KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE)- A mother is warning people to be more aware of what’s growing in their home, after she became extremely ill, reportedly due to mold.
Megan Bullington and her family had been living in their Lenoir City home for about 10 years before noticing any unexplained health issues popped up.
Bullington said she suffered with asthma, but in 2016 her symptoms got worse and no longer fell under normal issues caused by asthma.
In August 2016, the Bullington family went on vacation and decided to turn the temperature up on the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system to save money.
When they came back Megan Bullington said she fell very ill.
“At first it was severe panic attacks; I haven’t had hunger in 3 years … I don’t have any kind of pain. I have weakness and then sometimes complete paralysis,” Bullington said.
She said she lost about 30 pounds in a period of six weeks and her skin was gray.
Her husband and four children weren’t as sick as she was, but their allergies seemed to have gotten worse.
One of her friends suggested getting her home checked for mold.
Bullington hired Assured Bio Labs, and about a month later she found out the problem: mold.
“They found underneath our house that (mold) was growing underneath our entire house. And then they found holes in our duct work, so it had gotten in the HVAC system and was circulating throughout the house,” Bullington said.
According to the Assured Bio Labs report, they didn’t find the notoriously scary “black mold” called Stachybotrys. Crews found mostly Aspergillus/Penicillium mold.
“The spore count outside was 1,868 and inside it was 10,773. So you’re 10 times higher, almost 10 times higher inside,” Chuck Peterson, operations manager at ServPro, said as he read the lab results.
Peterson and his crews often remove mold from homes in East Tennessee. He said mold is around us all the time, but for it to grow inside a building and cause issues, it needs water.
Turning off the air conditioning unit for a long period of time can create just that.
“East Tennessee, the conditions for mold growth are just really good, you know, high humidity levels, moisture, temperature. So when you do that in the summer time, you take a real big risk of starting to get condensation on dry wall and other materials,” Peterson said.
Peterson also said that air conditioners provide dehumidification, so it pulls moisture out of the air.
When Peterson gets called for a mold removal job, his first step is to look for the source of the mold, i.e. water leaks or visible growth.
If he can’t find either, they will call an indoor environmental professional, such as Assured Bio Labs, to test the air quality.
Peterson said that even if he can find the source, he will call the lab techs so he knows what kind of mold is growing in the building, or to know how much is inside.
He said the type and quantity of mold matter so they know the best way to remove it.
Peterson said that for any case of mold removal, heavy precautions need to be taken because spores spread easily.
Bullington said that a few weeks after crews tested her home for mold, more of it became visible in the part of the house that wasn’t even checked because it was recently renovated.
Peterson said there are several steps that need to be taken to remove mold properly.
The affected areas must be contained and filtered to prevent the spores from spreading in the air. Then the source must be removed to ensure more doesn’t grow.
Removal of the source can be tricky, according to Peterson.
He said if there is a window in the affected room, they throw out the affected materials through the window, so spores don’t spread while moving the items through the house.
If there isn’t a window, they must create a separate ‘clean room’ to keep the affected items contained.
After the source of the mold is removed, along with the affected walls or other items, then they clean everything down.
Peterson said they don’t use bleach. Bleach is listed by the EPA as the least productive removal of mold.
Bullington said she never saw the mold growing in her home, nor did she smell it.
The unexplained illnesses were the only signs, and she didn’t know they were signs at the time.
“Nobody ever asked about the air quality in our house. Nobody ever asked us to check and see if we had mold,” Bullington said.
Even after moving, and living in other homes for the past three years, Bullington got worse. Her paralysis episodes lasted longer, forcing her to use a wheelchair whenever she leaves her home.
Local doctors still couldn’t find out why, so she went to Envita Medical Center in Arizona.
“In my sinus passages, I actually do have some mold growing,” Bullington said.
She also said the mold compromised her immune system, which was also the explanation a veterinarian gave her family after their dog unexpectedly dropped dead.
Bullington said the 6-year-old labradoodle was healthy, but ended up dying a couple of months after they found out about the mold.
Peterson said if mold isn’t visible, you can suspect it’s there if there was a water leak that didn’t dry up after at least 48 hours, or usually by smelling it.
He said that mold often grows in crawl spaces if there isn’t a ventilation system in place, or in a basement with carpet and pad if the pad wasn’t removed after getting wet.
Bullington said she and her family will have to move to Arizona so she can get treated five days a week for six weeks.
She said Envita Medical Center doesn’t take insurance and her husband will have to quit work to live there.
Bullington and her family have set up a GoFundMe to help pay for the medical expenses.