Thursday, December 9, 2010

Short Sale or Foreclosure

We’ve been out of the house for a year and a half now. It feels like a such a long time ago that I was calling remediators and stressing out about clearance sampling. It feels good to get our life back. We got to the point that we couldn’t handle it anymore. We were physically and mentally exhausted. Even writing about it now brings back a flood of emotions. Starting over has been very difficult, but God has blessed us immensely. When we say our bedtime prayers, I frequently thank God for the apartment he has provided for us, and I mean it from the bottom of my heart because I know how blessed we are.
Unfortunately, we still have the house to worry about. We had it on the market for 3 months per the requirement of the bank just so they would consider a deed in lieu of foreclosure. So after we fulfilled the bank’s requirement I got a call saying that we were denied for a deed in lieu because our house is uninhabitable. Now the only options left are short sale or foreclosure. I don’t care what happens anymore. I just want closure. Our credit is already ruined. After going through Dave Ramsey’s program we have tried to always pay for things with cash anyway, so to us it’s not the end of the world that we now have bad credit.
After finding out that we were denied deed in lieu, I asked the bank what they thought would be the fastest way to get rid of the house. They said that the foreclosure process hadn’t even started, so the fastest way would probably be to do a short sale. So I called our realtor and asked her to re-list the house. At first we had it listed for half of what we owe on it. After 2 or 3 weeks there had only been one showing, so we recently dropped the price another $20,000. Apparently no one wants to buy a moldy house. Can’t say I blame them.
The way a short sale works is that you price the house at fair market value. If you get an offer, then the offer is presented to the bank and they hire an appraiser to determine what they think the house is worth. If the contract price is close (meaning within about $10,000) to the bank’s appraisal, then the bank will approve the sale. I’m not holding my breath.
In reality, I think the only way out of this house is foreclosure. Most people think that sounds absolutely terrible, but it has brought a tremendous amount of peace to our lives, knowing that we will not have to deal with this house forever. I know that some people think that we’re doing the wrong thing not paying back money that we owe, and we too have struggled with this decision. Many good people have given us the following advice, which has helped give us peace with our decision to walk away.

“Stop being programmed by the banker to pay him rather than be safe, healthy and free! The bank is responsible somewhat on this too! They are a business, they risked their money in order to reap huge profits. It doesn't always work out in life. When you walk away, you, like most soon, will have to pay as you go. Own or go without. But you will be free, healthy and rid of that bad decision.”

“You must trust your instincts..not a hygienist.”

“You’re not crazy and you’re not paranoid. You’re smart and you have good intuition.”

“After reading the summary of the mold problem I doubt that the home can be fully remediated.”

Monday, May 17, 2010

Treasures in Heaven

Today the boys were reminiscing about gifts that people had given them when their little sister was born. They remembered that my dad and his wife had given A4 and B2 a couple of really cute stuffed animals. My mother-in-law had given A4 a pair of Spiderman slippers. Of course, when you have mold contamination stuffed animals and slippers are completely unsalvageable, so they were among the first of our possessions to go when we started going through the things from our house. At least knowing for sure that you can't keep something makes the decision about whether or not to part with a particular item that much easier. But it still isn't easy. It's truly pathetic when I think of the possessions I have accumulated over the years and the money we have spent on things that ended up in a dumpster because of mold: books, furniture, televisions, mattresses and pillows, couches, stuffed animals, household items, anything made of paper and even some plastic items. There are of course some things that can be salvaged. Glass is relatively easy to clean as well as plastic items (although I have smelled mold on several of our plastic items as well which instantly places them in the "trash" box). But then I start thinking of all the work it will take just to salvage a few glass or plastic items that I probably never really used to begin with and that I have been doing fine without for the past year, and the more I think about it the less those items mean to me. I just want a fresh start with less possessions and less things to consume my time, energy, and space.

As we were driving home and talking, A4 asked if there will be toys in heaven. I told him that he won't need anything in heaven, as God is all he will need. But anyway, that reminded me of this Bible verse. I couldn't remember it exactly so I had to look it up when I got home. But we did have a nice little discussion about the many things that can destroy our "treasures" here on earth. Mold obviously destroyed our house and almost all of the things that we owned. I asked the boys what kind of things can be destroyed by rust and we came up with cars. We talked about how K's suit got a moth hole in the shoulder which pretty much made it unwearable. I remember when we discovered the hole in that suit. We were really annoyed that now K would need to buy another suit jacket if he ever had an occasion where he would need to wear that suit. Maybe instead of being annoyed we should have been thankful that God sent us a gentle reminder of how a little moth can destroy an expensive suit. Maybe someday I will even be able to thank God for allowing our house and all of our belongings to become contaminated with mold so we could learn not to place our value in worldly possessions. It's still a hard pill to swallow, but as time goes on I am slowly seeing the blessings that come from this situation.

