In our previous article titled Should You Only Test for Mold in Wet Buildings? Our South Florida mold inspector discussed the importance of considering contaminates other than spores.
In this article we will look at some specific contaminates that should be considered.
Here is a brief discussion of some often ignored pollutants that commonly appear side by side with mold or even with simple prolonged water intrusion incidents in buildings:
Microbial Volatile Organic Compounds or MVOC’s
1) Microbial volatile organic compounds are a serious concern that deserves more recognition as a causative agent in building related illness complaints. Allergens released by mold get all the attention now, but they are not volatile, this means that they typically stay in the molds spores and fibers. If your mold is trapped in a wall you will not be exposed to spores or allergens thus you will not have an allergic reaction to spore based allergens. Volatile organic compounds on the other hand are as the name implies – quite volatile, that is to say they evaporate quickly into the air at room temperature. One all too familiar volatile organic compound released by a type of fungus is alcohol. Ever drink alcohol? This fungal produced volatile compound makes you feels good at first, but over time it can have some negative effects.
Formaldehyde is another volatile, and it is not all that different than some produced by mold.
Many people living in FEMA trailers can tell you that it is not pleasant to breath in this volatile organic compound. When you walk into a moldy home, or turn on a moldy AC unit, it is volatile organic compounds from mold that you are smelling. It is a fact that these fumes can and do cause upper respiratory reactions even when spore levels are not elevated indoors. It is this author’s personal belief that these fungal fumes are to blame for very many health problems in wet buildings when spore levels are low. These fumes escaping from inside walls and AC ducts may not be perceptible to most noses, but this experienced inspector often detects even low levels of them and has seen since starting mold investigations in 2003 a direct correlation between these fumes and sickness.
Bacteria and Endotoxins
2) Bacteria and endotoxins from bacteria are not uncommon in wet buildings. As we all know, bacteria are simple one celled organisms well known for causing infection in humans. What are endotoxins you ask? Endotoxins are toxic substances found in the ridged cell walls of bacteria, though the role of endotoxins in building related illness is not fully understood these chemicals are known to be responsible for illness in humans in some instances. Injection of endotoxin into the blood streams of human volunteer’s produces fever, lowered blood pressure, and inflammation. Endotoxins from infections can also cause septic shock. Even tiny amounts of endotoxins in pharmaceuticals can cause problems so heat treatment is used to get rid of even trace levels of such substances.
Breathing in endotoxins in wet buildings likely causes some problem as well but specifically what is not well understood. Regardless breathing in bacteria and the endotoxins they contain is likely not a good thing.
Ultrafine Fungal Particles
3) A scientist named Gorny and others did a study on the release of fungal fragments from mold contaminated ceiling tile and found very tiny particles of molds such as A. versicolor, C cladosporiodes, and P.melinii. They found that particles that were 1/3 of a micron across or about 1/6 Th the size of a small spore out-numbered spores 320 to 1. When an air sample is analyzed these tiny particle are not counted by the lab. Your lab might count, or might not count larger fungal fragments like mold fibers, however these tiny particles are not counted when your mold inspector sends in samples. Ultrafine fungal particles are a concern because of the massive numbers of these particles found in the air of moldy buildings. These tiny particles in addition to being very numerous also have a large surface area relative to internal area. When these fungal fragments are added together they have a large aggregate surface area thus can convey larger exposure to allergens and toxins.
4) Beta Glucans are a fiber like component of fungal cell walls and spores. They can also be found in the tiny fungal particles discussed above. These substances are not harmful in every exposure.
For example B glucans are sometimes used in fiber supplements or sold in health food stores as immune system boosters. Bio-chemical characteristics make them able to stimulate immune system cells when used in low doses in supplements. Similar characteristics might cause them to stimulate the immune system to exhibit irritation or inflammation when breathed in during severe, uncontrolled, and undesirable, indoor exposure episodes in water damaged homes. Several laboratory studies have demonstrated this effect of beta glucan exposure but it seems that it may only effect certain sensitive people and at high concentrations.
5) Fungal toxins are a major concern for many of our clients. Personally, I do not believe that fungal toxins are likely to cause toxic reactions when breathed in based on years of personal observations inside buildings and homes contaminated with various toxic molds. As far as I can tell I have not yet seen toxic reactions to mold in any of my clients or in myself after 10 years. Of course I am not a doctor. As is true with bacterial endotoxins it is best to avoid being exposed to toxins. As is the case with all items discussed in this article we still have much to learn about indoor bio-contaminates and the body’s reactions to them.
Dust mites and other Arthropods
6) Six legged insects such as roaches and eight legged arachnids such as dust mites are not rare in water damaged buildings. Considering the fact that bugs cannot turn on sink faucets makes it clear that many of these poor defenseless creatures need our help. Many pests need leaky neglected plumbing fixtures if they want to find a simple drink of water indoors. Dust mites on the other hand do not need liquid water, all they need is moisture in the air. As we all know roaches and dust mites can release problematic levels of microscopic allergens particles into the air, however even termites are known to sometimes cause allergy.
Dust mites are known to be common in wet or humid buildings and when they breed indoors their droppings can build up to massive amounts and cause allergy problems among building occupants. Thus, if you have conditions conductive to mold growth you probably also have dust mites as well.
In conclusion, mold spores are not the only thing that can cause problems in a wet office, home, or other building. A wet indoor environment that has experienced prolonged water intrusion incidents may be a veritable cornucopia of invisible, poorly understood, and unhealthy agents working their way deep into your lungs. Because of the potential of various exposures in a water damaged building your mold consultant should not overlook the fact that many substances can cause health complaints even if spore levels are not elevated.
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