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Bill Hayward learned a disturbing truth when he ventured into the crawlspace underneath his home.
For a year, he, his wife Adriana, and other members of their family experienced consistent migraines, mood swings, extreme fatigue, flu-like symptoms, and a host of other health problems — with no root-cause explanation.
They sought help from experts and professionals alike to no avail.
Using a last-ditch, do-it-yourself test, Bill discovered their home itself was full of mold and that it was responsible for their symptoms.
“It’s terrifying and heartbreaking,” Adriana said. “I felt really hopeless; the medical profession not really knowing what to do with it and dismissing it. It was just a very dark and sad time for our family.”
Mold and other environmental factors can lead to the development of Toxicant-Induced Loss of Tolerance (TILT), an illness that involves a host of severe side-effects when harmful exposures are present.
That discovery led to a life-course change for Bill and Adriana, who would go on to found Hayward Healthy Home — a nonprofit dedicated to researching, raising awareness, educating individuals, and impacting policy change concerning the environmental harms found in many houses throughout the U.S.
An Unexplainable Illness
In 2008, the Haywards were living what most would call a full life.
Bill was the CEO of Hayward Lumber, a prominent wood and building materials supplier. Adriana was a successful psychologist, specializing in connecting the dots between physical problems—such as immune system functions—and difficulties with behavioral health. They had recently given birth to a child.
They had even moved into their “dream house.”
That prosperity, however, ended quickly in the months following their address change.
Bill and Adriana began feeling an all-encompassing sense of malaise — falling asleep during the day, sinus infections, having a hard time collecting their thoughts, forgetting words in the middle of a sentence. It was an overall sensation of “brain fog.”
More alarming, the couple said their 6-month-old daughter experienced problems as well. She dropped from the 90th percentile in infant growth to the 6th percentile in that year alone.
While the physical symptoms were severe, the psychological impacts on a parent that is unable to help their child took a toll on the family, according to Adriana.
Hoping to find some answers, the Haywards began to seek help from doctors on their problems — from pediatricians for their daughter to infertility doctors about their inability to conceive another child.
A series of health exams, specialist visits to the house, and much personal research did not yield many initial answers for Bill and Adriana.
The main problem was that the family was presenting a variety of symptoms. Doctors could not provide one root-cause behind the recent spike in health complications. They said one problem was not likely to show such varying effects in each member of the family, according to Adriana.
However, TILT is different from other illnesses, according to Dr. Claudia Miller, an environmental health professor and leader of the Marilyn Brachman Hoffman TILT program at UT Health San Antonio.
It impacts people in different ways with different symptoms in various individuals, such as:
- Difficulties with attention, memory, and mood
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Allergy-like symptoms
- Migraines and headaches
- Fatigue and muscle pain
“These are challenges for any doctor — mold health effects are not something most doctors learn about in their medical training,” Miller said in a 2017 press release. “Ill effects of these chemicals and mold can occur simultaneously or subsequent to exposure.”
“TILT can arise within days or weeks of a pesticide or other petrochemical exposure. Molds themselves emit volatile organic chemicals (mold VOCs) and can be toxic and allergenic.”
Hoffman TILT’s online assessment tool—the Quick Environmental Exposure and Sensitivity Inventory (QEESI)—provides users with personal insights into this problem.
Moving Out and Moving On
When Bill discovered mold on his journey under the house, the culprit for their TILTed condition finally became clear.
They also identified a clear resolution: move out of the house.
This aligns with Miller’s research, as recurring exposures can initiate and later trigger the symptoms listed above.
“Chemicals entering the brain via the nose can ‘sensitize’ these structures so that subsequent exposure to very tiny amounts of the same, or even chemically-unrelated substances, trigger symptoms,” Hoffman TILT’s website states. “For example, fragrances, pesticides, solvents, alcohol, caffeine, and foods may trigger symptoms involving the respiratory, nervous, gastrointestinal, or other systems.”
So, the Haywards decided to make a hard choice: Move from the place they initially thought could be their forever home.
Even after leaving that place, lasting effects remained.
Those impacts spurred the Haywards to continue discovering more information about how their home could have caused such significant effects. It led to the discovery of academic groups who were working in this very field of research, those like the Hoffman TILT program.
