Monthly Archives: April 2022

Should I Clean my HVAC Ducts?

Should I Clean my HVAC Ducts?

We all want to have clean rooms, windows, and nice fresh paint and decor.  But what about those spaces behind the walls and ceilings, like the HVAC ducts?  You would think that accumulated dust in HVAC ducts would be a major health concern.  Surprisingly….in most cases it isn’t.

There is a big discrepancy between the EPA (with whom I found knowledgeable websites such as bobvila.com and thespruce.com concur) and the NADCA (National Air Duct Cleaners Association), including all the companies they represent.  Let’s lay out the facts, people!  The EPA has posted a very informative article about whether to have your ducts cleaned, and there are only 3 scenarios where it is recommended:

  • There is substantial visible mold growth inside hard surface (e.g., sheet metal) ducts or on other components of your heating and cooling system.

  • Ducts are infested with rodents or insects.

  • Ducts are clogged with excessive amounts of debris or dust, and it’s being released into your home through the vents.

Other than these situations, chances are that the dust in your ductwork is of the normal variety and quantity, and cleaning in these cases hasn’t been proven to improve air quality.  This stands in stark contrast to advice from the NADCA, through which many companies profit by accreditation and work.  The NADCA (which on their site is now called The HVAC Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Association) used to recommend that ducts should be cleaned every 3-5 years, and this information was disseminated via all their members (accredited duct cleaners with their own companies and websites).  Now it says that frequency of cleaning depends on homeowner considering:

  • smokers in the household

  • pets that shed high amounts of hair and dander

  • water contamination or damage to the home or HVAC system

  • residents with allergies or asthma who might benefit from a reduction in the amount of indoor air pollutants in the home’s HVAC system

  • after home renovations or remodeling

  • prior to occupancy of a new home.

If your ducts land in one of the EPA’s criteria (mold, pests, excessive debris), then your decision should lie between cleaning and replacement of the system.  If your ducts don’t have these conditions, keep reading! 

  • First of all, duct cleaning isn’t cheap!  The estimate could range between $450 to $1000 (according to the EPA).  If you encounter a “coupon” that enables you to have your system cleaned for much lower price (like $50), beware, because these companies are jokingly referred to as “blow and go”, meaning they are unaccredited and often pressure or scare homeowners into adding more expensive services once they are inside. 

  • Duct cleaning should include the entire system, not just the ductwork, because if excessive dirt is found in the ducts, the air handler and evaporator will have the same issue.  The professionals you hire should have knowledge of the entire system, and it should take two professionals three to five hours to clean the entire system of an average home. Thespruce.com includes a checklist of items to be covered.

  • Cleaning ducts has its risks. Some areas of ductwork may require access holes to be cut, which need to be properly sealed after the cleaning. Cleaning flexible ducts carries the risk of puncture or tears, which exposes your air pathways to heavily-dusty areas like the attic.  Also, if portable suction equipment used does not have the proper filters or they are not clean, then dusty air can be released back into your home.  For this reason, it’s important to only hire professionals that have been accredited by the NADCA and follow their guidelines

  • Extra services offered, like biocides that kill mold or bacteria, and sealants that encapsulate debris to keep it in place, also have risks.  Biocides should only be applied to non-insulated areas, and be approved by the homeowner according to their tolerances and chemical sensitivity. Sealants have been shown in general not to be applied evenly over surfaces (leaving gaps) and may degrade over time, releasing more particles into the air. According to the EPA, “Most organizations concerned with duct cleaning, including EPA, NADCA, NAIMA, and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association (SMACNA) do not currently recommend the routine use of sealants to encapsulate contaminants in any type of duct.”

  • There are many other sources of dust than what is coming out of your HVAC system.  Most of it is coming in from the outside on clothing, pets, and mainly air leaks in the house.  If you live by a road with high traffic or a dusty gravel road, or have one or more pets, those will have much more impact on the particles you breathe in. This study also shows that 90% of the ultrafine particles in the air of 40 houses and apartments in Germany, were from cooking, baking and toasting.  These ultrafine particles are the most concerning for health because they can penetrate deep into the lungs and even the bloodstream. 

At HypoAir, we tend to advise not “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”, meaning, let’s not go overboard in recommendations to tear out the entire HVAC system, house, etc. when you find a problem!  However if you do find mold in your system, let’s go back to recommendations on the lifespan of HVAC systems in general.  The industry recommends replacing HVAC systems every 10-15 years.  If you are in a home with a system older than that, it may be more cost effective to put money budgeted for cleaning ducts toward a totally new system–and of course, starting over with new ducts is way better than cleaning old ones.

(How to tell the age of your AC: go to the outside unit and use your phone to snap a picture of the manufacturer’s plate on the backside (side facing the wall).  If it doesn’t have a legible date, there are ways to tell from the model number. )

So, if you’ve determined your HVAC is young enough to keep for a few more years, and don’t have mold/pests/excessive debris in your ductwork, it’s best to redirect your energy and budget away from duct-cleaning, to tackle the bigger sources of dust or allergens through elimination or mitigation (often you can do 2 or 3 of these for the price of duct-cleaning!).  Here are some examples (many of our blog posts cover them):

  • Invest in a good HEPA filter and/or air purifier, at least for the area(s) of the home in which you spend the most time (portable ones can cover multiple areas)

  • Make sure that the ventilation hood over your cookstove is powerful enough to remove all the vapors released (and make sure to use it regularly!)

  • Seal up air leaks around doors, windows and outlets 

  • If you live in an area with high outdoor pollution, consider adding a heat exchanger ventilation component so that you can get fresh, filtered air through your HVAC

  • If you live in a low outdoor pollution area and like to open your windows, consider adding anti-pollen screens to some or all windows to reduce dust and pollen inside. 

  • Change your furnace filter regularly with the best one you can afford (and your system is rated for). 

  • Brush and bathe your pets regularly to reduce dust in their fur.

I hope that this article helped you to consider all the options when presented with HVAC duct-cleaning.  It certainly educated me in writing it!

Are you using a humidifier? Take these precautions against bacteria, mold and fine particulates (PM2.5)

Are you using a humidifier?  Take these precautions against bacteria, mold and fine particulates (PM2.5)

We at HypoAir are big proponents of getting the humidity in your house or office to a good range (40-60%) and for those with a dry air problem, have recommended humidifiers.  We wanted to make you aware of a few problems that can occur if they are not regularly cleaned or the wrong water is used. 

As I discussed in other posts, the concentration of water vapor present in the air is called humidity.  Too little water vapor is low humidity, which can cause dryness in the respiratory system, sinuses, and ability for viruses to survive and infect for longer in the air.  Injecting the air with water vapor raises the humidity to the proper level (40-60%).  Humidifiers essentially create water vapor and eject it into the air. 

