Bella Vista, NC – Toxic mold has turned a dream retirement home into a nightmare for Bella Vistans Charlotte and Chuck Rieman.
The couple found out last weekend they can never return to their house at 3 Harlow Drive in the village because the invasion of mold, which they thought could be cleaned up, would be too dangerous.
The Riemans didn’t realize the black spots on their kitchen floor were actually mold growing under the flooring. It wasn’t until Charlotte ended up in the hospital with her lungs functioning at 50 percent of their capacity that they found out their house was infested with aspergillus-penicillium. The Riemans hired Manuel Barnes of Egis Inc., a company which is certified to test indoor-air quality, to perform the testing and cleanup of their house. After test results showed the kind of mold in the house, Barnes told them on March 2 to leave the house and everything in it because it was contaminated. Barnes said there are hundreds of thousands of different species of mold which have different effects on people. The Environmental Protection Agency has failed to set any standards on mold. “There is an evolving understanding of mold and how to deal with it in North America,” Barnes said.
Mold often gives off mycotoxins, which can be harmful to people with compromised immune systems, he added.
The best way to deal with mold is to prevent it, Barnes said. Get leaks fixed immediately, whether from a toilet, refrigerator or roof. If a carpet gets wet, it’s probably best to replace it.
Indoor air humidity should be around 55 percent, but it’s often much higher in newer, more airtight homes, he said.
If someone suspects they have a mold problem, they should hire a reliable and reputable company to deal with the problem. Often a containment field needs to be set up when cleaning up mold infestations so the growth doesn’t spread. Simply ripping up and replacing a floor, for instance, may do more harm than good if the process spreads the contamination.
Sometimes a retardant can be applied to prevent future mold growth, and air can be scrubbed using various filtration systems, Barnes said.
Crews have been working to clean up the Riemans ‘ house, which involved ripping out floors, walls and ceilings and lower cabinets that have been contaminated with mold. But the crews have recently discovered the invasion of mold is much more extensive than originally thought. The concrete block wall at the front of the basement is covered with mold, and it had invaded the furnace and was being spread throughout the house through the heating ducts, Charlotte said.
The couple has spent about $20,000 so far on the cleanup. Their insurance company, Farmers Insurance, has refused to pay for anything, saying their policy doesn’t cover mold, Charlotte said. The couple has hired a lawyer to deal with the insurance company, which Charlotte said refuses to provide them with a copy of the policy that was in effect when the mold was first discovered.
They don’t have enough money to go any further with the clean-up, she added, especially since there’s no guarantee the house will ever be livable again, even for healthy people.
The couple paid the house off in April 2003, taking money out of their stock market investments because the market was performing poorly.
They finished the basement, built a sunroom and just rebuilt the deck, Charlotte said. “We thought it was a good investment,” said Charlotte, 69. “Now we’re stuck with a $90,000 house.
” It’s a poisoned house for us. It’s heartbreaking. ”
Chuck, 68, suffers from Parkinson’s Disease, and neither of them are well enough to get jobs.
The congregation of the Bella Vista Lutheran Church has been helping the Riemans, donning masks and going into the house to clean anything which can be salvaged.
” If it wasn’t for the Lutheran Church, we never would have gotten through this, ” Charlotte said.
The Riemans bought clothes from Helping Hands in Bentonville when they first left their home, and they’ve been staying in furnished rentals in the village since then. They now are looking for a townhouse because they have to leave their current rental by June 1.
The Bella Vista Lutheran Church has scheduled a community awareness and benefit program for the Riemans for 4 p.m. today at the church, 1990 Forest Hills Blvd. The guest speaker will be Dr. Miriam Lonon, a medical microbiologist and manager of the Environmental Health and Safety Department of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.
The program will be followed by a cookout and picnic in the parking lot.
A free will offering will be taken to help the Riemans with their expenses.