Skip to comments.Toxic Intruder: Black Mold Panic Has Families Fleeing Their Homes
Posted on 11/29/2002 1:20:38 PM PST by Jean S
Believe it or not, families around the country are fleeing their homes or having them destroyed because of an insidious intruder they say is making them sick.
The invader? Black mold. Its technical name is Stachybotrys chartarum stachy for short and it's got a lot of people panicked.
In Oregon, the O'Hara family asked their local fire department to burn their $450,000 home to the ground after black mold was found inside. "It's basically just a house that poisoned my family," Mark O'Hara said.
In Hawaii, a $95 million Hilton Hotel tower has been closed since July because black mold was found in some of the rooms.
In a July 2001 story Time magazine said toxic mold is spreading "like some sort of biblical plague." The New York Daily News called it "killer mold."
Whatever you call it, across the country, black mold is causing people to abandon buildings, close schools and leave beautiful homes sitting vacant.
In Seabrook, Texas, the Hammond family lived in tents in their backyard for almost nine months, waiting for their insurance company to settle their claim and clean up black mold they say they discovered in their home.
Beverly and Mike Hammond say a bathroom leak caused the black mold to grow. The Hammonds lived for months with a "potty tent" that served as an outhouse. "As soon as I saw the mold, then we, you know, hightailed it for the tent," Beverly Hammond said.
They say the mold made them sick, causing fatigue and joint pain, and will only go in their house with a respirator.
Texas Dream House Turned 'Toxic Tara'
Melinda Ballard's mansion near Austin, Texas is considered by many to be the "ground zero" of the current mold hysteria. Like Diane Fortner, Ballard once thought of her estate as a dream home. Ballard now refers to it as "Toxic Tara."
Ballard says it all began with a leaky roof and some burst pipes. She claims her insurance company lied to her, delaying her request to have the wet materials in her home replaced. That's when she says the black mold began to grow under the kitchen floorboards and spread to other areas. Finally, she and her family left.
"On April 23rd, 1999, we walked out of that home with nothing more than the clothes on our backs," Ballard said.
Ballard is suing her insurance company because of the black mold. She invited 20/20 to look around her home, but insisted we wear protective suits and respirators.
Ballard's case made news last year when a jury ordered her insurance company to pay her a staggering $32 million for acting in bad faith. The judgment is now being appealed.
In addition to making her house unlivable, Ballard claims, the mold also caused serious health problems.
She said her son, Reese, was gasping to get air into his lungs, coughing up blood and suffering terrible headaches. She said her husband, Ron, had similar symptoms, including what she calls early Alzheimer's.
Ballard said, "I know men forget their anniversaries and they forget things like that, but they don't forget what kind of car they've driven. They don't forget where they live. He did."
Some scientists say memory loss and internal bleeding could be linked to mold.
"You can see mucosal bleeding, like bleeding from the nose and the ears, you can see hair loss and there are some individuals that feel that indeed cognitive dysfunction or the inability to think, is also the result of the inhalation of fungal spores," said David Straus, a microbiologist at Texas Tech.
That's certainly frightening, but it's also controversial.
Straus acknowledged that there is no conclusive proof that these serious illnesses are caused by black mold. However, Straus said, "The data are coming."
Straus even claims his one visit to "Toxic Tara" as a consultant resulted in permanent hearing loss.
"I can't prove that the hearing loss occurred because of my exposure to mold in Melinda's house," but Straus added, "that's exactly the day that it began."
Turning Mold into Gold?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there are very few case reports of mold in the home causing internal bleeding or memory loss, and no link has been established. Most scientists say the only proven effects from mold are allergic reactions and possible respiratory problems including asthma. Some say mold fear is being whipped up by lawyers and mold cleanup companies eager to turn mold into gold.
University of Texas Medical Center immunologist, Dr. Gailen Marshall said some of his patients have been told to leave their homes and that black mold can kill them. But Marshall insists there's no cause for alarm.
"I think it's being blown horrendously out of proportion All the stories that are out there are based primarily on testimonials and conjecture, not on hard scientific evidence," Marshall said.
The stories of mold panic are so widespread they're even being spoofed on kids' cartoon shows. The parodies of mold fear ring all too true to Gordon Stewart of the Insurance Information Institute.
"There is no such thing as killer mold," Stewart said. He said mold including black mold has been around for centuries, and that people have only become hysterical about mold in the past few years.
Two years ago, there were only 1,000 mold-related insurance claims in Texas. That number soared to 14,000 last year. And now insurers, nationwide, are raising rates or dropping mold coverage altogether.
"There isn't more mold now than there was two years ago. There is more mold fear than there was two years ago, and there may be in some cases, more mold greed," Stewart said.
