Health Mysteries Solved
Mon, Oct 24, 2022 10:36AM • 50:12
mold, mycotoxins, remediation, vocs, spores, people, musty smell, cleaned, musty odor, problem, air, test, remove, building, fungi, called, mold growth, chemicals, surfaces, mold remediation
Meet Allison. She was dealing with brain fog and was constantly tired and also felt like she was not getting a good night’s rest. She was experiencing joint pain and felt much older than her chronological age. Alison saw multiple doctors, and they checked her B vitamins her thyroid, her iron, but everything checked out. They did find that she had a positive AMA, which is anti-nuclear antibodies. But she was told that it could be anything and most likely that it’s just nothing. When I met Alison, I rechecked her thyroid, because I almost always find underlying issues there that doctors often miss. However, even looking at all the markers and checking them against the optimal ranges, her thyroid function was really okay. However, there’s so many other things aside from thyroid that can lead to fatigue and the other symptoms that she was experiencing. And so I knew that we just haven’t turned over all of the stones yet. After speaking to her at length, we figured out that her symptoms actually got worse after she moved to her new house. My sense was that it was something in her environment and that possible mold exposure was at the core of her mystery. We needed to figure out if there was mold, and if so, the best way to find it and remediate it, while supporting her body in the process. Every year thousands of people are told there’s no explanation for their health concerns and no way to fix them. They feel frustrated, undermined and lost. I know because that was me—before I figured out the actual causes and reclaimed my health. Now, I help others do the same. I’m Inna Topiler and this is Health Mysteries Solved.
We just heard all about Allison’s struggles. Joining me on the show today to talk much more about this is Jason Earle, who is an indoor air quality crusader. He’s the Founder and CEO of 1-800-GOT MOLD?, as well as MycoLab USA, and he’s the creator of the GOT MOLD? Test Kit. Jason went from being a Wall Street whizkid to America’s top mold detective, and connected the dots in his own health odyssey implicating a moldy farmhouse that he grew up in. And like many of my guests, Jason’s been featured in various publications and media outlets like the Dr. Oz Show, Good Morning America, and Extreme Home Makeover. Jason, I cannot think of a better expert to bring on for this case. So welcome.
Thank you. It’s great to be here.
So it’s not news to most of us that mold exposure is not healthy for us, right? But while we’re aware of this, so many of us can be exposed, and we don’t even know it. And by the time we figure it out, there are various health issues. And they really accumulate over time in the mold field is really large. And I feel like it’s not really well-regulated. And so with that comes a lot of confusion. And that’s why I’m so excited to dig into everything today so that you can clear this up for us. So when it comes to mold, what is it about molds that’s so bad for us? What makes it so toxic, and makes us feel so bad?
First of all, I think that on a very basic level, mold is essentially the beginning of decay, our bodies have visceral reactions to things that are decaying and have decayed. He’s just thinking about rotting food, feces, these kinds of things. There’s a visceral repulsion to it. And I feel that this is just observational, right? This is, after being in this 20 years, you start to think a little bit differently. And I believe that that’s the primary reason why we have these incredible reactions to it. It is it’s an evolutionary advantage, I would argue, potentially, that ultimately, it’s part of the reason why also women tend to have a better sense of smell and pick these things up more easily. And that by the way, it’s not just humans, it’s also other animals as well. That’s one of the reasons why we only use female mold-sniffing dogs, because there’s a better sense of smell. But that’s an evolutionary advantage. And I think, I think oftentimes, and by the way, the environmental sensitivities, in general, are not a weakness […]. I believe that evolutionary, that’s actually a sixth sense of sorts, that these things are bad for everybody. And it just so happens that if you’re sensitive to it, you got the message before they did. And if you listen to that you can reduce exposure and have a healthier life. And so just because you experience discomfort, doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. People tend to think that pain is bad and pleasure is good. In this particular case, that signal is giving you a very important signal and it’s something to listen to.
Oh my gosh, I love this. I’m literally getting goosebumps just hearing you say this. It’s, you know, my canaries in the coal mine, you know. I say something similar, like your body’s telling you and you’re actually hearing it. And like all these other people that have no idea. So yes, like so agree with that.