There are several types of humidifiers out there.  Consumer Reports lists four types of portable humidifiers: Cool Mist Evaporative, Cool Mist Ultrasonic, Warm Mist Humidifiers (also known as steam vaporizers), and Dual Mist.  They are all subject to microbial growth (bacteria/fungus) if they are not cleaned regularly, which can lead to serious respiratory infections like humidifier lung (only one humidifier did not emit bacteria into the air: the evaporative or wick humidifier).  If you don’t have the manufacturer’s instructions, humidifiers should be cleaned at least once a week.  Many websites will recommend a bleach solution, but there’s no good reason to release these harmful vapors in your home when there are safer options:

  • Empty out the tank and disassemble the parts that normally come apart.  To clean, here is our suggestion: 
    • Clean from microbes: Use Total Clean or Force of Nature to clean all parts of the tank and base, using a soft toothbrush to get into hard to reach places. Rinse with water.
    • Clean from scale buildup: Use 1 cup white vinegar plus 1 cup water in the tank and the base and let it soak for 20 minutes to loosen any mineral scale buildup, then scrub with the toothbrush, rinse thoroughly and let them air dry. 
    • Note: cleaning with vinegar alone does not kill all bacteria and fungus (see our post on non-toxic cleaners).   
  • With evaporative humidifiers, remove and rinse the filter/wick, and let it thoroughly air dry.  

That’s it–no mysteries here!  You have a clean humidifier, ready for use to add that satisfying mist of clean moisture to your air, right?  Well, yes, but here is the caution: despite having become very popular because of their quiet, efficient operation, ultrasonic humidifiers can transfer whatever minerals and particles are present in your water, into the air. That mist may not be just water vapor, but also calcium, magnesium, sodium, and other dissolved solids.   Normally these minerals are not harmful on their own to our bodies, but we were not meant to breathe in such particles.  In one study at the University of Alberta, operating an ultrasonic humidifier with tap water resulted in particulate matter concentration equivalent to a polluted city (!).  In the study, the humidifier was placed in an upper-story bedroom, but fine particulate matter (PM2.5) was distributed throughout the house via central air circulation. “These particles are so small that they can evade our filtration system in the upper airway and penetrate deep into our respiratory tract,” explained Chester Lau, lead author of the paper. “Upon doing so, they also send chemical species associated with them into our bodies. Using dirty or contaminated water could cause further detrimental health impacts.”

Of course, the best solution would be to use distilled water purchased from the grocery store, or filtered water from a filter that removes Total Dissolved Solids, such as ZeroWater, in ultrasonic humidifiers.  Not all water filters remove minerals and other dissolved solids, so you’ll need to be careful what type of filtered water you use.  Also, you should consider the cost of using distilled or highly filtered water in your humidifier, because it can add up.  

Here's the bottom line: humidity is great in the proper doses, just make sure that it’s not carrying bacteria, mold or fine particulates with it!

Window AC units need (Deep) Spring Cleaning too!

Window AC units need (Deep) Spring Cleaning too!

We still have cool evenings in the eastern US as I’m writing this (late April), but the days are heating up quickly.  My parents and I have central air conditioning in our homes, but their workshop has a window unit.  It’s an older unit, still very good at cooling the room, but we turned it on recently and immediately had to turn it off.  The mold smell was overwhelming!  Even cleaning the air filter did not clear up the smell.  I knew what I had to do–a deep cleaning to get the mold out!

My father’s hobby of decoy carving makes a LOT of dust.  He has a carving cabinet with dedicated vacuum (the 220v motor pulls the dusty air into a collection unit outside), but even so, there is dust on EVERYTHING.  I had a theory that the thin intake filter was not stopping the dust from being trapped in the tiny fins, where condensation provides moisture and voila!  The window AC unit became a petri dish for mold.  It wasn’t my parents’ fault; these window unit filters are just not designed for dusty workshops (more on that later). 

If you have the same experience of turning on your window unit and smelling mold, STOP!  Don’t let it run any longer without taking the following steps, or you run the risk of blowing mold spores all over your space. Here’s the deal: you can check, but mold is usually not growing on the intake filter in the front.  It’s growing INSIDE the air conditioner, where there’s more moisture from condensation.  You can do the following check, but 9 times out of 10, it won’t be enough to eliminate the mold smell.  

  • Remove the front plastic grille (it usually pulls out from the sides, and lifts out from the top or bottom).  

  • Remove the intake filter.  If it has a light coat of dust, you can vacuum it off, or use dish soap and water, a soft sponge, and rinse clean and let it dry. 

  • Replace the filter and turn the AC back on. (You don’t have to replace the plastic grille just yet).  Do you smell mold?

    • No mold smell: you are blessed and can replace the plastic grille and enjoy the cool air.

    • Mold smell: STOP!  It’s time for deep cleaning. 

I didn’t know that deep cleaning the fins of the unit was possible until I saw this video. The unit shown is a GE air conditioner, but many units are very similar.  Here is a diagram that shows the major components of every older air conditioner (from howstuffworks.com):

The machine sucks in air through the front grille (lower rectangular part) and pulls it through the evaporator coil by the blower.  This is where the warm air from the room is made cooler by the refrigerant that circulates through the evaporator coil.  The air, which is now cool and hopefully drier, is expelled through the louvers at the top of the front grille, which you can direct at different angles into the room.  Unless there is a “fresh air intake” from the back of the air conditioner (which is hanging outside the room), no outside air is coming into your space, so the mold problem likely lies in the evaporator coil and areas around it, like the blower.  

There are “easier” ways of cleaning your air conditioner, like just vacuuming off the coils, or using an ozone method like this one to disinfect all the inner parts without touching them.  The only problem is that dead mold is not safe mold, either.  “Dead mold is just as bad as live mold. When mold dies, its cell wall dessicates and it gets dry and it will break apart into little fragments. And the fragments have toxins on them. This is a disease of toxins. When you inhale those toxins, they are in you.  If you don’t recognize them as being foreign, you have a difficult time getting them out of your body.” (Scott McMahon, M.D., moldymovie.com) 

 It’s not easy, but removing the parts in order to clean all the way through the coils is the best way to get rid of hidden mold.  The unit in the video had a metal cover that lifts off to expose the inner parts of the machine.  Mine (and many others) actually pull out of a cover/cage by means of a handle in the front.  Get help to do this as they can be very heavy!  You’ll also want to wear gloves and long sleeves to avoid cuts on sharp metal (from experience 🙁 …) and avoid gripping or pinching the fins on the evaporator and condenser coils, as they are super thin and fragile.  The cooling capacity of the machine actually depends on these being undamaged!  There are many videos online to show how various machines come apart. 

Obviously you’ll want to be doing this job outside, not only because of the dirt, mold and water involved, but also if you choose to use a stronger coil cleaner.  The coil cleaner shown in the video contains sodium hydroxide, which is also known as lye or caustic soda.  She’s right that it can cause severe burns or even damage the coils if it’s left on them too long.  Rinsing off these types of cleaners puts them into the environment.  There are safer ingredients.  “No Rinse” on a label means just that; the product actually rinses itself off when condensation on the coils appears during normal use.  After letting them sit and work on the coils for 5-10 minutes, you can rinse them off, however, if you’re doing the deep cleaning we’re suggesting and get the dirt out of the unit.

Remember, vacuum first to get the loose dirt out, then use liquids!

  • Concrobium Mold Control Spray is a great product that is no-rinse.  To use it outside, first vacuum off loose dust, spray it on and work it into the coils with a soft brush in the direction of the fins.  Let it sit and rinse it through the coils; repeat as necessary.  Finally when the coil is clean, spray on and don’t rinse; let it dry as this will protect against future mold growth.

Homemade Coil Cleaners: You’ll want at least one ingredient in the mix that kills mold. Some websites advise to add cornstarch to the mix, however mold can grow on cornstarch, so I would advise against this!

