Sometimes, It’s The Things You CANNOT See That Matter The Most to Your Health
You may have read the title and freaked out a little. Mold micro-particulates? Are you kidding? Something else to worry about when it comes to my home and my health?!!!!
Believe me, I get it. If you are already having to deal with mold in your home and with trying to either get your mind around the task of remediating it yourself, or getting your finances set up to have it professionally remediated, the absolute last thing you want to have to worry about is a tinier form of contaminant that you must take into consideration. You are probably wondering, “Will it ever end?”
Well, I am here to tell you that the existence of micro-particulates as they relate to molds and bio-contaminants are not something to be afraid of, but, rather, something that you NEED to properly understand. This is, because, if you understand micro-particulates, aka the mold that you cannot see, you will be looking at your home and what is ailing it through the lens of a toxicologist, fully aware of the mechanisms that all of the many microscopic organisms also living in your home employ to hide, disperse, and stay alive, so that they can again flourish and multiply. With this new perspective your mold remediation attempts will be made much more successful, because you will not be ignoring these highly-allergenic and inflammatory hangers-on that are often missed and keep mold sufferers sick and reacting, even when the source of the mold has been removed.
Ok, so let’s get started by first defining exactly what micro-particulates are and how they differ from what we understand about your average mold spore and properly cleaning up a “sick” or water-damaged home.
Micro or “Nano”-particulates 101
According to a study done by the late toxicologist Jack Thrasher, entitled “Fungi, Bacteria, Nano-particulates, Mycotoxins and Human Health in Water-Damaged Indoor Environments,” (which I HIGHLY recommend that you read) the following can be said about all particulates created from molds found in water-damaged or “sick” indoor environments:
“Particulates shed from molds include spores, fragments of mycelia and some nano-particulates. Of the mold particulates the greatest concern is the micro-particulates at or less than 0.3 microns shed from mold colonies. Field studies of water-damaged homes have shown concentrations of micro-particulates in indoor dust that are at least 1000 times or greater than the indoor air mold spore counts. These particulates contain 1, 3-beta glucans, a variety of fungal proteins that include substrate enzymes as well as mycotoxins.”
To further explain, these particles are shed from the molds, and are obviously much, much smaller, particles usually around .1 microns in size to be exact. These are also the particulates most often floating around that contaminate and permeate furniture, clothing, textiles, etc., and that create the very distinct and telltale odors of some molds. In addition, these “shed” fungal particulates are also the most virulent, because they are responsible for redistributing the mold when endangered or disturbed, so that it can proliferate and live on. I hope that makes sense.
An example of something like a micro-particulate encountered in daily life would include pollen, flour, and powdered sugar. The individual grains would be too small, in most cases, to see with the naked eye. These particles are much, much smaller than most mold spores. Most mold spores range from 3-100 microns in size, but some can be as small as 1 micron. So, for comparison’s sake, think in terms of salt and sugar (mold spores) vs. flour or powdered sugar (micro-particulates) for both size and weight visuals, when considering the two and how both differ and behave when made airborne and then are allowed to resettle to the floor or other flat surfaces. In other words, mold spores, while very small, are still heavier, larger, and fall rather quickly, making it easier to clean them up and easier to catch and remove from the air with equipment, like air scrubbers, HEPA filters, and HEPA vacuums. Conversely, micro-particulates are SO small that they often remain suspended in the air after mold cleanup is done. This is because, their lack of weight and density allows them to be pushed about by air molecules, keeping them suspended and not aptly pulled down by gravity or suction.
Since micro-particulates are bits and pieces of cell walls and by-products of mold, they are key pieces of the inflammation puzzle that many remediators miss. Unfortunately, because of this, they are easily dispersed and made airborne throughout a home via such things as the HVAC system, during demolition when mold is exposed, or during other mold clean-up processes when proper physical containment isn’t employed. The research suggests that 1000 micro-particulates might be present for each identifiable mold spore. Thus, most mirco-particulates are not able to be removed through conventional remediation methods with HEPA-vacuums, air scrubbers, or negative air machines, because they are just too small to be captured with the usual filtration equipment. (Even the highest-quality HEPA filters sometimes cannot capture particulates smaller than .1 microns).
Laboratory research also suggests that these micro-particulates may not be accounted for in most conventional lab testing done for mold (aka spore trap and gravity plate testing only), and may be responsible for why, on some occasions, a home can be “successfully” remediated, in other words, pass all clearance testing post remediation, but still cause the residents inflammation and mold-triggered symptoms for years afterwards. This has been obviously a huge source of frustration for some, because it causes mold sufferers to feel like they will NEVER be well, no matter what they do or what attempts are made to fix their environment.
