A NEW PERSPECTIVE – by David Fontaine
During the past two years, while battling our way through our home situation, we struggled to understand what was happening to our bodies – and what to do about it. This led us to do extensive research into mold, mycotoxins, and their health effects. What we learned, both medically and politically, truly blew our minds!
While our experience seems to be an extreme, freakish scenario, the reality is that mold-related illnesses are far more common than anyone might imagine. What sets us apart is that, in addition to our long-term chronic exposure, we had a huge moment of discovery, resulting in a major acute exposure – one that told us in an instant that we were dealing with something downright dangerous! Based on this wake-up call and the light it suddenly shed on both of our medical conditions, we took this very seriously, performed all the required testing, and set about getting “Mold Woke”.
It will be no surprise to you that virtually every building has some form of water damage. Plumbing leaks, structural problems, condensation, repeated spills and splashes – these can all provide sufficient moisture to promote mold growth. And, the tighter we build our modern, energy efficient buildings, the more likely we are to have condensation issues and poor indoor air quality. We’re saving the planet – and our wallets – but putting our health at great risk.
Another big discovery was that toxic molds are quite likely more common than anyone might like to think. It’s not just one dreaded “toxic black mold”. Our home was by no means an extreme case of water damage, yet we had multiple different toxic molds, resulting in significant quantities of at least four different toxins in our systems – and these toxins are BAD! Just start Googling the health effects of things like aflatoxin, ochratoxin, gliotoxin, and trichothecene. You’ll get the picture. Heavy duty carcinogens. Neurotoxic. Biochemical warfare. I kid you not. These chemicals make the BPA in your water bottle, or the PFOA/PFAS in your school’s water supply, pale in comparison.
Now, admittedly, these molds and toxins don’t affect everyone the same way. In fact, there is a strong genetic correlation to susceptibility, particularly in a group of genes called HLA’s. The thing is…the primary at-risk category represents roughly 25% of the population – 1 in 4! When you couple that with the prevalence of water damaged homes, apartments, schools, workplaces, etc. – and the serious effects mycotoxins can present – you can see that this is a MAJOR public health problem. It’s also a very difficult problem to solve – and one with huge financial implications.
In some ways, this may be an even bigger “Inconvenient Truth” than global warming. And, interestingly enough, with increased risk of major flooding events, like Katrina or Harvey, they are in some ways interconnected. Make no mistake – the health risks of toxic mold exposure from indoor air environments is an incredibly controversial topic – one that some would prefer stay under wraps. For a great discussion of this, I strongly urge you to check out the link to the Global Indoor Health Network in the Resources tab, under Advocacy Organizations. Specifically, see their extensive and well-researched discussion of the “Naysayers and Deniers”.
The following are just two examples of the misinformation that is being circulated in this area. While the public health officials at the EPA, CDC, and State Health Departments will tell you, for example, that mold presents the highest risk of illness to those with compromised immune systems – children, the elderly, people with other medical conditions – they do not tell you that a number of household molds produce toxins that have been proven by research to be highly immunosuppressive.
Likewise, while they may acknowledge that mold toxins are bad if you ingest them in your food, they claim that the connection between inhalational exposure to mycotoxins and chronic illness has never been proven. The problem is that inhalational exposure traps the contaminates in the mucus in your sinuses and – guess what – ends up in your gut.
Bear in mind, while we had our “aha moment”, for most, the downward health slide is a more subtle affair. That’s the nature of this illness. If your body isn’t clearing toxins as fast as it’s taking them in, they accumulate, slowly and surely, and its effects on any number of body systems will grow. It may look like aging – but it’s not. Aches and pains that move around your body, bearing no correlation to your activity. Feeling exceedingly tired for no real reason. Vision changes. New food intolerances. Unexplained weight gain. General inflammation. Skin issues. The list of symptoms goes on and on. Unchecked, the real damage happens. Major neurological problems, hormone disruption, autoimmune disease, liver and kidney damage, cancers. ALL of this is possible when it comes to mold toxins, as supported by extensive literature.
As mentioned earlier, this problem is far more widespread than most public health officials would like us to believe. It’s a big, scary, and expensive problem – one with few good solutions. I can’t shake the vision of Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men” – “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!!!”
However, now that we know what to look for, we see the foul environments – and the affected individuals – everywhere. It’s the salon with the leaky ceiling and sagging, sodden drywall. It’s the hair stylist with sunken eyes, blotchy skin, shuffling around on pained feet, cringing at the clanging of the change in the change drawer. The stories are all around us – contaminated schools, state and federal buildings, prisons. Just this past summer, our Vermont State House in Montpelier had 14 committee rooms with extensive mold problems, requiring a remediation costing on the order of $500,000. The stories never discuss what types of mold were found, as THAT would give names to the threats, letting us do our own research, exposing the toxicity. Then, the stories slip into the background, forced aside by the latest political controversy, shooting, natural disaster, or celebrity scandal.
Mold toxins are quite likely responsible for a significant percentage of the 2.5 MILLION people in the country, like Lissa, suffering from ME/CFS – many who improve tremendously by practicing strict mold avoidance. Quite possibly, it accounts for another good chunk of those with fibromyalgia, Crohn’s, diabetes, and even neurological conditions like MS, ALS, and ALZ. The genetic connections are there; the research is NOT. Given that ochratoxin and aflatoxin are known to be major liver carcinogens, there’s no question in my mind that it’s a significant factor in those lives lost to liver cancer in their 40’s and 50’s. That just shouldn’t be happening! But, again, where’s the research?!
We find hope in the good doctors – the environmental medicine specialists and naturopaths – who are treating folks like me and Lissa. They’re banding together to form groups like the Global Indoor Health Network (GIHN) and the International Society of Environmentally Acquired Illness (ISEAI). While their names don’t exactly trip off your tongue, they provide incredibly solid information about the real health risks associated with indoor environmental issues, including mold toxins and other contaminates. Likewise, we’re encouraged by the communications and collective efforts of those who realize the impact of mold on their own health and want to share their stories, like we did, in an effort to help others – sites like MomsAware and groups like the Mold Avoiders on Facebook.
Lissa and I thank you wholeheartedly for following our story. And, if you made it this far, something likely struck a chord with you. If you feel you, or someone you know, may be suffering from toxic mold exposure and would like further information, we encourage you to take a trip over to the Mold Woke and Resources sections, where we’ve tried to make available some of the more useful information we’ve found on our journey. We hope it helps you on yours!
David (& Lissa)