Mould. It’s not just an eye-sore, it can also cause real health problems, which is why alarm bells went off when mould turned up on the underside of dozens of babies’ cots here in Aotearoa.
Emily Hawker from Oamaru was one of those parents. She discovered mould on her son Arlo’s cot, made by New Zealand furniture company, Mocka.
"I felt sick to my stomach and sort of just was in shock," she said.
“I couldn't believe what I was seeing."
Back in April, Hawker had been alerted to the mouldy cot issue with Mocka cots in Australia.
Their consumer watchdog, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), put the call out to Mocka customers to check their cots immediately.
If mould is found, the ACCC’s advice was to stop using the cot and contact Mocka Australia as well as the commission.
At that time, Mocka said the issue appeared to be isolated to cots in Australia.
But it wasn’t. Hawker got busy spreading the word about her experience on Facebook, and discovered that the mould problem had also spread.
Around 44 people had responded to Hawker's posting, all with Mocka cots that have turned mouldy.
Natalya Miller, in Oamaru, thanked Hawker for posting her story otherwise she would never have checked her son Tawhirimatea’s cot.
"I saw little dots and stuff and I wasn't quite sure and I took photos and then I checked back in the morning but it was definitely mould," she said.
But cots don’t come cheap. Tawhirimatea sleeps in his mum's bed, because they haven’t been able to get a new cot yet.
“It's really hard especially because I'm a young parent and I have two kids," she said.
“I don't have the money where I can just go and buy a new cot."
Dion Williams in Cambridge thinks Mocka New Zealand could have done more to warn people.
"I was pretty upset because they'd sort of offered a bit of reassurance through their social media platforms overseas that the issue was limited to really wet areas in Australia," he said.
Dion and his wife also believed the cot was making their daughter Adeline sick. Adeline was prescribed antibiotics for a possible chest infection.
“You think about a little baby's face against the mattress, they're only you know four or five inches from the actual source of the mould," he said.
"To have her lying in bed upwards of, well she's 14 months old, for say 14 hours a day, breathing that in, you can't say that's not related."
All the families Fair Go has spoken to believe there’s a link between the mould and their child’s prolonged illness, but this link is hard to prove.
The World Health Organization is concerned that mould causes respiratory illness, and Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand’s Deborah Woodley says the "general advice is that mould in homes is detrimental to the health of occupants".
Hawker asked Arlo’s doctor whether his sickness was due to mould exposure.
"He sort of just said, it could definitely be a contributor, but we can't prove that without doing intrusive tests."
Mocka told Fair Go that since it received enquiries, it instantly prioritised resolving them.
"All Mocka products, including cots, adhere to the current mandatory and voluntary safety requirements in Australia and New Zealand," Mocka said.
Most of Mocka’s cot bases are made from a material called MDF, or medium density fibreboard.
It’s commonly used in furniture and in kitchen cabinets because of its versatility and durability.
Mocka reports that all its MDF, including cot bases, comes with the appropriate certification to comply with strict Australian and New Zealand regulations for household use.
And Mocka says all its cots were independently tested and the results found the cot materials were not responsible for mould growth, it was caused by environmental factors, like changes in ventilation and air moisture.
Furniture repairer Mark Biggelaar thinks it’s a little more complicated than that, and is about the environment as well as the product.
"I've seen a lot of MDF that has been in the damp and everything and hasn't done anything like that."
Biggelaar says MDF is used in a range of things because "it's not going to split or crack or warp or that sort of thing where as solid timbers can".
But if its not treated or sealed with paint, oil or any other sealant, moisture can get through.
Particularly on the edges," says Biggelaar.
“If you're using it in a let's say a kitchen and you don't seal the door or paint it, as soon as the water drips on it, goes down the door, it'll just suck into the bottom, you know like Weet-Bix."
Mark thinks proper testing of that batch of particular MDF board is the key.
We put that suggestion to Mocka that maybe it’s a batch issue, but they didn’t respond.
The three families all disagree that environmental factors had anything to do with mould on the cots.
Dion says daughter Adeline’s room was double glazed about 3 years ago.
“The only issue with any mould was the Mocka cot."
Emily says son Arlo’s room had a dehumidifier running at times.
“His room is well ventilated."
Fair Go also asked Mocka about its MDF material, how it was tested and what it plans on doing about the cots.
Mocka says that if it was found that the cot materials and design were responsible for supporting any mould growth, it would recall the products.
An ACCC spokesperson has told Fair Go that since last Friday ACCC have received 240 consumer complaints related to mouldy Mocka cots.
But the ACCC has worked with Mocka on a suitable solution to this problem.
The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, has confirmed that a recall on the product isn’t needed.
The Hawker and Williams families have full refunds from Mocka, and have since bought cots from other brands.
Since the weekend, Mocka confirmed with Miller that she will get a refund.
Affected customers are urged to get in touch with Mocka at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0508 466 252.