Catalina Villegas 00:12
Hey there, I’m Catalina Villegas. I’m the host of Rolli Experts Explain Everything podcast. Rolli is the platform where journalists find experts for their stories. It is created by journalists and for journalists. And as a journalist myself, I love to find fascinating people on Rolli. Experts with so much knowledge and insight, and yet it rarely makes it past the headlines. So I’m bringing on one of those experts who answer all the burning questions have ever had about their field. And today I’m chatting with Jason Earle founder and CEO of GOT MOLD?. He has spent 20 years in the mold, healthy home air quality industry. Jason, it is so nice to have you on.
Jason Earle 00:51
It’s so good to be here. Thanks, Cat.
Catalina Villegas 00:55
I feel like mold is such a scary thing, especially the toxic molds, the black molds, and they sound absolutely terrifying. Are those molds as scary as they’re made out to be? Are they as toxic and deadly as we think they are? How concerned should I be about that stuff?
Jason Earle 01:13
It’s a really good question. Debunk it first, and then I’ll give you that the real scoop. So the first part is that black mold, lots of molds are black. And actually the black mold they talked about, it’s called Stachybotrys, and technically not even a black, it’s actually a very dark green. But, but the it’s also the toxic part is it produces a toxin of a very potent chemical toxin, called trichothecene, but it doesn’t produce it all the time. In fact, all there are other top molds that produce toxins that are that are equally as scary if you concentrate them and test them on animals. But, but the reality is, is that not none of the toxic molds produce toxins all the time. They produce them when they’re sort of, you know, in in, in fear mode, or when they’re competition, they use these toxins to kill other molds believe it or not. It’s chemical warfare on a microscopic level. And we are genetically much closer to fungi than we are bacteria, which is part of the reason why we get affected by these things. It’s also wiped out really well on us. But don’t but don’t kill us. And by the way, antibiotics are mostly mycotoxins. And so they are actually made from these toxins. Penicillin is made from a mycotoxin that is isolated from a specific kind of Penicillium, which is a very common mold.
There’s many different kinds, of course, but there’s one particular type is what was what was identified by Alexander Fleming and a Petri dish accidentally, because it actually created a little special ring around it to to kill off bacteria that was growing in his petri dish. So we are awash in these things. The thing is that the the black mold toxic mold stuff is kind of like a media thing. It there’s some truth to it. But as they, as is often the case, where there’s a little bit of truth is often conflated with other other things that might make it less truthful. And so what you have to look at is when it comes to mold, mold is not the problem. Mold is a moisture problem. Mold is just the symptom of a very predictable metabolic process that occurs when something gets wet and stays wet. And so what happens when something gets wet and stays wet; see molds job is to digest things that were at one time alive and turn them back into dirt. It’s doing its job, if it’s doing that in your yard with sticks and leaves. If it’s doing that to sheetrock, or or building materials, or even your personal belongings in your house, not so good. The thing about mold is that when it’s when it’s early stage, it’s like an initial leak. You only have 24 to 48 hours to respond to that leak and dry it out, according to the EPA, before it becomes a risk for mold for mold growth. And then at 72 hours, according to the industry standard, you should treat all porous materials as if they’re moldy, whether visible mold or not. So many people think about water damage issues in terms of like days or weeks or like something that they’ve had a leak, they’ll just let it go. But the guidance on dealing with this stuff isn’t that isn’t hours and days. So it’s very important that you move quickly.
The reason I bring this up in the context of toxic mold, and and black mold is that toxic mold and black mold are the molds that are associated with those sort of inflammatory names. And by the way, those molds are known to these these are also supposed to trigger inflammation and people and they do mold growth indoors and the byproducts of mold growth indoors are the underlying cause of much inflammation, which of course triggers lots of different illnesses either in a causative or or amplifying effect. So So I joke around about the fact that it’s an inflammatory name. It’s truly an inflammatory substance. But the thing is that molds will get more serious as they go on. Initial initial moisture issues will produce will be attacked access to certain kinds of molds that are called primary colonizers, and then if the moisture stays, the more aggressive molds come in, they’re called secondary colonizers. And then the tertiary colonizers are actually the most aggressive ones. And they’re there, when you have chronic water damage.