  • One part vinegar, one part rubbing alcohol, and baking soda:  This combination will kill mold because of the alcohol.  Use a soft brush to work it into the front of the coils, let it sit for a few minutes, then use a garden hose to spray it deeper and through the coils. Repeat as necessary til you can see light through the coils.

  • Straight (3-5%) hydrogen peroxide with baking soda: This combination will kill mold because of the hydrogen peroxide.  It’s extremely fizzy!  Use the same way as the vinegar solution above (do not mix vinegar and hydrogen peroxide!)

Other equipment you need or may find useful:

  • Safety goggles or face shield to keep the spray away from your eyes

  • Heavy-duty gloves to protect your hands

  • A fin comb helps straighten out those dents and dings in the coils.

It’s going to be time worth spending. You’ll breathe easier not only with fresh air, but also knowing that it’s mold-free!

What’s the difference between Relative Humidity and Absolute Humidity?

What’s the difference between Relative Humidity and Absolute Humidity?

If you’ve been reading our website or posts for any length of time, you will see that we really focus on attaining the correct humidity in your home or office as a staple condition for good air quality.  Recently a customer asked us to clarify the difference between Relative Humidity and Absolute Humidity, and which one should we be monitoring.  This is a great question!

Water is a very interesting substance because it can exist as a solid, liquid or gas.  When it’s in gaseous state, it’s called water vapor, or moisture. Let’s talk about the presence of water vapor in the air.  If you want to measure the amount of water vapor in the air, you can express it in grams of water per cubic meter volume of air, and you would have absolute humidity.  (weather.gov) Absolute humidity does not depend on any specific temperature; it is just a physical amount of water in a given volume of air.   

Relative humidity has an additional variable thrown in–temperature.  Whenever relative humidity is discussed, it takes into account temperature, because temperature has a big effect on how much water the air can theoretically hold.  As temperature increases, the same volume of air can hold more water, just as hot water can hold more dissolved sugar or salt than cold water.  Relative humidity is always measured in percent.  If you have 50% relative humidity, the air is holding 50% of the water vapor it could theoretically contain at that temperature.  The theoretical maximum is that point where any increase in the water vapor at that temperature would cause it to fall out of the air (rain).   What’s the takeaway of relative humidity?  A certain relative humidity–say fifty percent– should “feel” the same whether it is 60 degrees or 70 degrees in your house, but 70 degree air at 50% relative humidity actually contains more volume of water vapor than 60 degree air at 50% relative humidity.  

As you may note, relative humidity is what we normally reference in all of our discussions, because we like to keep our homes at different temperatures throughout the day and throughout the year, but the target relative humidity (40-60%) should remain the same for good respiratory health, and low bacterial/viral transmission and mold growth.  Check out our portable, economical humidity sensors so that you can easily monitor the relative humidity in different areas of your home!

Carpet Care: How to get a Non-Toxic Refresh

Carpet Care: How to get a Non-Toxic Refresh

This is not a fear campaign, I promise!   I just want to give some facts on carpeting before we get down to how to keep it in your house.  The first three facts of the following  are from forceofnature.com, a trusted non-toxic cleaning product we recommend. 

Carpeting is known to emit VOCs and retain allergens–so why keep it?

Sometimes bare floors or area rugs don’t give the warmth and comfort of nice carpet under your feet, and sometimes budget doesn’t allow you to replace carpet.  So, carpet it is–but let’s make it clean carpet!  Here’s some non-toxic ways to clean and maintain your wall-to-wall carpet.

Professional Carpet Cleaners:  Carpet cleaning companies have made their fortunes for decades on “deep-cleaning” and images of families and pets rolling around on pristine carpets.  Actually, mold experts recommend leaving carpet cleaning to the professionals, because of the dangers of incomplete water extraction.  Here are our tips for getting the safest, most effective professional carpet cleaning.  

  • Be aware of the traditional chemicals used by professional cleaning companies.  Just like dry cleaners, preferred chemicals dissolve dirt without soap and water, but these chemicals can give off toxic VOCs that linger on the carpet and in the air, causing headaches and sickness (sfgate.com).   The chemicals they use, as well as the ones in over-the-counter carpet cleaning products, are not required to be tested for toxicity by the EPA, unless the agency can prove that they pose a safety risk.  The EPA just does not have the resources to test all cleaning chemicals for toxicity, so most applications for a new product are approved within a matter of weeks (today.com).   
  • Be aware of the equipment used: if steam or water is used, truck-mounted equipment is generally more powerful and able to remove most of the steam and water injected into the carpets during cleaning.  With portable equipment, significant water can remain after 48 hours and allow mold to grow.
  • Be aware of added fragrances.  In fact, it’s not just the ingredients that clean the fibers that are toxic; the fragrances that make it smell good and market the product are most likely phthalates, which are possible carcinogens and definitely hormone-disrupting. 

Now that you know what to avoid, there are many methods out there, however the safest carpet cleaning service is called “dry steam” or “steam vapor”.  It does not soak the carpet with water, which will encourage mold growth, it should not use toxic chemicals, and it is the best way to reduce dust and allergens in the carpet, actually killing dust mites in the process. (moldsafesolutions.com–this article is great reading on all methods of carpet cleaning).  Dry steam begins with a thorough vacuuming with a HEPA vacuum, then a non-toxic, biodegradable cleaning solution is added and the carpet is scrubbed with a rotary floor machine to loosen dirt stuck in the fibers.  Finally, the dirt and solution are removed using a high-powered HEPA vacuum.

For heavily soiled carpets, there is also a dry method called green encapsulation carpet cleaning.  Encapsulation cleaning has been around for several decades, but now companies are offering non-toxic chemicals to get the job done.  “...Encapsulation chemicals surround each particle of dirt and crystallize it, so it repels other soil. The dirt particles, then rise to the surface of the carpet and are easily removed with normal vacuuming. This process helps carpets stay cleaner because it does not leave behind a layer of sticky residue. Encapsulation carpet cleaners also incorporate acid dye resistors, surface tension modifiers, and polymers, which eliminate the need for rinsing.” (cleaning.lovetoknow.com)

What if I can’t afford a safe carpet cleaning service? Should I rent a machine from the local hardware store and do it myself?

Uh, no.  It turns out (see 1st and 2nd bullet above) that these machines recommend use of their brand-name detergents, which often have disclosed and undisclosed toxins, and although they look powerful, are not powerful enough to remove enough water to prevent mold from growing in your carpet.  The Rug Doctor site says “When used correctly, it should take no longer than 2 hours for your carpet to dry after deep cleaning with a Rug Doctor Deep Cleaner.” Okay…. We all want to use equipment correctly, but let me tell you, it’s super-easy to over-wet the carpet!  The same goes for purchasing a home-grade hot-water cleaner like Bissell or other brands.  They simply do not have the power to remove all the water they put into the carpet.

