More Mould

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When mold attacks: Couple, baby forced from home ](

By Jessie Stensland
Jan 20 2007

Mold is everywhere. A typical coffee table, for example, may have as many as six billion mold spores on it.
But for one Central Whidbey family, mold in their home became a nightmare right out of a Stephen King novel.
Aaron Garcia shares her family’s story as a cautionary tale of the dangers of mold and the importance of getting a home inspection and an air sample test before you purchase real estate — no matter what your agent may say.
“I’m ready to have our lives back,” Garcia said after finally moving back to the Admirals Cove house after she, her husband, their 1-year-old daughter and two small dogs spent months in hotel rooms, visiting out of state and even crashing at a neighbor’s home to get away from the dangers in their own home.
“It could have killed my daughter and it almost killed one of my dogs,” she said.
Mold has become a hot topic nationally and the real dangers are often exaggerated, especially with the “sick school syndrome” making headlines. But if conditions are right, molds can pose a real danger, especially in places with wet climates, like Whidbey Island.
Katie Hicks, an environmental health specialist with Island County Public Health, said she gets three to seven inquiries a week from people concerned about mold.
Usually, the fix is simple. “Eliminating the problems associated with mold means eliminating the cause of mold, which is water,” she said. That means patching leaks.
But for the Garcias, the solution was anything but simple.
First home
a nightmare
The story begins last May. Aaron and her husband Ben Garcia, a culinary specialist seaman with the Navy, decided to buy their first home. They found a friendly agent, Bob McNeill at RE/MAX Acorn Properties in Oak Harbor. He showed them a modest home in Admirals Cove and it seemed perfect.
Garcia claims that McNeill told them that the home had been damaged by a tree that fell and “cracked” the roof, but that it had been fixed immediately.
Later, Garcia said she would find out from neighbors, including one who happened to have photos, that this wasn’t quite accurate.
“It wasn’t one tree. It was three trees that put a huge gaping hole in the roof,” she said. “It was left open for three-and-a-half weeks.”
The Garcias wanted a home inspection, but McNeill said it wasn’t necessary. In fact, Garcia claims that both she and her husband, their lender and a relative who is a real estate agent called McNeill and requested a home inspection.
But McNeill talked them out of it, the couple claims.
“He said, ‘I just want you guys to trust me that this is a completely safe house,’” Garcia said.
McNeill didn’t return calls for comment. But a News-Times reporter was present when McNeill explained to a military representative that he had urged against the home inspection in order to save the young couple some money.
Whatever the intent was, it turned out to be a mistake that cost everyone involved.
Sick upon
moving in
The Garcias moved into their new house in June.
“Right away we started feeling sick,” Garcia said. “It smelled bad and felt wet. The musty smell got worse and worse.”
They started finding mold stains. She found them on her wedding dress, a military uniform, baby clothing, the walls, sheets and boots. Their two small dogs developed severe skin allergies.
Garcia said she had headaches and her asthma was worse than it had ever been before.
But worst of all, six-month-old Emma was sick all the time.
“Emma started getting nose bleeds,” Garcia said. “The draining in her nose and throat started getting really green.”
During all this time, Garcia said she called her real estate agent many times and got promises that something would be done, but nothing seemed to change.
Finally, Garcia said her daughter’s pediatrician ordered them to leave the house. The Navy put up the family at a room in the Coachman Inn in Oak Harbor.
Garcia also hired Kevin Mathers of Island Indoor Air Quality in Freeland.
Mathers explained that he tests the air inside and outside the house to compare the amount of mycotoxins, which are toxins produced by an organism of the fungus family, which includes mushrooms, molds and yeasts. He said a finding of 10 times the amount of mycotoxins inside as compared to outside is a red flag.
“In Aaron’s case, it was 100 times over the outside test,” he said, adding that test found dangerous levels of Penicillium.
Family advised
to leave
Mathers said he also told the family to leave the house immediately and not come back.
Garcia said RE/MAX agreed to hire specialists to fix the problem at the expense of the real estate office, but only after many phone calls, letters and the threat of a lawsuit.
Tired of living in a motel, the Garcias went out of town for three and a half weeks in late November to early December. Aaron said the work on the house was supposed to be completed while they were gone.
It was a huge project. The drywall had to be torn down and replaced. The carpeting and padding were removed. Special chemicals were sprayed on studs and everything else. Giant HEPA filters cleaned the air.
When the Garcias returned, their house was a disaster. The subfloor was littered with nails and tack strips. There was equipment left inside and on the roof.
After more phone calls, the family ended up staying at a neighbors’ home while Aaron and Ben worked endless hours pulling the nails and tacks from the floor while Emma was confined to a baby pen. They spent Christmas in the half-finished home, opening presents on the rough boards of the mold-stained subfloor.
They also discovered that the workers hadn’t fixed vents on the roof that had been installed wrong, and continued to leak water into the home.
House work nearly done
Hopefully, all’s well that ends well for the Garcias.
Thursday, Ben Garcia said RE/MAX has made good on their promises. They are in the process of installing new flooring. Once that is complete, everything will finally be back to normal for the family.
The Garcias have learned a lot about both mold and real estate over the last year. Aaron said she’ll never buy a house without first getting a regular home inspection and an air sample test.
“I knew that mold was dangerous,” she said. “I knew that it could make you sick. I never thought this could happen to us.”
Yet for people who aren’t buying a house, Hicks said the Health Department doesn’t encourage the average homeowner to get air sample testing.
“The solution is the same no matter what kind of mold is present,” she said. “Target the moisture.”
Mold should be cleaned from nonporous materials with warm, soapy water. Some people like to add bleach to the solution, but the Health Department doesn’t recommend that anymore. In many cases, she said, the caustic bleach causes more health problems than does the mold.
If you must use bleach, dilute it at least to one part bleach to 10 parts water.
HEPA air filters can help, Hicks said, but stay away from ozone generators, which are very harmful to people’s health if used in occupied spaces.
Mold needs moisture or humidity to thrive, which is why mold and mildew proliferates in bathrooms.
Mathers said he sometimes has to act the part of a detective to find the source of water leaks in homes. Common sources he’s found are leaky hoses on washing machines and standing water that accumulates under houses because of poor drainage.
In the majority of cases, the mold problem will go away after the leak is fixed and the mold is washed away.
The Garcia home was a rare case in which major remediation was necessary.
“If a leak isn’t take care of, it just — pardon the pun — mushrooms from there,” Mathers said. You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at or call 675-6611.

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I think they need to get rid of the dogs, that may be part of the problem. Two dogs in a hotel room for months! Dog dander can cause allergic reactions. Maybe it was easier to blame the realtor and the house rather than the family pets.

In this case it wasn’t the dogs. Mould of this nature was due to the water intrusion with the roof open for so long. Pet dander is another storey. Doug

I don’t know but if I was being sued under the circumstances as in the article, one of the first things I would be requesting is allergen tests on the complainants for dog allergies.

Also were the test only conducted for moulds as opposed to chemicals, or other attributable manmade products in the house.


Just for the sake of discussion.

Good point Ray, however the mycotoxin level in this home was 100 x’s higher. Deal with that first then check chemical , etc. Cheers! Doug

Hi Doug


This article discusses the current state of affairs in mold litigation and its impact on the real estate industry in Colorado, and concludes that in Colorado and across the country, the toxic mold phenomenon already is beginning a general decline.

That may be in Colorado but as a restoration contractor here in Ontario it is alive & well.Any way that has nothing to do with the Garcia family we were talking about. Doug

It may not have anything to do with Garcia but the tide is turning on mould and litigation. Its my opinion mould and associated concerns in many cases is being used by many as a crutch to seek some form of compensation, while the legal profession has different views.

Are you involved in mould mitigation services?

I agree with you Raymond. The trick ,as with a lot of things in life is to differentiate between the legit & those trying to make a quick buck. I’ve seen both sides in the mould situation & my heart goes out to those who truly suffer from mould exposure. And yes ,I am involved with mould mitigation as well as water & fire restoration. Doug