Michael Rubino is the President of All American Restoration, and a certified professional with expertise in mold removal. He is also the author of a book on mold titled ‘The Mold Medic”.
“I would say that I think COVID has actually created a bigger awareness that something that we can’t necessarily see can impact our health. And so it’s really helped change the conversation to ‘Hey, we really have to be concerned about our air quality’, right? Because what is COVID mainly transmits through the air, right? So when we look at that, and we say, air quality is an important factor, because it’s not just mold, right, it’s bacteria, it’s viruses, it’s toxins, pathogens, we have to be more concerned about our air quality. And I think COVID is really helped shine a light on that. So it is a silver lining, if you will, not that I would consider anything as silver lining with COVID. But I think it’s at least got us to the forefront of the conversation of ‘Hey, look, air quality is very, very important.'”
Below is a condensed version of our conversation, for the full version, tune in to our Wellness Journey Podcast. In this conversation we chat about:
- The risks and importance of mold being educated on a global scale.
- Mission to raise international standards on mold management and remediation to help people who are sensitive, get back into their homes.
- History and awareness surrounding mold and where we are now.
- Michael’s childhood growing up around building construction and his field experience during Hurricane Sandy.
- The average person takes 20,000 breaths per day. The importance of air quality when it comes to health.
- Being called the Mercedes versus Honda in the world of mold remediation.
- HLA-DA gene and how Genetic Disposition can affect one’s immune response to mold.
- Current building practices and how it impacts mold prevention in homes.
- New homes are not necessarily safe from mold & what to look for in an apartment when it comes to mold prevention.
- Types and species of mold to be aware of.
- How to tell if there is mold in the property.
- Symptoms and case studies of mold exposure.
Mold On A Global Scale
(05:50) – You know, after reading, and doing research into all the work that you’re doing and experiencing what I have experienced in the past year, I consider myself lucky. But if you told me last year I would have experienced the symptoms that I had experienced I would have found it so difficult to believe. I came from Australia, and it’s quite dry there, my knowledge didn’t extend far at all when it came to mold exposure and health.
I love hearing these stories. And you’re right, I hear them every day, multiple times a day. But you know what, it’s really empowering to know that you’re not alone. And even though you may not know it, I know it because of the number of people that I speak to every day. And it’s really powerful for me and it validates that what I’m doing is very important. And, you know, it’s interesting because where we’re at, I kind of look at it like this cigarette phase. If you paid attention to cigarettes, you know, back in the day, everyone smoked cigarettes, right? And 50 years later, they’re like cigarettes are bad. It took 50 years to really formulate that cigarettes were not healthy, that they were not good for our bodies. And in the mold phase of things, I feel like we’re 20 years and we still have another 30 years to go, because we have a niche understanding that mold exposure is not great for our bodies. But it’s far and few between.
- Because, you know, I never know what things are like, globally, I get calls from clients mostly in Europe and internationally, I haven’t gotten a call in Asia. So thank you for being the first, this is amazing. And to hear that there was a functional medicine doctor in Hong Kong, who knew that mold could be a potential problem. It makes me feel really good because now I understand that this is something that is being educated on a global level, which is something that I always feared for.
- In Ireland for example, there are companies out there doing mold remediation, and when I’m looking at some of their techniques, I can tell that they’re kind of where we were in America 20 years ago, they’re still doing older techniques that are not necessarily going to work for someone who is sensitive.
- But essentially, what I’d like to do at some point is be able to train and certify people all across the world, on the exact technology that I’m using today to help someone who is extremely sensitive get back into their place.
- I am constantly told that I’m over the top, and I look at all the people that I’ve taught, and we’re well over 1000 at this point, tell those 1000 people that had nowhere else to go, that I’m too over the top, because if I didn’t exist, they probably would not be better right now.
- So when I look at that, I say, you know what, we’re not over the top, we’re right where we need to be and everybody else is lagging far behind. And I’m trying to really break that barrier so that we get wide acceptance of what we’re doing.