What we do recommend: in this case, and for the rest of your flooring care needs, a good HEPA vacuum cleaner will help remove dust mites and allergens.   In fact, this is the first step in the dry steam process mentioned above: to use a good HEPA vacuum to remove surface dust and allergens. Next, use a non-toxic cleaner to remove stains on the surface of the carpet.  Our two top picks:

  • Total Clean i2: as the first product in our Natural Home Collection, Total Clean i2 is a very versatile weapon in your home cleaning arsenal.  Not only useful for solid surfaces like counter tops and showers, Total Clean i2 is non-toxic and removes most stains from carpet as well as brand-name cleaners.  This is the power of iodine.  To use on carpet, test first in an inconspicuous area to determine color-fastness.  Then lightly spray the stain with Total Clean i2, let it dry thoroughly, and vacuum with a HEPA cleaner.  Because Total Clean i2 contains iodine, any leftover liquid that seeps into carpet that does not dry right away, will not harbor mold–it will actually kill mold because (tincture) of iodine has “very high antimicrobial activity against microorganisms including Aspergillus spores.” (2019 study)
  • Force of Nature: Like Total Clean i2, Force of Nature is a multi-surface cleaner.  Force of Nature has been tested by an independent laboratory (Toxic Use Reduction Institute, the University of Massachusetts) to show that it is not only non-toxic, it cleans as well the most popular branded carpet cleaner, Resolve.  For carpet, follow the website recommendations: “On spills and stains, treat the problem as quickly as possible like you would with any other stain remover. Always first test in an inconspicuous spot to ensure the dyes used are truly colorfast and wait until the tested area is dry before proceeding. This is because there is a wide variety in the types of dyes, fibers, and processes for making fabrics and rugs colorfast. Blot the spill, spray Force of Nature, then wipe (repeat if necessary). It cleans as well as Resolve and won’t remove color like bleach does on colorfast rugs and upholstery.”

As many pet owners know, fleas can totally make themselves at home in carpet.  Flea eggs that fall off the pet onto carpet can hide there, hatch there, and jump right back onto the pet (or us!) to start another lifecycle.  In this case, we recommend Wondercide Indoor Pest Control for Home, which is made with essential oils.  To use on carpet, “Test a small area prior to full application on surfaces. Use warm water and cloth or mop to remove excess spray. Use this flea spray for home and furniture on carpets, bedding and anywhere your pets hang out. Kills fleas in the house and will eliminate the entire flea life cycle.” 

We still recommend removal of carpet for those most sensitive to allergens, dust and mold, but for the rest of us, it’s possible to keep these contaminants at bay with regular HEPA vacuuming and non-toxic cleaners–a good thing for bare feet and healthy play areas!

Photo by Katja Rooke on Unsplash

Taking our Homes Back from Mold

Taking our Homes Back from Mold

Why is it that our grandparents rarely had issues with mold toxicity?  Our homes became more toxic after 1973 (oil embargo and energy crisis), due to building regulations aimed at saving energy.  Reducing outside air exchanges with our home saves energy, but it seals toxins in and also increases mold growth due to moisture and humidity problems.  In other words, energy-efficiency has caused many health issues!  Also, according to Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker, in 1969 fungicides began to be added to paints.  These fungicides “created mutations in fungi such that the fungi that lived beyond the fungicide created toxins that made us sick, and the ones that were from non-mutants did not make us sick. We put the fungicide into the paint, we’re paying a price.” (moldymovie.com)

Our grandparents also did not have wireless technology, which exacerbates mold levels.  Mold is a fungus that throws off spores into the air, particularly whenever it is about to die or is stressed and ‘thinks’ it’s going to die.  Amazingly, mold can detect electromagnetic fields (EMF)–radiation from the frequencies emitted by WiFi, cell phones, and smart appliances– and it registers them as “unnatural”, throwing off more spores and mycotoxins in reaction to EMF!  Here are two ways EMF affects mold (jillcarnahan.com):

  1. Inducing mold growth: Studies have found that mold growing in homes or buildings can actually be amplified by EMFs – causing mold to grow more rapidly and spread further.
  2. Stimulating the release of mycotoxins: EMFs may also trigger the mold spores floating around in your house or body to release more mycotoxins. (jillcarnahan.com)  According to Dr. Klinghardt of the Sophia Institute in Seattle, when mold cultures were exposed to radio frequencies from a nearby cell tower, the mold increased its mycotoxin production by more than six hundred times. (shieldyourbody.com)

If you suspect a mold problem in your home, the best thing is to find the mold and remove it, but you may also consider limiting EMF exposure in your home to prevent mold from colonizing again.

The best way to find the mold is via the services of a professional mold inspector, and preferably one who uses forward-looking infrared radar (FLIR).  FLIR is a type of thermographic camera that detects infrared radiation, and while it is used in military and spy applications(!), it is also extremely useful in locating areas behind walls where water intrusion may be present, making a hospitable area for mold.

Jeff Bookout is an environmental mold specialist and one of the top home inspectors in the US.  He does in-person (in western US) and virtual home inspections to help homeowners find mold in their homes and workplaces.  He describes his 3-step process for remediating a home after mold (mastcell360.com):  “One is stopping moisture. Two is finding mold- damaged materials and making sure they’re removed or proper corrections made. Then number three treating the air. You miss one of those three steps, you have missed a big part of the equation and that’s any part of it, the humidity, the removing the damaged materials, or treating. All three must go hand in hand. If you do not remove and replace those damaged materials or make proper corrections mold will come back.”

Then, Jeff recommends a five step process to maintain a low-mold environment: “Dry fog (using HavenFog) once a year, that’s number one. Number two is using the HavenMist (maintenance program) once a month. Number three is using MERV rating 11 filters in my HVAC system. Number four is strategically using Austin Air air purifiers throughout the house. I’m not trying to cover my whole square footage, but I want to have them in the main areas that we’re spending the most time. Then I would say number five is good air change in the house.  Depending on where you live, that would be an HRV or an ERV system, something to give you proper air exchange because … since 1973, the Arab oil embargo, we’ve energy efficiented everything. Well, dilution is the solution. If we can get good air exchange inside of our house, we’re going to help dilute those toxins. Those are the five things that I like to do to be able to safely maintain the property.”

Because mold often lurks behind walls and spews only a few spores into the air, inspecting with an experienced professional is our recommended way of finding mold.  If you can’t hire a professional due to financial restraints, testing kits like those at gotmold.com are a good way of testing and interpretation by (remote) mold experts.  Immunolytics.com has a agar plate (petri dish) method that is a good way of testing your pet’s fur for mold (called a tap test); this type of plate can also be used to test your home and vehicle. 

Removing the moldy materials in walls, cabinets and furniture is one thing, but there are lots of other surfaces where mold can grow for years, until you take action!

  • HVAC ductwork combines the perfect recipe for mold: moisture on or below the evaporator coils, dust in the air, and moderate temperatures.  Check out our post on finding and eliminating mold in the HVAC system.  Although pricey, HavenFog is a non-toxic citrus-based intensive treatment for such areas.
  • Clothing: Front-loading washing machines are infamous for harboring mold around the door seal.  This can transfer to clothing too.  Beth O’Hara at mastcell360.com advises (for anyone with mold toxicity issues) replacing a front-loading machine with a top-loading one, and using a non-toxic mold killer like EC3 Laundry Additive to kill mold in clothing.
  • Furniture and carpets: If you simply don’t want to get rid of your carpet (see our post on carpets and carpet care!), HavenClean is a non-toxic water-based treatment for carpet cleaners that will vastly reduce mold in your carpets and soft furniture.
  • Pets:  Dogs and cats love to lay outside in the sunshine, but when they come back indoors, they often carry mold spores with them in their fur.  You don’t have to get rid of the pet, to get rid of the mold.  CitriSafe shampoo is non-toxic to pets and humans and safely eliminates mold in pet fur.  Their Mold Treatment Spray can even be used to lightly mist pet fur, to keep the mold down between washings!

