Howdy! This is the post of all posts on a running theme in my life: Mould. Welcome to ‘My Laundry of Mouldy Horror’. (Warning: if the word ‘moist’ bothers you, DO NOT read on. Read this post instead.)
Seven months back, my washing machine broke, and refused to stop filling with water; it overflowed, running down my hallway, and into my dining room. Twice over a period of two months. (So. So. Lucky that water didn’t get into my safe room(s).) Each time, my daughter and I donned rubber wellingtons, and used whatever we could grab—towels, sheets, tablecloths, anything—to soak up the mess; we mopped; we dried; and we ran every heater we could find on high for a couple of weeks. We aired the house, and we ran fans, so as to circulate the air. (The floorboards in this house are floating laminate boards, made from particle board, which can absorb water when wet, and consequently, grow mould, which by the second ‘flood’, and my worsening symptoms, I reckon it did. *Nice!*)
Some of my readers may already know that there are several damp problems in this house already; and, how I’ve been banished by this mould infestation from, not only most of the rooms of this house, and consequently—because of the health symptoms bought on by exposure to this mould ( sinus inflammation, hypersensitive sense of smell, headaches, facial pain, pulsating pain behind eyes and throughout the sinuses, chronically dry eyes, black circles under and around my eyes)—this banishment has extended into many areas of ordinary life: social, school, running errands, shopping, even family: this added mould horror was not needed. (Or was it?)
The laundry went mouldy, and the landlord had to gut the mould affected areas, run heaters to dry it up, and plaster it up ready for new tiling. The tiling products had to be tested, and before the tiling could be done, it happened again:
there is a real life metaphor in this, because behind the scenes, my personal life went the same way: festered and stagnant
You see, after the second flood. We bought a new Whirlpool Cabrio washing machine from Woollies, a place that sells seconds white goods at cheaper prices. Naturally, the machine had new hoses attached. Think cheap K-mart rubber, impregnated with a petrol-like substance: not real rubber; pretend rubber from China. And, when I rang and told the man from Woolies about my dilemma, that’s exactly what he said:
“Cheap rubber washing machine hoses from China. We can smell the chemicals when we open the boxes.”
Well, I couldn’t use the machine even on cold, because the fumes coming from the laundry, even with the door closed, made me incredibly ill. The man at the washing machine shop, sold me some others: white PVC type hoses, consisting of a harder kind of plastic, and they were much better, but after only a couple of washes, the fumes made me ill; but in a different way.
[Think plastic and petrol fumes as opposed to petrol and synthetic rubber fumes: different chemicals, different symptoms.]
Then, the same guy had the ingenious idea of cutting off the old hoses from the broken machine, placing them onto new machine’s attachments, connecting the taps to the washing machine. *Just swap the hoses* Seemed like just another clever-think-outside-of-the-MCS-bubble type of idea. So we did it! However, one snapped in the process, so we had only one non-chemical-emitting-already-outgassed hose, and one brand new PVC hose. Still, it was better; yet, I could only use the machine a few times before plastic and petrochemical fumes wafted throughout the house, irritating my eyes and sinuses; and when ill with my whole face pounding in pain from breathing in toxic mould, just breathing in these other chemical fumes sent me to bed for days. The laundry is right next to my main safe room, and if I wanted to leave, I couldn’t avoid breathing these fumes in, and besides, I had to go into the laundry to get the washing so I could dry it. (Usually, I’ll dry it in the house, due to woodsmoke, and damp soil (mould spores) outside at night; and fabric softener, pollution, or lawn mower fumes during the day—not a healthy practice as far as indoor air-quality goes, but hey, it’s my best option at the moment… )
The I-can-do-only-three-washes system worked fine until there was another leak. This leak was different. There was no torrential stream of puddled water running down the hall to alert us. No. Just a weird chemical smell in the laundry one morning, which I thought was coming from under the crack of the door, from the neighbours, perhaps? It it had the aroma of bleach, leaving a chemical taste in my mouth and a pit of panic in my gut. I asked my daughter to investigate, knowing better than to stand around ‘sniffing’ and ‘breathing’ in something, trying to perceive exactly ‘what’ it is and ‘where’ it’s coming from. As soon as she said: “Mum, it smells like wet soil.” I knew the mould goblin was raising up the hackles of his toxic, black, moist fur somewhere in there. My resourceful rabbit moved the machine and found this:
The hose that had been changed had a tiny leak, which had been quietly dripping away in the background of our lives. It seeped into the newly placed plaster, and into the wooden frame of the wall. And just like hurtful comments thrown about in an already damaged relationship, the dampness reactivated the mould like a raw emotional wound inflamed and left to fester. And just like an abusive husband, home for another round, the mould was back to wreck havoc within our lives once again.
(you know when you try to get away from something, and you can’t? well, there is a message in that: find. a. way!)
This time when it was fixed, and the plaster cut away, there was also some wet chipboard that needed to be removed too. (Particle board loves mould; the air cavities within the glued wood-chips are the perfect medium to harbour it in, especially once it’s all moist and soggy.) So, using an electric saw: all the sawdust, embedded with mould, became air-borne, pluming out under the door, and into my house.
So, there I was sitting on the couch, trying to motivate myself into having a shower after a two hour long car trip back from a trip to the beach (I went there to try and get relief from my mould exposure): My chest went tight, my nostrils burned, my eyes stung, and I became nauseous. My fight response triggered, and I ‘exploded’ into action by (1), using masking tape to seal the friggen door shut, and (2), screaming verbal obscenities at the stupid tradesman: my landlord!
