Environmental Issue & Sick Building Syndrome Blog

Our Note 

This is a sad story of mold exposure, ruined health and financial devastation and a dream of home ownership torn away for a family. The missing part of the story is that regular home inspections do not include environmental issues. Firms like Envirospect? do the kind of environmental assessments that can protect consumers from these problems.


Back in 2009, Deborah Rumberger saw homeownership as the key to providing stability for her two young daughters, then 13 and 7. A few days before Halloween that year, after months of house hunting, she found the one: a 100-year-old Victorian home in Helena, Montana.

It wasn't easy. For starters, her budget didn't allow for a ton of options within a safe neighborhood. "And I just wasn't interested in a lot of the homes I could afford," she says. It's why she initially thought the two-story property she would later purchase for $173,500 was too good to be true — but she pushed her doubts to the back of her mind and bought it anyway.

That first night, after an exhausting day of unpacking, she tucked her kids into bed and crawled under the sheets. Instead of sleep, however, "I got so sick I thought I was going to die," Rumberger recalls. Her heart started pounding and her mouth went dry. All night long, she kept wanting to get up, but she felt so stiff she was barely able to move.

The next morning, a thought made her go white: There's something wrong with this house.


That same day, Rumberger started calling everyone she could think of to try to get out of her mortgage: the realtors, the bank, the title company, everyone. "Nobody cared," she says. "They chalked it up to buyer's remorse or stress from moving."

Courtesy of Deborah Rumberger

By the end of November, after about 30 days in her new home, Rumberger was constantly exhausted — more than the usual fatigue that comes with working and raising two children. One night her chest hurt so badly that she went to the emergency room, convinced she was having a heart attack. Another time she rushed herself to the hospital when her limbs went completely numb. By January, she noticed troublesome changes in her daughters, too. Her eldest was acting depressed, complaining of an itchy scalp and had frequent nose bleeds. Her youngest had sinus problems for the first time in her life, along with acid reflux and recurring nightmares.

Terrified over what was happening to her family, and convinced her house was the problem, Rumberger continued contacting her realtor, her bank, her title company, her inspector and her doctors. Finally, that spring, she found help in a neighbor named Clara Holliday. Holliday introduced her to the homeowner who lived in the house before the family that sold it to Rumberger — and that's when she learned about the home's 20-year history with flooding and mold.


Rumberger learned through this previous homeowner that the second-floor plumbing had once been re-routed through the attic. The problem was the attic wasn't heated, which can lead to frozen pipes. Frozen pipes can crack and leak when they expand in warmer weather, which Rumberger suspects happened during a particularly bad winter in 1989, when no one was residing in the home.

Sotereas Pantazes, co-founder of EFynch, a handyman community in Baltimore, says he's seen basements result in mold just days after a significant flooding. Rumberger, however, was living in the home 20 years after unresolved flood damage.

The old homeowner urged Rumberger to search her home for mold, starting with the tub in her bathroom.

Rumberger didn't have to search long. "I peeled back the plastic lining and it was filled with mold," she says. Next, she pulled down nearby drywall and tore up part of the carpet. Everything was covered in toxic black spores.

"At first, I felt relief and thought 'aha!' I knew something was going on," she says. "But at the time, I still didn't understand how damaging and dangerous toxic mold is."

Dr. Ann Shippy, a Texas-based physician and author of Mold Toxicity Workbook: Assess Your Environment & Create a Recovery Plan, says every one of Rumberger's symptoms — fatigue, weakness, headaches, morning stiffness and joint pain — is textbook mold toxicity. "Mold produces chemicals, like microtoxins and microbial volatile organic compounds that have seriously dangerous side effects," she explains. "A lot of people think you're only affected by mold spores if you're allergic to them, but mold makes chemicals that build up in your body." This is why Rumberger's two daughters didn't feel sick until a couple of months after the move — it sometimes takes time to notice the symptoms of mold toxicity.

Courtesy of Deborah Rumberger

After discovering the mold in her bathroom, Rumberger convinced a home inspector to come over that very same day. A moisture mirror, which helps identify mold behind the walls, showed evidence of growth all over the house. Her homeowner's insurance didn't cover prior mold or water damage, so she was looking at an $80,000 price tag to remediate her home from top to bottom. "When I heard that, I knew it wasn't a possibility," she says.