We hope these recommendations give you positive ways to take control if you smell or see mold in your home, or are plagued by a mysterious illness.  It’s vital for you and your family’s health (see our related post, Mold is on 90% of our customers’ minds!  Is it on yours?)

Mold is on 90% of our customers’ minds! Is it on yours?

Mold is on 90% of our customers’ minds!  Is it on yours?

The fact is that everyone’s home and workplace has mold.  The million dollar question is, is the mold in your space growing and making you sick?  I want to explore this in-depth so that our customers and many others can have peace of mind or look for solutions. 

What is mold?  Mold is a type of fungi that grows in multicellular structures called hyphae. Hyphae are long tubular structures resembling garden hoses. They have rigid cell walls that may be reinforced by perforated cross-walls called septa (singular: septum).(How Fungi are Constructed).  Here is a picture of septated hyphae (chegg.com):

When the mold grows enough to be visible, the colony is called a mycelium.  The mold can continue to grow by adding hyphae to the mycelium, and it can start another colony by sending out small particles called spores.  The spores can be carried by the wind, animal fur, or clothing and our shoes.  When the spores fall into a suitable environment, they will start to grow another colony. 

In general, molds need the following to grow:

  • Moisture: even moisture from the air, when it is above 80% humidity, can be enough to sustain mold.

  • Warmer temperatures: most molds cannot grow below 40 deg F, which is why refrigerators are kept at 39 deg F and below. 40 -100 deg F sustains mold.

  • Organic (carbon-based) materials to digest.  Mold can even grow on glass, metal and other inhospitable environments, if it has dirt or synthetic material to feed on.

  • Protection (shade) from UV rays: ultraviolet light kills most mold, so you won’t see it growing in direct sunlight!

  • Oxygen: mold needs very little oxygen to survive, so it’s difficult to control mold by depriving it of oxygen.

How we interact with mold:

If we simply kill mold, are we safe?  Unfortunately, no.  “Dead mold is just as bad as live mold. When mold dies, its cell wall dessicates and it gets dry and it will break apart into little fragments. And the fragments have toxins on them. This is a disease of toxins. When you inhale those toxins, they are in you.  If you don’t recognize them as being foreign, you have a difficult time getting them out of your body. (Scott McMahon, M.D., moldymovie.com)

How does mold make us sick?  Illness can come from ingesting or inhaling mold spores, or the mycotoxins they produce.  According to buildingscience.com, mold produces mycotoxins, which are naturally occurring toxins that are thought to decrease the growth of other molds and bacteria (it’s a defense mechanism for the mold). Penicillin is one of these, which as most people know, is a powerful antibiotic.  Mycotoxins can be present on mold spores, presenting danger from inhalation, or on the surface of the mold itself, which is transmitted in infected food like grains, nuts, coffee, or hay (as in the case of animals eating the hay and transferring the mycotoxin through milk).  

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), several hundred mycotoxins have been identified, but several major groups of these toxins cause the most damage to our health.  The danger from these toxins mainly comes from consumption of contaminated food, not inhalation:

  • Aflatoxins are among the most dangerous mycotoxins because of their effects: they can be life-threatening through damage to the liver, and may cause liver cancer.  They are produced by the Aspergillus molds, which grow in soil and rotting grains.  The food mainly affected is corn, sorghum, wheat and rice, soybean, peanut, sunflower and cotton seeds, spices and tree nuts.  

  • Ochratoxin A is also a common food-contaminating mycotoxin found in cereals and cereal products, coffee beans, dry vine fruits, wine and grape juice, spices and liquorice. This mycotoxin causes kidney problems and possibly kidney cancer.

  • Patulin is found in rotting fruits such as apples, and generally causes acute gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea and vomiting.

  • Fusarium fungi are found in the soil and cause symptoms such as skin irritation, diarrhea, and even esophageal cancer.

Why is it so difficult to link inhaled mold with illness?

We just listed some dangers of ingesting mycotoxins orally, but what about just spending time in a moldy space and inhaling them?  Some incorrect information from the early 2000’s still persists on government websites.  These studies, based on air sampling and animal testing, concluded that there was no proven link between inhaling mycotoxins and illness.  The following points are taken from dhs.wisconsin.gov:   

  • “The toxic effects of mold following ingestion are well-understood, but the toxic effects of inhaled mold particles are not well documented.”

  • Black mold, or Stachybotrys chartarum, has received more attention than any other mold.  The presence of black mold has been coincident with illness in infested buildings, but “S. chartarum is not usually detected in indoor air samples, even when detected in bulk samples from solid substrates. This begs the question, “is the exposure pathway incomplete, or has there been a failure to detect S. chartarum in air. There is evidence that S. chartarum spores and mycelia do not readily form bioaerosols. There is also evidence (Burge & Ammann, 1999) that S. chartarum spores are short-lived and difficult to detect in culture.” 

  • “Molds release volatiles (MVOCs) that damage textiles with unpleasant odors. Indoor microbial volatiles from molds may also have health implications.” However, there is not sufficient evidence that MVOCs enhance mycotoxic and allergenic effects to produce illness.

The puzzle was this: what is the cause of the low levels of mycotoxins encountered in the air of even severely mold-infested spaces?  Even the EPA states that mold can be a source of sick building syndrome (SDS–see our post on this!), so what is causing SDS?  The first clue may be in the fact that some individuals living in the same space can become severely sick and debilitated, while others have no symptoms at all.  “We now understand that there is genetic variability among those who have been exposed to mycotoxins. Some people are genetically capable of clearing low levels of these toxins through the liver detox process and never suffer consequences. Others do not have the ability to clear them and get severely ill” (as in the case of a teen patient at Kaplan Clinic). “About 25-28% of the entire population of America have a genetic predisposition to have problems with water-damaged buildings…that’s 75 million people in the United States….Somehwere around 50% of the buildings in the United states have water damage….these (25-28% of genetically predisposed people) can go on to develop multi-system, multi-symptom illness that can be debilitating.”  (Scott McMahon, M.D., moldymovie.com)

Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker’s research article “Newer Molecular Methods Bring New Insights into Human- And BuildingHealth Risk Assessments from Water-Damaged Buildings: Defining Exposure and Reactivity, the Two Sides of Causation of CIRS-WDB Illness “ also presents several other reasons why the links between mold inhalation and mold illness were not previously made: 

  1. The air sampling techniques used for early studies are simply inadequate, even though these techniques remain in use today.  Dr. Shoemaker states: “Specifically, air sampling will only permit the assessment of particulates larger than 3 microns found in the air during the 5 to 10 minutes for the test. Sampling is usually performed in the middle of a room and misses important boundary areas and settled particles. Air sampling of particulates this size does not permit separation of Penicillium species from Aspergillus; does not permit the identification of Wallemia; and because Stachybotrys (black mold) spores are sticky and heavy, rarely show Stachybotrys.”

  2. Bacteria in the role of WDB illness was not assessed in earlier studies.  Newer research (2019) on actinobacteria, a microbe that also exists in WDB alongside mold, shows that it produces MVOCs such as trimethylamine, which is harmful to humans, besides making the environment inhospitable to other microbes. Streptomyces is an actinobacteria that produces trimethylamine prolifically.  What mVOCs are we missing in air testing and how are they causing illness?  Also, endotoxin is present inside a bacterial cell and is released when the cell disintegrates.  How are endotoxins causing illness?  Finally, “occupants in damp buildings are simultaneously exposed to multiple microbial agents from both bacteria and fungi. This mixed exposure is likely to result in interactive effects among various microbial agents and produces more complicated health outcomes.”

