THERE IS SOMETHING DECIDEDLY fascinating about a man who can write the following about mold: “Industrial hygienists like to measure indoor moisture levels, because, though this is simpler than making a sandwich, the use of a hand-held meter imparts an air of brilliance that will persuade hapless homeowners that their security is assured by the hands of a master.”
And this, about the experience of testifying as an expert witness in a civil suit about mold damage: “Moisture measurements are an overrated tool, but they are important in the courtroom because the jury will not be impressed if the expert witness answers ‘really wet' or ‘my glasses steamed up' when questioned about the dampness of a property. Advice to the expert witness: Give the jury numbers, and defend your numbers as if your life depended upon them.”
Nicholas Money, Ph.D., eats, breathes, sleeps, writes about, and testifies in court about mold. He remembers hearing about fungi in fairy tales as a child in the context of pixies dancing around mushrooms. Living next to an apple orchard, he was aware of the importance of decay in the plant world. As a scientist, he has great appreciation for the positive role mold plays in the lives of people.
“We'd be up to our necks in feces if it weren't for the activity of fungi and bacteria,” he notes. “Fungi break down dung produced by herbivores. Without that activity, the carbon cycle would back up, and the planet wouldn't function very efficiently.”
On a more philosophical level, Money can't quite figure out why people are, as he puts it, “so creeped out by [fungi].”
“It's our puritanical roots,” he theorizes. “Other societies really embrace fungi as part of the diet.”
A mycologist by trade, he teaches in the department of botany at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, when he's not writing a book on mold (his latest release is Carpet Monsters and Killer Spores: ANatural History of Toxic Mold, from Oxford University Press), researching it, or being called as an expert witness to testify about it.
TOXIC GOLD Money made his first foray into the world of mold litigation and the plight of builders being sued for damages after his first book, Mr. Bloomfield's Orchard, a page-turner on fungal biology. His publisher suggested he look at the issue of toxic mold. “Really?” he asked. “Trust me,” his publisher replied. “This is big.” He took a six-month leave of absence from his teaching position and started digging into the topic.
His research for Carpet Monsters and Killer Spores included a visit to the Florida Canine Academy, which trains dogs to sniff out toxic mold in buildings for home inspectors and water damage mitigation companies. One of its trainers believes the market will support at least 180 of these dogs (which are sold for $10,000 or more). As Money reports, “if [the trainer] is wrong, the academy will have invested a lot of time and dog food in producing pets that will be very bored by the daily routine of unemployment, and go berserk whenever their unwitting owners order a mushroom pizza.”
The real eye-opener, though, was meeting with attorneys litigating toxic mold cases, he says.