Friday, June 21, 2013

A Moldy Mystery

Oh. My. Effing. Gee. What a week. The past few days I have experienced one of the most bizarre inspections of my career as a mold inspector. Let's break it down day by day:
I receive a phone call from a hysterical pregnant woman living in the super chic neighborhood of TriBeCa. Privately I think to myself, here we go again, another psycho rich person with way too much money and time on their hands. It 's difficult understanding her description of the situation, I can't decide over the phone whether she actually has a legitimate mold problem from her strange description. She asks me several times if I can come by that day (I can come, but I'm really not in the mood. And more importantly I'd miss ice cream celebrating somebody's birthday at the office), so I say no hoping she would be calmer the next day. We finish the conversation with her asking, "Is it safe for my family to stay in the house? Or should I bring the kids to my sister's apartment?!?!?". My response, "Ummmmm, do you have another bathroom?... Okay, great. Just use that one... I don't think it's quite necessary for an emergency evacuation at the moment...". Yeah, I'm not looking forward to tomorrow's inspection .

I arrive at the apartment. Of course it's breathtakingly gorgeous and spacious. The resident (also gorgeous) leads me to the bathroom. For the first time ever, I truly empathize with a mold  freak out. The *thing* is just so weird, and for lack of a better word, icky. 

A growth had somehow come through the grout on her bathroom wall and had developed on the slate tile both inside and outside of the shower area. This was a nice apartment and was well maintained. Not your typical situation to find visible mold growth with no known water problem. 

I see the *thing* and reason why she had called my company for a mold inspection. At first glance I quickly come to the conclusion there is no way it can be mold. First of all, it doesn't look like mold. Mold grows and develops in a hundred different ways, colors, shapes, etc. but it usually looks something along of the lines of this: 
Small, ugly, dark, spotty dots. Yay mold!
In addition to appearing dissimilar from mold growth I typically observe, the resident said the *thing* developed FAST. According to her, nothing was visible in the bathroom on Monday, and she had watched the *thing* clearly develop and grow drastically bigger during the day on Tuesday. I have never experienced a situation in which mold grows this quickly. First of all, I RARELY ever even see visible mold growth. And when I do, it's usually because a leak situation was never properly remediated or a bathroom was left neglected. This bizarre material exploded in a matter of hours. Blech! 

Considering the speed of growth as well as the appearance, I think to myself that it has to be a chemical reaction between wet building materials. On rare occasions I've seen plaster bubble as a result of water damage. It looks gross and scary, but is not mold. 
In this case, the growth was bright yellow. Plaster is white. And it looked kind of rusty too. There were redish-brown drip stains coming from the growth. Grossly, the resident mentioned that the day prior during the development period, the growth was soaking wet. "You could scoop it up with a spoon". At my investigation, the wall is dry as is the growth.
Day Zero (resident's photo): Bright yellow, wet, icky, growing faster than the US economy
Approximately 24 hours later: lighter yellow, dried out, still icky 
Now here's the real twist in this mystery! As I mentioned, I thought there is no way that this thing could be biological. It just grew wayyy too fast and didn't look right. BUT! As I get all up in it to collect a sample for the lab, I expect the chunk will be light and fairly easy to collect. I think it will come off in the wall in one large foamy section. Nope. Wrong. I learn that the growth is very difficult to remove from the wall. It is extremely dense and is difficult to remove. It comes off only in small chunks. I'm a bit disturbed to realize that the interior is not yellow like the outside. It's brown on the inside. What's more, the sample disintegrates quickly into a grainy substance. It looks like I threw a handful of dirt into a bag. 
At this point, I kinda freak out a little bit myself. I change my mind and think that it MUST be biological. Why else would it be brown on the inside? And disintegrate like that if it wasn't?? Following the sample collection, I am a bit nauseated myself thinking about whatever I just touched and hoping it wasn't some toxic naturally occurring infestation of anthrax or something. 

The woman's superintendent does not stop exclaiming that he can''t believe I touched it. I was wearing gloves you know! He goes on and on about his days in the army and all of the biological and chemical weapons he had learned about. Not helpful. I am starting to wonder whether I should have put my respirator on the second I stepped foot in the bathroom...

Returning to the office I immediately call our laboratory for sample analysis suggestions. They have no idea what I'm describing over the phone. They say they'll take a look at the material and then decide how to test. Nobody in my office has ever heard of or seen such a thing. So, so effing gross. 

The lab calls me. They had performed a simple test to determine whether the sample is biological in nature, so that it can be analyzed by the correct department. It turns out the sample IS biological. Ick. So it is a living organism... Great.

I eagerly await results this afternoon. I have never been so excited to receive lab results before. Stay tuned...

Photo credits: Dilbert

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