Mold runs family out of home

LAKE STEVENS – Tony and Cheryl Rome and the 10 miniature Schnauzers they’ve rescued have been sleeping in the garage of their $260,000 home.

The Snohomish Health District does not do home inspections or investigations for mold problems, but does have information available to the public through its mold information line, spokeswoman Suzanne Pate said.

For more information, call the Snohomish Health District’s mold information line at 425-339-8721.

“I can’t afford to go to a motel,” Tony Rome said. “And what motel is going to take our dogs? They’re our kids.”

Rome, 58, and his wife, 57, say they have to move out of their house because its air is thick with toxic mold spores that have made both of them ill.

The mortgage isn’t paid, but with mold in the house, Rome can’t borrow against it, can’t sell the house without disclosing the problem to potential buyers, and can’t continue to live there without risking even more severe illness, he said.

“I think people in the Northwest should be aware of the mold problem here,” he said.

In January 2000, the Romes bought a new dishwasher from an Everett merchant, along with an extended warranty, he said. Six months later, the dishwasher began leaking water.

He notified the store, and staff there put him in touch with the manufacturer, he said. For six months, both gave him the runaround, he said.

Rome began having what he thought were heart attacks, but doctors said the problem wasn’t his heart, he said. The couple went to Arizona for two weeks to get away, and their health problems disappeared, he said. Since they’ve been back, the health problems have increased, and both of them have been coughing up blood, Rome said.

Finally, Rome called in someone to examine the house to help determine the problem.

Eric Johnson, a Camas, contractor who inspects for and rids homes of mold, brought in a mold-sniffing dog who found plenty in Rome’s home.

“It’s absolutely horrendous,” Johnson said of the problem he and the dog discovered.

“I’ve been doing this mold inspection for three years and this is the worst I’ve seen,” Johnson said. “I don’t know how he’s been living in here for so long. It’s definitely a possibility that the work that’s going to need to be done would be more than what it would cost to knock the house down and rebuild it.”

Once the dog detected areas with mold, Johnson took samples to be sent to an Oregon lab that will determine the exact species of mold, he said.

Johnson said 90 percent of the mold in a house isn’t visible. And mold can affect people in different ways, including sneezing, itching and watery eyes, skin rashes, headaches, loss of memory and even more severe problems. Some molds can cause asthma, and in people who already have asthma, mold can exacerbate that condition, Johnson said.

Mold requires a warm, damp, dark environment in which to grow, he said.

“When mold is wet and growing and happy, it’s not throwing off spores and trying to survive,” Johnson said.

Six months ago, the dishwasher leak was shut off, but now the mold is sending out more and more spores, he said.

What began under the sink now has spread into the wall, down the stairwell into the basement and is in the basement ceiling.

Once mold gets into a porous surface such as a wall, it’s very difficult to get rid of, Johnson said. Bleach will kill mold, but bleach also is mostly water, and reintroduces water to the mold’s environment, which means it often comes back in an even stronger concentration.

Rome is paying out of pocket for Johnson’s inspection, which likely will cost him a daily rate of $1,000 plus travel expenses.

Today, the dishwasher’s manufacturer plans to send an independent inspector out, and the company may put the Romes up in a motel, Tony Rome said.

For now, the couple and their dogs remain in the garage because they have no choice, he said. “I can’t imagine them living in this house,” Johnson said. “Animals shouldn’t be in this environment, let alone humans.”

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