I showered, and I stayed in my safe room. For days. I went down the beach, tried sleeping in my car, which I won’t blog about right now, apart to say: Don’t do it if you have problems breathing around petrochemicals (Never mind your bloody back!).
So here it is being fixed. I took these photos a week later (after making up with one very apologetic landlord):
The Less Toxic Tiling Products I Used
Low VOC silicone: Selly’s 3 in 1 Silicone Sealer – Low toxic, low odour and VOC
Tile Glue: National Tiles Grant’s PM 450 Tile Adhesive
Grout: Davco Sanitised Colour Grout (Note: Many people with severe chemical sensitivities use just plain Portland Cement as grout: it has no additives at all.) and here is the Safety and Data Sheet. (Just so you know: Inhalation of any cement dust can cause Reactive Airways Disease (RADS), even for non-sensitive people.
Other Things I Did
I stayed away from the room while it was being remodelled. The door leading from the laundry to the rest of the house was sealed shut using painter’s masking tape (painter’s masking tape is a great product (especially for renters) because it doesn’t pull away house paint as it’s removed–like ordinary tape does). All the products were tested by me for toxicity. (Just because it says ‘natural’ or ‘non-toxic’ doesn’t mean it’s going to be okay to use. I’ve learnt the hard way that to avoid disasters, everything needs to be tested first.)
My Outgassing Recipe
I used an oil heater, and a bar heater—ones I don’t use as a personal heater in winter—and I had them turned on high for 12-16 hours, with the door sealed shut from the rest of the house, and all other windows and doors closed. Then, switching them off, I opened all the windows and doors to the outside fresh air (or, rather, the city polluted air), which allowed the room to out-gass via the process of cooling down. This was repeated each day for a week. (To save on electricity, I did the heating during the day, and the cooling during the night. If it’s rainy or damp outside, this process would need to be reversed so as to not reactivate any mould left in the room by allowing damp air in; or you could just shorten the cooling times.)
How to Test Materials for Chemical Sensitivity
(so you have a better chance of not reacting to them after the renovation)
- Most important, ask your doctor exactly what products, or ingredients you need to be avoiding. As an example only, my treating Immunologist said that I needed to look for low volatile organic compound (low VOC) products, and that I needed to avoid solvents. (*Thanks be to my younger self, and 15 years of applying false fingernails*) But, if it were possible to avoid the area being renovated for a period of time, then products that have some solvents are actually good; they allow the product to dry quickly, which facilitates the out-gassing and hardening process. (This can take weeks or months.)
- Ask around on MCS blogs, forums, and Facebook groups so you can find out what works for others; however, this is definitely not an assurance that the products won’t cause you symptoms, but it’s is a good place to start looking for products that may be suitable and can be tested for compatibility.
- Ask the company who sells the product that you’re interested in, if you can see a copy of the Safety and Data sheet for each product. (If you explain to them why you need it, and you are asked: “Well, tell us what ingredient you are ‘allergic’ or ‘sensitive’ to, and we’ll tell you if it’s in it?” Tell them: you want to make an informed choice about what the product’s exact ingredients are, before you choose to use that product. Remember, you are a paying customer; you have a right to this information. And you have a right to ask for it without being judged! Trust me, practice at doing this will make you into a masterful, assertive person capable of asking the right questions, and dealing with salespeople, all while protecting your health!)
- On the opposite end of the scale of ‘Un-helpfulness and Non-disclosure’ are the companies who will do anything to help you find the right product. There are many green-sustainable-low-voc products on the market; and the people who plug these products will often have Safety and Data sheets at the ready—some are even available online on their websites (have a Google for them)—and they will have, or be able to organise, sample size pots and packets so they can be tested for health compatibility (I’ve paid around $13 for a sample pot, and in other instances, companies have given them away for free.). These sort are the companies we want to buy from: they care about us, and the planet. And they offer Full-disclosure of their ingredients!
- To start the testing process, I always have a non chemically sensitive person scrape, approximately, a teaspoon of the product onto a clean tile, or piece of hardwood (something I know won’t cause me symptoms);
- This is left to dry for a sufficient amount of time (usually double, or triple what the manufacturer says);
- Then, if I don’t have any immediate symptoms (remember my symptoms are mostly upper respiratory, and inhalant related), I bring it inside, leaving it in the same room for a while;
- Next, I sleep overnight with the test piece on my bedside table (this may need to be done during a separate testing session, however, I did it all at once);
- (If you do this, and there are no symptoms, just to be sure, you might want to test it again) I just leave the testing piece outside, and bring it in again once I’m not experiencing any other symptoms from any other chemical exposures;
(This is not medical advice. These are just tips that have been suggested to me by others who are sensitive to chemicals, then tried, and deemed successful by me, for me. The rest is just ‘trial and error’ (erring on the side of ‘error’ in the case of switching to the old machines hoses…) and thinking outside of the proverbial bubble)
So, what was good about this mould-on-top-of-mould accident? Can there ever be anything good about mould? Well yes, while digging for answers, I found this: It inspired me to take action, and find a way to move on. Finding a property suitable for someone who is sensitive to chemicals is not easy; and I won’t say that I’ve done it yet. But stay posted for ‘Michellina Finds the Way Out of this Clusterfuck of Mouldy Tunnels in this Labyrinth of Chemical Sensitivities!’ Oh, and this gut-wrenching/real-life post: ‘Tips on How to find a Rental Property for a Person Sensitive to Chemicals’.
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