And further to that point, I don’t even look at mold as the enemy. I look at mold as a signal, because you get the benefit of it sending you the musty odor. It sends you the message and it says something’s off, something’s imbalanced, there’s actually something there. I look at it much like inflammation in the body, where if you don’t deal with the underlying cause of inflammation in the body, you’ll go from acute inflammation to chronic inflammation, which is actually its own disease. The same thing goes with mold, mold if you don’t listen. In other words, if you don’t react quickly, it will get worse because mold problems do what they do—they grow. If left unchecked they will ultimately take over the building. The job of mold is to take everything that was at one time living and turn it back into dirt. It’s doing that very efficiently outside and it’s doing its job quite well when it’s doing that with leaves and sticks and things like that. If it’s doing that to your wallboard or your belongings, not so much. I would argue that mold is actually not the enemy. Mold is actually telling you that you’ve got an imbalance in your building, and your building is sick. And when you fix that, the building heals. And guess what also happens —the people inside it heal, too.
Right? Now, if mold is not the enemy, though, what is it that the mold produces that makes you sick and makes the building sick?
Well, the enemy is actually moisture problems. Moisture is the enemy of a healthy building. Mold is just the byproduct, mold is the very predictable, natural byproduct of prolonged dampness. That’s it. Mold spores are everywhere. They’re just waiting there for the right conditions to be present. And so really, if I could just flip this, what you really have here is a moisture problem. Mold is not the enemy, moisture problems are. So that’s the first part. The second part is that once mold begins to take hold, once the spore is on a surface it has the right conditions to germinate. Much like a seed, it will send out shoots called hyphae into the material to release enzymes. It does the digestion outside of the cell. So we digest inside, they digest outside and then extract the nutrition from that material. And while it’s doing that, it’s obviously, you know, building structures to increase its ability to eat more stuff. And while it does that it’s creating colonies. And while it’s digesting, it’s producing.
To overgeneralize three different things, number one: spores are designed to go forth and prosper, to find more places to go and eat more stuff. And by the way, we really need that because if you imagine if we just had all the dead stuff outside, we’d have piles and piles of trees. And that’s why we have coal and oil and all that stuff. Because at one time we didn’t have fungi. And that’s where that stuff comes from deep within the earth. But we need that stuff now. Otherwise, we’d have lots and lots of dead stuff piling up. But the spores are abundant and they’re ubiquitous. And they’re a very important part of the whole health perspective or the health picture because people tend to react in allergenic ways to exposure to spores: sinus issues, thermal reactions, itchy eyes, that kind of stuff. So high spore counts can be troubling. They also can carry mycotoxins, which is the byproduct of mold growth that only certain molds produce under certain circumstances. But mycotoxins got a lot of bad press.
Yeah, I mean, there are so many tests out there right now for mycotoxins and that’s one of the main things that people talk about.
It’s almost all they talk about. I think it’s a red herring. I don’t think it’s a red herring—it is a red herring. And in fact, it’s a distraction from the actual issue. It also completely ignores the fact that only some molds produce mycotoxins and even the ones that do, including Stachybotrys, that notorious black toxic mold, which is, by the way, green, not black. It only produces mycotoxins during stress or hot periods of high competition. And so, so we build this whole medical approach around detecting mycotoxins. But what about all the molds that don’t produce mycotoxins? This philosophy would assume that the other molds are benign. And nothing could be further from the truth. And so the third thing that molds produce when growing, and all molds produced this when they’re growing, is the musty smell. And the musty smell, known as microbial volatile organic compounds or short mVOCs, are getting a lot of attention. Now, thankfully, I’ve been talking about this for 20 years because the dogs that we use during inspections are trained to sniff out the source of those microbial VOCs. And so we would go into houses where there would be significant symptoms, people were very sick. We take air samples and they may have normal spore counts, but there’s a strong musty odor. And we do the remediation, or we oversee the remediation, do the testing, and at the end spore counts still seem normal, but the musty smell is gone and everybody feels better. And we saw that happen hundreds of times over the course of 20 years. The research is very clear, that microbial gas is the musty odor, and it can have incredible health consequences. It’s the second leading indicator of childhood asthma behind maternal smoking, it increases the risk for asthma in children by 250%. Just having a baby exposed to the musty odor increases their risk of developing asthma by 250%. There’s wonderful research being done by my friend, Dr. Joan Bennett at Rutgers University, who wants to rename the volatile organic compounds associated with mold. She wants to call them “volatoxins,” because she’s doing research on fruit flies, and exposing them to the musty odor. And she’s finding that they stopped producing dopamine, they fly downwards away from the light, they stop reproducing, they develop Parkinsonian-like symptoms. In essence, they become depressed and have developed cognitive issues, which is a very common complaint for mold sufferers. They blame it on mycotoxins, but I’m here to tell you that in my experience of doing thousands of assessments, all health-driven, many of them are referred by their physicians, that the musty odor is pervasive in all of these cases. Toxigenic molds here and there, spore counts, sometimes high, sometimes not. And so there’s a really disproportionate amount of attention directed towards mycotoxins, as if the color of the mold or the type of mold dictates how you handle the mold. And again, nothing could be further from the truth. Mold is a moisture problem. And when you have those kinds of molds that are producing mycotoxins, by the way, that’s a sign that you have not listened to the early signals, because that’s late-stage chronic dampness. That means that you didn’t listen when they first showed up, right?
