does NOT involve any toxic chemicals can be performed. According to Dr. Thrasher, if the environment is already toxic, why in the world would you treat it with toxic chemicals? He did not like heat curing or pasteurization methods of remediating mold. He liked physical removal, like cutting out drywall and damaged wood, and then using boric acid to kill and clean the mold. He also liked the EC3 products by MicroBalance to maintain a healthy environment.
Finally, to close, I really want to give Dr. Thrasher the last word of sorts. He would say that our knowledge of indoor environments and our understanding of them changes daily. He would tell you to read everything that you can get your hands on—read all of the papers, studies and scientific literature. You need to know what you are dealing with. We cannot deny that “sick homes and buildings” exist anymore. Get involved and make your own decisions, so that you can safeguard yourself and your health.
That’s all for today! I hope you will read more and explore Dr. Thrasher’s site on your own as well.