Melinda Ballard parks her cream-colored Jaguar next to her deserted dream house in Dripping Springs, Tex. — a house she fled more than two years ago, leaving dirty dishes in the sink and unopened mail on the counter. Popping open the Jag’s trunk, she pulls out two portable respirator masks. ”These won’t screen out all the mycotoxins,” she warns as she tosses one to me. ”That’s the dangerous stuff, so we’ll only stay a few minutes.”
I follow as she wades through the strawlike remains of what was once a manicured garden, past the abandoned pool, the empty hot tub and the exquisite leaded glass that frames the front door. A sign on that door warns that we should really be wearing full Tyvek biohazard ”moon suits” too, but this is a Texas summer, and we would probably die of heatstroke before the mycotoxins could get us. So we each fit a heavy black contraption over our noses and mouths, pull the elastic tight to form a seal and snap on our rubber gloves.
Warning: Reading this story might make you sick. Not as sick as Melinda Ballard and her family, who began coughing up blood and suffering memory loss while living in this 22-room, 11,000-square-foot mansion. But it could make your skin itch and your throat hurt, and you could start to cough. Then you will wonder whether there is toxic mold growing in your house, too, and whether you should pay someone a great deal of money to come find out. READ MORE