Matthew 6:19-21

Treasures in Heaven

19 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Friday, May 7, 2010

After Everything We've Been Through, Why Give Up Now?

After spending the past 2.5 years in a lawsuit and the past year trying to get our house remediated for mold, you might ask, "What happened? Why give up now when your house is so close to being finished?"

That's a hard question for me to answer, and that is probably what makes this so difficult for us. I guess a short explanation is that we just came to the end of our rope. We just don't have what it takes to deal with this anymore.

As for the long explanation, here goes:

We recently had our house remediated for mold and were advised by the remediator to choose a Certified Industrial Hygienist to conduct the clearance sampling of the house. He gave us a short list of CIH’s that he had worked with in the past. We decided to use the remediator's most highly recommended CIH for two reasons: 1) We thought his prices were not as outrageous as most of the other CIH's I had called. and 2) The CIH that we really wanted to use was going to be unavailable for a month, and we didn't think it would be fair to make the remediator wait an entire month for us to test the house and then wait an additional 1-3 weeks for the results of the testing. The remediator doesn't get his final payment until the house passes testing.

So anyway, we called the recommended CIH and set up an appointment for him to test the house. I probably should have thought about the possibility of conflict of interest, but I really didn't think that would be a problem.

Before coming to our house, I spoke with the CIH over the phone and asked him what type of tests he would be willing/able to do on our house. He said that he usually does air tests for mold clearance, and then mentioned the viable air test sampling method as a possibility. He said that while this method is 100% accurate (as compared to less accuracy for the spore trap method), it takes about 3 weeks for the results to come back so people do not typically use this method since they are eager to get back into their house. I showed an interest in this method and asked him to come to our house prepared to take any type of test.

The CIH came to our house and performed the clearance testing on April 27, 2010.

When the CIH came to our house to conduct the testing, he asked me if I was still interested in the viable air sampling method. I told him that I was, so with absolutely no objections he placed his sampling machine in one of the areas that had been remediated and took the viable air test.

Additionally, I pointed out one other place where a previous industrial hygienist had suspected mold and he took a wipe test of that particular area to send off for a culture analysis. He took a few other tests as well: one or two on the subfloor and one wall cavity sample that were to be sent off to the lab to be cultured.

When the CIH came to our home to do the testing, the negative air machines put in the house by the remediator were turned on to circulate the air and prevent the growth of new mold.

On Saturday, May 1, 2010, I received a call from the CIH saying that he had received oral confirmation from the lab that the spore trap test results had been analyzed and he informed me that the lab said that the tests showed the indoor counts being 5 times lower than the outdoor counts. When I asked the CIH to fax us the results so I could look at them he said that he had not yet received them from the lab.

The CIH had not seen the test results himself but was instead relying on the lab’s interpretation of the results.

After I talked to the CIH on the morning of May 1, 2010, I immediately got a call from K (who was at the house in the garage working on his Bronco) informing me that the house passed the spore trap air tests. When I asked him if the CIH had called him too, he said no, but that one of the remediator’s employees came to our house to pick up the negative air machines and gave my husband back the key for our house. Apparently they believed that their job was complete.

However, neither K nor I were the ones who informed the remediator that the house had passed the clearance sampling since we did not have a written report from the CIH nor had we seen actual lab results or any information other than what the CIH had heard from the lab regarding the spore trap air tests. We had still not heard anything about whether or not the house had passed the viable air test or if it had passed the other cultures.

We later found out that the remediator had personally called the CIH to ask about the test results. He was eager to hand over the key and get his negative air machines out of the house. We paid the CIH 1/2 of his money up front so there is absolutely no question that he was working for us, but yet disclosed confidential information about our test results to a third party before he had even disclosed that information to us. WE hired the CIH and WE were his clients and he was NEVER given our consent to disclose that information to anyone.

Additionally, after the CIH told me that the spore trap results were clean (still based on what the lab told him), I then asked him if we should proceed with the installation of the new HVAC system to prevent moisture (which can lead to mold in as little as 24-48 hours) in the house. He told us that since we were being so cautious with our clearance sampling that we should wait for the viable test results to come back “just to be certain” that our house was truly clean before running the risk of contaminating a brand new HVAC system.

As a result of the CIH giving confidential information to the remediation company, the remediators were led to believe that their job was complete. They removed their negative air machines and so the house sat without air flow which could easily lead to new mold growth. Our plan was to immediately install an HVAC system and dehumidifier as soon as the test results were given to us confirming that the house had been cleared. However, as I am writing this I still have not received even a single lab result from the CIH.

As soon as the negative air machines were removed, the house was just sitting in an uncontrolled environment.

Let me reiterate my earlier statement: Under the right conditions, mold can grow in as little as 24-48 hours.