For my part, and from my experience, (I am obviously no scientist), knowing of the existence of micro-particulates is the very reason why I constantly advocate for regular mold maintenance, cleaning specifically for mold, bi-weekly HEPA vacuuming, and monthly fogging. (I will get into this in more detail in a moment.) All of these activities are needed to “absorb” and take care of the micro-particulates and mold by-products that inevitably remain or are brought into a home after remediation is completed. I also firmly believe that these actions PREVENT future sickness from micro-particulates that are unavoidably brought into every home from the outside. Mold is everywhere, right?
How Do Micro-Particulates Effect Health?
First, since I am NOT a medical doctor, toxicologist, or scientist, it is important to note that The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and the Journals of American Medicine, all agree that Mold-Fine Particulate are dangerous to human health.
“…exposure to aerosolized ultrafine and fine particulates can result in translocation of these materials to the brain and elicit transient, irreversible, or progressive damage to the nervous system. Due to their unique physio-chemical properties, nano-sized materials can aerosolize during manufacturing, handling or recycling, and thus inhalation exposure is of major occupational concern.”
Even though mold in indoor environments is not stated here specifically, we do know that all three government institutions now have dedicated mold sections of their websites where that very issue is acknowledged and addressed in depth.
Research has identified 6 types of micro-particulates as powerful inflammagens—although Dr. Thrasher often documented his thoughts that there were MANY more. In other words, exposure to a relatively small number could start an inflammatory cascade in a mold-sensitive person much bigger and more magnified than the actual size or length of the exposure. An example of this would be a mold sufferer having a tremendous reoccurrence of symptoms in a clean environment from one piece of insufficiently remediated furniture from their previous, moldy home. The new home does not have mold, or show mold in testing, but is still inflammatory and contaminated according to their body, because the toxic micro-particulates can exist on that piece of furniture that their body is exposed to. The reality of cross-contamination is definitely a piece of the puzzle that I can validate, because it happened to us with a mattress recently. (You can read my post about that HERE.)
Micro-particulates can cause this tremendous inflammation cascade mostly because of their miniscule size—the main factor that allows them to remain airborne for long periods of time and readily inhaled and absorbed by the body, especially when they saturate the air in indoor environments. Micro-particulates shed by mold also contain 1, 3-beta glucans (a group of β-D-glucose polysaccharides naturally occurring in the cell walls of fungi that can aid yeast in penetrating and passing through the intestinal wall to promote Candida overgrowth and other invasive fungal infections–not to be confused with beta glucan supplements, like Beta Max, that actually promote immune function to combat fungus), mycotoxins (secondary metabolites emitted by some molds that are highly toxic and carcinogenic to both animals and humans) and a variety of antigenic proteins (the coatings, cells walls, and other toxic microscopic properties of bacteria and viruses), which makes them highly inflammatory and dangerous to a mold-sick person if left behind post remediation.
Scientifically and medically put, the study I cited earlier, states the following:
“The translocation of micro-particulates with their attached toxins occurs by two mechanisms: the nervous system and the surfactants of the alveoli. The micro-particulates enter the surfactants of the lungs and are then transported across the alveolar cell membranes and enter the systemic circulation. In the alveoli they are taken up by alveolar macrophages and alveolar Type I cells. They cause the generation of reactive oxygen species and nitrogen species, release of proinflammatory cytokines and cause injury to nuclear DNA. Morphological changes include emphysema and granulomatous and fibrotic lesions. The other mode of transportation is via the olfactory neurons. Nano-particulates attach to the nasal mucosa and are transported up the olfactory nerve through the cribriform plate and enter the hypothalamus/pituitary axis and spread throughout the brain.”
Put in simpler terms, the micro-particulates are especially adept at entering the body during inhalation through the mouth and through the nose. When a person breathes in a confined, tight indoor environment where there is an elevated concentration of mold spores and micro-particulates replete with mycotoxins and other inflammagens, the tiny particulates pass by way of alveoli in the lungs in the bloodstream or are transported through the nasal mucous in the nose to the sinus, where they can then cross the blood-brain barrier. Once the tiny particulates and their attached mycotoxins gain systemic access to the body, many of the known symptoms of mold toxicity become glaringly apparent and problematic in susceptible people.
In the case of the lungs, inflammation most commonly expresses as asthma, breathing difficulties, respiratory infections, bronchitis, lung disease and hypersensitivity pneumonitis. With the nose and sinus transport, inflammation presents more with fungal masses or “balls” in the sinus, sinusitis, endocrine disruptive symptoms, and disorders in the hypothalamus/pituitary axis, like anxiety, depression, slowing of cognitive function, insomnia, etc. And, because we breathe through both our mouths and noses, most of us affected have all of these symptoms and then some.