Exposure to Water-Damaged buildings (WDB) is one cause of CIRS (Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome).  Dr. Shoemaker goes on to describe the ability of three new technologies to document the physiologic basis for adverse human health effects as part of CIRS: HERTSMI-2 (a modified ERMI air test for the WDB environment), GENIE (Gene Expression, Inflammation Explained, a gene test for affected individuals), and NeuroQuant (an advanced volumetric brain MRI for affected individuals).  “We can now show specific exposures from WDB that result in specific immunologic reactivity”, including “at least 15 objective biomarkers found in CIRS cases but statistically found far less commonly in age- and gender-matched controls…”   Let’s break that down:  Biomarkers are “A biological molecule found in blood, other body fluids, or tissues that is a sign of a normal or abnormal process, or of a condition or disease.” (cancer.gov)  That means that those who have CIRS due to WDB have distinctive clusters of symptoms not found in other patients, such as abnormal molecular protein levels and volumetric changes in the brain found by NeuroQuant. These changes in brain volume in CIRS due to exposure to WDB were unique and different compared to those of Alzheimer’s, Parkinsons, and even CIRS due to Lyme’s disease.

Putting the Pieces Together

The combined facts that: 1) mold often hides unseen behind walls, ceilings and floors, 2) mold toxins can affect one person in a household but not others due to genetic predisposition, and 3) many doctors have not been trained on the health effects or symptoms of mold toxicity, causes frustration and misunderstanding galore.  “Probably at least 50% of my patients have been told that they were crazy, or that they were making things up or they needed to see a psychiatrist or that there was something wrong with them, but it wasn’t physical.” (Scott McMahon, M.D., moldymovie.com) “Most physicians would simply not believe that asthma, chronic sinusitis, even some cases of bronchitis, and some cases of cancer are intimately linked with mold and their poisonous byproducts.  This is documented in the scientific literature. So there’s this chasm that exists between what we’re hearing and talking to our private physician about, and what he is prescribing for us.” (Doug Kaufmann, host of Know The Cause, moldymovie.com)

Besides CIRS, Mast Cell Activation Syndrome (MCAS) is another illness caused by exposure to WDB.  Mast cells are a type of white blood cell found in many organs of the body that play a large role in our immune system, releasing over 200 chemicals in response to different environmental triggers.  Sometimes they become oversensitive/overactive, and all sorts of health issues arise.  This is MCAS.  According to Beth O’Hara, Functional Naturopath and Functional Genetic Analyst and founder of MastCell360.com, the number one common root cause of MCAS is mold toxicity.    

Mold produces toxins that weaken the immune system, so it can lead to overgrowth of other species of fungus, like Candida, and it can also lead to MCAS and cancer, because mycotoxins can penetrate cell walls and attach to DNA, causing destructive mutations.

“Some of the reasons why mycotoxins are a trigger for Mast Cell Activation Syndrome include their tendency to cause:

  • Immune Dysregulation

  • Mast Cell Activation

  • Parasympathetic and Vagus Nerve Disruptions

  • Methylation Dysregulation

  • Hormone Dysregulation

  • Low immunity – Inability to fight off infections

  • Gut Disruptions

This happens due to mold triggering something called the Cell Danger Response. This metabolic response in your body happens in order to protect your cells and you from harm.” (mastcell360.com)

Unfortunately, mold can grow in your body!  If you spend some extended time in a mold-infested area, you can breathe in the microscopic mold spores.  The mucus in your respiratory tract can carry the spores to the following areas, where it can colonize (especially species like aspergillus and fusarium):

  • The sinuses

  • The ear canals

  • The lungs (such as in pulmonary aspergillosis)

  • Other organs, such as kidneys, liver, skin or brain, when the mold passes from the lungs into the bloodstream (such as in invasive aspergillosis) (source: my.clevelandclinic.org)

  •  Swallowed mucus (post-nasal drip) can make its way to the intestines, causing Small Intestine Fungal Overgrowth, or SIFO.  (mastcell360.com)

Recovery is Possible

Treatment centers for mold-related illnesses can at a minimum recommend blood tests and urine tests.  Blood tests can show what mold-related antibodies are present in your blood, and urine tests can show the levels of mold toxins being excreted by your body. (mastcell360.com)  It can be the case, however, that very sick people find that the urine test is negative, because the body cannot excrete the toxins effectively.

After finding out which types of mold are present, the practitioner can prescribe a detox regimen to remove the mold and toxins. The detox will typically be slow, from 3 months to over a year, to avoid MCAS flare-ups and other complications, but there is hope!

According to Mark Hyman, M.D. (moldymovie.com), “If you think you have mold illness, there’s a way out. And it might be a long way out, but there’s a way out. And there is hope, but you have to find a practitioner who could help you deal systematically with the mold illness. One, you have to get rid of it in your environment and two, you have to get it out of your body, and three you have to repair the damage that’s been done.  So those are the three steps to healing from mold illness. If you follow those steps and are focused and you work with an experienced practitioner, you can get better. “

That’s a way forward to remediate your body–but what about your house?  Check out our related post, Taking our Homes Back from Mold.

Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash

Low-E window films: The “fixer-upper” for old(er) windows!

Low-E Window Films: the "fixer-upper" for old(er) windows!

As a former resident of New Orleans and renovation show connoisseur, I appreciate old windows.  Before there were vinyl windows and double-glazing, there were wood frames with lead weights integrated into the walls to counterbalance the heavy weight of the window, to keep them positioned while open.  Brilliant!

What’s not so brilliant, however, is the chill of a draft coming through or around the window on colder days, or condensation rolling down the window anytime the temperature of the window and humidity surpass the dewpoint of the room.  I like modern air conditioning and heat, and condensation and mold resulting from condensation is not definitely not brilliant!

Can we have our single-glazed windows and enjoy climate control too?  YES!  Check out “Low-E” window films.  Low-E stands for low emissivity, which denotes the ability of radiant energy to pass through a substance.  You want your nice air conditioning or heat to stay inside, and the summer heat or winter cold to stay outside, yet let the light shine through?   That’s what low-e coatings do: they are a transparent “blanket” for your windows!

This diagram from energyeducation.ca shows how the low-e coating works

Here’s another graphic regarding the difference between “absorbing films” versus “low e films” (gsa.gov)

Aside from retaining the climate inside, while retaining the aesthetics of the old window, there are the financial reasons to consider window film insulation.  Did you know that approximately 30% of a home's heating energy is lost through windows, and in cooling seasons, about 76% of sunlight that falls on standard double-pane windows enters to become heat ? (energy.gov).  If you were to count the dollars floating out your windows, insulating them makes sense.  According to buildings.com, low e films work all year long, and provide an ROI (return on investment) in 2 to 5 years, depending on the climate and type of film selected, and warranties can be between 7 to 15 years (ROI and warranty figures are for professional installation).   Two case studies on  the Hansen Federal Building in Ogden, Utah, and the Cabell Federal Building in Dallas, Texas, along with computer simulations across seven climates showed that application of low e window film averaged 29% HVAC savings on single pane windows in perimeter building zones. (gsa.gov) When you consider the cost of applying the film to decent windows that still function properly versus replacing them with new windows made of low-e glass, the cost savings can be huge: $6-14 per square foot of installed film, vs. $300 to $1000 per replaced window (angi.com)  It’s a savings no-brainer!