Marshall said he does believe most of his patients complaining of mold-related illnesses really are sick. "The question is what is the relationship between the presence of mold and their illnesses? There's really no evidence that the very presence of mold, which is really everywhere in our environment, will by itself create bleeding, will by itself create memory loss or deficit, et cetera," Marshall said.
He believes what may be making some of them sick is not the mold but the panic that's been created. Marshall insists the greatest danger isn't from the mold but from the panic that's been created.
He said, "There is clear evidence that the chronic anxiety that may result from something like this itself has a negative health consequence."
While there's no evidence toxic mold in the home is deadly there is increasing debate about how dangerous it might be and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is funding a study of mold's health effects.
In the meantime many families aren't taking any chances.
What To Do
If you see mold in your home, everyone agrees you should get rid of it. But experts say in most cases there is no need to have expensive mold remediation done. They advise homeowners to stop the water intrusion and to simply clean up the mold with a little bleach. If it has spread, experts advise homeowners to replace moldy building materials like Sheetrock. It's also important to note that not all black-colored mold is Stachybotrys chartarum.
For more information on what you should do if you think you have mold in your home, visit the following Web sites:
ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY: The EPA Web site includes "A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture, and Your Home," which provides information and guidance for homeowners and renters on how to clean up residential mold problems and how to prevent mold growth. http://www.epa.gov/iaq/pubs/moldresources.html
CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: The CDC Web site has information on air pollution and respiratory health, including this question and answer page on Stachybotrys chartarum. http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/airpollution/mold/stachy.htm.
Now I know what happened to James "Dung Beetle" Carville!
If you see mold in your home, everyone agrees you should get rid of it. But experts say in most cases there is no need to have expensive mold remediation done. They advise homeowners to stop the water intrusion and to simply clean up the mold with a little bleach.
True, but misleadingly incomplete. The time to prevent mold problems is before the mold growth occurs. That means any moisture intrusion event should be treated with the same sense of urgency as a fire. Modern structures seldom dry out by themselves. Professional, expert, aggressive restorative drying is required. Just stopping additional intrusion is not at all adequate.
Biocides such as bleach are not effective at eliminating mold problems.
If it has spread, experts advise homeowners to replace moldy building materials like Sheetrock.
Improperly performed removal of moldy materials can make the problem MUCH worse.
It's also important to note that not all black-colored mold is Stachybotrys chartarum.
True. And there are a great many toxigenic molds. Stachybotrys is only one of them, and not necessarily the most potentially hazardous.
Most of the changes made to buildings since the 70's have made them much more likely to develop serious mold problems. A colleague of mine refers to them as "self-composting buildings." And, unfortunately, he has a point.
I am not an expert on mold but the phrase *toxic* mold was invented by lawyers and passed on to the media. I've heard the horror stories here in Sacramento about sick people. The majority of these homes are ready for demolition anyway and are unkept and filthy, usually rentals. Could the fault be in the housekeeping, I don't know....
Did I miss anything? Halitosis? Embarrassing rectal itch? Heartbreak of psoriasis? Webbed toes?
This reminds me of Gulf War Syndrome, which is apparently what caused anyone who ever set foot in the Persian Gulf during the early years of the 1990's to develop any affliction whatsoever.
It sounds like another case of somebody over-reacting, probably out of fear of liability. But it does sound like they're well off out of there.
Thorough laundering or dry cleaning should eliminate mold, unless it is already visibly growing on the items. Then it should be discarded, usually stained anyway. When laundering, use chlorine bleach if items can stand up to it. If not, use Clorox 2 or another oxygen bleach. I'd probably run them thru two cycles, adding 1/2 cup of vinegar to the second wash cycle rather than detergent.
I'm not a doctor, but I assume they should not have health problems now that they're out. Anyway, very few doctors are familiar with the health problems associated with mold exposures.
Thorough cleaning of furniture should be effective. Vacuuming should be done with a HEPA vacuum. Probably the easiest way to remove mold spores from most items is to blow them off with a leaf blower (air-washing) outside well away from a building.
If you want to e-mail me, I'll be glad to send you a list of resources. BTW, why does some other group have the right to confiscate their personal property without compensation?
BINGO! Like lead paint in the seventies and asbestos in the eighties, mold is the cash crop of this decade. Government and industries are whipping this up into the "Mold Rush".
On the large scale, they will condemn buildings rendering them worthless thus lowering property values and then the high rollers will scoop up the lots for pennies on a dollar. Shark investors are on the prowl for properties and they will steal it by selling the idea of "THE KILLER MOLD".
