Sometimes, I need to get away from the day-to-day cleaning for bit, in order to learn more, and to connect with others trying to educate about indoor air quality and mold. The more knowledge I can gain, the easier it is to navigate and find healthcare and viable solutions for me and my family. So, today, I’m excited to bring you an inside look into the 2009 documentary film, Black Mold Exposure. (Click HERE to view a preview and to rent or purchase the movie on Vimeo—Its only $2.99 to rent it and so worth it.) The movie was made 7 years ago, but its relevance and inside look at the human body’s response to toxic mold exposure stands the test of time. Watching the movie, I was actually surprised by how little things have changed, in terms of research and in-roads in treating mold illness. It illustrates and explains the isolation and debilitating effects of mold exposure in a way that anyone, even naysayers, can appreciate and understand. In my opinion, that is why this movie is so powerful.
The movie follows Michael Roland Williams—also the film’s director and producer—and his girlfriend, Karen Noseff, as they try to rebuild their lives and their health after unknowingly being exposed to toxic mold over a period of months in Karen’s apartment. After multiple complaints were filed by residents, the management company finally brought in professionals to test for mold, and the levels of mold toxicity in the 264-unit building were so high, that all of the units were evacuated, and the residents had to leave all of their possessions behind.
Four years later, when the film opens, the couple is still struggling to find “safe” housing that their bodies can tolerate, daily illness, chemical and environmental sensitivities, and the psychological repercussions of an atmosphere of political and social intolerance and disbelief surrounding the dangers of mold. Sounds like a total nightmare, right? Well, as you get to know Michael and Karen, and the other characters in the film, you realize that the actual mold exposure is just the beginning. In other words, if you have a mold allergy, or are exposed to mold at toxic levels, regaining normalcy and wellness then becomes sometimes a life-long quest. The uplifting side is that many of the characters in the movie do find it, but have to employ unconventional and controversial methods to do so.
I had the awesome opportunity to interview the film’s director and producer Michael Roland Williams. Here is our conversation below. His answers are sometimes surprising, but I loved his openness, honesty and willingness to put this issue and his personal story out there to educate others about toxic mold exposure.
Me: I want to start by saying that I loved how you opened and closed the movie in Times Square in NYC, with random folks being asked questions about mold and mold legislation. Both instances really gave me the sense that most people don’t know much about mold, and that they also don’t have good feelings about the government setting up laws to protect them from it. How much did you know about toxic mold before you got ill from being exposed to it? Were you aware of the importance of air quality or concerned about mold before you got sick?
MRW: Thank you. My first priority in making the documentary was to entertain and tell a good story. If you don’t have that, then you’re going to lose the viewer. I didn’t know anything about toxic mold or indoor air quality before I got ill. That was before anyone online was even posting about it. There were no groups and very few websites even mentioning it. The movie was made many years after Karen and I became ill. We fumbled around on our own for about 4 years trying to figure out how to get well.
Me: When you first set out to make this movie and to document your and Karen’s experience with your exposure to toxic mold, what were your goals? Did those initial goals change at all during the process?
MRW: Very few people watch feature documentaries for educational value. I was trying to reach the masses by making it entertaining first and educational at the same time, so it would be something that everyone would want to watch. Anyone who lives in an indoor environment needs to know the information in this movie, which is most of the civilized world. Unfortunately, most people don’t start researching or become interested until they are already sick.
Me: I realize I’m a little late to be writing about your film, since it was made in 2009. I am also pretty new to the “mold world,” and just really began educating myself about it when my own family got sick. But, I must say that the film is just as important now and as pertinent now as it was when you made it.
MRW: Yeah, the documentary is going to be relevant until there are standardized methods to treat mold and standards for indoor air quality. And there isn’t going to be either of those for a very long time. There’s no money to be made in it, only lost. The property owners and management companies can only lose and there will never be a magic bullet drug, because of the bio-individuality of each person. Each person’s body usually breaks down at its weakest point because of mold exposure, making the wellness path a very unique experience for each individual. There are some common illnesses that the CDC finally put on their mold website, but it took them many years to even add that . The best that can be done is to educate everyone, similar to smoking. Smoking causes lots of illnesses and some we probably haven’t even proven, so stay away from it. Same with mold exposure. Don’t panic, but stay away from it.
Me: Speaking of staying away, did the apartment management company, where you were exposed to the mold and got sick, notify you guys about the mold and the levels of toxicity that were found, or did you have to dig for that info on your own? Did you know right away that your symptoms were caused by the mold exposure, or did you have to piece that together over time?
MRW: We were itching incessantly for about 2 months. Karen had a very bad rash during this time and a couple of years after that. This is what she discussed in the documentary briefly. We couldn’t figure it out. I was in the floor putting a new computer together and felt ill with flu like symptoms in a matter of 5 minutes or so. Nothing comes on that strong. I then knew that whatever it was, it was on the carpet. I then looked up and saw the HVAC vent was blowing right on that area where I was sitting. I got a ladder and looked in and saw the mold. I saw a small black spot on the wall where the mold had seeped through the drywall. My finger went through the wall when I pressed on it. I only noticed this after I knew it was a moldy apartment. I knew then all the symptoms were from the mold. We left that day. The apartment management company never told us anything. We notified them of the problem and that we would be leaving. They then served us an eviction notice. We paid for independent testing to be done.