She wasn't ready to give up on her dream house, so Rumberger decided to do the remediation on her own. She rented a negative air pressure machine (which draws the mold spores out of the house), along with suits, goggles and other supplies for a total of $500.

But once she got to work, stirring up the mold made the family's symptoms even worse. By June, they started camping in the backyard, only going inside to use the restroom. "By July I couldn't even go inside the house, because it felt like there were so many spores that they would attack anything moist, including us," she says.

According to Dr. Shippy, she's right: "When you open up a wall with mold, you send a lot of a very powerful chemicals into the air that you breathe into your lungs, so they go straight into circulation." Just like doctors have found one of the most effective ways to get medication into someone quickly is though the lungs (verses digestion, which filters through the liver first), this makes these chemicals in the air even more dangerous.

Courtesy of Deborah Rumberger

Camping lasted a month, until they got rained out. With no nearby family to turn to, they moved into the local YMCA. They'd spend the next year sleeping in cheap motels, at her co-worker's house and late, renting two bedrooms over a garage before finally ending up in the apartment where they live today.


In June 2010, around the same time Rumberger was forced to move her family into their backyard, she decided to take legal action. "I held off for a while, because I thought 'we don't want to do litigation, we can fix this,'" she remembers. But, financially, she didn't see any other way out.

Rumberger filed against four parties she believes knew about the mold before the sale. "It took almost six years, I had five or six lawyers during that time and it was almost as hard as the mold exposer," she says. Even though they settled to the mutual satisfaction of all parties, Rumberger doesn't think she'd do it again.

"We were able to get out of debt, but let's just say we're still tenants and our lifestyle didn't change much," she says. The only positives Rumberger saw from the settlement was being able to afford some much-needed medical treatment and finally being able to put this experience behind her once and for all.

Courtesy of Deborah Rumberger

Then, in December 2010, Rumberger also convinced her bank to suspend the mortgage payments she still owed and sold the house (with full disclosure about the mold), ultimately incurring an almost $80,000 loss — about the same amount as the initial remediation estimate, but with a lot more headaches.

The new owners finished remediating the mold, completely rebuilt the interior and turned it into a three-unit rental, which Rumberger still drives by today. "For the longest time, we'd just avoid that road and wouldn't drive down it," she says. But now, on occasion, she gets the urge to see the house in which she thought she'd grow old.

As for Rumberger and her daughters, they still live in the same apartment they moved into a year after fleeing their Victorian dream home. They've been renting it for more than five years and, even if it was financially feasible, Rumberger doesn't see herself buying again. "We lost a lot of years of our lives and still have some health issues," she says. "But it's just one of those things we have to come to terms with and move beyond."

Courtesy of Deborah Rumberger

Pantazes says if an inspector doesn't see mold with their own eyes, they don't have to disclose it. But that doesn't mean potential buyers can't look for their own clues, such as patches in the walls, discoloration, walls that bow and bend and just general poor home maintenance. "Little signs will show you if the owner is a person who took care of their home," he says.

Another thing Rumberger says shouldn't be underestimated: your gut. "My older daughter didn't have a great feeling about the house, but we just shook it off." Today, she wishes she listened to her daughter's instincts, which might have spared them the entire ordeal. "Our American Dream became a nightmare, but the biggest lesson I learned is when to hold up, when to fold up and when to run away."


Posted in:Health and Safety and tagged: MoldToxicresident
Posted by Dan Howard on September 16th, 2017 9:19 AM

Millions of Recalled Appliances, and Believe it or Not the CPSC Does Not Have a Search Function

Let’s take one of the most recommended household appliances, the dehumidifier as an example

Home inspectors, mold testers and remediators and medical practitioners advise to use a dehumidifier to avoid mold. Mold grows the most when humidity is above 45% RH. Less moisture in the air, less mold in the home and a healthier environment.

Running a dehumidifier makes sense when you look at it that way. Who wants a child to have more Asthma attacks? Who wants mold and odor in the basement? GREAT SUGGESTION!

You know the old fire and water theme? Well, here is the rub with dehumidifiers. There are millions of them in service that could catch your home on fire. Now you would think you could just and look up dehumidifiers and know which ones to purchase.