Chronic moisture, just like chronic disease, or chronic inflammation in our body is a disease, right? Chronic dampness in your house is a disease in your home, the building is sick. And those molds are the top the toxic molds and black molds are sort of the top of the food chain when it comes to the yeasts and molds and in the kingdom, fungi. And so so when they’re actively growing in your house, as much as you should be concerned about those molds, they’re more of an indicator that you’ve had a chronic chronic water issue, and a chronic water issue is the enemy of any occupied building. Does that make sense?
Catalina Villegas 05:51
No, absolutely. It makes me think that as we experience more climate change, and flooding and sea level rise, we might see more homes experiencing mold as well. Is that something that you’ve seen in the horizon?
Jason Earle 06:09
Oh, for sure. I mean, we’re already seeing that, I think I think Katrina was was was something that sort of, you know, cemented that concept in our, in our, in our minds is, you know, the climate climate change. And also Katrina cough is something that made its way into our lexicon, which is, which is a mold cough. And, and so I think that that dynamic of, you know, historic flooding, and it’s the the 100 year storms that seem to happen, you know, almost annually in various places, that’s a big deal. We also build buildings out of paper mache, the quality of our building materials is so substandard for for for a modern culture. It’s very mold friendly, building materials we use are built very tight, so the toxins accumulate indoors. It’s, you know, what I think about mold about this subject is that I look at this as, as a very, like I said, like I said earlier, very predictable biological inevitability, something gets wet and stays wet, it gets moldy, but people think about it differently.
They think about like It’s lightning striking them or that like it’s an earthquake, because if there’s something that just doesn’t that’s unusual, or like that happens to them unpredictably, but it’s not like that. It’s very, very predictable. And so I feel like it should be something that you… everyone should be aware of this, if you hadn’t dealt with a mold issue yet, just wait, you will. And you should be prepared, because it has an impact on your quality of life in just dramatic ways. If it doesn’t make you sick, it can make your loved one sick. It also makes your house potentially unsalable on rentable. So it can impact you financially, in many ways, displace you, so you have to spend enormous sums of money to get it fixed. Whereas a simple water damage issue fixed quickly is almost free. So so the cost associated with not responding to these things is is enormous. And the money savings in responding to it quickly are equal.
Catalina Villegas 08:00
Yes, it’s interesting, because let’s say you do have water damage in your home or you have whatever, there’s something wrong, maybe a crack in the wall or something, usually these things might impact your ability to sell the home, but they’re not going to impact your health. And with mold, it impacts your home, and it impacts your personal health as well. And that’s, that’s something that is so compelling about this and why this is so such an important topic. Because it can impact your pocketbook and your your livelihood.
Jason Earle 08:34
Indeed, and it’s an it’s an equal opportunity toxin too. It is amazing how widespread it will how its impact is, and also how diverse it is because you can have five people living in a house with one mold problem. And they’ll all have different symptoms.
Catalina Villegas 08:49
For sure. I wanted to go back really quickly to something you mentioned about the way we build our homes here., specifically in the U.S. I’m originally from Colombia, and most of the homes that you build in Colombia, they’re built out of out of brick. And I’d never really thought about why but then again, it’s a very moist place. It’s near the equator, you know, near the Amazon rainforest. And I wonder if you see a lot more mold than toxic mold in those parts of the world or if those parts of the world have adapted through different types of homes and homebuilding to avoid those issues.
Jason Earle 09:33
Well, so those kinds of materials are are I wouldn’t say exempt from mold, but they are almost completely exempt from the toxic types. Again, I don’t I don’t like I don’t I don’t promote the toxic term. But the ones that I’m talking about require uh really like to eat cellulose and are and which is basically the basis for paper. And we build houses out of sheetrock, which is a paper and gypsum sandwich. And that and so our is… what happened was in around World War… that at the end of World War 2, we had to find the cheap building materials to answer to the demand of baby boomers. And so all these fast cheap building materials came out of the woodwork. And then and so we ended up with a, you know, an entire country filled of paper mache houses, which is insane. It’s self composting, just add water. You know, it’s really unbelievable and age soul friendly. I mean, it’s so great. Even the dumbest of the three little pigs didn’t build his house out of paper.