Me: If you were to make the film today, would you do anything differently? If so, what changes would you make? Are there things you wish you had included that aren’t in the film?
MRW: When you have 90 minutes to tell your story, you have to pick and choose what to put in it. I chose broad strokes so it could be understood and enjoyed by everyone. An entire five night mini-series could be produced on mold exposure, getting well, and other issues around it, so I’m very happy with the movie I made. It will stand the test of time for decades at the rate we are moving, regarding the medical aspect, and the stories of the people sickened by mold never change. They are always the same, give or take a few details .
Me: Some of the most effective parts of the film, in my opinion, are the personal stories. All of the characters are extremely likeable, and it is easy to be sympathetic with the hardships that they face, because of their illnesses. Colin was probably the one who hit me the hardest, because my son has also been negatively affected by mold. Was there a particular person or story or interview that you did when making the film that really stuck with you? Do you keep in touch with those people? Have any of them had any real breakthroughs with getting laws passed or better health since you filmed?
MRW: When I was making it, the only story that stuck with me was our own. It was hard to watch that footage for 16 hours a day for 6 months during post-production. Karen for all practical purposes is well. I have a few major problems I’m still working through, foods, the HVAC systems are still giving me problems and new clothing, bedding, things like that are problems still too. The school teacher from the north San Diego county area is completely well using Dr. Shoemaker’s protocol. It’s very hard to fully recover from mold exposure. Of all the people I’ve spoken to over the years, there are few that have achieved their full health back. This is due to lack of discipline on their part, lack of proper health care, money, and a slew of other things that get in the way of getting well.
Me: I hear a lot from readers of the blog who are interested in getting in touch with medical professionals who “treat mold-related illness.” How did you and Karen find doctors who believed you and who were willing to actually treat your problems as issues related to your mold exposure? The scenes of Karen giving herself the shots lead me to believe that she found a treatment protocol that was helpful to her.
MRW: We lucked into it. The man on the cover of the original DVD with the hazmat suit was helping us with an ozone machine for our car, and he told Karen about Dr Rea at the Environmental Health Center, which just happened to be in Dallas. People come from all over the world to be treated by him for various environmental illnesses.
Me: I loved the scene of you ironing Karen’s shirt for her for the job interview. It really touched me, because mold illness can be so incredibly isolating, especially when you are sensitive and very sick, and your spouse or partner is not. You guys had each other, even though you were going through hell, and were isolated from your families. Why do you think mold-related illness is so controversial and isolating for those going through it?
MRW: It’s controversial, because a lot of the illnesses and symptoms that are caused are not proven. It’s isolating, because it sucks your time, money, and other resources and you simply don’t have time for anything else except survival.
Me: Since my blog is about “cleaning for mold” and securing your environment after you have had an exposure and become sick—so more of cleaning to stay health and comfortable—like many of the things you and Karen had to do in your home to stay well, is there any advice you could give readers about cleaning strategies that really worked for you? Are you still experiencing the environmental sensitivities as severely as you were in the movie? Do you still have to clean for mold on a daily basis?
MRW: I think people just need to be aware of their environment. Water leaks mostly are the culprit. Have your HVAC system checked every year for leaks or mold, which can happen in a single season, and watch for water marks on walls and ceilings and roof leaks.
Me: Finally, what did you learn about mold that surprised you the most? What things do you do now to stay healthy?
MRW: By the time I started making the documentary nothing surprised me. I remember first looking toxic mold up online to see if it was even online somewhere. That’s how obscure it was at the time, and seeing a one page website about it, and that did make me feel better that someone else was having the same problem somewhere. I have no idea who that person was, but I hope they got the help they needed. It’s important to do all the small things that add up when trying to get well and stay healthy. The obvious: Drink enough water, exercise, even if you can do very little. Make sure your vitamin and mineral levels are good. So many things, a book could be written about it. I recently came upon a website that is the best I’ve ever seen with regards to helping yourself get well. Everything listed, I agree with. There is always more that you can do but it’s a good place to start. From my years of experience, this person has the most accurate and best information out there. I don’t even know the person personally and I have no vested interest in the website in any way. I just want people to have good, accurate, and dependable information. It’s www.survivingtoxicmold.com.
Me: Thank you so much for answering my questions and for making this movie. It matters. The topic matters and the people affected matter. I am so happy I discovered it. I hope my readers will click through to purchase the movie too, so that awareness continues to spread.
MRW: I appreciate your work and effort to make this issue more available to people!
That concludes today’s post. To find out more information on Michael Roland Williams, the doctors or characters in his movie, or to read other interviews and a plot synopsis, go to blackmoldexposure.com.