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Keeping it Clean in the Dark Print E-mail
Written by Captain Ted Sputh   
Sunday, 01 March 2009 00:00

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What do Bleu and Roquefort cheese, wine, penicillin, and loose rich soil in organic matter have in common?  MOLD.

Mold is everywhere. It is very valuable to our food, drug, and beverage industry and innately contains a decaying mechanism that keeps our environment from being inundated with large amounts of dead matter.

There are approximately 400,000 types of mold but less than 100,000 have been named.  Of the approximately 1,000 types of mold that are found indoors across America, less than 80 of those molds are suspected of causing some form of illness and out of the 80, only a few are considered toxic.

There are three major mold groups: allergenic, pathogenic and toxigenic. The categories are defined by how humans accept their presence. Allergenic molds do not usually produce life threatening health effects and are most likely to affect those persons who are already allergic or asthmatic.  Pathogenic molds usually produce some type of infection and can cause serious health problems in people with suppressed immune systems. Toxigenic molds can cause serious health ramifications in almost anyone.

Common indoor molds include Aspergillus, Cladosporium, Penicillium, Alternaria, and the dreaded Stachybotrys atra also known as “Black Mold”.  “Black Mold” produces chemical toxins known as mycotoxins which are airborne and are ingested through inhalation causing nose bleeds, coughs, flu like symptoms, headaches and fever.

A mid 1990 study from Ohio involved infants who had died from sudden and unexplained pulmonary hemorrhage or bleeding from their lungs.  Researchers found that the infants resided in homes with high levels of Stachybotrys atra.  This was not listed as a cause of death but as a similarity in the baby’s deaths.

Mold needs four basic components to grow and survive:  a temperature range above 40 degrees Fahrenheit and below 100 degrees Fahrenheit, mold spores, a nutrient base, and moisture.  An ideal breeding ground for mold is in the air handlers on vessels. The temperature is right; they are located in dark places with a wood base and the air handler produces moisture by virtue of its job.

Many air handlers on vessels are located under beds, in cabinets, in closets and behind virtually immovable navigation cabinets.  We all have our own air handler horror story; mattresses filled with mold, rotting wood in closets from overflowing drip pans, water from an unknown source seeping from overheads, and or mold clogged filers.

In a perfect system, air handlers on vessels not only cool but also act as dehumidification systems. The chilled water circulates through the coils that air is blown over creating chilled air and is simultaneously pushed around the cold coils causing humid air to condense the water that forms on the coils and drips into the air handler’s pan.  This is the water that must drain away into the grey water system or to another holding tank.

The same principle applies on a cold glass of beer when you see condensation on the glass. Humid air hits a cold surface and causes condensation. Hence, the need for a beer coaster! (Enter my great great Uncle, Robert Sputh from Dresden, Germany. In 1893, he developed and designed the “Bierdeckel” or beer cover.  It was originally made out of felt and used to sop up beer then to cover the top of beer glasses.  Many of these felt fabric coasters were unhygienic and gave rise to foul-smelling bacteria …probably mold… after several uses.  After much trial and error, beer coasters are now made of fir pulp which has proven to be the most efficient beer absorbing fabric in the world.  What a great legacy!)

The cleaning process of your vessel’s air handlers is a tedious monthly job. But air handlers don’t generate mold, improper maintenance generates mold! There are many schools of thought about the proper way to clean a filter and when to actually replace it, the type of filter to use, tea tree oil, Lysol spray, use of sponges in the drip pan or anti bacterial tablets, etcetera.  The one thought that is constant is maintenance, maintenance, and maintenance.  As with the beer coaster, it’s just a matter of trial and error to find the right maintenance schedule, a competent conscientious crew member to do the work and the appropriate products for your vessel.

Crew members should take responsibility for their own health and many molds can be dangerous to your good health. It might be someone else’s job to clean that air handler under your bed or in your head, but check it yourself.  Make sure that the filter is clean, the air smells fresh and that the little hole is draining excess water from the drip pan through the tubing to a holding tank.

Remember that there are some molds that you just don’t want in your life but you can mold your life to fit the rhythm of the sea.

Fair winds and calm seas,

Captain Ted Sputh


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