Debunking some toxic mold myths

In 2000, a new “toxic mold” panic swept the country, and after 16 years of untold lawsuits and billions of dollars spent, major myths still plague and unnecessarily panic association boards, managers and homeowners. The myths all too often cause exaggerated repairs, unduly frightened residents, and conflict. In this and the next column, I will address thirteen pervasive toxic mold myths.

1. Mold is new. Mold, one of the earliest and simplest life forms, has existed for thousands of years. Almost 100 years ago, mold was the basis of the discovery of penicillin. Mold is ever-present, as is dust or pollen.

2. The scientific and medical communities confirm mold’s many dangers. In 2004, the National Institute of Medicine published its comprehensive study on indoor mold exposure, called “Damp Indoor Spaces and Health.” A central finding was: “Scientific evidence links mold … in homes and buildings to asthma symptoms in some people with the chronic disorder, as well as to coughing, wheezing, and upper respiratory tract symptoms in otherwise healthy people… However, the available evidence does not support an association between … mold and the wide range of other health complaints that have been ascribed.”

 That sounds like mold is as dangerous as dust or pollen to people with severe asthma. The announcement containing this finding is easily located by a web search, but it did not receive much press play – stories of frightened people living in tents are more interesting.

3. One must determine the kind of mold present. Mold consultants and plaintiff attorneys often describe some molds as worse than others. The most famous mold is stachybotrys chartarum, a mold producing infinitesimal quantities of a substance similar to botulism poison. However, the amount is so small they call it a “mycotoxin.” It sounds frightening, but the scientific community long ago debunked the myth that this or any mold was somehow poisonous to breathe. For example, read the National Institute of Health Fact Sheet on Mold, found at www.niehs.nih.gov.

4. California is protected by the Toxic Mold Protection Act of 2001. The act instructed the Department of Public Health to develop permissible exposure limits of the various mold strains. However, in 2005, and again in 2008, the DPH reported the task could not be completed with the scientific information available. Consequently, there is presently no official standard as to how many mold spores of any given variety are “unhealthy.”

5. Always start with a mold test. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends against mold testing. There is no standard as to how many mold spores are “unhealthy,” and indoor air sampling tests are extremely vulnerable to events in the home, which can change the results. A recent shower, window opening or carpet cleaning are some of the many factors that can completely change test outcomes.

Mold tests, to put it bluntly, primarily frighten the occupants and create a “need” for the expense of a mold consultant, and a second test after the area is cleaned. Since the health authorities have not confirmed any particular strain is more dangerous, and since there is no official standard as to how many airborne spores are unhealthy, there is rarely a good reason to spend the money on such a test.

 

Blackburn sues over residence hall mold flare-up

CARLINVILLE – Following years of mold troubles in one of its residence halls, Blackburn College administrators have decided to sue the company that installed its heating and air conditioning system, alleging that poor design triggered a dorm-wide mold outbreak.

The lawsuit, which was filed in Macoupin County court, is seeking at least $600,000 in damages from Henson Robinson Co., the Springfield-based HVAC company that performed the design and installation of the system in Jewell Hall, the largest of the college’s six dormitories. Administrators estimated mold cleanup had cost the school at least $200,000 and that tearing out the system and replacing it will cost $400,000.

In the lawsuit, which presents only one side of a case, administrators said the HVAC system, which was installed in 2012 and 2013 at a cost of $322,986, was a problem from the beginning.

“From the onset, the system installed by Henson Robinson experienced problems with its functionality,” the lawsuit said. “For example, Henson Robinson’s design did not fit the space available for piping, there were various issues with condensate lines and related design issues. Blackburn worked to ensure Henson Robinson addressed these issues and in the summer of 2013, Jewell Hall was turned over to Blackburn for student use.”

More failures followed, the lawsuit contends. According to the suit, “once turned over to Blackburn, the condensate pumps immediately failed and additional sweating and leaks occurred with the system along with thermostat problems in virtually all of the dormitory rooms.”

Then, in October 2014, students living in Jewell Hall began complaining of mold growth in their rooms. The college moved the students to different rooms while the mold was cleared. While the college battled mold for nearly two years, the problem eventually became so significant that administrators arranged for a major inspection in December 2016. Students were paid to put their belongings into storage for the duration of the inspection. According to the suit, the inspection turned up mold in nearly every room in Jewel Hall. College administrators hired an outside firm to determine what was causing the problems.

“After investigation and sampling, Blackburn’s consultants concluded that the mold growth in Jewell Hall was attributable to extreme levels of humidity … trapped in Jewell Hall dormitory by the system designed and installed by defendant,” the suit said. “Likewise, Blackburn’s consultants concluded that the [HVAC system] had been ‘over-designed’ in such a manner as to create negative pressure in the Jewell Hall dorms resulting in significantly increased humidity and mold growth.”

Henson Robinson, according to the court filing, has denied any responsibility. Lawyers for the college said the company recommended students leave their windows open to address the problem and called the refusal to take responsibility for the mold problem “shocking.”

According to the filings, the mold problem is ongoing, and students are still displaced as a result.

Article Source: https://www.myjournalcourier.com/news/article/Blackburn-sues-over-residence-hall-mold-flare-up-12740466.php