What is a mold-avoidance sabbatical? How long does it last? What good does it accomplish? Should you come to Sabbatical Ranch? What about remediation? Let's explore these questions and more.
Sick Building Syndrome
Mold toxins are a leading cause of sick building syndrome. If you experience frequent headaches; dizziness; nausea; eye, nose or throat irritation; itchy skin; difficulty concentrating; fatigue; sensitivity to odors; allergies; cold or flu-like symptoms; or increased asthma attacks, your home, workplace, vehicle, or another structure you frequent may be the root cause. If it is, you'll want to take immediate steps to avoid it because the longer you are exposed, the more serious the damage to your health becomes. If it's your home or workplace, you may need to get creative to find alternative living or working arrangements.
Simple test: Pay attention to where you're at when you don't feel well, how you feel when you get away from that location, and how you feel when you return. Sometimes this is all it takes to discover the source of your problems. But it's not always this easy because of the nature of various symptoms. Flash symptoms get masked over time even as more serious, seemingly unrelated symptoms set in.
If you suspect the problem is a building that you frequent but you're getting mixed results with the simple test, getting away for a couple weeks will likely give you a definitive answer if done correctly. You want to give your body the ideal conditions for healing and detox so that when you go back you will notice the stark difference when re-exposed to the suspect building if it is indeed the problem.
Here's a priority list (in no particular order) for a simple, short-term sabbatical:
Go somewhere with clean air!
Eat clean food, especially lots of chemical-free veggies.
Get as much movement as you can handle. Sweating is helpful for detoxing, but you need to wash it off so the toxins aren’t reabsorbed.
Drink lots of clean water.
Get plenty of sleep – sleep where you’re sure there’s no mold (tent camping is a good option).
Take nothing from the suspect building with you.
The photo at the top of the page is at Fort Cobb State Park, OK, on the first night of our sabbatical. The following article was really helpful for us: A Guide to Non-Toxic Camping Gear (And Keeping it Mold Free).
If you return and determine that the suspect building is not the problem, taking the above steps will probably give your health a big boost nonetheless. If you determine that the building is the problem, now you know that you must avoid it in order to avoid cascading symptoms.
Be aware that mold toxins leach into just about every substance except metal and glass, which can be cleaned. This means that your clothing, furniture, and other possessions may be contaminated even though they don't have mold growing on them. If you move and take them with you, you may continue to experience symptoms. We didn't know this and moved multiple times, getting rid of more stuff each time, before we came to understand that we had to walk away from everything.
If you use either the simple test or a short-term sabbatical and determine that your home is the problem, you have some big decisions to make. If you had prolonged exposure to mold toxins, you likely have some pretty serious health issues that won't easily go away. Many people have only found healing by walking away from everything and going on a long-term sabbatical.
You would have the same priorities as mentioned above for a simple, short-term sabbatical. The idea is to get into clean environments away from toxins of every sort to give your body a chance to heal. This may take anywhere from a few months to a few years.
There are some beautiful places to do this including public lands all over the western United States. Many of them have free or low-cost campgrounds with many or little to no amenities. Freecampsites.net is a resource we used a lot on our year-long sabbatical.
If you're seriously considering this, A Beginner’s Guide to Mold Avoidance is a must read free ebook.
Want to Camp at Sabbatical Ranch?
My wife says visiting Sabbatical Ranch may be compared to visiting a foreign country. The culture, customs, and lifestyle is considerably different than the unhealthy way so many have learned to live. Imagine the sabbatical priority list described above as a daily practice.
Sabbatical Ranch is being developed to help those who are forced by mold to walk away from everything like we were. We want to produce food that is chemical-free, nutrient-dense, and forage-fed. This takes work - one thing we struggled to get much of on our sabbatical.
Want to help? We don't have much to offer yet besides maybe a camping spot. But if you're going on a mold-avoidance sabbatical, you probably need one of those. And this is a working ranch so there's never any shortage of movement opportunities available. It really offers an incredible learning experience.
This is the desert, so there is everything that goes along with that. Along with unique critters there is extreme weather. The hottest months are May and June with average highs in the 90°s. Think of it as a free sauna - which is a healthy way to sweat. The worst months to be here are July-September. This is monsoon season and humidity gets pretty bad. Last year we had a severe thunderstorm almost every day. If anything is going to go moldy, this is when it happens. The rest of the year is pretty nice when the wind isn't blowing dust around. Our experience is that dust devils mainly occur in the hottest months. December and January are the coldest months with highs mostly in the 50°s and 60°s and freezing almost every night.
If you think you can handle helping at Sabbatical Ranch, contact us. Here is more information about the area.
What About Remediation?
As I explained the mold problems above you may have thought, "Can't you just kill it?" This is still the way most people think based on outdated ideas about how to deal with microbes such as mold. For decades this was the mainstream approach.
Now we know it's not that simple. If water damage to a building is caught in the first 24 hours, you can remove and replace all water damaged material and everything will probably be alright. Shortly after that, mold will form biofilm that will ensure its survival. If it dries out it can simply go dormant until it gets enough moisture again - even just enough humidity (70%+ is definitely enough humidity for mold growth). It starts growing and cranking out toxic spores whenever the conditions are right.
By the time mold is dense enough to be seen with the naked eye, it is well entrenched. Conventional wisdom says to spray it with bleach. This is just about the worst thing you can do! Bleach is a toxic chemical you probably shouldn't be spraying anywhere. It will make mold invisible, give it the moisture it needs to thrive, and the attack will trigger it to fight back. It does this by spewing out millions of spores with mycotoxins. Welcome to chemical warfare with an invisible enemy.
How about calling in the professionals? Sadly, many are operating with some of the same outdated ideas and they escalate the chemical warfare with further attacks that can't penetrate the protective biofilm.
If the professionals really know what they're doing, they'll dress in full-body hazmat suits like they're entering a toxic area - because they are. They will (hopefully) identify all the locations mold is growing and isolate those areas from the rest of the building (by taping up plastic sheeting) while they remove and then replace all the contaminated material. Disturbing mold's food source where it's growing (eg. Sheetrock, particle board) triggers it to release all the toxic spores it can (Which is why you DON'T want to do this! I have a friend who tried this and was bedridden sick for days.). Lastly, they will spray the whole building with a spore and mycotoxin neutralizing mist. Ideally, every surface should be cleaned with the same.
This sounds very thorough and you would think that it would solve the problem. But that's not always the result. Part of it depends on how long the problem existed. As the toxic spores settled around the building over time along with all the other dust, they began leaching mycotoxins into the surfaces where they sat. The longer they sat and the more that settled, the more they leached. Pretty soon just about everything in the building is toxic - at least with trace amounts. Those who have had prolonged exposure tend to become hyperreactive to these trace amounts. Few who have reached this stage have found relief from any remediation attempts.
Will remediation work in your case? Do you need a mold-avoidance sabbatical? Only you can be the judge of that.
Dedicated Christian, patriot, family man, founder of Sabbatical Ranch & Resilient Agriscaping, Elegant, Edible Landscape Educator, Facilitator, & Coach