AJ Giardina investigates the dangers of mold

By A.J. Giardina - bio | email

HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Tidal surges flooded thousands of homes and buildings following Hurricane Katrina, and more recently, Hurricanes Gustav and Ike flooded homes in our area. A big problem that can come with the water damage is mold.

In recent weeks, Action Reporter A.J. Giardina has received phone calls from people who say their health has been affected by mold growing inside their homes.

One of those calls came from the Rileys. They say they weren't flooded, but they have a mold problem that has forced them out of their home.

"We didn't know that we had problems with the home until after we had been in it for four years," Tommy Riley said.

Tommy and Darlene Riley and their two sons were living in a manufactured home. They say one day a nephew was running in the hallway and fell right through a wall.

"When this happened, we knew we had a problem and started investigating, and we found, basically, the whole house was full of mold."

Environmentalists suggested they move out, leaving everything behind - furniture, clothing, toys, blankets, sheets, bedspreads, kitchen utensils and plates. That was back in 2002.

According to an engineering report, the mold resulted from water leaking through the ridge vents on the roof, and because there was no vapor barrier installed in the crawlspace.

"They suggested we leave everything behind because we could take the mold spores into the new environment. We have a report from an appraiser of $68,000 in contents that we left behind."

Riley said a remediation company appraised the cleanup of their home at a $100,000. He said prior to discovering the mold, all four family members were always tired and ill and doctors couldn't tell them what was wrong.

"What we want to accomplish here is to warn other people, if they have mold in their homes, that it can cause a lot of danger. That if they have some of the symptoms and that if they're not getting any better from the way their doctors are treating them, that there is hope out there, especially if they have been exposed to mold," Darlene Riley said.

Tommy Riley said, according to a specialist, the lesions on his body are being caused by mold toxins trying to escape.

"Many of the symptoms that we had were muscle and joint pain that moves around the body," Tommy Riley said.

Tommy said anyone suffering from upper respiratory problems, asthma, bronchitis, runny noses, watery eyes, itching all the time and yeast infections, yes even in men, could be suffering from mold toxins. He said another sign is nose bleeds. Six years ago, Tommy and Darlene's young son woke up with blood all over his face.

"You couldn't tell whether it came from his mouth or his nose, and I couldn't tell where it came from. I took him to the doctor and they couldn't figure out where it came from, and they just said watch him," Darlene Riley said.

After getting no relief, they contacted doctors throughout the United States, including Dr. David Straus, a professor at Texas Tech University. He's an expert on "sick building syndrome." He said breathing inside a mold infested home can cause serious health problems.

"Some organisms produce very toxic compounds called mica-toxins, fungal toxins. And we have seen some people who have been made extremely sick by inhaling these extremely poisonous compounds," Dr. Davis Straus said.

Dr. Straus has been studying sick building syndrome for 14 years.

"When mold starts, you need to stop the water intrusion and then you need to remove the mold growth. And you ask, does mold die? Indeed, the mold colony dies, but the spores remain and the spores are living and they are viable."

Dr. Straus said the remaining mold must be removed. Darlene and Tommy Riley said they and their children are feeling better these days, but they take a number of vitamins and medicines that help detoxify their bodies after years of breathing in mold toxins.

Another family in Gulfport started having headaches and didn't know why. Demetrius and Gladys Bowens also suffered from chronic fatigue and finally realized they were getting sick from breathing in black mold.

"We just couldn't understand what was going on, and finally we did find a little mold in the closet," Gladys Bowens told WLOX News.

Despite finding the mold and taking care of the problem, the Bowens continued having health problems and didn't know why they felt sluggish, suffered from headaches and nose bleeds.

"I used to be real motivated, always busy in the yard, got things to do, enjoyed going fishing, taking the boat out. But it got to a point where I began to lose energy and it was unexplained. So I started spending a lot of time at medical. They couldn't come up with the reasoning behind it, but always came up with a medication based on the symptoms they saw," Demetrius Bowens said.

One day, Demetrius noticed a water leak in the AC unit.

"In the process of taking the panels apart, I discovered that the unit was just full of mold."

The Bowens soon discovered all the vents in their home were full of mold, so they decided to take precautions.

"We sleep out here on the front porch. We've got a window unit over there. It's separate from the vents, so we don't have to breath that as we sleep," Gladys Bowens said. "The breathing part is better, because the air is cleaner, but physically the energy is still not there."

Demetrius said the home received roof damage following Hurricane Katrina and water dripped inside the AC unit inside a closet in their bedroom.

When their insurance company wouldn't pay to have the mold removed from their home, they called in Josh Atkins of Polar Artic.

"We're going to have to sanitize everything, get it all brushed off of there. Try to clean it up as best we can. With sanitization, it should allow it not to grow back," Atkins said of the damage.

Every vent throughout the home showed signs of black mold.

"Take a great look at your vent and see if you can see mold growth around it. Some people mistake the mold for being just dust, and often times I found it's not dust, it's actually mold," Demetrius Bowens said.

Adkins said a fog machine will have to be used to eradicate the mold throughout the air flow system.

"It's basically a fogger, and we use enviracom. It kills mold, mildew, things like that and allows it not to grow back," Adkins said.

Once Adkins removed the AC unit, he began the cleaning process.

"The hardest thing about getting mold off is actually getting it off the surface. Simple Green will loosen it up and bring it off and sanitize. And you can go back with a little Lysol, something like that, to disinfect it a little bit better," Adkins said.

If you smell a musty odor, it could be mold.

"If you cut your AC unit completely off and allow the house to cool somewhat, then the odor becomes stronger," Demetrius Bowens said.

Also, just look around. Are the walls and ceilings discolored? Can you see water damage and mold growth in the sheet rock? If you do, those are real signs of mold infestation.

If you find a mold problem as serious as the one that faced the Bowens, it's recommended you call in a professional.

In 2006, the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that a plausible link exists between acute pulmonary hemorrhage in infants and exposure to the toxins that some molds produce.

People with asthma, allergies, or other breathing conditions may be more sensitive to mold. Cancer patients taking chemotherapy and those who have received an organ transplant are also more susceptible to mold infections.

The following websites can help you learn more about fighting mold: