NACHI Member Does Good

Black mold warps family’s dream into nightmare

Toxins force evacuation of Habitat for Humanity in Knox County

Sunday, June 17, 2007

By Kevin Sampier
of the Journal Star

Galesburg - The West family’s pursuit of the American dream - owning their own home - has turned into a nightmare.

Unable to purchase a home through traditional means, the Wests worked with Habitat for Humanity to buy their first home. They were left with a house filled with black, toxic mold; children with health problems; and the loss of thousands of dollars and hours of their time. They are now living in a rental home.

It started with a small black spot on the kitchen ceiling.

“We thought we had a leak,” said Amy West, who worked to build the Habitat for Humanity house with the agency. “It just got bigger and bigger and bigger.”

When West’s husband, Jeremy West, went into the attic in March to inspect what they thought was a water leak from the roof, he found the black mold growing on wood rafters and insulation across the attic. The mold eventually grew across windows in the living room and kitchen and latched onto walls in the main living quarters.

"On the way up into the attic, he said, ‘We have a problem here,’ " she said.

The Wests had been living in the house at 2085 E. First St. since June 2002 with their three children, who are 9, 7 and 5 years old.

Through the Habitat for Humanity program of Knox County, the Wests helped build the home with Habitat workers and received a no-interest, 20-year mortgage.

Habitat for Humanity is a charitable organization that helps families who are in financial need to own homes of their own.

The family paid the monthly mortgage of $318 per month and added an extra $82 each month to pay the house off even faster.

When the mold was discovered, representatives from Habitat for Humanity said the home was no longer covered by the one-year contractor’s warranty, Amy West said. The homeowner’s insurance wouldn’t cover the costs to inspect or remove the mold because it was a building defect, she added.

Working full-time jobs, raising three children and being financially eligible for a Habitat for Humanity home in the first place meant there wasn’t a lot of money left over for much else.

The Wests went ahead and paid $490 for a mold inspection.

“She had a ton of different types of mold,” said Randy Stufflebeem, owner of B-Sure Home Inspection and Environmental Co., including Stachybotrys.

One “raw count” of Stachybotrys mold in the air is considered elevated, Stufflebeem said, and is a cause for concern. The Wests’ home had a raw count of 848.

“That’s scary,” Stufflebeem said, as the toxic black mold can cause significant health risks after long-term exposure, including respiratory problems and illness.

“That (type of mold) by far is the worst of the worst,” he said.

The Wests say the mold problem began in the crawl space of the home, where several inches of standing water was discovered. They said Habitat for Humanity used a sump pump in the crawl space while the home was being built but took it out when it was finished and didn’t tell them they would need one permanently.

Jim Ecklund is the executive director of the Knox County Habitat for Humanity program. He said a sump pump was used during the construction phase because rain water had collected in the crawl space before the home’s roof was built. After that, it was taken out.

“We’ll obviously put a sump pump in for the next owner,” Ecklund said.

The Wests say they aren’t the only ones who have had mold problems with Habitat homes. They have a newspaper article from California, where a similar incident with Habitat went to court. The Wests say the same thing has happened to homes in Warren County and in the Quad Cities.

“Obviously there’s some flaw in their design of housing,” Jeremy West said.
Ecklund says there is no design flaw and points to the agency’s record.

“The bottom line is, Habitat has built 36 houses in Knox County, and this is the only one that’s had that issue,” Ecklund said.

The house was approved by city building inspectors, who made sure it met various codes, Ecklund said. However, he acknowledged mold problems in other Habitat homes.

“I’m sure there have been other instances,” Ecklund said. “I’m aware of the one in Warren County.”

Ecklund and the Wests tried to find a middle ground that would satisfy both sides.

The Wests say Ecklund wanted to set off fogger-style “bombs” to kill the mold and then paint the walls with a special mold-killing paint but wanted to add $5,000 plus material costs to their mortgage.

Stufflebeem said a fog bomb, similar to those used to kill insects, would be ineffective against the mold because it wouldn’t reach behind drywall, and even if it killed the mold, it’s still just as dangerous dead as it is alive.

“Whether it’s alive or dead, it’s just as infective,” he said.

West said her children have developed asthma and allergies from living in the home.

The Wests have since moved out of the Habitat house and now live in a rental home in Galesburg. The family recently signed the deed over to Habitat and was let out of the contract.

The house will be cleared of mold next week with the fog bombs, and dirt will be added around the outside edge of the home as backfill to prevent water from entering the home, Ecklund said. It will then be readied for a new family, he said.

But the ordeal didn’t come without a cost. Amy West said she lost nearly $13,000 on the house and received a $1,500 refund from Habitat.

But the experience hasn’t turned the family against their dream of home ownership.

“I want a house of my own,” she said, and sees the past few months as a learning experience.

So does Ecklund, who said this incident can be used to teach other Habitat for Humanity homeowners about mold and the problems associated with it.

“That’s a big part of home ownership, being aware of moisture,” Ecklund said.

Kevin Sampier can be reached at 686-3041 or

I just inspected a house with almost no venting in the crawl space. The linoleum
and carpet showed large amounts of moisture inside the house (moisture meter),
and spots were growing under the linoleum.

I stuck my head inside a little opening to see the crawl space and I just
about chocked on the musty smell under there.

John, I know you got a bad taste in your mouth concerning Active Rain, but you should go over there and read my blog about crawlspace moisture. Apparently, some people don’t think crawlspaces should be vented! Here’s the link:

If you think closing off crawlspace vents is saving you money, you’re all wet!

Info on crawlspaces with no vents to the outside (but conditioning the space):

Randy’s site:

I got your back on that one Jimmy.
John… Scott Peterson was asking what ever happened to you over at AR today.Do not feel bad ,we all get bit at least once.

Got a message from Brian McNeish, rehashing the info about sealing crawlspaces. That is all well and good, but not the best solution in all cases. Especially if no central air or heat exists. It seems to me sometimes that some folks believe some other folks to be ignorant of the latest technology on the subject. That is not the case. I reiterate, as on the AR post, that some families will do well to make their mortgage payments, much less upgrade the home with new central air and heat with a sealed crawlspace. It is difficult for me to understand why this is such a complicated idea to grasp.

John, our friend the Captain has been pretty much rendered irrelevant over on AR. Scott posted a response to one of his caustic blogs over there, and specifically mentioned you, and how The Captain had insulted you. Come back, you have much to contribute. When the cards are on the table, Scott still plays out as one of the good guys.

Thanks for posting the story. The sad thing is a habitat for humanity homes are designed to help folks and is a good thing. But as it goes in the Mold and Home Inspection business: “It is what it is”. The project I am working on now is a very large commercial business that in all honesty you would think came straight out of Katrina. I posted a few photos a couple of weeks ago in one of the sections. I did so many air tests that, I think my bio-pump is fried. Thanks also to Nick for posting my web-site although it is horrible at best and has not been updated in a while. By the way I pay $490.00 per year for the website and was told I could get a much better one for half that. Any thoughts or help on this one?
Thanks again James, Nick, and the crew.

Randy. One point.

You take away the moisture and the mold stops growing.

The mold stops growing and is no longer putting out spores.

No spores, no allergic reaction. Dormant mold (i.e., no moisture) has on effect on humans.

Just a clarification. Mold 101.

Hope this helps;

The truth is, depending on the region, some crawlspaces should be ventilated and some sealed.


The interpretation of the story Originally posted by James B could be taken in many ways…

I did not see the news story in a favorable light as was originally portrayed in the 1st posting of the thread…

Please elaborate, Joe.

Just to put the story in some perspective. I agreed to do this interview at the request of my clients. I thought it would be good to help get the word out which is good for our profession and myself, of course. I was interviewed for about 1/2 hour on the subject of Stachybotrys and that alone as it were. As you may have noticed the story had about 10 seconds total of my interview in various spots. I was not hired to do an inspection as it states only limited mold sampling according to the clients needs. I was amazed to see about three of my quotes were mis-stated. But I also realize it is the press and if they can’t make it sound as bad as possible then it probably isn’t news. This is the 3rd mold case that I have been interviewed on from TV to Newspapers. I can’t tell you how many times they got it wrong during my baseball career, but that is how it works.This is story is troubling in some ways but I still believe it raises awareness as I hoped it would.

To clarify Will, Mold 101 remove the source of moisture. I understand this but it was not what my interview was based on nor was I the company that did the inspection…Limited sampling only, that was my take. However, I did take a look around for my own knowledge while the air testing was going and found many sources. My point was that the discovery of Stachybotrys in air is not as common as other mold as for one they are a heavier mold that does not float as well and is a slower growing media. Secondly, I wanted to make clear the Stacybotrys needed to be removed because it is potentially as dangerous dead as alive. When you have a spot that size sitting on the drywall ceiling directly above your kitchen table as it was it is not a good situation. It is not just stopping the source of the moisture with this type of mold, but much more than that.

Remember folks, this was an interview that lasted about 30 minutes and combined my so called quotes total about 10 seconds.

Joe H,
I agree with you to some extent about the story and I wish they would have printed what and all I said because I promise it would have been beneficial to our profession which is what I intended. Actually, I got into a debate with a public health department speaker at one of the environmental workshops I attended about how they looked at mold and as how I see it. I won the debate simply because he could not answer the questions about dangerous molds and kept trying to lump them all in one category as mold. They all are mold but they are not the same and should not be treated the same. And you are right about interpretation of the story. Everyone may feel different about it. As e-mails, and BB posts it will be interpated differently from one person to the next. All are capable of being understood differently because typed or written words have no feeling (ambiguity), only the feeling one applies to it.

I had a chance at helping the public awareness for Molds and particular the Stachybotrys monster that is known to have the ability to produce potent mycotoxins and when inhaled can create lots of symptoms and some may well harm a person.

I thought about calling to see if some correction could be made by the paper but the retractions would be a 1 X 1" spot in the last page of the paper. Been there done that! So as I said about my sampling reports for this home “It is what it is”

James thanks for putting the post up and Nick for the website link. Hopes this clarifies!