I do not remember the sequence of the
next steps, but I had air quality tests done in the house
in August 2001.
Throughout the first months in my new home,
there was total chaos and such horrendous air quality that
I was convinced I would die unless I moved or found a solution. I
was also gaining weight at an alarming pace.
I had been talking often with a quite well-informed
staff member at the local branch of the American Lung Association. They
had a referral list of "recommended" air quality
analysts. The first call I made was to a doctor who reminded
me more of a mortician. I felt as though I was being
hustled into signing up for a battery of expensive tests by
a doctor who did not seem either well-balanced or compassionate.
The list was two pages long so there were
plenty more numbers to call. The second call was to a
volunteer who did air quality testing using potato starch. She
said that if mold grew on starch, it would indicate I had a
problem . . . at which point, I told her that if I brought
bread home from the market, it was often green within hours. That
brought the conversation to an abrupt halt because she said, "Oh,
there you have it; you don't need the test, you have mold." The
advice was, as always, to vacate.
I know it's lame, but I was so tired that
psyched up as I would get, I just couldn't figure out how to
organize a move. Besides my white hair, sneezing, coughing,
and itchy eyes, I had begun slurring and often could not find
the correct words for things even though I knew I knew the
words. It was very specific: proper nouns, especially
names, were the hardest. Worse, the better I knew the
name, the harder it was to remember it.
I knew this was a sign of neurological problems,
but I didn't fully understand what I was dealing with so even
when the sometimes hysterical sounding advice to run sounded
exaggerated, a part of me knew the suggestions were correct
and a part just couldn't function enough to act on the information
Next, I developed dizziness. Navigating
the stairs became a major undertaking. I would stand
at the top of the stairs, certain that I would tumble and die
on the way down. Going up was less threatening but it
took a lot of effort. I began looking at other properties and
would get really focused and then fall asleep within minutes
of opening the door to my house.
I told the insurance company the mold was
a serious issue. They had ways of turning around everything
I said . . . but there is this law suit so I better button
up for the moment.
Leaving out a big piece of the story, I will
simply say that in August, I found someone who could perform
air quality tests. For the record, the base rate was
$500 . . . and this is a fraction of what you should expect
to pay for thorough testing.
The indoor air quality specialist had an elegant
web site and since he lived near, the surcharges for the ferry
and time spent commuting did not apply. He came by on
a Friday for a quick look at the "job." He
immediately told me that he smelled mold, and he told me where
it was. As it turns out, he was bang on but it took several
more years to prove he was right . . . and to figure out why
the mold was where it was.
- My first serious lesson in mold biology
began with a little spiel about how mold devours organic
materials, including drywall and studs and flooring and carpets. It
digests these "foods" and then outgasses something
that has a characteristic odor, sometimes musty and sometimes
acrid. In theory, the spores themselves cause the allergies
and the mycotoxins are what cause the more serious complications,
but this theory is not 100% coherent, and I will try to present
a more valid
interpretation in the medical
section of this site.
- The mold tester instructed me to close all
the windows, turn off all filtration, and keep the doors
closed. He would return in a space suit to perform
mold tests on Monday.
I want to describe the tests he performed
because they are different from most tests done by others in
He had something that does, in fact, resemble
an Anderson 6 device, but it was made in Germany and used a
sticky prepared slide instead of an agar for collecting samples
The slide had 30 squares. Air was sucked
for ten minutes in each of three locations: upstairs, downstairs,
and outdoors. The air was directed at each square for
one minute. The platform holding the slide moved. It
was fascinating to me.
For the record, the tester did not arrive
in a space suit. He also did not do other things he originally
said he was going to do. For instance, he planned to
beat the carpets to force dust to become airborne. Likewise,
I failed to uphold part of my end of the bargain. I was
unable to contain the house and shut down the filtration. Everyone
started vomiting so the filtration was only off for 20-30 minutes
before he arrived.
This said, the report from the laboratory
examining the slide was quite revelatory even though, at the
time, neither he nor I knew how to interpret it. Several
more years passed before I developed the expertise to understand
what the report said.
- As a sort of aside, I might say that the
tester told me that I surely had formaldehyde in the house. I
told him that the UV was supposed to have removed it. He
had a glass vial that he put into a kitchen cabinet. This
is another testing device from Germany. It gives instant
results and there was no formaldehyde according to the test. This
surprised him and was a relief to me.
Along came 9/11 and this fellow disappeared. I
suspect he was needed for anthrax detection or something else
for which he was already trained.
Again, I will skip some of the story because
it will no doubt come up in the law suit.
I am very strongly networked with a lot of
health care practitioners, many of whom had their own mold
horror stories. I was also doing quite a bit of surfing
online; and to the credit of this burgeoning new science and
industry, I want to say that the quantity and quality of material
online has improved significantly over the last 4-5 years.
Not satisfied that the UV system was doing
the job, I bought a vacuum cleaner with HEPA filtration and
began investigating portable filtration units. I ordered
one that had an extremely high rating. It was supposed
to eliminate 99.99% of all mold and 100% of particulates that
are larger. It was apparently developed for military
use and had negative feedback about its noise and bulky design. It
worked brilliantly for a few hours and then basically stopped. I
sent it back to the dealer. His report was that the filters,
which were brand new, were clogged, this in one day of operation. The
filters were prohibitively expensive so I figured this might
be a perfect unit for a den where someone smokes cigars, but
I couldn't afford to operate it.
Instead, I bought a Sharper Image unit. In
comparison to the B-52, it is elegant. It is silent and
very inexpensive to operate . . . and like everything else,
it helps but does not solve the problem.
8 October 2005