It was the fall of 2002 when Priscilla Young noticed herself slowing down.
The Truxton woman was building a fence and noticed her co-workers were working faster, she said. Physically. Mentally. Her health improved during the winter when she wasn’t working, but come the following spring, it was back.
This continued on for the following three years, until it got to the point where she had to stop working.
“It took me half the day just to get out of the house and to the job site,” for her fence construction business.
This was just the start of her four-year effort to discover and understand her toxic mold illness.
After multiple tests for depression and other mental health conditions, an MRI scan in 2006 revealed lesions on her brain associated with toxic mold illness.
After reading of a leaky roof at the Cortland County Office Building, Young is sharing her message about the importance of targeting mold.
Mold can cause symptoms as mild as a stuffy nose and red eyes, reports the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It can cause fever and shortness of breath.
In rare cases — like Young’s — mold has been linked, though not proven to cause, pulmonary hemorrhaging or memory loss.
Still, it’s the rare cases like hers that Young warns people about, particularly as spring comes, and people discover mold in their homes.
“I do believe if I never learned about toxic mold illness, I would have been in a nursing home with dementia by age 50,” said Young, now 59.
Mold in the home
Young and her first husband built their home off the grid in 1986 to be energy efficient, she said. It was very airtight and had poor ventilation. That, she believes, was the cause of the mold.
It came to a peak in 2005 when mold started growing throughout her house after a flooded creek left water in her backyard.
“I saw mold start growing up the walls and I would pull open a draw and find my old wallets starting to mold,” she said.
The following spring, when the mold returned, she called a mold inspector and remediator, who recommended she install electricity to her house before installing HVAC units that would reduce her home’s humidity; the solar panels couldn’t provide enough power for it.
Power was installed in the fall of 2006 and so were high energy particulate air filters that helped get rid of all the mold by spring 2007.
Mold can grow almost anywhere there is moisture and organic material, reports the state Department of Health.
At different times of the year, when moisture is more prevalant, more mold can form, said William Bench. co-owner of AWA Environmental, a mold inspection business with inspectors in New York and Texas.
The top priority when trying to get rid of mold is finding the source of water helping create it, said Bench.
When called to inspect for mold, Bench starts with a visual inspection, then takes readings and tests of moisture. Then he provides a protocol for homeowners.
Confirming it’s mold is step one, Bench said. “I want to rule everything out before I suspect it’s mold.”
Mold is usually fuzzy and not aesthetically pleasing to the eye, Bench said. If a person smears the mold with a finger, the mold will stick to the finger and leave behind a bit of residue.
Determining where mold can form can sometimes be a challenge, Bench said.
“You can have a water leak go on for a year and not have mold come out of it,” he said. “You can have the same exact situation and you’ll have mold in a week.”
More so, mold can be apparent any time of year.
In cases like Young’s, high humidity in the summer caused the growth of mold, she said.
“It’s not really temperature that matters,” Bench said. “It’s the moisture content.”
Spring tends to be the time people notice mold the most because that’s when people clean the most around their homes and find moisture they may not have seen before, he said.
He recommends that once people find mold, they call an inspector. And don’t touch it; that just spreads it.
“Once you see mold, it’s not going get any better,” Bench said. “It’s the not the check-engine light that’s going to disappear” on its own.
Except for wood, most materials infected with mold need to be removed, he said. It can cause structural damage to the house as well as health problems for its occupants.
Mold and health
Mold can cause problems for people with allergies, said Dr. Mariah Pieretti, an allergist with Asthma and Allergy Associates P.C. offices across upstate New York, including Cortland.
“Not everyone who is exposed to mold will have a problem with it,” she said.
People with asthma may react to mold with coughing, sneezing, a runny nose and watery eyes.
However, Pieretti thinks people who say they are allergic to mold might actually be allergic to dust mites. Mold tends to form around 55% humidity and in moist areas. Those conditions also cause dust mites to proliferate.
In either case, Pieretti recommends using a dehumidifier or air conditioner to get rid of the humidity.
More than just mold
Since installing ventilation and humidity controls, Young’s life has improved dramatically. She can be in her house without a respirator, though she still deals with sinus pressure and brain fog in most buildings, she said.
Still, she tests her home for mold.
Most of the older stores and buildings in Cortland, like the county office building, activate the symptoms, she said.
She started visiting Syracuse Neurofeedback to train her brain to deal with the symptoms. She would connect sensors to her head that would pick up brainwave activity and transmit them to a screen. Watching the activity, her brain could learn how to regulate itself.
She became so fascinated by neurofeedback that she eventually became an intern and later the owner of the business.
Young hopes her case, while severe, can help warn people that mold can be worse than people think.
“Mold produces toxins that can impact your mental health, your nervous system, your digestive system and your hormonal system,” she said. “It’s not just mold. It’s not just a leak. It’s a toxic situation.”