You Will Not Believe the List of Recalled Dehumidifier Brands  

Well, here is a list of the brands that have at least one model under recall:
Danby, De'Longhi, Fedders, Fellini, Frigidaire, GE, Gree, Kenmore, Norpole, Premiere, Seabreeze, SoleusAir ,SuperClima. LG, Goldstar, Comfort-Aire, CEM,, Elecrtrolux Midea

These 19 brands were accumulated from a less than five minute Google search. There are more brands with recalls, but this was a long enough list to make a point.

Everyone should check their home for recalls on their appliances. It doesn’t happen very often. Nobody wakes up in a morning and says I am going to spend the day searching the CPCS site, one recall at time to see if my appliance is listed.
The solution is to use the event of the home inspection as the opportunity to do this important chore. Recalls are not always about fires and injury. They can also be the result of defects that if know can result in the manufacturer paying for repairs instead of a homeowner.

How to Check Your Home 

The best way to do this is to use a Home Inspector that offers the ReCallChek service at no additional cost as a part of the home inspection.

Not everyone is in the process of having a home inspection conducted.
If you are concerned about your safety or have an appliance then needs repair, the second-best way is to do to a RecallChek portal such as www.ApplianceRecallCheck.com and enter model and serial numbers yourself for a small fee for all of the appliances in your home.

Posted by Dan Howard on September 13th, 2017 9:29 PM
Here are three great ideas I have never seen to help survive a disaster like Hurricane Irma.

If you can not find bottles of water, and you still have city water...fill some zip lock bags with potable water for drinking water. You can also fill your bathtub for washing and flushing water.

Your dishwasher is waterproof (or the water would leak out when you wash dishes). That makes it the safest place to put valuable papers to keep dry in a flood or when worried about hurricane roof damage and water leaks

If you need a place to keep food and drinks cold, put ice in your washing machine. The water from ice will not leak across the floor and it is a closed container for storage 

Follow the direction of emergency management professionals. The life you save may be your own or someone in your family. Another thought worth considering is that it is not fair to ask emergency rescue professionals to risk their lives to save you if you take stupid chances.

Posted by Dan Howard on September 9th, 2017 8:01 PM
         There are many times where stocking up on water is difficult ahead of a disaster. The city water is OK before the disaster and the idea of needing bottled water is not the only solution. If you can not get bottled water, fill plastic bags with tap water and stack in your refrigerator.

          For flushing commodes, you can fill the bathtub with water and flush by dumping buckets of water into the commode. 
Posted by Dan Howard on September 6th, 2017 8:46 PM

These are some of the best information links available 



  • Flooding 
    U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • Floods 
    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  • Floods and Flash Floods: Introduction 
    National Weather Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce

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Health Issues and Floods

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Vector-borne Disease Risks

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Water-borne Disease Risks

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Preparedness and Response

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Worker and Responder Safety

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Cleanup and Recovery

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Environmental Health and Sanitation

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Specific Populations

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From Disaster Lit: the Resource Guide for Public Health and Disaster Medicine

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From PubMed: citations from biomedical literature

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Health Resources for the Public

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Coping with Disasters

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Animal Handling in Disasters

Posted by Dan Howard on September 6th, 2017 7:24 PM
This is a great video about the Categories of hurricanes and what that means in terms of damage to homes. If you get to view this video, there are related videos as interesting, information and downright scary as this one.   

Posted in:Hurricanes and tagged: hurricaneCategories
Posted by Dan Howard on September 6th, 2017 8:10 AM

           Meeting with and insurance adjuster can be a very scary thing for a couple of reasons. The insurance companies are in the business of making a profit, not paying claims. They get to keep what money is left after claims to pay their bills and executives.

         Another issue, particularly after a catastrophic event like hurricanes, earthquakes and fires is because there are not enough local adjusters to handle all of the clams in the affected area. To deal with that lack of local staffing, adjusters are brought in from across the nation. Often they are uncomfortable because there are not enough hotel rooms, they are overworked, poorly fed and yes, do not have local ties to your community. They will never need to face an insured person they decline or treat unfairly EVER again. And, oh yeh, ….the supervisor that looks at the payouts from the company will be doing their next annual review

            I have known many adjusters and companies that will give their insured every last penny that they are owed, and sometimes a little extra just because they are good companies and great professionals who will always do what is right. However, as of this writing, there are reportedly some unpaid legitimate claims from Hurricane Sandy, a hurricane that happened on the east coast years ago.

        Bottom line, some companies are very fair, some not so much. In any instance, the adjuster has your life in their hands.

