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-Jul-29-2001 Household Mold a Growing Concern ; Rash of Claims Has Insurers, Health Community Cautioning Against Overreactions

Fanned by lawsuits and extensive publicity, mold has become the first big scare of the millennium for homeowners already shell-shocked from the asbestos, radon, carbon monoxide and lead-based paint threats of the late 20th century. The fuzzy, greenish-black gook found in bathrooms, inside walls and just about any warm, damp place is no longer something to be cleaned off and forgotten. In a worst-case scenario, it could be stachybotrys, the toxic black mold that's grabbing the spotlight. And even if it's plain old garden-variety mold, it still could make you sick.

Experts agree that some people with severe allergies are at high risk. At the same time, they point out humans have lived with mold since the Stone Age and caution against hysteria. Experts list five types of molds - stachybotrys,.phpergillus, cladosporium, penicillium and alternacia - that are more likely to cause health problems.

Anxiety is kindled by stories like that of Janet Cawlfield of San Antonio. She had a constant, violent cough, couldn't breathe at times and was constantly fatigued - so fatigued that just walking to the front door to collect the day's mail was a chore. It took dozens of trips to various doctors, two trips to the emergency room and more than a year before the retired office manager discovered the cause: Cladosporium had invaded her North Side home. While not as bad as stachybotrys, cladosporium is nevertheless toxic, especially to Cawlfield, who, it turns out, is one of the few with a hypersensitivity to the mold.

"I thought (doctors) were crazy," Cawlfield said. "It just seemed so bizarre that mold could have that effect."

Horror stories abound across the nation. Recently, three National Park Service employees fell ill while working among ancient American Indian artifacts at a research center in Mesa Verde, Colo., where air-quality tests later indicated low levels of black mold. A woman who lived in the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in North Dakota told federal officials that black mold contributed to the death of her 15-month-old daughter three years ago. And, on Valentine's Day, a family in Foresthill, Calif., burned their house and belongings to the ground as a firefighting exercise because the mold that ravaged their lives and made their child sick would have cost $85,000 to remove and wasn't covered by insurance.

Many of those hit by the mold are looking to insurers to pay for the cleanup and medical bills. Facing a potential tsunami of mold-related claims, insurers are responding with requests for rate increases. And the numbers of lawyers, plaintiffs and entrepreneurs eyeing mold as an untapped gold mine are growing like fungi themselves.

Meanwhile, unlucky homeowners can only sit and wonder how mold has suddenly become so frightening. Rick Anderson, a mechanical engineer who conducts workshops for insurance adjusters, has worked with mold problems for 12 years. His involvement began with the phenomenon known as "sick building syndrome" on commercial properties.

"I believe we've always had mold issues," Anderson said. "But we just weren't as cognizant of them as perhaps we should have been."

Raba-Kistner Consultants, an engineering and environmental consulting firm, tests about six houses a week for mold contamination. One or two of those houses will require some form of professional cleaning and remediation, says Steve Jones, the company's vice president for corporate environmental services. Cleanup often means removal of baseboards, walls, insulation and other contaminated building materials, as well as chemical treatment to kill mold growth.

"We didn't do any (mold investigations) this time last year," Jones says. "It started slowly last fall. After February, everything went into high gear."

By many accounts, mold problems have become more prevalent partly due to increased use of cheaper building materials such as plaster and plywood, which are more prone to growing mold when wet. In many cases, afflicted homeowners must vacate their houses and abandon their possessions.

In all Sick Building Syndrome cases it is essential that measures be taken promptly to preserve evidence, investigate the incident in question, and to enable physicians or other expert witnesses to thoroughly evaluate any injuries. If you or a loved one is a victim of injury as a result of exposure to toxic mold, call now at or CLICK HERE TO SUBMIT A CASE FORM. The initial consultation is free of charge, and if we agree to accept your case, we will work on a contingent fee basis, which means we get paid for our services only if there is a monetary award or recovery of funds. Don't delay! You may have a valid claim and be entitled to compensation for your injuries, but a lawsuit must be filed before the statute of limitations expires.

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