<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="1252"%> Mold Misery - Health Issues Associated with Mold and Sick Building Syndrome





Remediation Measures


As I stated, my mold odyssey began nearly five years ago.  At the time, I was innocent of what I was facing.  Realizing that there is first step for everyone, I will try to start as close to the beginning as possible.

I moved to the Northwest between Christmas and New Year's 2000/2001.  Before that, I had enjoyed 21 idyllic years in Santa Fé.  I never planned to leave Santa Fé; it just happened without any conscious intention on my part.  The Southwest is obviously a totally different climatic zone, and I moved from high desert to sea level at the darkest time of year.

The day I went from Seattle to Bainbridge Island, whales were swimming beside ferry. I took this as an auspicious sign because of dreams I had had for many years, and I made a decision to buy a home on the Kitsap Peninsula.  I ended up living near the grave of Chief Seattle; this resonated with my environmental passions and commitment to Earth stewardship.  Little did I realize what lay ahead.

My only instruction to the realtor had been to show me places that were available for immediate occupancy and that had no deferred maintenance.  I was working on a book on adrenal exhaustion, a pervasive problem with health ramifications that I believe are inevitable consequences of our unnatural life styles, and I wanted to be efficient in my new home as quickly as possible.

So much for dreams and plans!

The Flood

The flood occurred a few days after moving in, and it happened when the first load of laundry was put in a newly installed washing machine that had been delivered and "tested" by the appliance company.  The washer and dryer were delivered late in the day; the flood occurred after closing hours on a Saturday.  I did get through to a man who was working late, and he did promise to contact someone, but I did not hear back from the appliance company.

My realtor sent her husband over to help, but I had tackled the worst of the water before he arrived.  He had suction equipment but valiant as our efforts were, the damage was done.  Most of the water had traveled under the flooring between the oak and subfloor.  The realtor loaned me her ozone machine.  Despite the awful odor emitted, it was probably a brilliant move on her part.  She understood that mold would be a problem so running as many fans as possible as quickly as possible, cranking up the heat in the house, and running ozone were her ideas of how to limit damage.  It was early January and the house became a sauna.  Labels on my bottles of herbs bled and delaminated, furniture and walls swelled up, and hardwood floors began popping nails.

It was eight days before the appliance company notified their insurance company and ten before an adjustor showed up.  After some tense exchanges, they sent a "remediation" company.  Had this been done immediately, it's possible everything would have followed a different course and you'd be reading my book on chronic fatigue instead of this web site on mold.

The "rescue" crew were . . . well, the less said the better because I cannot think of even one kind word to say about them . . .   They lifted part of a carpet, but not the part that had absorbed the most moisture, and ran something they called dehumidification equipment, a bucket with a hose, and more fans.  It was ludicrous and probably did not set back the insurance company very much.

Since this event, I have met many people who have been through far worse floods, but the actions they took were quicker and more thorough.

  • The swollen drywall should have been ripped out and thrown away on the first day it got wet because no one in his right mind would or could believe that the drywall would ever recover from an incident such as this.
  • Likewise, all the carpeting and padding should have been immediately removed and discarded as it also could not recover from saturation and the padding would act as a moisture trap, preventing proper drying of the house.

I did not own the house.  I was only under contract to buy it.  My insurance did not therefore cover this incident, and I was at the mercy of the applicance company's insurer which happened also to insure the builder, the legal owner of the house.

However, I tried to manage the crisis as best I could given what I understood and what I was instructed to do.  The things that had just been unpacked had to be moved and then packed up again to make room for the restoration contractors.  I will skip the next events because they are irrelevant to mold.

Restoration finally began but the insurance company argued with the experts and contractors about every detail.  In short, only partial restoration was authorized.  To make room for the contractors, I moved my desk upstairs.  It was on the landing.  I started sneezing and coughing and then suddenly my hair turned white.  I remember feeling totally shocked when I saw myself in the mirror.  At this point, the contractor implied that I was really stupid to have put my desk under the air intake.  I had had radiant heat in Santa Fé, adobe trombe walls before that.  I had no idea how an HVAC system worked.  Before Santa Fé, I lived in Hawaii for 20 years without any heating. 

I repeat, I was totally naïve.  It honestly never occurred to me that a house could be built with an area that was unsafe.

  • Hindsight can be an incredible instrument for making sense of the unintelligible.  I now realize that water did what water does.  It followed the line of least resistance and went onto the floors and into the ducts where particulate matter was abundant:  pieces of drywall and other construction debris.  I had the ducts cleaned, twice now.  The second time, the man who cleaned them told me about a woman who nearly died because an angry worker stuffed a sandwich in the ducts.  He fished out something green.
  • There is no better method to disseminate mold than to blow it around.  Mold travels in "puff clouds" and then sticks to wet surfaces where it begins decomposing organic materials.  In fact, there are some molds that are so brazen that they eat the volatile organic compounds in paint and the preservatives in wood.  Then, of course, they outgas these toxins.  Some molds perish on this ill-conceived diet, but it's good news for the Planet that long after the century of environmental havoc is over, molds will be eating all the Prozac and mercury and depleted uranium that we are leaving for posterity.

Ultraviolet Light

After some chastizing words from the contractor, a consultant from the HVAC company came.  We discussed how to deal with the issues that were arising.  He first suggested an electrostatic filter.  It works more or less the way one of those outdoor bug zappers works; it fries objects on contact.  It is not quite consistent with the doctrine of Ahimsa, but while my mind was still reeling, he proposed installing an ultaviolet light in the duct system.  The way this was to work was that all air would pass through a HEPA filter at the intake, go down towards the furnace but pass by a UV light before being heated.  Then, to be on the safe side, another HEPA filter would be installed beyond the UV light and before the place where air is recirculated back into the house.

  • No one warned me that there would be 100 hours of painful die off.  I was only told that the UV had the advantage of removing odor as well as "eliminating mold, bacteria, and dust mites."
  • According to sources I have subsequently studied, dust mites feed on mold . . . and silver fish feed on dust mites . . . and spiders feed on silver fish.  This is an ecosystem.

I am clueless about who stands where on the food chain, but I am sure that whoever is eating feels quite important at the time

I was completely unprepared for the die off.  I phoned the manufacturer of the device, Sanuvox.  They explained that die off is natural and that the UV light would also remove formaldehyde and other nasty things from the air.  They said I could run the unit intermittently if the die off was intolerable.  I found that 20 minutes was the longest I could stand it because the die off literally felt like millions of tiny pins stabbing into the skin.

They were right about the 100 hours, 100-120 hours and the prickling sensations stopped.


20/20 Perspective

There are now many companies selling versions of the system I had installed.  UV light is capable of killing mold BUT the exposure must be sufficient to accomplish this.  The efficiency or effectiveness of any system relying on air movement depends on the volume of air that passes through the filters or in front of the bulb.  If only a small amount of air actually goes through the duct system or portable unit . . . and if the air does not stay long enough in front of the bulb, the equipment would be incapable of performing the task for which it is recommended.

The bottom line is that while I do not think such devices are worthless, they do not really eliminate the risks of mold or other pathogens in the air.  This said, I have to add that when the unit was shut down due to power failures and such, my dogs would start vomiting within 20-30 minutes.  It took closer to 4-6 hours for me to follow suit.  In short, such measures did not eliminate either the mold or airborne particles, but some of the problems were alleviated.

With blessings!

Ingrid Naiman
8 October 2005

Air Quality Tests




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