Is the stuff from the attic going to make me sick?
December 19, 2010 8:20 PM   Subscribe

I opened the attic in the house I'm renting and some dust containing who-knows-what fell down on me. I didn't have a mask or safety glasses on. Are there any health risks?

I'm renting a house that was built in 1948. The attic access is just a rectangular hole with a thin board over it. I was going to put a piece of foam insulation over the board. When I opened moved the board, some debris fell down on me.

I noticed there was something hanging that looked like strung-together dust. There were little grey balls, which I assume are egg sacs of some type. There were what looked like dead ants in the hanging dust.

There were also what looked to be dead ants and mouse droppings on the board.

My camera is broken, so these pictures are bad, but they give the general idea.

I washed my hands right away and splashed water into my face and eyes. I also ran to the store and got some saline solution and rinsed my eyes out with that.

When I put the attic panel back up, I used safety glasses, a mask, and plastic gloves.

I'm about to take a shower.

I know that animal droppings carry viruses and disease. Are there any health risks? Is there anything else I should do to prevent catching something?
posted by chris p to Health & Fitness (14 answers total)
Response by poster: Forgot to include the pictures.
posted by chris p at 8:26 PM on December 19, 2010

Best answer: Don't eat the mouse droppings. Take preventive action if you have dust allergies. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap. If you have dust in your eyes, wash them out with warm water. Take a shower.

I've lived quite a bit in dust-strewn houses that had pest problems, to the point that I repeatedly had to shake out the mouse droppings from the tray under the plate drying rack. I didn't contract any unusual illnesses.
posted by Nomyte at 8:33 PM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Don't eat the mouse droppings.

I'll second that. Old grit and crap is really not healthy for you, but if you clean up I think you'll live. Be thankful you don't have to work with this stuff every day.
posted by ovvl at 8:42 PM on December 19, 2010

Don't go poking around up there is you don't need to. Some blown in attic insulation can have asbestos in it. If left alone, it should be ok.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:54 PM on December 19, 2010

Where you located? Mouse droppings in the SW have sometimes caused hantavirus in humans.
posted by charmcityblues at 8:58 PM on December 19, 2010

You might sneeze. I have been in many nasty attics and crawlspaces in my life. Plenty of nasty crap has fallem on me. Still alive. Don't panic.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 9:02 PM on December 19, 2010

Hantavirus, in some places.
posted by salvia at 9:09 PM on December 19, 2010

Best answer: It's probably true that the insulation contains asbestos. The gray color you mention and show doesn't contradict this. That powdered gray detritus pretty much looks like degraded asbestos insulation. However, to put this into perspective; when I was in elementary school, we made Igloos and Jungle Huts out of giant bags of finely-powdered asbestos and water. The teachers handed us 5 gallon bags of dried asbestos, and told us to go nuts. Doing the math, we mixed the powdered asbestos up with an equal amount of water and paper maché with pong-pong paddles in 5 gallon aluminum pails. Naturally, when the teacher left, we used the milk straws sprawling everywhere in those days as pea-shooters to launch the asbestos projectiles we made in our mouths. You'll likely be alright
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 9:56 PM on December 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

My house is over a hundred years old, and the previous owners weren't the greatest housekeepers, so I've seen a lot of dust and grime, often with evidence of prior crawly inhabitants. Stuff falling on your head is certainly gross, but I really doubt your exposure meets even the most conservative estimate of risk.

If you're really worried and live in an area where hantavirus has been an issue, here's a hantavirus fact sheet.
posted by desuetude at 10:01 PM on December 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I grew up an old house, and the attic was like this. You should be fine with the actions you've taken, IANYMDE (I am not your mouse droppings expert).
posted by arcticseal at 11:01 PM on December 19, 2010

If you were exposed to Hantavirus, it's too late now. But in all likelihood, just getting hit with a cloud of attic crap is pretty unlikely to make you sick, unless the cloud were all mouse droppings. Hanta cases usually involve a lot of mouse droppings and a person cleaning them without a protective mask. Most cases happen in rural areas.

If you're worried, wear an N95 mask next time. But don't sweat it, unless you start getting flu-like symptoms in the next couple weeks.
posted by dw at 11:11 PM on December 19, 2010

Unless you have immune-system deficiencies, the dust isn't going to do much to you. Even a few times exposure to asbestos won't kill you unless you filled your lungs to capacity with it. Dust is dust - you'd be surprised how much you suck in each and every day. Use a dust mask next time you go up there but you probably won't need a full body suit.
posted by JJ86 at 6:39 AM on December 20, 2010

Any plumber has to deal with this sort of thing every day. Mouse droppings are not good for you, and neither is dust, but in small quantities like you just experienced you should be fine. Wash your mouth out next time, and wash your hands.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:16 AM on December 20, 2010

Before you panic about asbestos, not all vermiculite (puffy, mica-looking, super light stuff) contains asbestos and I can't even begin to tell from your photos if what we're looking at is vermiculite. Even if it is, your exposure is likely very minor. If you're freaked, then the best course of action is to avoid disturbing the stuff any further. Use a spray bottle to dampen any bits still lying around, sweep them up, and double bag them.

In general, I'm nthing the idea that you will probably be just fine. Contact a poison control center or similar if you need reassurance.
posted by that's candlepin at 12:40 PM on December 20, 2010

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