Catalina Villegas 10:39
Out of paper. Oh, my gosh, yeah.
Jason Earle 10:42
So it’s really deplorable. And it’s in, it’s in, it’s sad. So so you know, mold likes to eat stuff that was made of things that were at one time living. So that means paper, you know, is ceiling tile or sheet rock rather ceiling tiles, there’s components in carpet, carpet padding, anything upholstered. So basically all the soft stuff in our lives. The hard stuff concrete, glass, paper, plastic, those mold doesn’t like those things. It doesn’t have any nutrition for it. So when you’re talking about building to, you know, the old houses, people may think, or people call us I have I have a new house, I haven’t had a mold problem. But I got this old house that you know, it’s 100 years old, I would like to get that one inspected. But guess what, it’s probably the opposite. The old house, the plaster, brick, glass, a lot of those houses were very leaky in terms of air leakage.
So they actually dry out when they get wet water leaks in the window, the wind blows, it dries out, water gets on our walls, we’ve got all this plastic, and we’ve got this fluffy insulation that’s made up by the way, formaldehyde based for fiberglass, which is a class one carcinogen. And water gets in the wall and stays in the wall, and then it gets moldy and rots. And that’s the innovation and construction that we bring to modern life. Whereas we build buildings back, you know, 50 years ago, the craftsmen were I should say, a little more than 70 years ago, before the all the artisans sort of disappear, you know, plaster brick stone, these houses are built to last. And I can tell I can I can prove it to you because they’re still here. If you leave a house, like we build it now, with sheetrock and white pine, and you leave that house unoccupied in a matter of months, it’ll collapse on itself. It’ll just it’ll just fall apart. And whereas these older buildings that were built to last, like where you’re from. They’re built, they’re built to endure against moisture issues, but they’re also built in such they’re built that because the materials are present, they’re abundant in that area, right. So you know, the sand and all the bases for that. We we’ve lost our way when it comes to construction, because it’s a profit driven business instead of instead of building, you know, homes that are here to house our society.
Catalina Villegas 12:15
Right. You know, I heard about you and wow, you just have such an incredible story. Such an interesting story about how you got into the profession about your childhood ailments. Your Aha moment, just can you tell us a little bit about that?
Jason Earle 13:15
Sure. Thanks for the kind words. I had pretty severe respiratory illness as a child, and they diagnosed me with cystic fibrosis initially, which thankfully was a false diagnosis. Six weeks later, they correctly diagnosed with me asthma compounded by pneumonia and tested me for allergies. They essentially told my parents that they had a bubble boy. When we moved out of the house, all my symptoms just went away. And so so I wouldn’t think about it again until you know, well, 10 years later, after successful career on Wall Street.
Catalina Villegas 13:43
It’s so interesting. Tell me a little bit about that part, because you go from Wall Street to starting your own business. And you have this Aha moment in Hawaii, of all places.
Jason Earle 13:57
I was reading a lot of local newspapers and one story jumped out at me, was about was written about a gentleman who worked at the Hilton Kalia tower on Waikiki Beach. He developed an adult onset asthma and sensitivities to all of these foods and allergens that he had never had problems with before. And he blamed it on the building. He blamed it on the mold in the building and immediately thought, geez, I wonder if our house made me sick. So I called my father from a pay phone…
Catalina Villegas 13:57
You aged yourself with that.
Jason Earle 14:07
Totally, right? But I called them up and just I said, “Hey, do you think do you think they had a mold problem at Old Trenton Road?” And he just laughed at me. He goes, “Of course. We have mushrooms in the basement. Why do you ask?” And it was just this flippancy of it, the fact that he just completely… He didn’t think much of it was was kind of telling. It speaks a lot about the mindset that, we that I that I that, was pervasive in our culture when I started this.
Catalina Villegas 14:59
You were kind of one of the first to use canines to detect mold in the homes. And then you also developed an at home testing kit. So tell me a little bit about that, if possible.