What Can Be Done?
You knew I wouldn’t present all of that information and leave you without solutions, right?
Of course not! My aim is to educate and not to scare you. There is actually a LOT than can be done. The best news is that what needs to be done to safeguard against the micro-particulates, aka the mold you cannot see, is rather straightforward and simple. As a matter of fact, all of the solutions and tips I will outline for you below have been proven effective “in the field” by restoration and abatement professionals and in my own home by yours truly. In addition, one of the products I use most often and advocate for (EC3 Mold Solution) is your best bet when it comes to tackling micro-particulates.
Its glycerin base, non-toxic formula, and ability to be aerosolized with a fogger allows you to blanket the air molecules inside your home with it. The fog infiltrates, captures and brings all particulates down to the floor or other flat surfaces, where they can be quickly and effectively wiped away. I will go into more detail below.
Addressing Micro-Particulates in Your Remediation Efforts:
During an actual remediation, some more specific and methodical practices need to be employed to ensure that 1.) micro-particulates do not escape contaminated areas, 2.) cross contamination does not occur, 3.) micro-particulates are specifically addressed and cleaned for BEFORE the home is re-tested and cleared for mold.
Including the following steps as part of your mold remediation efforts will help your success and favorable outcome tremendously:
- All containment including negative pressure, air scrubbers, and barriers be put into place PRIOR to any work being done or disturbance of areas where known mold exists.
- All contained areas include outdoor access or a clear, contained path to outdoor access for the transport and disposal of demoed materials and waste.
- All people working in or accessing contained areas wear proper mold remediation protective gear as listed on the EPA website. None of that gear should EVER be worn into other areas of the home and should be removed and disposed of outside of the home.
- All furnishings be removed prior to demo and properly cleaned for mold outside of the contained area, if possible. No mold contaminated furniture, should be brought back into the home post remediation until it passes a TAP test and the affected people or persons have been exposed to it without negative reaction. (The in-person exposure is the MOST important. Even if the item passes a TAP test, if anyone is still reacting to it, it should be disposed of and not brought back into the home.)
- Any and all carpet in mold-contaminated areas should be properly pulled up (you can refer to the EPA website for guidelines on this) and disposed of. It CANNOT be effectively cleaned.
- A central HVAC system should be disabled or effectively sealed from the contaminated area PRIOR to beginning any remediation efforts or disturbance of mold.
- Fogging with a botanical, glycerin-based fungicide (EC3 Mold Solution Concentrate) should occur AFTER all other mold remediation efforts are completed in the contained area. This is regardless of whether or not fogging occurred during remediation. In other words, once the contained area has been demoed, cleaned, and fully vacuumed, BEFORE containment is removed, fans and air scrubbers should be turned off, and the entire space should be fogged. Once the fog settles, alcohol wipes should be used to wipe all surfaces in the space. The alcohol will address any residual water and viral, bacterial components that many remediation efforts do not. When this is completed, the space can undergo clearance testing and then all containment can be taken down.
Addressing Micro-Particulates in Everyday Mold Avoidance and Maintenance:
A home is a living, breathing entity, that is constantly changing and that includes many organisms trying to live in one space, hopefully synergistically. So, for any mold sufferer, it is equally important to be aware of and to address micro-particulates in your ongoing mold avoidance and maintenance efforts. Doing so will create a healthier environment, a healthier you, and an indoor space less prone to cause sickness.
Here are some actions you can take on a more ongoing basis that will put your home environment ahead-of-the-curve for mold:
- Remove your shoes before entering your home.
- Mist pets with EC3 Spray before they come back inside after being outside.
- HEPA vacuum and dust FIRST, and fog and wipe second when doing a monthly fogging regimen to keep mold counts down.
- When doing any remodel, demo, or construction work inside your home, contain the area (this obviously doesn’t need to be as stringent as mold remediation containment), so that dust and debris do not go all over your home. Clean, HEPA vacuum, fog and wipe down the area before removing any containment.
- Control indoor moisture and keep it below 50% humidity. Without the humidity, micro-particles cannot thrive. Don’t let them find moisture to settle into.
- Fog and wipe down (preferably with alcohol wipes or hydrogen peroxide wipes) reachable surfaces in your home once a month. This prevents any particulate build-up and addresses hidden bacteria and viruses as well without harsh chemicals.
- Do not bring potentially contaminated items into your home until they have been thoroughly cleaned for mold and cause you zero reaction. Even if there is no visible mold, an item can quickly cross-contaminate your home. It is not worth the risk or sickness to bring it in before cleaning it.