Where Do You Turn When Your House Is Sick?

(This was first published on my Central Penn Parent blog, Training Wheels.)

We moved into our rental house last September, and by October we were sick. In the past year we’ve missed parties and family get-togethers, date nights and other plans. Chris burned through all his vacation time and then some, and we wore a path to the pediatrician’s office for Evan’s repeated sinus infections and other afflictions. For a normally healthy family, it just seemed like a very bad year.

But something in the back of our minds continued to nag at us:  The basement was very damp. It had flooded more than once since we’d moved in, and though we bought a dehumidifier, it just never seemed to dry out.

After this last round of doctor bills for sinus infections and upper respiratory infections, we decided to have the place tested for mold contamination, and our fears were realized. We’re most likely sick because our house is sick.

The home inspection company took samples in two rooms in our basement. They say “safe” levels are in the range of 7,000 to 10,000 CFUs (colony forming units) in any given space. The furnace room in our basement measured 740,000 CFUs. The other room measured 1,800,000 CFUs. Yeah, that’s over a million individual colony-forming mold spores in one room. “Dangerously high,” was the note attached to the numbers.

They say knowledge is power, but sometimes knowledge makes one feel more helpless than the bliss of ignorance. I’ve spent the last several days beating myself up for being so careless with my kids’ health. I feel like I failed them. Every time the heat kicks on and the warm air comes streaming up from the furnace room through the floor vents, I want to hold my breath. I want to scoop up my boys and race outside so that they only breathe clean air.

We’re not sure what our landlord will choose to do about the situation, but we’re not so naive to think she’ll pony up the cash to fix the problem. The thought of packing up and moving all our stuff on a frigid, snow-filled January weekend is unappealing to say the least. Living on one full-time income we, like many people out there, are just getting by. We’ll have to rely on family and friends, once again, to help us make the change we know we need to make.

When it starts to seem overwhelming, I think about my parents and what they did for me and my sisters when we were little. My folks were both raised in a modest neighborhood in Niagara Falls called The Love Canal. When they married in 1968 they rented a house there and started a family. But in the early 1970s, strange things started to happen in the neighborhood. A black tar-like substance started oozing into basements and bubbling up from the ground. Dogs began acting crazy. Neighbors were falling ill.

The year I was born, my mother was one of nine women in the neighborhood who were pregnant. Yet she was the only one to carry her baby to full term; the others all miscarried.

In 1973, shortly after I was born, my parents packed everything we owned and left the area. It would be another three years before the local newspaper began to dig up the fact that the neighborhood and nearby school sat on top of 21,000 tons of buried toxic waste. The Love Canal was eventually declared a federal disaster area, and our house and many others were smashed to the ground and covered in dirt, roped off like a crime scene.

My folks were long gone by then. It wasn’t until now, now that I have two young kids of my own and a bank account no one would be envious of, that I can truly appreciate what they did. Many of their neighbors were staying put, determined to not lose their homes and uproot their families. My parents barely had two sticks to rub together in those days; I can’t imagine the hardship they faced deciding to move a 3-year-old and a new baby across the state. But I know they didn’t hesitate.

And neither will we.


Heather said...

Robyn- Do not beat yourself up about this. You were smart to get the house tested. Many people would have gone for years without realizing it could be something wrong with the house. I wish I could be there to help! I wish you didn't have to stay in the house at all ... Love ya, girlfriend.

Lyn said...

ANYTHING AT ALL I CAN DO TO HELP...PLEASE just let me know. Love you lots and wishing you the best!