Sandia LabNews

Decon formulation, best known as an anthrax killer, takes on household mold

There’s a new product on the shelves of local hardware stores. Among the household cleaners is a bright green box emblazoned with a catchy promise: “Stops Mold Cold!”

On the back of the box, in tiny black letters, appears this: “New technology originally developed and patented by Sandia National Laboratories.”

The product is Mold Control 500, distributed by Scott’s Liquid Gold of Denver, Colo., and now available in Home Depot, Wal-Mart, True Value, Ace Hardware, and other home improvement stores across the country.

For around $30, a box of MC 500, dispensed as a foam, treats 500 square feet of mildew- and mold-contaminated surface area indoors or outdoors, according to the information on the box.

Mold and anthrax

The product is based on Sandia’s decontamination formulation (a.k.a. decon foam), which has become a widely stockpiled first responder tool for cleanup following a terrorist attack involving either chemical or biological warfare agents. It is best known for its role in helping remediate anthrax-contaminated buildings in Washington, D.C., and New York in 2001 (see “Sandia’s decon formulation: You’ve come a long way, baby” on page 5).

The formulation — which employs the active chemical ingredients of toothpastes and hair conditioners — kills fungi such as molds in much the same way it kills anthrax, says Mark Tucker (6327), who leads the Sandia team that has developed, improved, and tested the formulation during the last 10 years.

Mold growths form films over their surfaces that, like the shells of anthrax spores, are difficult to penetrate. Mold spores also are able to survive extreme temperatures and low humidity and can remain dormant indefinitely.

When used as a foam, the decon formulation expands to fill space and thus gets into corners and other hard-to-reach places, and it sticks to walls and ceilings and remains there, giving the chemistry time to do its work.

The decon formulation’s surfactants poke holes in the mold’s film, and its mild oxidizing components kill the fungal organisms beneath, its developers believe.

“This is pretty exciting,” says Mark. “Mold remediation wasn’t what we set out to do, but it is effective at killing most micro-organisms, so it’s good to find uses beyond our original intent — especially uses that might improve public health.”

Large retailers

Two companies hold Sandia licenses to market and distribute products based on the formulation: Modec, Inc., of Denver and Intelagard, Inc., of Broomfield, Colo. Scott’s Liquid Gold has an arrangement with Modec to sell Mold Control 500 in retail markets.

“Mold control is an up-and-coming issue,” says Modec President Brian Kalamanka. “We felt there was an excellent niche for this.”

Scott’s existing relationships with several large retail chains helped get the product on store shelves, he says. (The company also distributes wood care and air freshener products, and a subsidiary company, Neoteric Cosmetics, makes and markets skin care products.)

“It’s nearly impossible to break into the large retail markets,” he says. “Those types of connections are very valuable.”

Thousands of stores

Jeff Hinkle, Scott’s senior VP for marketing, says developing the packaging and arranging

for retail distribution of MC 500, important details for the success of any product, took nearly two years.

With EPA approval newly in hand, shipping to retail outlets began in the fall. Many stores began stocking MC 500 in November, and the product is expected to reach thousands of stores this spring, says Hinkle.

A TV commercial for MC 500, scheduled for airing in the next few months, can be viewed at

Sandia’s decon formulation: You’ve come a long way, baby

During the decontamination formulation’s 10-year project life, project leader Mark Tucker (6327) and others have transformed the original chemistry into one of Sandia’s top technology transfer success stories.

Sandia’s two licensees, Modec, Inc., and Intelagard, Inc., have sold thousands of gallons of the formulation to municipal and state governments, the first responder community, and the US military, among other users.

Over the years it has brought in nearly $300,000 in royalty earnings, according to Craig Tyner, manager of Licensing and Intellectual Property Management Dept. 9104. It also has the distinction of being among a very few Sandia technologies to be made available in the consumer retail market.

Its development began in 1997, funded initially by DOE’s Chemical and Biological National Security Program. Other funding contributors over the years have included the DoD and Sandia’s internal Laboratory Directed Research and Development program. It has earned two patents, and several more are pending.

The formulation also has been among Sandia’s top publicity earners. It first hit the public scene in 1998 when former Sandia chemical engineer Maher Tadros, after presenting its chemistry at a technical conference, got a two-sentence write-up about the foam in an Atlanta newspaper. Its availability and use attracted hundreds of media mentions, including a 1998 spread in the New York Times’ science section.

The formulation is best known for its role in helping clean up contaminated buildings following a series of mailings of anthrax powder to recipients in Washington, D.C., New York, and Florida in 2001. It was staged in the Middle East in 2003 as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom and has played a role there in helping clean up hazardous chemical sites.

Tests at Sandia and Kansas State University in 2004 demonstrated the formulation’s effectiveness for killing the virus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), suggesting its use also might blunt the spread of other viruses such as the Norwalk (cruise ship) virus, avian influenza (bird flu), and the common flu.

The formulation now is being discussed as a potential solution to at least a dozen problems, among them ridding citrus crops of canker (an annual several hundred million dollar setback to Florida citrus growers), hospital sanitization, meth lab cleanup, mold remediation in commercial buildings, and cleaning out agricultural pesticide sprayers in an environmentally benign way.