Jewish World Review Dec. 18, 2002 / 13 Teves, 5763

Ian Shoales

Ian Shoales
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Consumer Reports

A nation of hypochondriacs? | Is America is a nation of hypochondriacs? Anecdotal evidence (that is: a quick look around at my friends) seems to suggest that the answer is "Yes."

We lug around vitamins, bottled water, and Chinese herbs everywhere we go. We feng shui our wardrobe every six months. We attend weekly acupuncture sessions. Though we live longer than our ancestors did, and longer than most people in most other countries, we are convinced that "western medicine" is plotting to do us in.

And now we worry about toxic mold.

Apparently, toxic mold, a greenish black slimy substance that forms in the damp dark places of our abodes, is being blamed for a riot of maladies including headaches, malaise, flulike symptoms, nausea, swooning, itching, nosebleeds, amnesia, rashes, and the vapors.

I don't mean to make light of those suffering from contact with this nasty stuff, but it does strike me as strange that I didn't even hear about the slimy home invader until a year or so ago. Where was it before that?

Is toxic mold some kind of secret government chemical agent, designed to keep us cowed and sniffly? Is it not of this earth? Could it be one of those weapons of mass destruction we keep hearing about, imported to our shores by a sinister cabal of anti-suburban zealots?

Remember the great asbestos scare from a few years back? People were so terrified that a strand of this stuff would get in their lungs they started tearing up every wall built before 1950. The result? Well, the result was asbestos flying everywhere, creating a greater toxic danger than if we'd just left the stuff alone.

I'm not saying leave toxic mold alone- after all, left to its own devices, it could mutate into one of those gelatinous amoebas that used to devour gas stations in fifties horror movies. But it's been my experience that the direct application of bleach to moldy surfaces works wonders. If you prefer to apply the bleach with a ten foot pole while wearing a HazMat suit, more power to you. If you want to transform an unpleasant household chore into a life-threatening science fiction adventure, I won't stand in your way.

But until I see better evidence to the contrary, as far as toxic mold is concerned, I say it's mildew, and I say the hell with it.

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JWR contributor Ian Shoales is the author of, among others, Not Wet Yet: An Anthology of Commentary. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2001, Ian Shoales