- And I’m trying to really break that barrier so that we get wide acceptance of what we’re doing. And it’s very simple. It’s when you look at mold and you look at mold remediation, it is the mold colony, right. So you have water intrusion or moisture intrusion and that allows for the opportunity for mold to grow. I always hear this term mold is ubiquitous, there’s nothing you can do, and it’s all hogwash. Yes, mold is ubiquitous, but no, it is not true that there is nothing you can do.
Lack Of International Standards On Mold Management
(08:36) – What are the current standards when it comes to mold remediation?
Now everyone argues, well, there’s no real international standards on what’s acceptable and what’s not. And I would say that may be true. But actually, in the industry itself, there is a wide acceptance, to say that if there is more mold inside than outside, you are exposed to higher levels in your own home – breathing the air that you breathe in your own home than you would if you were breathing the air outside. I think that’s where the problem starts to happen. Right?
- If you, for instance, let’s say normally breathe in 100 mold spores for every breath you take when you’re outside, and it’s gonna be a different species typically than water damage species growing on the inside. And then you have 10,000 spores that you’re breathing in with each breath inside. You would say that’s a lot higher than outside.
- The average person takes 20,000 breaths per day. More air is entering your body than water or food. And if that air is toxic, it should be the first thing that we look at to diagnose if you have a health problem.
- But instead, we do MRIs and all these other things to see what your brain activity is looking like, but why don’t we start with air quality and then work our way to these other technical analyses.
- That’s really where I come from, what I’m trying to do to create that awareness, and saying, ‘Guys, look, sometimes the answer is staring right in front of you’.
History And Awareness Of Mold
(12:06) – When did we start to have this growing awareness surrounding mold and health?
In the United States, it really started becoming a general awareness in the 1980s that mold could impact health. The 1980s is really the first time we started seeing doctors, even the EPA and the CDC come out and say that.
- Hundreds of millions of dollars in lawsuits happen here in the States, against contractors, builders, insurance companies, home insurance companies that are covered for damages, like water loss. And whenever you have that type of litigation, typically, somebody eventually says we need to even the scales here, this isn’t gonna work.
- In 2001, the claims that mold impacts people’s health instead changed to mold impacts some people’s health, it went from impacts people’s health to impact some people’s health, because some people may be allergic to mold. That changes the whole dynamic. So now the lawsuits stop, and with that, all the research stops.
- In 2015, I really started to see things, people wake back up and start bringing back up mold again. And right around 2014-2015 was when they started testing for gliotoxin in the home.
- We were challenged with removing gliotoxin which seemed to be the most stubborn of the mycotoxins to remove. And that’s when we started experimenting with surfactants instead of a chemical like ammonia for instance. And we started seeing that wow, mycotoxins are really more like a chemical compound than they are like the typical mold particle. So we had to switch to more of a chemical residue removal process in order to effectively remove it. And this is all like groundbreaking technology prior to us really breaking into this space.
- You really didn’t see companies – like these national big national companies, or even these big global companies talking about mycotoxin removal from the home, it just didn’t exist.
- So we really broke into this space and kind of helped develop the technologies that people are using today to remove mycotoxins from people’s homes, so it’s very interesting, very unique. But I think as I said, we are still at the infancy stage of where we need to be.
Michael Rubino’s Childhood & Hurricane Sandy
(15:42) – Could you share more about your journey into understanding more about remediation and mold, and your field experience during Hurricane Sandy?
Since I was five years old, my father has been a contractor and being around construction my entire life, I would go to projects with him working on the summers, weekends, anytime he needed help, I was so gung-ho to jump in his truck and hit the road and go check out these projects. And I asked a lot of questions. By the time I was in high school, I really knew buildings inside and out, and I loved it.
Shortly after Hurricane Sandy had happened, I was going into people’s homes. And I’m tasked with meeting with insurance adjusters to talk about these situations.
Now, on top of mold remediation, there was also fire restoration, which was probably the main battery of business that my father’s company did. And so even in those situations, obviously, when you have a fire, they’re using water to put it out, you’re going to have water damage as a result. So I’m getting hit with this on both sides, we have water damage from Sandy, and you have water damage from fires.
These insurance adjusters’ mentality was just kind of like that you rip it out, you don’t need all that engineering controls. That you could paint over it, it was like mold isn’t a big deal – and it didn’t make sense to me. Because I saw it, there was a living, breathing organism growing, and isn’t something you just paint over, it’s just going to grow right through it. And I started seeing people getting sick.