The remediator is now pressuring us to sign off on clearance testing that we haven’t yet received the results for which is creating a great deal of stress for both of us. He has been calling us nonstop trying to get paid for this job. He told K that he did his job thinking that the spore trap would be the only testing method we would use for clearance. Well, I guess he's never met a traumatized mold victim before.

The remediator also told me that the first industrial hygienist who tested our house got us really scared over nothing. I hate to tell him this, but she was the ONLY person who did the ERMI test and the ONLY person who tested for bacteria in the house in addition to testing for mold. She also knew about mycotoxicosis and was the person who first told me about it, therefore educating me enough so that I was able to put all the pieces of the puzzle together as to why we were getting sick. And he wants to tell me that she made me overly worried! It is because of her that we got out of that house rather than continuing to live there and let it deteriorate our health. She's not very likable as a person, and I have trouble recommending her to anyone because she is so difficult to work with. But she really knows about environmental contaminants and she really opened our eyes to the dangers many people encounter just from living in a toxic environment, and for that I am grateful.

The remediation company was supposed to be held responsible for the test results that were taken by the CIH on April 27, 2010. I suppose that if they fail then obviously they never did their job correctly in the first place. But what if the tests pass? How can we be certain that there was no new mold growth from May 1 until May 6? Since the CIH told the remediator that the house was cleared but then told us conflicting information about waiting for all test results before installing an HVAC system to protect the house from high humidity, then as soon as the remediation company believed that their job was complete and removed the negative air machines, the house was immediately put at risk for mold growth.

At first I was going to pay the remediator his final payment in good faith as soon as we had the results for the spore trap air test. I figured that it was likely that if it passed that then it would pass the rest of the tests as well. If not, I had confidence that the remediator was good to his word and would come back to the house and remediate anything in his scope of employment that did not pass the test. I didn't think it would be the right thing to do to make him wait for 3 weeks to get paid. However, I also didn't think that the remediator would call the CIH and find out the results of our tests and then take it upon himself to assume that his job had been satisfactorily completed. After we discovered that he did this, K and I felt extremely uncomfortable paying him until we had received all of the results as well as a written report from the CIH.

No, it is not the remediator's fault that the CIH told him information that he never should have revealed. A CIH is held to a high standard of ethical behavior. You can view the code of ethics here. However, we still felt like it was highly unprofessional for the remediator to call the CIH.

When I told the remediator that we did not feel comfortable giving him his payment until we had received the results for the cultures, he got very annoyed with me and told me that I am dealing with money and real people who have real financial obligations. I quickly responded that he is dealing with a real family who had real health issues from the mold in our home.

He says that we are going against industry standards by not accepting the spore trap air test as final clearance and instead waiting for the cultures. I informed him that there are NO nationally recognized mold standards. He then told us that his contract says that he should be paid upon verbal confirmation of successful clearance testing. I told him that in the future if he would like his clients to be required to use only the spore trap method to determine successful remediation then he needs to write that in his contract. If he knew anything about contracts then he would also specify what mold levels his clients can expect when he completes a remediation (I actually wish I would have thought of this earlier, just to protect us as well. It would help to know ahead of time what will be considered acceptable so there is absolutely no question whether or not the house needs further remediation.) For example, what constitutes a "safe" level of mold? (indoor mold counts should be equal to/or below outdoor counts. There should be no stachybotrys. Not one spore. Aspergillus should be present only at negligable levels. The standard in Belgium requires no more than 2 1/2 percent aspergillus in the total count. (BTW, I got this "safe" level of mold information from this website. Be sure to check it out. It's great!)

I also tried to explain to the remediator that as a result of him taking it upon himself to call the CIH, the house sat for several days with no air flow. The negative air machines were removed on the morning of May 1 and returned to the house May 6 at about 3:30. I think the remediator realized that he messed up by removing the machines and was trying to protect himself from liability by putting them back. The only problem with this was that the house sat for more than 48 hours before the machines were put back.

Since the house sat for more than 48 hours with no airflow and nothing to prevent the growth of new mold, it would be wise for us to have the house retested before we sign off on the remediation job. If we decide to have the house retested and the new test results are positive for mold, we will never know if the mold was caused because the remediation company did not correctly do their job in the first place or if it was caused because the house sat shut up for an extended period of time with no air flow and with humidity levels that could lead to the growth of mold.

This messy situation could have easily been avoided if incomplete confidential test results were not given to a third party without our consent. The CIH did not have our permission nor did he have an obligation to disclose confidential results to the remediator and could have caused significant harm from his poor judgement and violation of his code of ethics.

So now you must be wondering how all of that led to us making the decision to give up on the house.

