Contamination of the cave from a dirty cave suit?

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Contamination of the cave from a dirty cave suit?

Postby MUD » Dec 5, 2006 9:36 pm

This came up in another forum off topic so I thought I would post this here and see what y'all think. Do you think wearing a suit, gloves, boots that's dirty from caving into another cave will harm it? I do this often and haven't started a new species that I know of. :sarcasm: I'm sure there are people out there that think this is wrong. You can't please everyone! I don't plan on washing my suit after every trip, that's for sure. :grin:
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Postby mabercrombie » Dec 5, 2006 10:06 pm

the only time i have ever heard of this being an issue was between two comercial caves. When the wild cave guides toured the wild cave of another comercial operation the cavers equipment became caked with a dark red mud. It had a high iron content and allegedly had a species of bacteria that was not present in the other comercial cave. The guides were made to wash every peice of equipment before returning to work because of the fear of cross contamination.
personally I wash my caving clothes once every two or three weeks, or when they get so crusty I have to beat them before I put them on
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Postby mgmills » Dec 5, 2006 10:23 pm

I would think it might make more difference in dry caves vs wet caves.

Western caves (I've visited only a few) have a different character than many caves in the southeast.

I usually hose my outer layer of clothing off between trips. I wear a pair of B&C caving trousers. My caving top is poly pro and it goes through the gently wash cycle and gets hung to dry. Sometimes I wear a shirt over the polypro but mostly not.
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Postby fuzzy-hair-man » Dec 5, 2006 10:28 pm

Would you really get to know if it was an issue? by that time it would be too late anyway.

To my knowledge some cave biota will not travel or spread between caves even if they are relatively close together so it is like a closed eco system for these species transferring in any species from another cave is likely to have bad effects I'm guessing. Sort of like introduced species destroy the balance and may wipe out indigenous species above ground.

If this happened would we really know? would we attribute it to a change in climate, water levels, soil toxins, and a whole raft of other possible explanations this is if we noticed a change in the first place it's possible we wouldn't even notice the change it may be microscopic species or it may be slow enough we don't notice.

I guess it's best that we do what we can to prevent damaging the caves we visit and this includes trying not to spread species between caves.

It may be likely that if the mud is dry then any organisms in it have died, I think this is the approach customs and quarantine use to stop bugs from overseas.
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Re: Contamination of the cave from a dirty cave suit?

Postby NZcaver » Dec 5, 2006 10:46 pm

Cavemud wrote:This came up in another forum off topic so I thought I would post this here and see what y'all think. Do you think wearing a suit, gloves, boots that's dirty from caving into another cave will harm it? I do this often and haven't started a new species that I know of. :sarcasm: I'm sure there are people out there that think this is wrong. You can't please everyone! I don't plan on washing my suit after every trip, that's for sure. :grin:

Since I'm the one that originally brought this subject up, I should probably elaborate.

This subject is not about pleasing everyone - nor is it expected that you'll see detrimental results with the naked eye. You can laugh this off if you like, but this is one (albeit seemingly minor) impact on caves that you DO have the power to control yourself. Just like other things we don't do in caves - urinating, defecating, smoking, dropping food scraps, litter, etc.

I've always been taught to look after my gear (and other people's). In the early 2000's I was hanging out with muddy cavers in the Northeast, several of whom I noticed didn't wash their suits and gear between trips. On one trip I made a general remark that perhaps I should "join the club" and slacken off with my gear cleaning regime. To which a long-time caver biologist on the trip said "no". He then explained about the no-so-obvious harm that can be caused over the long term by cross-contaminating caves.

His quiet words stuck with me, and I have since heard the same tune coming from a few others around the US. Lechuguilla Cave is one classic example of taking clean gear seriously, but I'm led to believe the same theory applies across a broad range of cave and karst regions. I would imagine it's probably not too critical in the really wet (ie swimming) caves - you come out fairly clean anyway!

I won't even pretend I know all that much about cave biology, but this is what I've been told. Perhaps other caver/biologists have a different take on this, or feel the whole concept is virtually irrelevant. Feel free to discuss.

Incidentally, here's a thread on cleaning caving equipment. It would appear that, with one or two exceptions, most people who posted actually clean their gear fairly regularly...

http://www.caves.org/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=843
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Postby MUD » Dec 5, 2006 10:57 pm

If I washed my suit after every trip...it wouldn't last very long. I do wash it when I think it needs it(smell,too much dried mud)but as much as I cave, it would fall apart more quickly than I'd like. What about when you cough? Sneeze? Dead skin cells? Hair? I guess none of these biologicals do any harm? I'd bet alot more than a dirty cave suit! :waving:
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Postby NZcaver » Dec 5, 2006 10:58 pm

FHM - great post! :grin:

fuzzy-hair-man wrote:Would you really get to know if it was an issue? by that time it would be too late anyway.

:exactly: So the question is - is it better to clean your gear anyway *just in case*, or not? We could just not bother, and if/when evidence of contamination caused by humans (cavers) is revealed, we can just say "oh dear, how sad, if only we knew earlier".

To my knowledge some cave biota will not travel or spread between caves even if they are relatively close together so it is like a closed eco system for these species transferring in any species from another cave is likely to have bad effects I'm guessing. Sort of like introduced species destroy the balance and may wipe out indigenous species above ground.