Speaking of installation, there are lots of options regarding application (DIY or professional installation), appearance (transparent, shaded, mirrored and everything in-between), and with these options, of course, a range of costs.  Wrangling large sheets of thin plastic is doable, but not easy!  I perceive the “Cadillac” of window coatings to be professional installation with a warranty!  For those who have the budget, here are some options:

  • 3M Thinsulate™ Climate Control Window Film “ improves the insulation value of a typical single pane window close to that of a double pane window and the insulation value of a typical double pane window close to a triple pane window.”  It also keeps blocks up to 99% of the sun’s rays, which prevents fading and deterioration of home decor.  This site will help you find a local dealer to install it.

  • Vista Window Film has a number of products that reflect heat and light; check out their Low Emissivity selection for two options and find dealers who can install for you!

  • Solar Control®'s Ceramic line is very similar to that created for space shuttles as it cancels up to 90% of infrared rays, blocks 99% of UV rays, and prevents 73% of the heat coming through windows.  The small ceramic-based nano-particles are more durable and protective than other films and make windows shatter-resistant. (drwindowtint.com)

What type of low-e window film should I get?  Without professional installation, you’ll want to find a film that fits your climate, and your lighting taste.  The Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC) should be low for warmer climates, and high for cooler climates.  The visible transmittance rating (VT) is the amount of natural light admitted, so this number will be higher for more light in your room.(spruce.com) Please also note that there are “window insulation kits”, particularly by 3M or FrostKing, that adhere to the window frame and not the window (these stop drafts but do not have low e properties).  Here are some of the best DIY films we’ve reviewed:

  • Snaptint.com offers low e films for your home and for your car, which are (ta-da!) pre-cut.  At $3.15 per square foot, this SolarGard product comes in a light or dark variety for visual preference, and you can add installation tools for $9.99, which seem like a worthwhile add-on when watching the installation video

  • For homes in warmer climates, check out SnapGuard products.  Their ceramic window films come in several different shades, and block out up to 99% of infrared rays, which are those that cause significant heat transfer to the interior.  

  • TintDepot.com has several options of ceramic films with clear or reflective properties.  I like that these product pages have easy-to understand tables with property values like Visible Light Transmittance (VT) and Total Solar Energy Reflectance (TSER).  Their rolls are large, enabling you to do a lot of windows, and come in between $2-$3 per square foot not including shipping and application tools.

  • Be aware that many films claim to be anti-UV and high-heat rejection (such as BDF and Gila products), but do not add any SHGC ratings to their products.

Go on, invest in some new shades for your windows:  you will soon feel the difference!

What a PAIN! Some new(er) ways to treat pain non-invasively and without drugs are providing relief

What a PAIN!  Some new(er) ways to treat pain non-invasively and without drugs are providing relief

It’s a painful life.  Whether your pain originates from your genes, from trauma, or aging and disease, no one escapes without pain (well, most of us).  Sadly, pain increases as we grow older.  The prevalence of pain in people aged 60 or more, is twice that of younger people.  This is not good news!  What is good news, is that the means of dealing with and eliminating pain are increasing.  Let’s look at what pain is, and some new healthy ways of dealing with pain.

Pain is that uncomfortable feeling that tells us something is wrong.  Usually caused by tissue damage, it can be localized or extended to different parts of the body.  Nerves send signals to the brain for interpretation and we are alerted to action to relieve it.  There are three types of pain: nociceptive, neuropathic, and mixed pain.  Nociceptive pain involves the stimulation of nociceptors, or specific pain receptors for heat, cold, vibration, stretching and chemical stimuli.  This happens when our skin, bones or organs are stressed such as in bone breaks, skin abrasions, burns, and even intestinal obstruction.    Neuropathic pain involves structural damage or dysfunction within the nervous system, which is the cause of such problems like diabetic neuropathy, meningitis or Guillain-Barre syndrome.  Mixed pain involves both nociceptive and neuropathic pain, because the neuropathic damage can cause inflammation (nociceptive pain). Migraine headaches and myofacial pain can fall under the mixed pain category.

The best solution to pain, of course, is getting to the root of the matter; setting a broken bone or administering antibiotics can cause inflammation and pain reception to decrease because the area is healing.  However, if the injury has “healed” and the pain continues, what to do?  Or what can we do naturally to promote healing?  It’s a topic that may be of more and more interest as we age…here are some of the newest innovations to consider:

  • Electricity in different forms has been in use in pain management, called electromedicine, since the early 1900’s.  H-Wave is a method of electrical stimulation of muscle fibers; unlike the TENS units of the 1970s, H-Wave stimulates the smaller muscle fibers with low frequencies (1-2 hertz).  Research on this treatment has shown this does several things for the affected area: it does not cause pain due to contraction of larger muscles, nor bombard the nerves to block pain, but it is hypothesized to deactivate the sodium pumps of the nerve cells, giving longer lasting pain relief.  Also, it stimulates a fluid shift in the treated area, reducing inflammation.  Improvement of microcirculation and restoration of fluid balance in the body leads to healing and longer-term pain management and elimination. 

  • Heat has long been used in the treatment of injuries, because it draws blood to the sight of the injury, promoting healing.  Red light therapy, also called photobiomodulation, uses low-frequency red and near-infrared light to penetrate farther into the skin, to deep tissues that need healing.  This diagram shows how far red light penetrates, compared to other frequencies of light:

Types of red light therapy include infrared heating pads, blankets, hand-held light devices such as LightStim, and lasers used by medical professionals.  These increase the production of  nitric oxide in the body, which dilates (expands) blood vessels to improve circulation.  

Our recommendation for red light therapy would not be complete without some scientific evidence for its use.  Chronic Low back Pain reduction was shown to be from 6.5 to 3 in a group treated with red light, compared with 7.4 to 6 in the placebo group. (heliotherapy.institute).  Other studies show that red light therapy caused a 42% reduction in pain of the elbow, wrists and fingers, and following surgery for tibial (lower leg) fractures, the laser group experienced less pain and used less opioids for pain relief than the placebo group. 

  • If you have not read our post on Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, check it out!  This therapy is approved by the FDA for treatment of 13 different illnesses or conditions, and was actually proven to reverse the aging process, so you know that it’s doing good things for your body at the cellular level.

  • HOCATT is a therapy machine that combines 10 therapies into one 30-minute session.  The name stands for “Hyperthermic Ozone and Carbonic Acid Transdermal Technology”, which are only three of the therapies.  A patient will sit unclothed in the HOCATT machine, which encloses their body up to the neck.  The neck opening is closed with a towel, and the patient relaxes with a soft flow of oxygen below their nose, while the machine performs its therapies.  Here are four of them:

    • Whole body hyperthermia (increasing the body temperature) is accomplished by steam and far-infrared rays.  Increased body temperature simulates exercise and opens the pores of the skin for detoxification, reduces inflammation and accelerates the removal of lactic acid and so that other therapies are more effective.

    • Carbonic Acid is actually CO2, which when absorbed transdermally (through the skin), forces oxygen in the blood to be dumped into the surrounding tissues.  More oxygen in our tissues promotes healing. Healing with CO2 starts at the skin to improve skin conditions such as scarring and eczema, but also reduces oxidative stress at the cellular level under the skin.

