As worries about mold grow,
so do inspecion requests

By Susan Ware, Globe Correspondent, Boston Globe

They had heard about the family on Shawnee Road who was forced to vacate the home they had bought the year before because of toxic mold infestation. So when John and Kim Riel of Pepperell found a home they wanted to buy, they erred on the side of caution and had the home checked for mold. "It is so scary to think that you could blindly buy a home and be struck with such a huge problem," said Kim Riel.

As it turned out, the home did have mold, with the biggest concentration in the attic. Despite assurances from the owners that the mold would be cleaned up with bleach, the walls repainted and new carpeting installed, the Riels decided not to buy the house. Today, they are building a new home because this way they are certain that it will be free of toxins. "Before I would have been OK with the owners' solution. But now, I am much more educated about mold and know that they need to do much more than to get rid of it and to make it safe," she said.

Mold is hardly unique to Pepperell, especially after the wet spring and summer in the Boston area this year. But the extreme case on Shawnee Road has raised awareness among locals, leading to an increased number of mold inspections among potential homebuyers.

Since the news of the Shawnee Road, Graf has seen a spike in the number of buyers who are requesting mold inspections before purchasing, and a spike in the number of homes that are reported to contain mold.

"Mold is very hard to grasp. There is not more mold, just more awareness," Graf said. "Some people get very sick from it, some don't. In all it is very frustrating."

Jeffrey May, the author of "My House is Killing Me", has been inspecting indoor spaces for mold since 1992 and has taken 16,000 samples. Based in Cambridge, he has seen a dramatic increase in inspection requests, but cautions there is little consumer information and no government regulations like those for lead, radon, or asbestos.

State Senator Robert O'Leary, a Barnstable Democrat, is trying to put together a task force to study the issue of mold in the Commonwealth. Separately, there is a bill before Congress that would establish mold standards and set parameters for financial assistance. "There is a definite increase in awareness about mold. A hundred years ago people did not believe that cigarette smoke caused cancer. It is the same with mold," said May.

"Microorganisms such as mold make people unbelievably sick, to the point that everyone around them thinks that they are crazy," he said. "And this is dangerous.

"May, who has a master's degree in chemistry from Harvard University, said he encourages clients with mild mold problems in their home not to go to their insurance company, because they may become listed as high risk in a national insurance database and in some cases, lose their homeowners insurance.

The mold problem at the Davis family's house on Shawnee Road is anything but small. Currently, black mold covers the roof, the foundation, and almost every surface in the house. It made Nancy Davis, 45, very sick with nosebleeds, wheezing, and eye irritation. The family purchased the home a year ago for $240,000, but the mold forced them to abandon the home, their cars, and all of their possessions in the home. The Davis family now lives two streets away in an apartment and is working to determine what to do with the Shawnee road home.

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