Dangers Of Mold
While mold is
prevalent in our area year-round due to high humidity levels, it is at
its highest levels outdoors in the fall. It collects and grows in
gutters, soil, vegetation, rotting wood and fallen leaves.
Inside, any moisture
problem can potentially lead to mold problems. It has emerged as a major
culprit in recent real estate dealings, as the fast-growing fungus can
cause thousands of dollars in damage.
It's a vicious cycle,
says Knoxville expert Dr. George Graham, aka Dr. Mold, because mold
sickens a home or building, which, in turn, can sicken the people in it.
Graham, the independent
mycologist for Tennessee Mold Consultants, which diagnoses and treats mold-related
problems, tells the story of a young Denver area girl who was sent home
to die after the 30th doctor who attempted to diagnose her ailment was
unable to do so.
She was too weak to
sit up at school, and no one could figure out why. A neighbor affiliated with Graham asked if the
girls home could be tested for mold, and "it was off the charts," he
recalls. "there was a leak behind her shower, so we took the wall out,
fogged it, cleaned it and replaced it. She was also treated with custom
Within three months,
that girl was an 'A - B' student and hanging onto a jungle gym by her
knees. "We deal with this kind of thing all the time," he continued.
"It's great to go and find a problem like that and be able to help."
It is not an isolated
incident. Graham, who receives referrals from allergists, general
practitioners and even marriage counselors, has seen the effects of mold
on individuals, families and relationships during more than three
decades of fungus study. "There was this long-distance truck driver who
lived in Petros," he recalls. "He was gone Monday through Friday, and
was fine all week until he came home. When he was home, he had headaches
and was just miserable. "He and his wife ended up in counseling, and he
said that he knew what was wrong (he watched Oprah) - he hated his wife.
"Well, the marriage counselor referred them to us, and we found mold in
their crawl space. We removed the mold, and his headaches went away."
He says mold was not
really a problem indoors until the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo. "It was an
energy crisis, and to save energy, we tightened up our houses so they
couldn't 'breathe.' TVA gave us incentives to tighten up our houses, but
it has caused more air pollutants inside than you would find in downtown
L.A." "Tighter building construction does not by itself promote mold
growth," says Dr. Nathan Yost of Building Sciences Corp., who is quoted
in a list of frequently asked questions provided by the Knoxville Area
Association of Realtors. "But tight construction combined with some poor
choices in design, building materials or operations can increase the
probability of mold growth. "The tighter the building construction, the
less air exchange there is between the inside air and outside air.
Whatever gets into the inside air from activities such as cooking,
bathing and even breathing will remain in a tight house longer than it
would in a loose house."
These factors have
contributed to an onslaught of illnesses, Graham says, from ADD to
fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. "You never even heard of
those illnesses before the energy crisis," Graham says. The primary
factor contributing to these problems is mold, he notes. "Not all molds
are bad,: he says. "And mold is really one of God's great creations.
It is a great recycler, and gets rid of lots of old dead leaves. The problem
is that mold doesn't know the difference between a twig and an antique
According to the
Household Mold Resource Center, a web site of the National Association
of Home Builders, homeowners might have a mold problem if the home has
experienced any of the following: a flood, a sewer back-up, an
overflowing toilet, leaking pipes, a leaking roof or leaking windows, or
if it has a
humidifier or any other serious water-related problems. If
mold is a problem, Tennessee Mold Consultants will find it, treat it, and offer
solutions on how to keep it from recurring. The company treats problem
areas with grapefruit based solutions so safe they can be ingested. "If
you can't drink it, we don't use it," says Graham. Bleach, long believed to be mold's nemesis, is not the best
solution, according to Graham. "It only discolors it," he says.
Furthermore, a report provided by the Knoxville Area Association of
Realtors indicates that bleach kills and decolorizes mold, but will not
remove it. Instead, it is recommended that soap and water be used to
remove mold. That same report says that the CDC, the EPA and the New
York City Health Department all agree that bleach should not be used
routinely to clean up mold.
"Really, getting rid
of mold is easy," Graham says, "Keeping it from coming back is hard."
Fear and negative publicity have only contributed to mold problems.
"There is a lot of bad information and publicity about mold, but we are
working to change that," he says.
"You hear about
people who have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair or
renovated houses because of mold, and a lot of times, it just comes back
because they never found the source of the problem and corrected it." He
says 90 percent of the steps to prevent mold from recurring, homeowners
can take care of themselves. "Make sure the ridge vents work," he
suggests. "Make sure the soffit vents aren't covered with insulation and
install an overhead fan in the bathroom. "Rarely do you have to knock a
wall out." Graham says he is working with several insurance companies to
convince them to cover mold-related problems. "Right now, most
homeowners insurance will not cover it," he says. "But, if the
homeowners will only do what we tell them, it will save the insurance
companies money in the long run."