You may have noticed that I have been quiet for a while. I want to tell you what happened to us, and why it is so vital that you pay attention to your environment and the environment of your loved ones. This article will be part one of a series.
We were ‘HIT” with Black Mold. I have heard it likened to living through a house fire. In many ways it is very similar. Last October, during and right after the hurricane that swept Florida, we moved from one rental condo to another. We viewed the new condo with the hurricane shutters on. There was a mildew odor to it, but there was also a hurricane outside, so we thought it was just the enclosed, sealed space. That was mistake number One (If you think you are smelling something that is off in a house, whether that is mold, mildew, gas, or whatever, don’t assume it is ok. Have it fixed!).
Once the hurricane shutters came off and we were actually moving in, we noticed that the wallboard on one wall was bowed out into the room about 6 inches. We reported this to the landlord who made some excuse and had the handyman come right out and fix it. Mistake number Two (The correct reaction would have been to assume there was a problem with the house and leave to go find another house.)
The next week after the hurricane, we had torrential rains. I was in the kitchen and noticed that the lights were flickering. I got a screw driver and removed the light switch cover to see that it was raining inside the wall and on the electrical. I was alone in the house, so I called the landlord who told me to turn off the electricity and he would get his handyman over after the rain stopped. The rain didn’t stop for 10 days, and we lived with the electricity off in the kitchen during that time.
When the rain finally stopped, and the handy man showed up again, we were concerned about mold – of course. He stomped on the area upstairs (under the sliding glass door) where the water was coming in (to get some of the water out from under the floor) and then caulked it. He then cut a piece of the wallboard from the top of the wall upstairs and showed us that there was no black mold on the wallboard. First of all, mold grows at the bottom of the leak, not the top, necessarily, so there probably wouldn’t have been visible mold at the top of the wall. We asked him to tell the landlord that the walls on the top and bottom floors would need to be replaced, and went on with our lives. Mistake number Three and a deadly one (Obviously there was a previous leak problem in the house and there was a smell. Staying in the house when the landlord wasn’t all over removing the walls to properly remediate the problem was a very bad idea).
Over the next months, both my husband and I were sick. We had sinus problems that just wouldn’t go away and my husband developed a system wide infection that started in his kidney and seemed to spread to his urinary tract and his prostate. The doctors were baffled. His PSA went up by 24 points, but they could find no sign of cancer.
By the time Christmas came and went, we were having “allergy” reactions every night when we tried to sleep and we were plagued with headaches and a loggy flu-like feeling. During this time my Mom was in the final days of her life, and we wrote a lot of the yucky feeling down to mourning. (Don’t assume that you are sick for no reason. We could remember feeling better, but we just couldn’t get there. We should have checked our environment for causes.)
In February, we received notice that the homeowners association was going to replace the roof for the entire complex, which included replacing the skylights in each unit. We were warned to be ready for some debris inside the house, as well as all around the outside of the house. We didn’t react well to this news because we were already living with the windows open to avoid allergy reactions to the “mildew” smell.
When we told our landlord that we needed to move before the roof work was done, he flatly refused. So, we called a mold inspector with the intention of having him over on the day they replaced the skylight, to see if there was any mold released into the house from the roof.
He came over immediately, on an emergency basis. He tested the wall in the kitchen where the lights had been flickering and the entire room above the kitchen where the water had originally entered, as well as the roof-line around the skylight. The answer: The entire condo was encased in a layer of mold! And not just any mold. Much of it was black mold (Stachybotrys chartarum, which takes 3 to 5 years to develop, by the way) and also Aspergillus and Penicillium, all of which are extremely toxic!
What happened here? We never SAW any mold. The wall in the kitchen never sagged. The wall board was not discolored. We never SAW any signs that there was actually mold. But we were buried in it.
The mold inspector told us to leave immediately and not come back. We left that night and stayed at a very kind friend’s home. But we did go back. We packed up all our furniture, clothes, books and “things” and moved them into a truck to wait to go to the new house. Mistake number Four (Don’t go back. Is there something in that house that is worth your life?)
We ended up needing an attorney because the landlord wouldn’t let us go without signing a document that said that if the house was found to be toxic, it was our fault. Obviously we are not quite that stupid. Plenty stupid enough, but not that much.
The lawyer sent us to a doctor (read part two of this series to hear what the doctor said) who told us to go throw away everything that could hold mold, and wash the rest in a strong fungicide because the mold mycotoxins will stay in the foam, fabric, paper, canvas, etc. So all of our furniture that was not made of wood (which still had to be washed in a fungicide), metal, ceramic, glass or plastic, had to go to the dump. Think about it. Couches, chairs, beds, clothes, towels, sheets, pictures, books….
Why? Here is an excerpt from a very good article by Janette Hope:
“Illness results from a combination of factors present in water-damaged indoor environments including, mold spores and hyphal fragments, mycotoxins, bacteria, bacterial endotoxins, and cell wall components as well as other factors.” .. “Intact spores are not the only source of aerosolized exposure. It has been shown that fungal fragments, often submicron-sized, can be released at 320 times higher level than spores and that the number of released fragments cannot be predicted based on the number of spores.”.. “Research has shown that none of the commonly used methods for cleaning water-damaged materials such as bleach, ammonia, ultraviolet (UV) light, heating, and ozone were found to completely remove mold and mycotoxins from water-damaged building materials. For this reason, it is safest for patients who have become ill after exposure to water-damaged environments is to avoid exposure to items that were present in the contaminated environment. “
I actually had to go buy a chair last night so that I could sit at my desk. Please stay tuned as this drama unfolds and we are tested for deadly molds within our bodies (Part 2), begin treatment and deal with the legal complications from a landlord who has still not complied with Florida mold laws and let us out of our lease.
My new mantra: When possibly dealing with mold there is no such thing as paranoid.