They felt that this information was too important to keep to themselves.
So, instead of merely moving out and moving on, Bill and Adriana decided to act.
“We are in the [building materials] business, we understand houses, we understand builders, we’ve built before, we’re smart people, and, personally, we had the resources to leave our house and tear it down,” Bill said. “Moving out of one’s house is an overwhelming thought when you’re healthy, let alone when you’re not.
“To just wrap our heads around it, realize we needed to make the move, and then actually find good resources that knew what was going on — the medical community couldn’t understand it, the building community couldn’t understand it, and those who worked in the mold space only kind of understood it. It was just tremendous disinformation.”
The lack of available information and assistance led the Haywards to use the prosperities they had achieved throughout their lifetime to do something remarkable — fund research and advocacy that aims to help people who experience similar circumstances.
“So, here’s a big problem it was affecting America’s health, affecting families just like us, and we needed to solve it for ourselves,” Bill said. “After we solved it for ourselves, we said, ‘Well, we’ve got to make these solutions readily available to everybody.”
“Everybody deserves to live in a healthy home and could we create a tool that could solve this problem at-scale, solve it on a national basis?'”
Equity in Housing Safety
The Haywards’ work could be described as nothing short of altruistic.
Given the couple’s considerable resources, Bill and Adriana knew if they struggled to solve these problems that it is much harder for those who do not.
“We were just inundated and needed help,” Adriana said. “It is impossible to go to everybody for answers. The idea was to create something self-empowering—that somebody could take to their landlord or to somebody who can help them—something that could really help everybody — especially those who are in the toughest situations, financially.
“We’re trying to find a way to help — something that could be beneficial to everyone.”
While this problem doesn’t discriminate based on race, gender, or other characteristics, certain groups may face a higher risk than others. Studies show that Latinos, for example, experience higher rates of exposure to environmental, chemical factors, pollutants, and more significant adverse outcomes from those experiences.
Indoor air quality, especially, plays a factor in these situations. Volatile Organic Compounds and other toxins can influence the quality of someone’s living space — for the worse.
The Haywards’ main focus became creating tools consumers could use to diagnose the health of their homes.
That led to the development of the Hayward Healthy Home initiative and the Hayward Score. These tools—built by marrying existing scientific research on these health problems, including the work of Dr. Miller and her colleagues at the Hoffman TILT program—provide users with assessments, tools, information, and other resources about this problem.
The Hayward Score is an online assessment that asks users specific questions about the “characteristics of their home and how they live in their home.” Then the site will provide an immediate personalized report that breaks down the potential harm users’ homes could pose.
Not only does the Haywards’ work come from a place of good-will toward all, but it also comes from a logical perspective, according to Bill.
About half of U.S. homes are making its residents sick in some way, finds research from both the Haywards’ organizations and reports from national agencies, such as the EPA, according to Bill.
The Skyrocketing Use of the Hayward Score
Bill and Adriana said since starting their initiatives, positive growth has been a continuous trend — both in general awareness as well as business and civic leaders’ action in this problem.
More than 60,000 people have taken the Hayward Score.
Hayward Healthy Home is working to help military families advocate for safer housing. People across the country are beginning to speak out against poor environmental design in homes.
The overarching and ongoing goal for the Haywards and their initiatives?
Using the power of individual knowledge and action to influence the way manufacturers, producers, and builders do their work.
“The Hayward Score was really a breakthrough idea because it harnesses the power of consumer demand to change markets,” Bill said. “Consumers want to live in a healthy home; they just don’t know how.
“So, we created a number like the JD Power Safety Score for cars. That worked because mothers stood up and said, ‘Wait a minute, I’m not driving the kids around in a car with a score of a five. I want the nine. I care about my family.’ When we put a number on the houses, people can say, ‘I want a healthier house and here is how I can go get it.'”
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This success story was produced by Salud America! with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The stories are intended for educational and informative purposes. References to specific policymakers, individuals, schools, policies, or companies have been included solely to advance these purposes and do not constitute an endorsement, sponsorship, or recommendation. Stories are based on and told by real community members and are the opinions and views of the individuals whose stories are told. Organization and activities described were not supported by Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and do not necessarily represent the views of Salud America! or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.