And this is when it really started to drive me nuts. Because I would go into people’s houses. And this is from Hurricane Sandy to seven years thereafter. I’m walking into people’s houses who are sick, and they already have remediation done.
They’re pointing out all the areas that now needed to be remediated long after they were supposedly already completed, and they were getting sick because of it. So I started getting emotional over this because it wasn’t just one person.
And I started looking into why is one remediation company different from another, shouldn’t it just be a normal thing? If you get your house painted? Yes, one company may paint better than the other. But at the end of the day, you can expect that your house will be painted right?
With mold remediation, it’s not that way even though there are some guidelines, I don’t want to call them standards, because I want to call them really guidelines. There are some guidelines, the guidelines are not enough for one company to do the same thing as another company. A lot of it is human interpretation.
- At the end of the day, the insurance companies want to write the checks, they are typically the ones that make the decisions. So you have to literally fight with them tooth and nail to do the right thing by the client, which is exhausting.
- The main problem was not only the insurance companies dictating it but the fact that the other 50,000 restoration companies out there were following the direction because, at the end of the day, all these companies exist to make money.
Restoration Companies & Mold Professionals
(20:15) – Lack of consistent standards and licenses in mold restoration companies and mold professionals.
In the United States, this holds true for every state except Texas right now. But in most states like New York, for example, it’s a three day class. So in three days, three eight-hour days, 24 hours, you are now considered a mold professional.
The only thing that’s changed over the years is the fact that you need to be licensed at all. It was around 2017 that New York State just created the first mold license. So prior to that, you could remediate homes in New York without needing a license.
- So that was what I was getting into, it was the fact that there are no standards, so everybody’s going to do things a little bit different.
- I want to tell this story that’s in my book because it’s really powerful. There’s a client that we had done work for. They hired this local company, and she felt comfortable because the gentleman had 35 years of experience in mold remediation – which is a lot, right. And so you would think that if somebody has been doing it for 35 years, they know what they’re doing? Well, she found out sadly, that she was mistaken on that front.
How Genetic Disposition Can Affect One’s Immune Response To Mold
(28:45) – Can you talk more about the HLA-DR gene and how this can impact us?
The HLA-DR gene – if you’re a carrier of that gene, your body doesn’t methylate properly, and so detoxifying is basically non-existent. Essentially, most of us do detoxify through the liver, and you excrete any toxins out of your body with a carrier of the HLA-DR gene, that is not happening the way it does for everybody else.
It’s estimated that the carrier of the HLA-DR gene is somewhere around 25-33% of the population. So that’s a lot of people that are potential carriers of this gene that are not detoxing properly.
- It’s kind of like AIDS and HIV, right. You don’t actually die from AIDS or HIV, you die from the common cold, because of the way your immune system shuts down from AIDS or HIV. It’s very similar in that regard where when you’re not detoxing properly, your body gets overloaded, and the amount of inflammation that starts to occur within your organs is detrimental to your health.
- And that’s when you really start to see people extremely sick, sometimes bedridden, I’ve seen clients eating from a feeding tube, very, very scary stuff. And so you have to physically get tested to see if you are a carrier of that gene, to see if mold is an impact for you.
Building Practices On Mold Prevention
(32:12) – Are we heading in the right direction when it comes to building practices, and what are some of the issues that we see with current practices?
I speak for the United States on this, but we’ve definitely headed in the wrong direction. Building practices are getting worse and worse from an environmental standpoint.
From an energy code standpoint, yes, I mean, we have almost net-zero energy efficiency. However, there comes a risk with that.
- We are using this polyurethane spray foam, and what it does is it basically seals the entire building. There are pros like energy efficiency, however, temperature differentials pretty much don’t exist.
- The cons are two major cons: one, if it’s applied improperly, it doesn’t work, and it actually causes adverse reactions to it. The second thing, even if it is applied properly, if you have any weakness in that building envelope, and water does get in, it now no longer comes in naturally.
- Now what it does is traps moisture in between the wood substrate and the spray foam itself. So you’re gonna get wood rot, where it’s going to, damage the structure of the material much faster than it would because it’s not drying the way it normally would because it’s literally smothering the breathability.
