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.

1 comment:

  1. Julie, I'm so sorry that you and your family have gone through such an ordeal. I know that God will direct your path and He is always working for your good. I'll be praying for you.