My son is helping some friends clean up their new home, which has not been
lived in for a couple of years apparently. There is some fungal growth they
want to wash down. Is a respirator advisable, and if so which one?
In any such activity, if this was a commercial operation, one would by
law have to do a COSHH assessment and in writing
To do so one would have to identify and assess the hassard and its
First therefore identify what precisely you mean by fungus - spore?,
mycelium? hyphal strands? or sporophore?
Generally the most likely to harm you and it is not very likely in the
first place would be spores.
There are on a summer's day 500,000 mould spores per cubic m in the
air and our bodies are well accostomed to dealing with them (cilia and
OK so now you have presumably identified the fungus ( and my guess is
you are probably referring to a mould with black spores such as
Aspergillus niger the most common and likely suspect) ~What do you
Look up the HSE website and it *may* help. I personally would open
the windows and as it is probably a dusty job wear a dust mask until
the dust is clear as I have never come across a fungus in a house that
is known to be harmful to health on well-researched epidemiological
data but am happy to be corrected
We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the
drugs began to take hold. I remember firstname.lastname@example.org saying something
A few years ago I was taking out an old cold header tank from a
cupboard, where the occasional splashing and condensation from the tank
had soaked the inner roof of the cupboard, resulting in a coating of
white mould. I wasn't wearing a mask at that point and got a lungful of
the spores/dust. Over the next few days I developed some nasty flu-like
symptoms which subsided after about a fortnight, but never went beneath
a constant cold-like state for weeks.
I went down the GP's and he prescribed an anti-fungal course (I unrecall
which one) and it cleared up within a week.
About 18 months later I was doing work at the same premises, this time
in the outbuildings and again managed to breath in some dusty shit from
old hay that was lying around. The same series of events occurred -
feeling shit, feverish, cold-like, almost flu-like, etc. Down the doc
again, more pills.
Look up 'Farmer's Lung' - it's not just farmers who get it.
Funguses are quite specific about what they infect and live on,
and funguses living on building materials (timber, paper, polymers,
etc) are unlikely to be able to infect you. In any case, their
spores are around in the environment anyway, so you would have
already been infected if you were susceptable. Funguses living on
animal food/body/excretions would be more concerning, but probably
not what you're likely to find lots of in a building.
Another aspect is allergy or irritant. People develop all sorts of
allergies to things that have no reason to have any interaction
with them, such as pollens, and the same could apply to large
concentrations of spores in susceptable people. Then there's
sensitivity to any fine dust, which again varies with different
people (smokers in particular are much less able to clear dust
from lungs, and asthamics may need to be more careful too).
However, if you're washing down, then you are not likely to be
making extra large numbers of spores air-borne. Although there
will be a slight concentration there due to the fungus originally,
this will probably diminish quickly as you clear away the visible
You also need to find out why the fungus is there. Without solving
the cause, it will simply reappear.
[email address is not usable -- followup in the newsgroup]
Yes, a respirator is strongly advisable. Fungal spores might not
infect you (they're looking for timber) and they certainly won't
"infect" you in the way that swine flu might, but there is a
significant allergy risk, or irritation at least even if you're not
So mask up, and wear an outer layer of clothing that's easy to remove
and wash / discard. Most DIY stores will sell you a disposable Tyvek
boilersuit ofr a quid or two and it's always worth having one of those
spare in the toolbox (sudden court appearance, Altern-8 gig or the
The best mask is the one you're wearing, so wear _something_, even a
If it's a one-off, use a disposable dust mask of good quality with a
P2 rating (particulates, enough to deal with fungi) and with an exhale
valve. 3M make them (try a 9322), Screwfix et al sell them and they're
only a couple of quid. It's another thing where you should always keep
a spare one in the toolbox. Throw it away immediately afterwards.
If you are going to wear it a lot over a shortish period, then
consider a 3M 4000 series disposable rubber mask (15 quid). This is
more comfortable to wear and fits / seals better, but is discarded
after a month (keeps better if you put it away in the storage bag
afterwards). These also fit well under a face shield, if you're using
a grinder or something. These are good masks, and in commercial use
they're easier to do the records keeping for (no maintenance, just
dispose after a month).
If you're buying long term, then go for either a 3M 3000 series half
mask with replaceble filters, or the Draeger equivalent. Always use a
dust pre-filter with these, as it makes the chemical filter last
longer. Masks like these need some care and maintenance though - make
sure the straps are still working and they seal properly. Silicone is
less sweaty and gunky than rubber, so worth the extra cost.
If you need full-face to protect your eyes (ammonia vapour etc.),
consider a mil-surplus Avon S10 - the filter threads are standard and
you can get filters from Arco.
A reasonable list with pictures
Draeger's big selection chart
Thanks very much indeed. That's just what I needed. The house he's working
in had a major water leak for several months that was not attended to. The
fungus growths look like dry rot to me - lots of mushroomy bits all over the
place, including on the plasterwork in places.
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