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 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
- 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
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.
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.
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.
8 October 2005