Well, we have been going through this lawsuit for over two years. It didn't start out as a mold lawsuit but quickly turned into one. I've learned a lot from this experience. You go into a lawsuit with high hopes only to realize that there are so many things that you don't expect or can't control. Big companies have deep pockets to run up the cost on the little guys, so no matter how good your case, you really have to be able to afford all of the legal fees. Even if you win a judgement, it is never guaranteed that you will see even a dime of the money you won.

As far as mold lawsuits go, it gets even more complicated because there are no recognized mold standards. Mold is not like lead or asbestos where there are specific guidelines set forth that determine whether or not an abatement job was done correctly. Many scientists cannot even find common ground about what should and should not be required when dealing with mold. So even if we hired an expert witness who agreed with us, the other side could always hire an expert witness who agreed with them. And then it just goes on and on and runs up more and more money for everyone.

I do believe that we could have a case against the CIH for giving confidential information to a third party. I believe that we could probably hold him liable for this and request that he pay for a second clearance test to be taken. I also believe that he might even be held liable for any mold that is discovered in a second test since it was his fault that the house was left for more than 48 hours with no air flow. Maybe he would be liable for another remediation so we could finally move back in.

But then it struck me. That would practically be a brand new lawsuit. Here I am thinking we're at the end of our ordeal only to start all over again. I just can't do it. I don't have any fight left in me. But I also can't live in a house that could still have mold.

It makes me angry that the CIH didn't keep our test results confidential. It is very disappointing that the remediator thought it was necessary to find out the status of our testing from the CIH rather than from us. We would have been upfront with him about the results, but we wanted to make sure that we had seen ALL of the test results before agreeing that the remediator had successfully done his job. His contract did say that he only needed oral confirmation that his job had been completed. But I had the understanding that the oral confirmation would come from us (after we had seen ALL of the test results) and not from the CIH.

This makes me so angry that it is very tempting to persevere. After a good night's sleep I am always rejuvenated and ready to fight again. It is very difficult for me to give up. Hopefully in my moments of weakness when I want to continue this battle, this post will be my reminder that it truly is time to let go. I need to pour my energy into things that are worthwhile and not into the house or anymore lawsuits. This is definitely part of the healing process from all of this. It's also a HUGE lesson in forgiveness. I find it hard to refrain from going after people who have done us wrong. We're the big losers in this mess. We've lost our home and almost all of our worldly possessions. But there are some things we've lost that we will never get back, and that's where I draw the line.

I realize that the financial cost of losing our home one way or another will be huge, but eventually we'll recover. Or maybe we won't, but I'm not going to worry about that right now.

Assuming that I set up a second clearance test to find out whether or not the mold conditions in the house changed after the negative air machines were removed, there are obviously two scenarios that would occur based on the test results.

Scenario #1: The house fails. Then what? Who would be held responsible? The remediator? The CIH? Would this mean another lawsuit? Would we walk away anyway? I'm definitely done with lawsuits so we would probably end up walking away regardless. Plus, at this point I am so drained from this entire experience that I don't even have enough energy or motivation to make the calls and do the research to find someone else to test and meet them at the house for testing. I just can't do this anymore.

Scenario #2: The house passes. This of course would be assuming that I could muster up enough energy to find someone to retest the house. Even if it did pass the test, a simple spore trap air test would not be thorough enough to alleviate my concerns. I would want a bulk ERMI test done (we don't have carpet anymore so it is impossible to do an ERMI on the carpet), and I can't find anyone around here to do that. I could do the ERMI testing myself for my own peace of mind, but my results would never hold up in court. I would also want the hygienist to test the crawlspace and attic, as well as dust samples and wall cavity samples. I would want the sampling to include surface tape lift, bulk samples and culture. Most hygienists are not that thorough.

However, in my opinion there is an even bigger problem. Even after the remediation which was supposed to remove the odor from the house, it still smells the same. Maybe the odor I am smelling is mustiness, which is typically indicative of moldiness. Maybe the smell is from the hydrocarbons in the antifungals that the remediators used to treat the house. I am also not the only person who noticed the musty odor, but if the house passes the tests then what can I do? It is my word against a lab. It is my word against the word of a CIH. But knowing that I am very sensitive to mold and other chemicals and knowing that my nose is not deceiving me, this time I am going with my instincts. I lived in a moldy house for months and I know when a house doesn't smell right.

Now assume for a minute that we decide that the clearance testing was adequate and we decide to stay in the house. Then we would immediately have to spend a minimum of $30,000 just to make the house livable and repair the moisture problems that we are aware of. And this estimate is assuming that we do most of the work ourselves, with K using his vacation time to make the necessary repairs. Maybe it would be worth it to us if we knew for certain that the mold was truly remediated. But we just don't know. It would be devastating for us in many ways to invest so much time and money into a house only to find out 6 months down the road that it is still contaminated and still making us sick. It's just not worth it.