    • The CO2 phase prepares the body for the ozone phase, by helping it to absorb more ozone.  Ozone has disinfecting and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as helps red blood cells to transport oxygen and improve circulation by flooding the body with oxygen. 

    • The high-intensity pulsed electromagnetic fields (PEMF) reduces inflammation.  “Nano-second spark gap PEMF” technology in the HOCATT is based on earlier Rife machines, which emit low-energy electromagnetic frequency to kill and decrease toxic microorganisms such as bacteria and even cancer cells. 

Since these therapies can be quite expensive, here are some free methods of pain relief that are proven:

  • Deep breathing: “The more you fear pain, the more you feel pain.” (ascellus.com) This means that a measure of the pain experience comes from the fear it elicits.  In order to counteract the brain’s trained response to pain, deep breathing helps to restore the brain’s “pleasure response” and overcome physical reactions to pain, like increased heart rate and blood pressure. For more stress relief and life-extending outcomes, check our our post on deep breathing. 

  • Progressive Muscle relaxation: according to the Arthritis Foundation, this technique has been shown to relieve stress, anxiety and chronic pain.  It involves mindfully tensing and relaxing specific muscle groups along the whole body.

  • Exercise: gentle aerobic activities like swimming, biking and walking help to interrupt a vicious cycle of pain and immobility, when permitted by your condition. (health.harvard.edu)

The double edges of the “wonder material” Graphene in water and air filtration, food processing and drug delivery

The double edges of the “wonder material” Graphene in water and air filtration, food processing and drug delivery

Graphene has grabbed a lot of attention lately, being termed a “wonder material” because of its unique properties.  Some of these are (graphene-info.com):

  • The thinnest material known to man
  • Approximately 200 times stronger than steel
  • Excellent heat and energy conductor
  • Light absorption properties

Graphene, which is a hexagonal arrangement of carbon atoms that is one atom thick, is a component of graphite, and was first isolated in 2004.  Since then, it’s been a source for innovation in a myriad of industries such as batteries, touch screens, sports equipment, solar cells and today’s topic, water filters.

Drinking water shortages in various parts of the world have spurred research into more cost-effective ways of filtering water.  “Reverse osmosis” or RO is the most common way of filtering seawater into potable (drinkable) water, but it does require a lot of energy and capital for equipment.  Graphene, however, is many times more water-permeable than standard RO systems and requires less energy.

There are several ways to make graphene into a filter to allow only H2O molecules to pass through it and not salts (like NaCl, which are larger).  In order to allow water to pass through at a 90 degree angle, the graphene or graphene oxide sheet would need to have holes punched in it, such as with ion bombardment.  However, this is not a practical way to produce a filter sheet on an industrial scale.   A variant of graphene, graphene oxide (GO), is a solution to this problem.  GO is produced when graphene is oxidated and later exfoliated (youtube video), producing a three-dimensional surface out of a flat one (graphene).   GO is hydrophilic, meaning that water flows through it quickly.  Instead of allowing the water to flow through at a 90 degree angle to a graphene sheet, it’s better to allow it to flow parallel between graphene oxide sheets, controlling the sheet distance from one sheet to another to disallow salts and other impurities from passing through.  GO membranes are also easier to manufacture than graphene membranes on a large scale, but the two can be used successfully together when graphene sheets (non-hydrophilic) are used between the GO sheets to control the pore size.  The UK firm G2O is working on fulfilling its first commercial contract for water filtration membranes enhanced with GO (graphene-info.com). 

A new water filter using graphene sheets shows a lot of promise.  Pioneered by Australian scientists and named “Graph Air”, the graphene itself is made from soybean oil, which is safe, cheap and renewable.  The process for making the graphene is easier, cost-effective, and more eco-friendly than the typical process, which can require costly volatile gases.  The most important advantage of Graph Air is its resistance to fouling, which causes downtime, backflushing and eventual filter replacement in most RO systems.  The test situation showed that the Graph Air system produced clean water from Sydney Harbor water, filtering out 100% salt and 99% of impurities without fouling.

A Russian study showed how GO can purify water from E.Coli.  GO injected into a mixture of saline water and nutrient medium (to simulate the human body and provide a food source for the bacteria) contaminated with E. Coli, “captures” the bacteria, forming flakes that can be extracted from the water.  Furthermore,  the GO can be recycled using ultrasound, enabling its re-use.  

Researchers at Rice University employed graphene in a new air filter designed to create an “air curtain” between people, much as plastic barriers do.  The filter pulls in air through a graphene foam filter, which is energized with electricity (graphene is highly conductive), zapping bacteria and viruses, and pushes out the air to form a “wall” of clean air.  It’s hence called the VirusWall, sort of like a bug-zapper or electric fence for pathogens.  

Here’s another sort of air filtration:  graphene layered on the outside of face masks provided repellent, photothermal and self-cleaning properties to the masks.  Here’s how the masks work: several layers of graphene on the outside caused incoming droplets (that can carry virus) to bounce off the mask.  Then, when the masks are exposed to sunlight, the high conductivity of the graphene causes the mask to quickly heat to over 80 deg C (176 deg F!) to destroy any pathogens on it (self-sterilization), so that the mask can be reused.  Finally, when the mask has become stained or unwearable, it can be recycled and the graphene used for desalinating saltwater into drinking water. 

Other substances derived from graphene are termed graphene family nanoparticles (GFNs).  In the food industry, these are being researched for their ability to absorb phycotoxins from shellfish (such as clams, oysters and mussels), alfa-toxins in peanuts, mycotoxins, and residual pesticides in foods (nanografi.com) In addition, the antibacterial properties of  silver (Ag) are magnified when it is synthesized onto reduced graphene oxide (rGO) sheets, presumably because the extremely sharp edges of the rGO causes cellular damage in addition to the silver ions that are released.  

GFNs are also the subject of many studies in drug delivery.  Binding drugs to GFNs allow the unique properties of graphenes to target and deliver drugs in the body like never before. Here are just a few of GFNs’ superb abilities as drug carriers (review paper):

  • High surface area of GFNs enables them to be an exceptional carrier of drugs 
  • pH-assisted delivery: Polyethylene-grafted GO (PEG-GO) will release more drugs in a shorter time in the acidic area around tumors, than without GO 
  • thermal-assisted delivery: drugs delivered by GO can be selectively released by near-infrared lasers
  • Magnetic and light assisted delivery: drugs can be accumulated for release near tumors when magnets or near-infrared light (lasers) are applied in the area
  • GFNs are also candidates for gene therapy delivery due to their ability to penetrate cells. 

As wonderful as the prospective applications are, GFNs are toxic to humans.  It has been discovered that nanoparticles with diameters <100 nm can enter cells, and those with diameters <40 nm can enter the nucleus (Nanotechnology as a double-edged sword…), and can cause toxicity to many different organs (table), depending on type of particle, dosing and delivery.  This causes concern for those manufacturing products with graphene, as well as anyone accidental ingesting graphene due to unforeseen breakdown of the product (such as filters that filter water, or process food, or purify air).   

Let’s hope that graphene and GFNs get their “due diligence” whenever they are used in close contact with water, air, foods, and drugs, so that this wonder material will not leave us wondering why we employed it for our safety!