You probably never think about a dangerous, toxic intruder living under your roof, but it's a prevalent problem in the Houston area. Black mold can permanently damage your health and in extreme cases, lead to death. Two women from the Houston area share their dramatic stories.
We'll start with Nathalie Bankhead, who is working hard to restore her deteriorating health. She says her problems started while she was teaching French at Klein High School last year. She explains, she was moved to a different classroom and immediately got a headache. She says it happened every time she walked in the room. "A few days later, I started having asthma attacks, which I never had before," says Nathalie. She tells us her health began to decline, so she began to ask for help, especially when she noticed what she calls black mold growing on the vents in her classroom. "I did file a complaint, and they cleaned the vents and that helped. I bought an air purifier and that helped me. I started taking asthma medication. But then the mold grew back," Nathalie says.
She showed us a folder full of correspondence between her and the school. She says they offered her a classroom in the same building, but she didn't think that would help. She says they had plans to tear the building down in a year, but she didn't think her health could hold up that long. "It was a hard decision! Can I make it a year? My health was going down every week and had a chronic cough and feeling worse. I could not do a year," says Nathalie. She quit her job and began working in another field of business.
We talked to Dr. Peter Osborne with Town Center Wellness in Sugar Land, who has been helping treat Nathalie. "Sometimes a mold response is kind of like a low-burning fire, as opposed to the fire that just burns a house down immediately. It's a low-smoldering fire that just continues to chronically degrade a person's health," says Dr. Osborne.
His other patient, Rhonda Topping, knows the feeling. She admits she was surprised when Dr. Osborne suggested she check for mold in her home. "The first thing you think - I don't have any mold! I'm a good house cleaner, so I knew I didn't have mold - so I was like nah," explains Rhonda.
She finally decided to take a peek between her walls and was shocked to find that her home was full of black mold. It was living between the walls. It was even under her car mats. Black mold was smothering her, and she couldn't even see it. She was in and out of the emergency room and no one could figure out why. She was nauseous. She had headaches. It made her blood pressure spike. "I felt like lightening went from this side to this side and high BP causes stroke. It was so painful - it brought me to my knees - oh God - please help me! That was when I said, I've got to get out of here," says Rhonda. She did move out, while her husband continues to rip out walls and tear out mold to help her. "I had to get a brand new apartment, highest floor so nobody leaks on me, I refer to myself as Rapunzel in her tall tower," laughs Rhonda.
Dr. Osborne says a lowered immune system is often the first sign of mold exposure, perhaps someone getting more infections, a heightened sense of allergic reactions, or a sudden onset of chronic coughing and sneezing.
Many things can cause mold in your home. Something as severe as flooding from a storm, then humidity sparks the growth, but it can as simple as just a slow-leaking pipe. Here's one you may not have thought about. "There's a lawsuit going on right now b/c some of these new front-loading washing machines store mold, so people with a mold allergy who are using these machines react to their clothes. It's hard to get it out once it's in," says Dr. Osborne.
If you suspect mold exposure, Dr. Osborne says it's important to get a blood test that looks at a "delayed" response of mold, not just an "immediate" response through a skin patch test. This will help determine if mold is what's causing your medical problems. If you test positive, then you have your home tested, to find out if that's where it's coming from.
We also thought it was important to get a response from Klein I-S-D. Here is an official statement:
Klein ISD is committed to creating a healthy indoor environment conducive to learning and teaching and we follow a very strict indoor air quality plan. Two thorough investigations occurred in response to Ms. Bankhead's complaints. Both investigations included the following: 1) visual inspection, 2) temperature and humidity monitoring, 3) HVAC inspection and cleaning, and 4) roof inspections. Additionally, the carpets were cleaned and dried as part of the first investigation. No mold or odors were discovered, the classroom was found to be dry and free of moisture, and no leaks were detected during the investigations. Additionally, the classrooms in this building have cinder block walls making it very difficult for mold to grow. The campus administration worked with Ms. Bankhead giving her the option of moving into another classroom and allowing her to use an air filter in her room. The building in question, built in 1981, is clean and well-maintained and is not being demolished because it contains black mold. It is scheduled for demolition this summer as part of the Klein High School master rebuild plan.