We could literally spend the next 2-3 years fighting another legal battle and getting the house in a condition that we would be able to move back in if that is even possible. But what about the cost of our time? We have small children who need us to be there for them, but right now our attention is torn between them and the house. They don't understand about a house or about lawsuits or about mold. They just want us to spend quality time with them where our attention isn't divided between them and lesser things. To them our time is worth so much more than any amount of money. It is worth so much more than where we live. It is even worth more than the mold. (Here is a link to a video that says more about home than I could ever attempt to say. I hope you get a chance to watch it. Scroll down to the bottom of the page. Definitely worth your time.) I can't be a good mom for my children when I am continually dealing with everything else and continually stressed out. And K already works so hard. He shouldn't spend every minute of his free time dealing with this house. Until now we have thought that eventually the mold would be gone and eventually we would move back in, so we have been trying our best to take care of the house. But now, unless we get another thorough clearance test done, we'll never even know if the house is truly clean.

I haven't even mentioned the cost of our health. We would be putting our family's health at risk if we didn't have the house thoroughly retested and moved back in without being completely certain that the mold was gone. I just can't do that. It is not worth it to lose our health over this. I still have a few health issues that I am certain began as a result of my mold exposure. I have received good advice from a toxicologist on this matter, and I would be a fool not to take his advice.

So there you have it. I am sure some of you think what we're doing is wrong. Some of you probably still don't truly understand the effects of mold and think we're being paranoid. But I don't really care what anyone thinks. It is our life and we are just trying to do the best we can with what we have left. The house has turned in to a huge liability for us, so we have decided to cut our losses and move on.

The following are some pictures from our post remediation test. If any of them need explanation, feel free to ask.

Leviticus 14

Leviticus 14 (New International Version)

Cleansing From Mildew

33 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, 34 "When you enter the land of Canaan, which I am giving you as your possession, and I put a spreading mildew in a house in that land, 35 the owner of the house must go and tell the priest, 'I have seen something that looks like mildew in my house.' 36 The priest is to order the house to be emptied before he goes in to examine the mildew, so that nothing in the house will be pronounced unclean. After this the priest is to go in and inspect the house. 37 He is to examine the mildew on the walls, and if it has greenish or reddish depressions that appear to be deeper than the surface of the wall, 38 the priest shall go out the doorway of the house and close it up for seven days. 39 On the seventh day the priest shall return to inspect the house. If the mildew has spread on the walls, 40 he is to order that the contaminated stones be torn out and thrown into an unclean place outside the town. 41 He must have all the inside walls of the house scraped and the material that is scraped off dumped into an unclean place outside the town. 42 Then they are to take other stones to replace these and take new clay and plaster the house.

43 "If the mildew reappears in the house after the stones have been torn out and the house scraped and plastered, 44 the priest is to go and examine it and, if the mildew has spread in the house, it is a destructive mildew; the house is unclean. 45 It must be torn down—its stones, timbers and all the plaster—and taken out of the town to an unclean place.

46 "Anyone who goes into the house while it is closed up will be unclean till evening. 47 Anyone who sleeps or eats in the house must wash his clothes.

48 "But if the priest comes to examine it and the mildew has not spread after the house has been plastered, he shall pronounce the house clean, because the mildew is gone. 49 To purify the house he is to take two birds and some cedar wood, scarlet yarn and hyssop. 50 He shall kill one of the birds over fresh water in a clay pot. 51 Then he is to take the cedar wood, the hyssop, the scarlet yarn and the live bird, dip them into the blood of the dead bird and the fresh water, and sprinkle the house seven times. 52 He shall purify the house with the bird's blood, the fresh water, the live bird, the cedar wood, the hyssop and the scarlet yarn. 53 Then he is to release the live bird in the open fields outside the town. In this way he will make atonement for the house, and it will be clean."

54 These are the regulations for any infectious skin disease, for an itch, 55 for mildew in clothing or in a house, 56 and for a swelling, a rash or a bright spot, 57 to determine when something is clean or unclean.
These are the regulations for infectious skin diseases and mildew.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Letting Go

When dealing with mold issues, I would imagine that most people get to the point where they say "enough is enough." If you've never gone through an experience like ours then you might have a more difficult time understanding. It feels like I have an instant bond with people I meet who have also gone through the same nightmare that our family has endured for the past two years. If you're a fan of Anne of Green Gables, you would know what I mean when I say that I would call these people my "kindred spirits."

Now here we are, at the point where we have decided that we can't do this anymore. I have been fighting a legal battle for more than two years and all I really have to show for it is two years of me looking back wondering where the time has gone. This experience has been a huge learning experience, but definitely one that I would have preferred not to learn.

Anyway, I am tired.