Wow, this is so interesting. And I have to say I am someone who definitely has a very sensitive nose. So I go in somewhere, and if there’s even the slightest little bit of a musty smell, I’ll smell it. Like Do you smell that? And most people are like, no, what are you talking about? I’m like, No, there’s something moldy here. I smell it like and this is, you know, sometimes in basements. But sometimes they could be just in other people’s homes or at restaurants or, you know, schools and things like that. And I was always told, Well, there’s no mold, we checked, right? Like, but there’s a musty smell, right? So they’re told the spore count is fine. So this really, really makes so much sense what you’re explaining, because it’s all of these things. And, you know, the musty smell. And these volatile compounds that come from that are really, really important, and people aren’t talking about them. So this is so, so important to know. So my next question then is if let’s say someone has an issue where they smell a musty smell, right, and they may have had water damage, or maybe they haven’t, or they don’t know, right? If they’re moving into a home, and they don’t know what happened five years ago, or 10 years ago? What are the best ways that they can test and find out? Because I know that there are many different testing labs out there. And of course, you can have a technician come, but I feel like the field is just it’s such a big field, you know, and people have different training. And so someone can take, like you said, an air sample and say everything is fine. But is it really fine? Is there really a good test?
Well, it’s a great question. It’s a question that I’ve heard thousands of times, and, you know, we—I, my company is called 1-800-GOT-MOLD?, and we do mold inspections and remediation consulting, you take tens of thousands of calls over the years and one consistent refrain is, That sounds expensive — is there a test kit on the market? And so, if you look at the spectrum of what’s out there, you’ve got basically these $10 Petri dishes at the checkout at the hardware store, which are fundamentally, they’re basically a sixth-grade science fair experiment. They’re scientifically invalid. If you’re concerned about mold growth in your home, the first thing you should not do is grow more of it, which is what they encourage you to do. All petri dishes will grow mold. That’s what they’re designed to do. With mold spores being ubiquitous, they will settle out of the air so that, you know, the presence of spores does not mean that you’ve got a mold problem. There’s a big difference between having mold, which every house does because every surface does have mold spores, and mold growth or a mold problem where you got a real moisture condition that’s causing active growth. Those are very, very different things. So the question about the test kits, the $10 test kit at the checkout, those sort of anchor the darkness, if you will. And people buy hundreds of millions of dollars a year worth of those. It’s just it’s a terrible waste. And then all the way on the other side, you’ve got very expensive inspectors, many of whom are capitalizing on this mycotoxin thing. And they will do all sorts of weird tests, [often using] tests that are not recommended, like ERMI.
Yes. Oh, I could tell you stories about that. We’ll get into that later. But yeah, bad news.
And these guys that are charging, some of these guys are charging five or $6,000 for an inspection, and then they’re handing someone over a $100,000 remediation proposal.
And I’ve even heard things where people are saying… unfortunately, I had this happen to a neighbor of mine, they had the ERMI done. And they basically were told that everything in their house is bad. And for lack of a better word, they need to basically knock their house down. I mean, they didn’t say it in that way. But it was basically like it’s everywhere. And by the way, you also have to get rid of everything your own, like your clothes, your couches, your everything.
It’s craziness. I’ve heard this for 20 years. Most of what we’ve done is we spent time talking people down from the ceiling. Of all of the houses we’ve gone in, I have only one time said this is not habitable. Now, that doesn’t mean I have not recommended that people find alternative living arrangements while the problem is corrected. But to say that a building is uninhabitable is a very different conversation. And to say that all of your belongings are, quote unquote contaminated is to misunderstand contamination. It’s also to misunderstand what remediation is. Remediation is not about killing things. It’s not about removing mycotoxins, it’s about cleaning. You remove the building materials that support the fungal growth and you clean the surfaces.