America Waking Up To A Moldy Reality

48, hours, mold, killers, stocky

He doesn't use a magnifying glass, nor does he sport a double-billed tweed cap, but as CBS News Correspondent Jim Axelrod reports, for mystified homeowners in Boston, Jeff May is Sherlock Holmes.

May is a home inspector who's cracked hundreds of cases over the years of people whose houses were literally making them sick and tired.

He has a nose for this kind of work.

"I see terrible illnesses as a result of people doing what they have to, which is breathing," May says.

May samples everything: from the basement, to the furnace and the rugs.

What he can't identify on location, he takes home for a closer look.

"There is a dust mite there that is my biggest enemy," he says, while inspecting some samples. "There is the aspergillus. I knew I would find you guys."

He may know more about potential problems lurking in people's biggest investment than anyone else you'll ever hear from, and to May it all boils down to three simple words:

"Water, water, water," he says. "Keep it out of your house anyway you can unless it is in a pipe."

You don't have to tell that to Joni Spiers and her husband Richard. Their home owning dreams have given way to a moldy reality.

"I am not going to dare go back into the house without being fully protected," she says. "We are too sick to be exposing ourselves again."

The mold spores stachibotrys and aspergillus pencillium are airborne throughout the house.

They bought their house seven years ago.

"We were told that this house had a brand new roof with a warranty," she says.

It turned out that it had neither.

"The entire structure was rotted and it had mold."

Their insurance had a 'mold' exclusion provision, so the Spiers were on the hook for $17,000 in roof repairs. But that didn't stop the mold growth, nor their health problems.

"I had unbelievable headaches, severe muscle joint pain (and) sinus infections that were out of control," she says.

Water spawned a ton of toxic mold.

"I was home breathing it in and thinking i was going to get better and it continued to get worse," she says.

In a way, Spiers is one of the lucky ones. At least she knows what's causing her ailments. Thousands of homeowners across the country are sick and don't have a clue.

Although, since the only way to rid the house of mold was to knock it down, it's hard to call her lucky.

"As hard as it is, I knew it had to be done," she says.

On one coast tonight is a dream demolished. On the other, a detective sniffing out similar problems. In between, a whole country starting to wake up to the idea that the smallest of organisms could turn out to be the biggest of threats to your largest investment.