Our entire family desperately needs to heal. We need to get over the loss of our home, our finances, and our time. Praise the Lord that we don't have any major lingering health issues, although there are still some minor issues in need of healing.

We have finally come to terms with the fact that not every house can be remediated. That day of reckoning was a disappointing one for me. It was after the remediator told us that soda blasting would remove the moldy smell. Well, it didn't. Maybe I am just more sensitive to mold than other people and will always be able to tell when I am in a contaminated environment. But none of that matters. I am giving up the battle. My gut feeling is that our house is sick and we have to let it go. Trust me, this could probably go on for another year or two, but life is too short to waste on a moldy house.

Not only will mold invade your home, but it can ruin your health and your finances. It can also consume your thoughts to the point that learning new things about mold is almost like a horrible addiction. Mold takes time and energy away from the things that matter most.

It's no wonder that God warns us of mold in Leviticus 14. After the remediator told me that he did not believe that some houses can never be remediated (I guess he thinks every house can be fixed), another wise person reminded me of Leviticus 14. Sometimes a house is still unclean no matter what you do. Sometimes you just have to let go.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Diatomaceous Earth

We are currently living in an apartment, and every three months I have to stay home an entire day just to make sure that the pest control company doesn't enter the apartment unauthorized and spray pesticides under the cabinets and wherever else they think they might need to spray. The last time I refused this "service" I was told that I would be held responsible for any pest problems that might arise in the apartment. What pest problems!? Termites are the only pests that I can think of that could cause damage to the structure, and that has nothing to do with applying pesticides inside my apartment. If this shoddily built apartment has termites my guess would be the result of poor construction. Plus, the last time I checked, termite companies spray once a year, and they have never entered my house, so I don't see why it would be necessary for them to enter my apartment to spray for termites. I think the pest control people are just trying to scare me so they keep their job.

Anyway, we did have an ant problem right when the weather started warming up this year. I immediately got out the diatomaceous earth and liberally applied it to the grout in the kitchen and all around the hot water heater in the pantry where it seemed like the ants were somehow getting in. By the next afternoon there was not a sign of even a single ant. They absolutely hate the stuff!

When we lived at the house, we had an ant infestation in our mailbox. It was awful pulling out mail and knocking off little ants that had annoyingly attached themselves to our mail. So in went the DE and out went the ants.

A few tips:
-You can feed it to your pets.
-Be sure to buy food grade DE. I got mine at a health food store and they buy theirs in huge bags from a local oranic gardening store.
-Rain (or water) washes it away and then it needs to be reapplied.
-Don't breathe it in when applying. Be sure to wear a face mask or be very careful not to stand in the dust because it can irritate or hurt your lungs.
-Safest form of pest control, especially if you have babies or pets that come in close contact with the floor.

Now what does this have to do with mold? Not a whole lot but I can at least try to tie it together :) Mold affects indoor air quality as do harmful pesticides that many people use to eliminate ants. Also, an industrial hygienist once told me that if you have an ant problem then it is possible that you have a moisture problem as well. I don't know whether or not that theory is true, but definitely something to consider because moisture leads to mold. So if you have ants, it might just be worth your time to figure out why they have invaded your house. That's just my $.02.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Peanut Allergies and Aflatoxins

Here is a theory of mine. I don't know if there is anything to it, but there are definitely a few coincidences that I have observed that I think are worth mentioning.

I was pregnant with my little girl, B2, when we moved into the house. We found mold in the bathroom before B2 was born. We definitely know that we had stachy and aspergillus. Now at that time our entire house was not highly contaminated. That happened after the first "remediation." During the remediation of the bathrooms, the fiberglass tubs (with aspergillus underneath the tubs) were cut out by an incompetent construction company. This company did not do any containment of the area and also told me to leave the HVAC system in the ON position during the remediation, thus spreading mold throughout the entire house and contaminating the HVAC system. Not only did they fail to contain the mold, but they also failed to inform us that we needed to vacate the house, especially since B2 was under 1 year old (which I later found out is an age where you should be told to vacate the remediation area-really no one should be around, but especially not babies). SO we were sitting in our living room while particles of fiberglass and mold were floating around the house and getting into our bodies. As I write this I seriously wonder "What was I thinking?" How could I have been so foolish? Why didn't I take more pictures to prove the incompetence of the remediators?

Of course, there is a plain and simple answer: Lack of knowledge and lack of education. And as far as not taking more pictures, that was just bad advice from someone. At that time I had never even heard of mycotoxins and was very naive about mold.

Anyway, back to my theory. We had lab tests confirming the presence of aspergillus in our house. The counts were about 10X higher on the indoor samples than they were on the outdoor control sample. Aspergillus mold produces a mycotoxin called aflatoxin. After I started listening to Doug Kaufmann and read his books, I realized that peanuts are frequently contaminated with aflatoxin. It just seems to me like an interesting coincidence.

