The Future Is In Mold
Complaints Rise as Newcomers
Flock Into Fungus-Removal Work;
How to Get Rid of It Yourself
By MICHELLE HIGGINS
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Seven months ago, David Barr was repairing heating and air-conditioning units in New York City. But he decided a better future lay in mold. "I
think there's a good growth opportunity," he says.
Now Mr. Barr is a mold inspector and remediator who charges about $125 to test mold in
people's homes. He took a $1,000 home-study course he found on the Internet and passed a
multiple-choice exam, plus a quiz over the phone.
He even has a mold-inspector badge,
issued by a group called the Certified Mold Inspectors & Contractors Institute. "We did a
lot of research and study," during the course, says Mr. Barr, who feels he is qualified
to do mold cleanup. NOTE from Phillip
Fry: The Certified Mold Inspectors & Contractors
Institute (CMICI) was the original business name for the Professional
College, which now provides online training and certification for
Mold Inspector, and
As individual homeowners try to get a grip on their mold problems, state attorneys
general and consumer groups say they are seeing a stream
of complaints about botched
mold cleanup jobs done by inexperienced workers. The problem has gotten serious enough that
several states are working on regulations and licensing requirements for mold-inspection
and remediation companies.
Currently, there are no federal or state regulations, and mold companies aren't required
to be licensed or certified.
"My nail technician is more regulated" than mold cleaners,
says Melinda Ballard, head of Policyholders of America, a nonprofit group in Austin,
Texas. "There's something wrong with that." Ms. Ballard started the organization, which
helps people file insurance claims, after winning a mold-related lawsuit against an
Such suits helped give rise to a flood of mold claims and to so-called mold remediation
-- an industry that was virtually nonexistent a few years ago.
Lured by the promise of
fatter paychecks, workers with minimal training soon started billing themselves as mold remediators. There are now between 10,000
and 20,000 mold-removal companies in the
country, according to the Indoor Air Quality Association.
Mold remediation can cost anywhere from several hundred dollars to more than $100,000
depending on the scope of the problem. And
since almost every major insurer now excludes
mold from standard policies, many consumers must pay out of their own pockets.
The proliferation of new companies has led to a number of horror stories. When Kase
Velasco's kitchen sink started leaking, his insurer dispatched
a company to clean up the
water and black mold that had spread on the wall behind the sink. Mr. Velasco, his wife,
and two children packed up and moved out of their Houston home and into a nearby
apartment while the mold cleanup company took apart their house to eradicate the fungus.
Seven months, and about $22,000 in insurance money later, the family moved back. So did
the mold. A round of testing showed mold levels
were actually higher than when they left.
He learned that the company hired to get rid of the mold had been in the roofing business
just six months before.
"All they were was glorified demolition guys," says Mr. Velasco, a commercial-real-estate
developer, who declined to name the company.
Mold Relief Inc., a nonprofit organization in Norman, Okla., that offers assistance to
families affected by indoor mold, has received dozens
of complaints from California to
Oklahoma to Virginia about improper inspections or cleanup jobs. "I get calls from
everywhere," says Elisa Larkin, executive director of Mold Relief. Companies come in to
people's homes, she says, "and a week later there's mushrooms growing in the carpet."
Last month, Mold Restoration Inc., a mold-remediation company, agreed to pay upward of
$800,000 for restitution to consumers in a settlement of a
lawsuit brought two years go
by then Texas Attorney General John Cornyn on behalf of half a dozen consumers. The suit
alleged that the company left
homeowners with unfinished restoration work meant to
correct severe mold. An attorney for Mold Restoration says the company didn't admit any wrongdoing. Since June of 2002 the Attorney General's office has received nearly 200
other complaints against various mold-remediation companies.
At least two states -- Louisiana and Texas -- have enacted legislation that would require
some form of licensing or registration for anyone involved
with mold inspection, analysis
or cleanup, though much of the details are still being worked out.
Several other states, and at least one federal lawmaker, have introduced bills that seek
to research and establish standards regarding mold identification
Part of the problem with trying to establish regulatory practices around mold is there
are no standards for acceptable levels of mold inside a home.
Molds are part of the
natural environment and can be found practically everywhere. Different people have
different sensitivities to molds. When testing
is done, it usually just compares the
levels and types of mold spores found inside the home with those on the outside
If the moldy area is less than 10 square feet, you can usually clean it up yourself. If
the moldy area is larger, or if you smell mold but can't see it, you should hire someone to do the cleanup. Experts advise that homeowners check with local consumer affairs
agencies and the Better Business Bureau before engaging a testing or remediation company.
Ask a company for examples of removal experience and check references. And avoid
conflicts of interest by not hiring the same company to do both the inspection and
Hire Mold Expert
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