:exactly:

If this happened would we really know? would we attribute it to a change in climate, water levels, soil toxins, and a whole raft of other possible explanations this is if we noticed a change in the first place it's possible we wouldn't even notice the change it may be microscopic species or it may be slow enough we don't notice.

I guess it's best that we do what we can to prevent damaging the caves we visit and this includes trying not to spread species between caves.

:exactly: Right on!

It may be likely that if the mud is dry then any organisms in it have died, I think this is the approach customs and quarantine use to stop bugs from overseas.

This I'm not so sure of, but once again I am certainly no biologist. From my experience customs/quarantine in some countries get mighty upset with travellers entering with muddy gear - dried or not.
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Postby juselton » Dec 5, 2006 11:06 pm

Just because you can't see it doesn't mean it isn't there.
Every single thing we do has some impact. The goal is to minimize that impact. On a recent trip someone needed an empty container for storage. They had a neoprene bottle of water. Before they emptied the water in the cave we had a discussion about the water "quality". Is it tap water? does it contain chlorine? It's only water, right? You have to think about what harm you might cause before you act.
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Postby fuzzy-hair-man » Dec 5, 2006 11:07 pm

Cavemud wrote:What about when you cough? Sneeze? Dead skin cells? Hair? I guess none of these biologicals do any harm? I'd bet alot more than a dirty cave suit! :waving:


I'd guess a lot of those biologicals aren't able to survive in a cave as they need heat (from our body) or light or are growing inside our body so once outside it they die relatively quickly, but it's possible I suppose.
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Postby MUD » Dec 5, 2006 11:14 pm

You wanna keep a cave pristine? NEVER enter it or go near it! I really think every time we enter a cave we're "dragging" something in and/or out. Maybe it's on the suit...maybe it's what's in our heads! :grin:
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Postby NZcaver » Dec 5, 2006 11:21 pm

Cavemud wrote:If I washed my suit after every trip...it wouldn't last very long. I do wash it when I think it needs it(smell,too much dried mud)but as much as I cave, it would fall apart more quickly than I'd like. What about when you cough? Sneeze? Dead skin cells? Hair? I guess none of these biologicals do any harm? I'd bet alot more than a dirty cave suit! :waving:

Quite right - other biological matter would likely have an impact on caves too. What does less harm or more harm? I have no clue. Will there be negative results seen in our lifetime? Maybe - maybe not. I'm merely pointing out that this concern does exist, and it is something we cavers have control over. (Even if we feel our suits are held together by the sacred mud, and would die if washed.) :wink:

Actually, I'd be very surprised to find washing your suit after every trip would kill it as quickly as you make out. I have a common old (5 years old) Meander suit, which is washed after virtually every trip. Other than a peeling lining (which doesn't make much practical difference), and some repaired (Aquasealed) stitching on the butt, it's still doing fine - and it's done a LOT of caving around the US and overseas. In my experience one of the most damaging environments for caving gear is the lava tubes of Hawai'i. Luckily it's too warm there for me to wear my suit, but I do destroy my shirts and pants on every trip. :neutral: (Sorry, off topic again for a moment there.)
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Postby MUD » Dec 5, 2006 11:31 pm

Once again we've steered :off topic: You may be right about contamination. I don't know and I certainly won't lose sleep thinking about it. When you push the nasty holes like we do...suits don't hold up too long. Nor gloves or boots for that matter!
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Postby NZcaver » Dec 5, 2006 11:44 pm

Cavemud wrote:Once again we've steered :off topic: You may be right about contamination. I don't know and I certainly won't lose sleep thinking about it. When you push the nasty holes like we do...suits don't hold up too long. Nor gloves or boots for that matter!

Better you than me, pushing the nasty holes I mean. :grin:

And don't worry too much about these threads drifting slightly off topic here and there. Almost all of them do, sooner or later. Call it cross-contaminated discussion, if you will... :wink:
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Postby MUD » Dec 5, 2006 11:56 pm

Cross-contamination chat :rofl: I love that! Things certainly move around here, huh? I've really never given the cross-contamination thing much thought :doh: Maybe I'll wash my suit before next trip? No way....same cave as last time :grin: Surveying in tight, nasty, sharp rock cuttin' passage :cavingrocks: How about when you try to explain to a non caver what you "do" while you're down in the cave? :shock:
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Postby Teresa » Dec 7, 2006 9:39 pm

I actually know of species transported and transplanted into other caves on purpose--they seemed to have done about as good there as in their home location. Unlike fuzzy-hair-man's experience, bats, crickets, and cavefish that I know of have been tracked between nearby caves, all by themselves. Not to mention the rest of the accidental and troglophile traffic going in and out of the cave.

I think folks should heed Martha Mills' advice. In wet, heavily used eastern caves, there probably isn't a hill of beans difference in terms of 'contamination'--most of them have had over 100 years of human contamination anyway, so a little more isn't necessarily a big thing. In caves where they flood from surface water, there is more external stuff brought in after a good rain than comes in on a couple of groady cavers.

In pristine (dug into) caves like Lechuguilla, you're in an entirely different ball game. There is reason to worry about the microbes there. In dry caves, without water transport, likely the flora are more stable, and should be protected more closely.

I can't imagine putting on dirty cave clothes except for a second day at a caving regional where there is no creek or laundry facilities. EEEEEch! Of course, it is hard for me to imagine dry caving, either. But maybe that's why women do laundry more than men.
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