March 23 -- Except for an occasional asthma flare up, Caitlin Murray is a healthy, happy 5-year-old, who loves doing artwork. But three years ago, she was terribly sick, and no one could figure out why.
"She would have terrible headaches and her face was swollen and she'd throw up sometimes for seven to 10 days," Jill Murray, her mother said. "They tested her for cystic fibrosis, for leukemia, all kinds of diseases and they couldn't find anything wrong with her.
Caitlin said it was a terrible feeling.
"I was like really, really sick," she said. "I was feeling like I was going to die in a few days."
Her mother had a gut feeling that whatever was making her daughter sick was in their Pennington, N.J., home.
"We started working with the head of the diagnostic center at Children's Hospital Philadelphia," Jill Murray said. "He said 'Try it. Leave your house. That's the only way you'll know.' "
A Scary Find
In the basement, Murray checked inside a crawlspace. There was mold everywhere.
"And with that we just got out," Murray said. "We literally took the shirts on our backs and left."
Caitlin's suffering went on for three years before the girl finally felt better. The Murrays' experience is not unique. Because modern homes are more tightly sealed for energy efficiency, water — which mold needs to survive — gets trapped inside.
Modern building materials like wood, drywall, wallpaper and fabric are appealing food sources for mold, while building technologies such as synthetic stucco can leak and trap moisture inside. Home appliances including clothes dryers and dishwashers also generate water vapor, again creating the type of environment that mold can thrive on.
Concerns About Toxic Mold
"Mold spores are everywhere," said Meg Hamilton, CEO of Hamilton Thorne Biosciences. "They're in your house, in your attic, on the street, in your living room, in your kitchen. It's a question really of how much and what species."