"You've made the right call"
The Fire Cure
To rid themselves of the
that savaged their lives, Steve and Karen
Porath burned down their home.
"It looked pretty," says Karen of the
foresthill house ( above ).
Watching their house burn in February
"was a big weight lifted," says Steve.
"This changed our lives," says Karen
( with Steve at the site of the home
they torched ).
The black mold was everywhere,
including these cutting boards.
Article: Dangerous Toxic Mold
For Valentine's Day, Steve and Karen Porath both got something they really
wanted: the chance to see their dream house burn to the ground. They
stood serenly on the front lawn of their rolling five-acre spread in Foresthill,
Calif., and watched as flames devoured their three-bedroom ranch-style
home, destroying family photos, stuffed animals, even their son's baby book.
"It was a relief," says Karen, 34, of the controlled fire the couple arranged in
February. "That house almost killed our child."
The scourge that invaded their home and prompted the burning was
something straight out of The X-Files: Stachybotrys chartarum, better
known as black mold. A toxic fungus that feeds on moisture and thrives in
damp areas, Black mold can cause rashes, sore throats and severe
respiratory ailments.
Claims of mold infestation are on
the rise, particularly in states hit by
heavy rains, such as Texas. And
while no national statistic exist,
mold outbreaks in flood-prone
areas are "a major public health
problem," believes Frederick
Herman, a California immunologist
who has treated hundreds of
patients, including the Poraths,
suffering from mold- related illnes-
ses. "When people find out a major
contaminant has been living in their
home, they feel violated."
The Poraths' mold encounter was
more like a nightmare-and they
believe, one of the reasons their
older son, Mitchell, now 2, was
diagnosed with delayed develop-
mental disorder. Steve, a building
contractor, and Karen, a former
fianancial coordinator for an AIDS research
center, married in 1997 and began searching for a home near Auburn, where
Steve, 35, was raised. They found a house just northeast of the city that had
been repossessed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and seemed in
find shape. A bid of $120,000 won them the house.
In May 1999, a month after moving in, Karen gave birth to Mitchell, who was
declared healthy. But two days after he was brought home, he became viol-
ently ill. "He started thrashing like he was in pain," says Karen. The infant
developed a severe rash, constant infections and high fevers, which baffled
his doctors. Gaunt and dehydrated, Mitchell would'nt crawl or smile and
often vomited up to 70 times a day. When the Poraths, who developed
respiratory infections themselves, noticed that Mitchell slept more soundly
at his grandmother's nearby home, they had their house tested for contami-
nants in April 2000. Two weeks later they learned there was high levels of
black mold in the house, including in Mitchells bedroom. "After that," says
Karen, "we never went back." At the time, Mitchell was 1 years old and
weighed only 10 lbs. Further inspection revealed that faulty
coupled with poor ventilation, created a perfect breeding ground for bacteria and black mold ( Stachybotrys tends to
grow on surfaces that absorb water, like carpets and drywall ). The Poraths beleive the property's managing agents
knew about the contamination, But David Piersall, the U.S. Veterans Affairs officer who oversaw the sale, insists "we
were not aware of any mold." And Mike Lyon, a broker with the Sacramento Realtors who handled the sale, also
denies any knowledge of the mold problem.
There was more bad news for the Poraths: Getting rid of the mold would cost $85,000 and would not be covered by
their home insurance. Unable to save their belongings, they inlisted 40 volunteer firefighters to burn down the house,
sold the five acres for $149,000 and moved into a two-bedroom apartment in Aubuen. Karen, who was pregnant with
second son Blake for six months while living in the infested house, says he is healthier than Mitchell but blames his
chronic respiratory infections on the black mold. Mitchell now 21 ilbs. still speaks only four words. ( Karen quit her
job to care for him. ) "You can't say for sure that the Stachybotrys toxin caused his developmental problems," says
Dr. Herman. "But we know that high levels of exposure can produce neurological disorders."

mold can be cleaned with bleach and water ). Such measures, however, won't help the Poraths, who are planning a
lawsuit against their realtors even as they struggle to put their lives back together. "If Steve and I make it through
this, we'll have the strongest marriage ever," says Karen. "This has just been hell."
People Magazine
Articles by:
Alex Tresniowski
Emily Bazar in Auburn,
Ron Arias in Los Angeles and
Vickie Bane in Littleton, Colo.

Photos by: Eric O'Connell
pipes were spewing sewage beneath the home,
The best way to block the spread of mold is to promptly fix leaking pipes and ventilate damp areas
(small traces of
NOTE: Property Damage Restoration Services could have
and would have eliminated the need to destroy this
home-for the purposes of killing the mold-our
treatments and procedures are extremly effective
and could be done at a fraction of the above stated