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Dust research is a lot like an archaeologist on a dig. The layers of dust can reveal the past history of a something as large as a nation or as small as your house. Through complex analysis of dust contents dust researchers have found amazing things about the ground we live on, our environmental footprint, and our health.
Despite how clear the air looks, there is literally tons of dust raining down on us daily. Much of the air we breathe is loaded with dust that comes from not just the ground around us, but travels from far away deserts. The main dust producers on Earth are the Saharan and Gobi deserts. The Saharan desert dust is able to cross the Atlantic Ocean and deposit its dust on the Caribbean islands. So much dust has been deposited that the main component of soil in the Caribbean is Saharan desert dust.
Outdoor dust in the U.S. is composed of numerous things you would not expect. Dust and pollution from Asia often blanket the west coast. Kansas soil produces tons of dust every year. Have you ever wondered where your tire tread goes as your tires wear down? It becomes dust to the tune of 25,000 tons a year, not including the 35,000 tons of brake pad that is used to stop those tires. Finally, lets not forget fungal spores and pollen. They are two of the largest components of dust, as people with asthma and allergies will attest to.
Dust can often negatively affect our health. It’s usually the super small dust that can’t be seen that affects our health. Asbestos is a microscopic dust that kills through lung and stomach diseases. Silica (quartz dust) causes silicosis. Egyptians mummies have been found suffering of silicosis from desert sand. Today, silicosis is in the U.S. is found among sandblasters, masons, and cement mixers. Coal dusts causes black lung disease. Even less known dust problems include fevers, lung disease, asthma, or death found in bakers (from flour), cotton workers, potters, wood workers, people who work with animals (including ranchers, laboratory technicians, and cat and dog owners), straw bailers, and garbage men to name a few. Is anyone safe?.
You may think that your home is a safe haven from dust, but not so. Much of the dust, including industrial dust, found in outdoor air can be found inside your home.Houses can actually build up dust levels much higher than the outside. We are building tighter and tighter homes that restrict air exchange, which can dilute dust in the air, and helps build moisture levels that lead to pest and mold growth. The chemicals we use to treat pests are often tracked inside homes on the bottom of shoes. Pesticides can linger inside a home much longer than they would outside because they are not exposed to the elements that break them down.
Holmes spends some time addressing the increasing presence of asthma and allergy in children. Tighter houses, which increases mold and pest dusts, is one possibility. Strangely, not enough dust is also a possibility because the immune system never learns to handle dust properly. It’s also possible that children don’t go outside and play enough to strengthen their bodies. Evidence for all three exists, but there is no smoking gun. This book was published in 2001 and a quick look at the research shows that not much has changed in the last 17 years. We are still not exactly sure of the reason for the increase in asthma and allergies. However, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology cases of childhood asthma decreased slightly after 2010.
Overall, The Secret Life of Dust is a fascinating microscopic look at the air around us. Full of interesting facts, this book is sure to please the non-fiction aficionado.
Mold is a four letter word that, for some people, strikes fear. Other people could seem to care less (or why else would they let it grow all over their homes). Large examples of mold are pretty easily identifiable for most people but mold can also be more difficult to find. In the photo below would you call this mold?
.I bet you would. If you were standing in this 10x15 room that was completely covered in black mold you would have also noticed several roof leaks. Looking closely, you would notice the black spots are fuzzy. Under a microscope I could see the spores. Really though, at this point it’s too late. Professional mold remediation is probably necessary. The mold problem got this severe because many early warning signs were missed.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Preventing mold, for the most part, is fairly simple. There are a few main things to look for.
All molds are part of the Fungi Kingdom. If you remember back to high school biology there are five Kingdoms (some would say six) which biologists use to help classify all living things. Fungi have their own kingdom because they are not like plants, animals, or other single celled organisms. Fungi include molds, but also include the mushrooms we eat.
Molds cause two main problems in homes. First, they can destroy wood and cause structural damage. Molds don’t eat like we do. They send out digestive enzymes and actually digest their food outside of their bodies before taking in the nutrients. Molds growing in your home are digesting wood, or some other cellulose material like paper. They could also be digesting the dust lying around waiting for a water leak.
The other main problem with molds has to do with indoor air quality. Molds reproduce and spread to new areas by producing spores that are carried by the air. Nature evolved spores to be spread by the wind. Instead of wind, air from exhaust fans, furnaces, and people walking cause the air movements. As people walk around their homes they disturb molds causing them to release spores into the air. It is these air movements that cause molds to release spores into the air in homes. When people breathe in these spores a whole range of health problems can result. The CDC’s Facts about Mold and Dampness lists coughing, wheezing, nasal congestion, asthma aggravation, and possible infections in immunocompromised individuals.
How do we prevent mold from growing?
It is actually cheaper and easier to prevent mold than to have professional mold remediation. First, look for moisture. All molds must have a source of moisture to survive. The biggest dangers come from leaks. Roofs, basements, and plumbing can all regularly leak giving mold a constant source of moisture. These large leaks can produce the type of ‘larger’ molds seen in the picture above. Don’t let leaks go.
There is another source of moisture that most people do not think about. Humidity. Some molds can use the humidity in the air as their supply of moisture. These molds tend to be found in basements and vents and do not look like the photo above. We usually refer to these molds as mildew. Mildew is a mold that only grows on the surface of things like wood furniture and bathroom wall tile. Humidity is easily lowered through the use of a dehumidifier. RidgeLine recommends that all home owners use a dehumidifier in their basements. We recommend setting your dehumidifier on 50% and letting it run continuously. At 50% relative humidity mold does not grow well.
When looking for mold growth in your home remember that molds need a food source. Check wood framing. If you have a basement, mildew can easily grow on wood furniture and dust. Bathrooms are a great place to find mold because many people do not run their exhaust fan long enough after their shower to remove the moisture from the air. Many attics can have moisture problems which usually come from improper ventilation.
Finally, use your nose. Does it smell musty? If it smells musty then there is probably mold or mildew somewhere. Finding the source of the smell can take some effort. Pay attention to where and when you smell the musty odor and eventually you will find the source.
The mold problems you hear about in the news are extreme examples. Many of the horror examples are houses that were flooded and not dried out or were abandoned for some time. Other examples commonly involve the small percentage of people who are extremely sensitive to molds. Most people are not affected by the small number of mold spores normally in a house. All the hype about mold has led to some over worrying. If you use a dehumidifier, check for leaks, and have no musty smells or chronic health problems then your home is probably good.