On the smaller scale, mold that can easily and relatively inexpensively removed, will require "LICENSED PROFESSIONALS" to meet strict building and health codes. In other words, home owners and especially rental property owners, will not be permitted to "do it themselves". They will have to hire "THE PROFESSIONALS" and THEY ARE EXPENSIVE!
If you want in on the action, shell out some cash, sign up for the classes and get that certificate. It's a happening thing! - AND A TOTAL CROCK OF $#!+.
Hey, I forgot to mention the lawyers but that's a whole nother story.
Being a home designer/builder, this kind of crap is one of my pet peeves.
I'll be there isn't one FReeper on this thread who has a clue what kind of HVAC sysem he/she has in the house. Metal ducts? Rigid fiberglass? Round flexible ducts? What is the total/sensible ratio of your AC unit? Where your air-handler is located, can you clean out the evaporator coils? How many air-changes per hour do you get in each room of the house?
Don't know about any of this? Then you deserve what you get.
So when we ripped out moldy flooring, wood and drywall and tossed it in the trash we were doing something wrong?
My husband took out the moldy stuff, replaced it with non-moldy stuff and now my house doesn't stink. My oldest son is allergic to mold (we had only lived in the house 1 week before we discovered the problem) and he's been fine.
Curious to know if homeowner's premiums around the country have gone significantly up w/in the last year. Talking to my Mom in California, hers nearly tripled, and she's been claimfree. She was told that her company has been getting a lot of claims for mold damage.
Or, like you said slimer, could all be just a racket.
God, how I hate lawyers.
Last year, the insurance industry as a whole spent 1.2 billion on mold claims. State Farm alone lost $4 billion in the same period.
Increasing rates and losses by insurers have little to do with mold. Mostly it's because they've lost their shirts in the stock market, like everybody else.
But mold makes a great excuse to raise rates and demand exclusions from the state insurance departments.
BTW, I don't remember seeing premium rates going down when they were making a killing in the market during the 90s.
There have been several scams in Houston where people have bought two-story houses; flood the top floor with hoses or break pipes and collect big bucks.
I think it's the newest rip-off for lawyers. We have insurance companies who are choosing to no longer write home-owner's.
Excellent point. The biggest problems arise because structures are not designed around their climate.
Go to www.buildingscience.com for a lot of really great information about this topic.
I don't know about that, but many of mold's mycotoxins and endotoxins are toxic.
I've also read that the more tightly constructed, well-insulated modern houses have also contributed to the increasing prevalence of asthma. Any thoughts?
It seems pretty clear that the increase in asthma and the increase in the number of these buildings occurred during the same time period. Evidence of a direct causal link is not yet available.
I'll simply disagree with you as you probably don't have a clue about this. Of course, if you can kindly direct me to your info or sites that demostrate that mold endotoxins and mycotoxins are harmless to humans, then I'll read and possibly reconsider.
The hazards are real, both to humans and to insurance companies.
These changes in building techniques have created new ecological niches. It's not surprising that these new environments lead to proliferation of previously rare species, like Stachybotrys, for example.
But it's a lot easier to just blame attorneys than to recognize that we have foolishly created a tens to hundreds of billions of dollars problem for ourselves over the last 25 years.
Absolutely true. Look at the posts and see the mass hysteria (and lawyers?) spouting the idiotic delusions born of media Junk Science. And this is a sophisticated website, usually. Imagine the effect of all this on a group of complete morons (think typical California jury).
Sorry, but wrong. Acute sensitivity to molds is why I moved out of Louisiana. Not everyone is affected, but there are those of us who have an acute sensitivity. Certainly, poor house design and construction can give rise to situations where sensitive individuals can have problems. In my case, it was just the climate (hot and humid virtually year-round) and not a tort situation--but the health problems certainly were real enough.
Its OK. The only Tyvek investment I have is in my walls...
That explains it. She is w/ State Farm.
But mold makes a great excuse to raise rates and demand exclusions from the state insurance departments.
Thought so. Hold on to our pocketbooks. Thanks for the info :)
As well it should be!
These systems were developed in Europe for application over masonry. They were brought here and applied over exterior gypsum board or oriented strand board sheathed wood frame construction. The results have been disastrous, in many cases.
Go to http://www.co.new-hanover.nc.us/INS/EIFS/EIFS002.HTM for one county in NC that had huge problems.
I think that's just one of many theories. I've also heard that with today's working parents/latchkey kids, there's nobody really cleaning the home any more and that is contributing to the apparent increase in asthma cases as well. My asthma only occurs when I'm around cats for extended periods of time - and even then, if the ventilation and filtration is adequate, it doesn't bother me.