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Having a mould detection dog allows us to pin point the exact location of the mould growth inside a wall or floor. In the past, this was very difficult, if not impossible, with air testing alone.


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A ticking time bomb


toxic mold toronto sunA government report says those who are exposed to grow house environments run the risk of becoming seriously ill

 

By ALAN CAIRNS, TORONTO SUN


THE MARIJUANA grow house phenomenon sweeping the Toronto area is a ticking time bomb that at best is a health risk and at worst a killer, experts say. Illegal grow lab operators are the first to put themselves at risk when they dig through a basement wall or floor to tap into the 10,000-watt hydro mains in order to bypass the meter and steal electricity.
The Green Tide report commissioned by the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police says while no electrocutions have been reported in Ontario to date, an estimated 15 would-be weed growers in British Columbia died by electrocution between 1995 and 2000.
The threat of electrocution also extends to firefighters, police and landlords who enter the buildings.
In a typical grow house, numerous electrical ballasts multiply the power of the 10,000-watt line six times. Crude connections and humidity levels increase the risk of explosions and fires.


The Green Tide report said fires are 40 times more likely in grow-ops than in a typical Ontario home.
University College of the Fraser Valley criminologist Prof. Darryl Plecas said 8.7% of all fires in Surrey , B.C. were directly attributed to illegal grow houses.


Two Philadelphia-area firefighters were killed in August when they unwittingly stumbled into a grow lab during a fire.
"It is hard to imagine we are not going to see deaths here ... we have just been plain lucky," Plecas said.
Growers risk their eyesight through prolonged exposure to 1,000-watt lights used in the hydroponic grow process.
One York Regional Police officer may have suffered permanent eye damage from lights during a bust last year.
Fertilizers and pesticides are also hazardous to growers and family members who live as "crop sitters" to add an air of legitimacy to the operation, the Green Tide report said.
Booby traps also pose a risk to firefighters and police, kids who live in the homes and rival drug gangs who break in to steal the weed. Some homes have been rigged so that intruders face electric shock, scalding nitric acid, spiked boards and injury through removed floor and stair boards.


But it is the health risks of mould to future grow house residents that concerns most experts.
Until the City of Toronto moved a few weeks ago to close two Scarborough houses until satisfactory structural and environmental assessments were done, former grow houses were returned to the market without any government checks.
York Region Police Chief Armand La Barge said he realizes mould issues are worse than initially believed and drug officers now enter homes with hand, foot and face protection. "And yet there are kids living there," sighed La Barge, adding that so far this year 30 children have been found in grow homes.


The Green Tide report estimated 10,000 kids lived in grow-ops in Ontario in the past four years.
Environmental inspector and mould specialist Frank Haverkate said he found seriously "unacceptable" levels of potentially harmful mould in five of 20 homes he tested.


"Some of these have had pristine drywall, but the condensation from the grow house humidity has infiltrated every nook and cranny and inside we have found large amounts of hidden mould growth."
Mould specialist Dr. Andrew Campbell, of the Medical Centre for Immune and Toxic Disorders in Spring, Texas, said families who buy or rent mouldy homes will likely become ill within a few months, maybe even weeks.
"It really has a major impact on their lives. People lose jobs because they are not performing, they don't pay attention to traffic signals, they become disoriented and confused. They just do not function correctly. They are as tired when they wake up in the morning as they were when they went to bed."


Bruce Stewart, of Pinchin Environmental in Mississauga , said mould growth has varied in the 40 or so homes his company has assessed.


'GOBS AND GOBS'


While experts differ on risk levels, Stewart said all agree moulds are a health risk and should be immediately removed.
Dr. James Scott, professor of environmental microbiology at the University of Toronto 's department of public health sciences, said mould produces "gobs and gobs" of spores that are a health hazard when inhaled.
He said many studies confirm mould exposure is a leading cause of childhood asthma, behind family tobacco smoking.
Scott said moulds are also problematic because while people may not initially be allergic to them, repeated exposure will see the onset of allergies that could become lifelong.


Scott said the mould problem is not confined to grow-ops and can be found in many poorer housing areas.

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