- And then there’s leaking, you’re gonna have a lot more surface area to cover in terms of potential mold damage.
- We buy a lot of materials that are not made the same way that they used to be. For instance, we used to mill lumber from trees, it was actually rough and we used to build houses with that. Now we basically have these products that have a lot of glues, and you’re literally gluing together subgrade wood products, and making lumber materials out of it, and we’re building houses with not true traditional lumber anymore. And what’s happening is that lumber is a lot more porous, because it has a lot more layers in there. And what that’s doing is it’s allowing, again, water damage.
- When water does impact the space and it will, it’s going to be a problem, it’s going to be costly to get into the layers to remediate properly.
How Can We Tell If There’s Mold In A Property & What To Do About It?
(48:47) – What are some important things to look out for to see if we have a mold problem in our properties?
I will give you three unique things that I think you can look for. The first is that coffee-looking stain. I don’t know if you’ve seen it. When you have water damage, typically it turns like this coffee-colored stain. If you see that coffee-colored stain on your ceilings, your walls, it’s evident that there’s water and moisture intrusion.
- The second thing is when mold is present, you’ll get this musty odor. It’s produced by mVOCs – Microbiol VOCs. That’s what that damp, wet smell smells like. If you start to experience that smell, it’s a good indicator that there’s water intrusion, and potentially mold as well.
- The third, which I love because it’s a really cool visual trick. If you go over to your toilet, and if you have a toilet tank that’s exposed, if you actually pull the lid off of that tank and you flip it over, you’ll be able to see on the underside if there’s mold growing, or when you look physically in the tank, if there’s mold growing in there, that’s indicative that there’s mold somewhere in your place that’s producing at such a high volume, that the opportunity for it to transfer into that toilet tank is high. And so that’s a sign that you need to start looking at inspecting to see if it’s in your HVAC.
- The first step you need to do is even if you physically see mold, you want to still get a mold inspection done.
Removing Mold From Impacted Items
(54:56) – Should I be bringing clothes from my previous home into the new space and what can I do if I do so?
I think the right thing to do is, is to clean your clothes before you bring them into the new space so that you know for sure that they’re not going to potentially impact you.
- And even then, the best cleaner in the world is going to be 99.97% successful. So there’s still that 0.03% chance that you don’t, you still feel an adverse reaction even after you clean it with a cleaner that is successful at removing mold or mycotoxins.
- I would say two products that I see people have success with one is called borax. The other is called EC3 laundry additive.
Symptoms Of Mold
(1:08:04) – Mold symptoms can be quite ranging, what are some of the symptoms that you have seen?
I have a client who once she got exposed to mold, also got the Epstein-Barr virus. I guess earlier in her life she possibly could have been exposed to mold at that time, we don’t really know for sure. But after moving into a moldy home that she just bought, she started not feeling well again and went to the doctor. And this was after 20 years of not being exposed or having these symptoms, I should say. She then was diagnosed with reactivated Epstein-Barr Virus.
- I think there’s a lot more research that needs to be done with Epstein-Barr virus, mold exposure, etc.
- The potential link between mold and asthma, they’re saying that it’s possible that mold could create asthma, that it could be the lead cause of having asthma in the first place. What’s interesting is that as a child, I was in an apartment and I had an inhaler, and I was diagnosed with acute asthma. And as soon as we moved into our house from New York to New Jersey and got a house in New Jersey, all of a sudden, I no longer had to have an inhaler. I was told that my asthma no longer existed. I think that obviously a lot more research needs to be done.
- Brain fog is probably the number one symptom that I get complaints about as far as what they’re experiencing. And I’ve talked to these clients and you can see that it’s hard for them to string together words into a sentence. You’ll be asking them questions and they’ll be answering in midstream, and suddenly they’ve forgotten what they were saying, they have to pause. And I’d remind them as to where they’re at.
- I’ve seen both sides of it – I’ve seen them come to me initially and then I’ve seen them months later. So it’s really unique watching that transformation from brain fog and then start the healing.
- Then you have chronic fatigue, where there has been times where I couldn’t reach a client for two, three days.
You can find Michael at: