The Hidden Dangers of Mold Exposure

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Federal guidelines for hazardous substances like radon, asbestos and lead already exist, but for those with mold lurking in their home, there's little warning.

No standards for the fungal growth have been set, despite a warning from the U.S. Government Accountability Office in 2008 that "indoor mold poses a widespread and, for some people, serious health threat."

That health threat turned into a real-life catastrophe for the Fabry family.

A Life-Changing Discovery

Until last year, Chris Fabry, his wife and nine kids lived in a beautiful 5,500-square-foot home in Colorado. Fabry hosted a daily Christian radio show for Moody Radio in his home studio and pursued his writing career. All nine kids were thriving in school, at church and at home. The family seemingly had it all.

But in 2007, the Fabrys discovered mold in one of their bathrooms. They cut into the wall, accidentally releasing spores and set off a series of health problems ranging from rashes to diabetes - and then worse.

Chris Fabry remembers 11-year-old Reagan's constant vertigo, nausea and vomiting which doctors could not explain.

"This was a child I had to literally carry to the bathroom so he could throw up and no doctor would say - they would say - 'you can't have vertigo all the time. That's not possible.'"

Ten-year-old Kaitlyn, a voracious reader, had to give up her books after her vision began to blur. Her 7-year-old brother Colin also became sick.

Andrea Fabry remembered, "He would be doubled over with abdominal pain sobbing and having migraines that would be so severe that he would literally just sit there and scream. And then it was all four kids, every night was like that."

Little Help from Doctors

Part of the Fabry's problem, unknown at the time, was that remediators used fans on the mold, spreading toxic spores throughout the home.

In 2007 and 2008, the Fabrys would visit 30 specialists for their family's growing health crisis.

For each child, doctors focused on symptoms and how best to treat them. They never asked questions about the Fabry's home environment, although they did challenge their parenting.

"I would have doctor after doctor look at me and say 'have you thought of a psychologist? I think you need to take them home and give them some tough love. I think that's what they need,'" Andrea Fabry said.

In late 2008, an indoor air test confirmed Andrea's deepening suspicion: dangerously high counts of mold spores in several rooms. The toxicologist told the family they must leave their home and everything in it. The Fabrys even had to put down their two dogs to prevent future contamination.

The family soon discovered that only a handful of doctors in the country have experience in treating mold-related health issues.

After speaking with Dr. Michael Gray, a mold specialist in Benson, Ariz., they decided to move. Chris' work could continue in Arizona and the family could recuperate better in the warm, dry climate with medical help close by.

Changing Medical School Curriculum

Gray told CBN News that urine tests confirmed high levels of toxins in all 11 Fabrys. Their varying patterns of illness reflect symptoms of hundreds of other mold patients he's treated since 1994.

But Gray doesn't blame the Fabry's doctors, who failed to identify mold as a primary issue. Instead, he cites medical schools that give little or no class time to environmental concerns.

"It is an area that is not well-taught and not well-recognized," he explained.

The American Medical Association and other leading health institutions agree, calling on medical schools to devote more time to the issue.

Dr. David Jacobs is the Director of Research for The National Center for Healthy Housing and the former director of the Office of Healthy Homes for the U.S. Department of Housing. He estimates that up to 25 percent of U.S. homes have mold problems.

But he acknowledges, research on mold is still in its infancy.

"We are still struggling to understand which species of mold produce which specific health outcomes," he said.

Mold's History

Mold is a recognized hazard going all the way back to Bible times. In Leviticus 14, the Lord commands Moses and Aaron to follow-up on mold complaints.

Lev. 14:36-37 says, "The priest must go in and check it. He must look carefully at the mold that is on the walls." (NIRV)

The passage then explains how priests must oversee repeat examinations, cleanings and eventual tear-downs if mold continues to grow in the home.

The World Health Organization has published a report on toxic molds, known as mycotoxins, that notes significant health issues.

It warned that "exposure to mycotoxins can produce both acute and chronic toxicities ranging from death to deleterious effects on the central nervous, cardiovascular and pulmonary systems."

The Department of Defense is also up-to-date on toxic molds. It has published a lengthy report on one type called "trichothecene mycotoxins." The DOD says this mold is a proven warfare agent and can cause vomiting, bleeding, blistering - even death.

Yet, the Environmental Protection Agency's Web site on mold contains just one paragraph on its effect on health. In essence, the EPA cites concerns about mold and allergies and notes that research is on-going.

The problem, Jacobs said, is that Congress has not given statutory authority to any one government agency.

The GAO's 2008 report makes the same conclusion, noting "while current research activities on indoor mold conducted or sponsored by EPA, HHS and HUD address identified health-related research gaps to varying degrees, these activities are largely uncoordinated within and across agencies."

"There is no uniform training curricula that's out there that all the states can use and adopt," Jacobs said. "We do have that for lead and radon."

Tip and Recommendations

Mold experts say the best prevention method is to keep your home dry. Watch for leaking pipes under sinks, water coming in around windows and unventilated bathrooms. When in doubt, call a professional with experience.

For the Fabrys, it's unknown whether their Colorado home will ever be livable again. For now, they are simply trying to recover. Their goal: healthy eating and avoiding public places which trigger new-found chemical sensitivities.

Inspired to share what they've learned, Andrea is chronicling their journey on the Web.

"We as people living in our homes don't know this," she said. "And I think we're going to wake up. I think it's coming just like lead poisoning, radon."

Chris Fabry is now hosting his radio show in a make-shift studio in their rental home. Off-air, he tackles mounting medical bills that insurance won't cover, and is re-entering the world of sports with his sons.

The Fabrys fully expect that their battle with mold will not end anytime soon. For now, their story is God's faithfulness in the midst of a life they would never have imagined could happen to them.

"We're together," Chris said. "My wife and I are closer than we've even been. We've been able to go through this tornado of the rollercoaster--the emotions and the loss, all of our stuff and the dogs and the illnesses of the kids and we've really seen God work through that."

God's grace plus their deepening understanding of mold is helping to restore them - and will likely awaken more people to the dangers of mold.

*Original broadcast December 10, 2009. 

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Heather Sells

Heather Sells

CBN News Reporter

Heather Sells enjoys reporting on a variety of issues for CBN News. Some of her recent stories have focused on religious liberties, technology, AIDS, overseas missions, domestic trafficking, and politics.  Follow Heather on Twitter @SellsHeather and "like" her at Facebook.com/HeatherSellsCBNNews.