         If you can get a copy of your policy, READ IT BEFORE MEETING WITH THE ADJUSTER

         Take the information that you find in the policy and categorize your loss by the type of event that caused the damage. If that sounds complicated, let me explain.

         For almost every insurance policy, you need “Flood Coverage” to cover flood damage. If you do not have that rider, all may not be lost if you understand the areas where you do have coverage.

          Wind damage is often covered. As an example, if the roof blows off, that part of the loss may be covered even though you did have some flooding. 

        Water damage from leaks other than flooding is covered. Let’s say you have some flooding in a basement or lower level. You also had shingles blow off of your roof and water damage in the upper level. That damage may be covered.

         In summary, read your policy and know how each portion of your damage occurred.

        If you are not treated fairly, there are several paths you can take. Most policies allow for grievances to be filed for review. Another option is engaging a “Public Adjuster” these are professional adjusters who work on behalf of the homeowner that hires them. They review the loss and the policy and advocate for what the policy should provide the insured client.

Posted by Dan Howard on September 4th, 2017 6:14 PM

    Hurricane Harvey is leaving his mark across the Gulf States. Flooding is still going on in a wide area and moving north. Waiting is one of the hardest tasks in life, especially when waiting for a disaster to end or to see if any of your precious belongings or treasures survived a disaster.  This one will not end for years. 

       After the waiting is over, the first thing that we all want to do is get back to our homes after a tragedy. The smartest person taking the very best advice can’t negate the desire, (the very NEED) to see what is left after the natural tragedy.

        We understand that, but hope you can follow these suggestions to avoid even more tragedy than what has occurred up to the point where a return into the home is possible.

·         Do not enter unsafe structures

·         Cut off electrical power until checked by an electrician

·         Do not enter the home if the water has not subsided

·         Do not enter the home until the gas is shut off

·         Leave the gas line and gas appliances off until checked

·         Do not use water damaged appliances until checked

·         Wear gloves, mask, eye protection and good shoes

·         Precious pictures and books can be preserved by freeze drying

·         Take photographs of the damage for insurance use

        No matter what the cause of water damage, quick action can protect your investment and treasures. Yes, I remember I just begged you to be patient and wait until it is safe to go into your home. That does not go well with telling you that quick action can minimize your loss. This is difficult, but health and safety trumps saving possessions. 

Posted by Dan Howard on September 2nd, 2017 8:39 PM

            Imagine, your childhood pictures, the rocking chair you remember your grandmother rocking in or every important document you have like the deed to a home……..gone! …. or so very wet and damaged that it can’t be saved.

            That is the reality for many people as the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey is sliding off of the map and into the history books. This hurricane and others, along with fires and auto accidents happen regularly to people just like you and me. Tragic events happened last week, and will happen next week. As you read this, you may even be one of the people whose life direction, including your home and possessions were blown way off course by the wind and water swirling across the Atlantic from the African Continent and leaving a destructive path in the United States.

            If you are a victim of the Hurricane Harvey, or any other tragedy, here is what we want you to know: We hold you in our thoughts and care that you are facing a loss and the challenge of recovery.

            The many deaths already attributed to the storm have ripped open and left a gaping hole in the hearts of loved ones that were a part of the lives of those that died. We know and feel the losses you have had. Many of us have had to face tragedy, and we are thankful that people do care and stand for the kind of help that is a part of the American soul. We care too.

            Over the next several days, we are going to do what we can to help. We will use this social media platform to talk with you about the next steps. I recall the book title “Bad Things Happen to Good People.” It is true. We have seen that too many times.

            We want you to know what you can do to save precious belongings, how to make sure that your insurance does for you what it should, and what you can do to help keep your family healthy.

            Thank you for giving us the opportunity to give you whatever help we can. We are experts in housing and environmental issues and are here to serve our clients in good times and bad.  

That means a lot to all of us. We know that the next tragedy could be ours and we believe that you would do what you could to help us. It is what makes this a good and decent nation at its very core.

No Matter How Devastating a Disaster is, the Sun Will Come Out Again 

Our Hope is that the Wait is Short  

Posted in:hurricane and tagged: Hurricane Harveyrecovery
Posted by Dan Howard on August 31st, 2017 10:01 PM
Posted in:Healthy kids and tagged: GermsBack to school
Posted by Dan Howard on August 31st, 2017 5:36 PM



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