Jason Earle 15:12
One of the things that was very difficult when I first started looking at this, was we go into a home and there’ll be a musty odor, and we’ll be experiencing symptoms, and there will be no visible mold. And you do air testing for spores, which is really common and also very, very useful. And sometimes you wouldn’t find high spore counts, but you’d still have the odors and you’d still have the symptoms. And so that would imply that there might be a mold issue. And so I began looking for technologies that then again, 20 years ago, lots of different lots of technologies emerge since but none none quite like our four legged friend. It was no surprise to me that something as simple and smelly as mold, also something that’s in one place now doesn’t move around. You know, it doesn’t like infest one wall and then sort of like hop across the room to another, it’s right where the water is. And so it emanates an odor that’s extremely distinctive. Everybody, who’s listening to this, knows what a musty smells.
Catalina Villegas 16:02
Jason Earle 16:02
Yeah. And so the dogs are really good at that. But we’re always looking at different technologies. And I’m fascinated with the detection of these things. Because I think if you can get to them early, you can prevent a lot of harm.
Catalina Villegas 16:13
And that takes me to the home testing kit that you that you guys develop. Tell me a little bit about that. And how easy is it to use.
Jason Earle 16:22
There’s lots of potholes and pitfalls in getting your house inspected and getting it tested for mold. And so, the the Mold Inspection Company that, that I own, 1-800-GOT-MOLD?, our average inspection is north of 1000 bucks. And so we primarily deal with single family homeowners, often affluent. And, and, and so that makes this service out of reach, in terms of cost for many people, especially people who rent.
Catalina Villegas 16:50
Jason Earle 16:51
So what we did is we took the same device that professionals use, but we shrunk it down. Our kit allows you to test the air in one, two or three rooms, using our proprietary air sampling pump, which replaces the professional one. And all of the shipping, all the lab fees, are included in the in the fixed costs. So for one room is $149, two rooms is $199 and three rooms is $249. And you keep the pump, you can buy refills if you want to retask or you can give it to a friend and they can do the same. But the idea is to is to make it make make this kind of data or information about the environment accessible to everyone.
Catalina Villegas 17:26
We’ve talked earlier about how mold has been here, since basically the dawn of living organisms since fun…fungi and all that stuff. But is there anything new in terms of mold that you find interesting that you’d like to share?
Jason Earle 17:41
I think the awareness about it is interesting. I really do. I think I think it’s fascinating that we live in a water planet. We all live in buildings. We all breathe air. And yet we’re all just waking up to the reality of an organism that that has an incredible impact on our on our health and quality of life. I mean, if you if you look at the numbers on how much mold impacts health, it’s insane. 37 million Americans have chronic sinusitis. According to the Mayo Clinic, that’s mostly mold related. That’s the most prevalent long term upper respiratory illness in America. And most of the people who have it don’t know that. According to EPA in Berkeley Labs, 24.6 million Americans have asthma, and they did a study and found that about 4.6 million of those are over 25% are mold and dampness related.
That is a big deal. And so those are just two obvious ones. There’s also a really big study that was done by Brown University Edmond Shenassa, and he found a direct correlation between mold and dampness indoors and depression. And think about think about that, I mean, people living in a damp moldy place. They weren’t sure what the cause was but one of my friends at Rutgers University is studying this. And she found that, she exposed fruit flies to the musty odor. They developed…they stopped producing dopamine, they stopped reproducing, they basically got depressed.
Catalina Villegas 19:09
Jason Earle 19:10
And so it was a metabolic shift for them and also they develop Parkinsonian like symptoms. So the thing that’s exciting to me about mold is that the we’re reaching a point where the awareness and technology are connecting. There’s a… there’s a… there’s a nexus there, and which will enable us eventually, I think in the very short term, to start putting sensors and other preventive mechanisms in place to identify these things earlier, so that we have less of an impact. It has less of a social impact.
Catalina Villegas 19:44
Jason, thank you so much for your time, and thank you so much for your insight. Really appreciate it.
Jason Earle 19:50
Thank you for having me, Cat.
Catalina Villegas 19:52
You can learn a lot more about Jason and you can get your very own testing kit by visiting his website www.gotmold.com and you can find hundreds of other exceptional experts at www.rollipodcast.buzzsprout.com. I’m Catalina Villegas and you can always connect with me on social media at Catalina Official official on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. Until next time.