Of course, there are many arguments against this theory. Rather than waiting for people to point out some of the problems with my theory, I will point them out myself just to show that I don't just throw theories out there without first thinking of other possibilities. One might say that corn and other cereal grains are also frequently contaminated with aflatoxin, so why then does B2 not have a corn or cereal grain allergy? Or another argument might be that she is allergic to tree nuts and sesame, which are not as highly contaminated as peanuts, so if it is a reaction to aflatoxin then why is she allergic to other nuts as well? Also, there are many different types of aspergillus, so how do I know if the type of aspergillus that was in our house is the same type that contaminates peanuts (I really need to dig up our lab results to see if it says anything about the type of aspergillus we had)? I truly don't have the answers to any of these questions. I'm just giving my personal observations and theories of what (in my opinion) could be connected to B2's peanut allergy. I guess I just see some sort of connection between having a peanut allergic child and living in a house contaminated with aspergillus, both which are connected to aflatoxins.

The Fungus Link

Speaking of God placing just the right people into my life at just the right time, now I have to talk about Kristin.

God placed her into my life in April, 2009, a little more than one month before we left our house.

K and I went to a church that held a yearly women's retreat, and at the last minute Kristin's hotel roommate had to cancel and so Kristin invited me to take her place.

I went and had a wonderful time being refreshed by the speaker and fellowship, as well as getting to know Kristin better. We stayed up in our hotel room that night talking about life and her career. I learned that she had placed her faith in God and gone to a cooking school in Colorado to learn how to cook healthy foods. Since natural health is one of my passions, I told her about all of the wonderful natural things in my home medicine cabinet, and to my surprise she had heard of every single thing and actually seemed to know more about those things than I even did. I told her that when K or I get a sinus infection that we put 10 drops of Grapefruit Seed Extract along with 2-3 drops of Oregano Oil into one of those Neil Med bottles and use it to cleanse our sinuses. I told her that when anyone in our family gets sick, I put them on what I call the "sick person diet" where I blend up a fresh garlic drink and add 5-10 drops GSE. They also get spoonfuls of coconut oil and raw apple cider vinegar drinks. My natural concoctions always seemed to do the trick, but I had never actually made the connection between those supplements and mold.

But then, Kristin told me something that changed my life. She pointed out what all of those supplements have in common. They are all antifungals!

I had never even heard of that concept before, but she had definitely tweaked my interest.

I later learned that she is a consultant that people can call to get started on Doug Kaufmann's Phase 1 diet. She sets clients up on an eating plan and gives them healthy recipes that fit their lifestyles. She helps them do everything they need to get started on the diet, including help with ordering the antifungals and probiotics needed to do Phase 1 correctly.

Anyway, I went home and began watching Know the Cause on TV (you can also watch it online here). One thing I noticed was that in addition to warning people of mycotoxins in the food supply, Doug Kaufmann also frequently talked about the importance of indoor air quality. He would say that you can't live in a moldy environment and expect to get better.

So when I discovered a moldy smell in my house, rather than dismissing the smell as just a little mildew, I instead called someone to test the house. The results were a tough pill to swallow, but really could have saved us so many health and financial battles down the road. But if it hadn't been for Kristin or Doug Kaufmann, I might have ignored the moldy smell or just sprayed a little bleach on the carpet. Who knows...

God has a way of planting seeds in a person's life. He knows exactly when every good and bad thing is going to happen to each and every one of us. I guess it is just up to us to recognize the seeds that he plants. Sometimes we may not see it then, but hindsight is 20/20 and we can then give Him the all thanks and praise He so deserves.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Day We Left

Thinking back, I barely remember the day we left the house. We went to Terra Studios with some friends that morning. We had a lovely time enjoying the great outdoors. I remember talking to my friends about the mold problems that we were having, although I can't remember exactly what I said. Anyway, we left Terra Studios and drove home, and about the moment we got home J10 developed a fever that started out at 100.6 and then increased. He started feeling extremely dizzy to the point that he felt like he was going to fall. He had a headache and said that he thought he had an ear infection. His lymph nodes were swollen and he had a sore throat. He was extremely tired. His cheeks were both bright red. He even had blood blisters on his skin. I had never seen him that sick before, and he was in tears because he felt so terrible. I immediately got on the phone with the after hours clinic and K and I rushed him there before they closed. They took one look at his throat and said that he absolutely had strep throat. They were convinced. I wasn't. I asked them to take the culture of his throat and send it off to the lab to confirm their diagnosis. I also inquired about what else could be making him sick if it wasn't strep, and they said that the only other explanation was the flu. So I had them test him for flu to eliminate the possibility of giving him an unnecessary round of antibiotics. When the flu test came back negative, the doctor said that she was 99% sure that he had strep, and wrote him a prescription for antibiotics.

We went home that night without filling the prescription because I had every intention of waiting on the results of the culture because I just wasn't convinced by the doctor at the clinic that strep was what was making J10 so sick. So we put him to bed as soon as we got home and did our best to make him comfortable for the rest of the night.

Then, in the middle of the night, A4 woke up and vomited in the bathtub. Now on occasion my children will overeat to the point that they make themselves sick, but I knew exactly what A4 had eaten that day and I didn't think he had eaten to the point of making himself sick. It was puzzling.

The next morning A4 seemed to be feeling better but J10 was not. I had actually learned about mycotoxicosis just days before, and had researched many of the symptoms, which were very similar to the symptoms that J10 was having. This was June 6, 2009. On June 2 we had gotten our house tested by an industrial hygienist and had discovered stachybotrys (toxic black mold) in the bathroom, as well as other mold contamination throughout the entire house. Since we hadn't yet received the lab results from the testing, we didn't actually know just how bad the contamination really was. But since our industrial hygienist was a microbiologist, she was able to look at some of the samples under her microscope. While she couldn't tell us how badly our house was contaminated, she did let us know that the stachy was not the only mold present in our house and that the entire house was contaminated.

Anyway, K made us leave that day. All I can remember was him being annoyed that I was taking such a long time packing clothes and other things that we would need. We didn't have a plan. We just knew we had to get out of that house. We threw all of our clothes into plastic bags and sealed them as tightly as possible. We pretty much left everything else behind. We left a sink full of dirty dishes and a refrigerator full of food. We left laundry that had not yet been put away. It is always difficult for me to pack to go anywhere, even for a weekend, so you can only imagine how difficult it was for me to pack to be gone from the house for an indefinite period of time. And then to do all the packing and thinking with a husband who was insistent that we didn't spend one more second in the house than we had to. I am grateful to have such a concerned husband and he was right to make us leave, but it certainly wasn't easy.

I don't remember what happened after that. I know that at some point we drove 2 hours to stay at K's parent's house. I don't remember planning anything. Maybe K took care of everything. I would imagine that I was in an overwhelmed state of disfunction. I don't even remember where we slept that night.

The next memory I have is in the town where K's parents live. I know I should have been patient and waited for the strep culture, but my little boy was sick and I just wanted him to feel better. So we went to Target and filled the prescription and started him on the antibiotics that the doctor had prescribed. After all, the doctor did say that she was 99% sure that he had strep, and 99% is a pretty good chance.

Well, I guess I should have waited. A couple of days later I got a call from the doctor's office saying that the culture was negative for strep. So I asked to speak to the doctor. I asked her what could possibly be making J10 sick and she said that she had no idea. Then I asked her if she thought it could be the mold in our house, and she said that they didn't deal with mold and told me to call the health department.

So it was the mold after all. K and I both knew it and to this day are still convinced that J10 had symptoms of mycotoxicosis. In fact, we all had symptoms of mycotoxicosis, we just didn't realize it at the time.

Now that I am reflecting on this part of our life I can see how God timed everything perfectly and sent just the right people into our lives at just the right time. The industrial hygienist came out to test the house days before J10 got sick. If she hadn't come to the house when she did, we would have never known about mycotoxicosis. If I hadn't smelled the moldy odor on the carpet or hadn't had the instinct to have the industrial hygienist remove the sheetrock that was hiding the stachy that should have been remediated, we would have never known what was causing J10 to be sick. We could still be living in that house today, having more and more health problems without any clue as to what was causing them. Looking back, everyone in our family had various signs of mold toxicity, but J10's illness was the real eye opener. Even K was convinced that the mold was making us sick and had instinct to put his foot down to my protests about leaving and get our family out of that house.

"The Moldy House"

Since I would like to separate mold from other aspects of our life, even though it has penetrated every aspect of our life, I have decided to make a separate blog to chronicle our mold experience. It simplifies things and will hopefully be easier for people to find the help they need. This is the easiest blog title I have ever come up with, as I have appropriately titled it "The Moldy House" because that is what we came to call our little mold contaminated 1500 square foot house. Since we now have two homes (the apartment and the house), we specify that we are going to the "moldy house" or going "home." Yes, the moldy house no longer seems like home to us. While we shared many good memories there and while I am sure there will be more good memories to come if we ever move back in, I am still apprehensive about moving back in someday.

There are so many details involved in our mold experience that it will probably take me a very long time to compile everything. So it will definitely be a work in progress. But I really feel like I need compile everything that I can remember because mold is becoming such a huge problem and it is so easy to make life wrenching mistakes when mold problems are discovered. Hopefully this blog will help someone or at least fulfill the curiosity of people who seem to be in awe that we actually vacated our house as a result of mold contamination.