Mold In News
From the City Paper, Nashville Tennessee
By Don McGonagil, The Home Inspection Company
Article Date: May 27, 2005
Why do I Have Mold in my Crawl Space?
Two common misconceptions about mold is that standing water is the main cause of mold in the crawl space, and that mold can be prevented by keeping a crawl space well ventilated.
Let's see why these statements are not true.
According to Certified Industrial Hygienist Barry Westbrook, president of DocAir (www.docair.com), a building systems evaluation and indoor air quality consulting firm, "While different types of mold need varying amounts of moisture, let's stick to the basics.
"Mold cannot grow without moisture. For mold to grow on floor joists and sub floors, water vapor must condense out of the air onto the surface of the wood. Where does this water come from? The prevailing wisdom is that this moisture comes from the ground, but reflecting on some basic science principles will show why this is not the case."
Westbrook said, "It takes a lot of energy in the form of heat to change water from a liquid to a gas. If you were a colony of mold looking down from the sub floor of your home, you would see an occasional molecule of water evaporating from the ground and becoming mixed with the air in the crawl space. Meanwhile, you would also see millions and millions of water molecules coming into the crawl space through the foundation vents already mixed in the outside air.
"The actual amount of moisture in the outside air varies directly with the temperature, but in the heat of summer, air can hold a tremendous amount of moisture."
The Role of Humidity
Research by the non-profit Advanced Energy Corporation indicates that the relative humidity in a vented crawl space is almost totally a function of the outside relative humidity. When the outside humidity is high, the humidity in the crawl space will also be high. In absolute terms, the amount of moisture entering the crawl space from the outside is many times the amount of moisture evaporating from the ground surface within the crawl space.
Dew Point and Condensation
For water vapor in the air to condense onto a surface, the temperature of that surface must be below the dew point. At that point, the air is 100 percent saturated and can no longer hold all the moisture. The air begins to drop some of the water onto the surface as condensation. The colder the surface, the more condensation will form.
That is why there is usually more mold underneath bathrooms and kitchens. These floors are not insulated as well as carpeted floors and become very cool in the summertime. Moisture forms on the cool surfaces in the crawl space and mold proliferates. We also see cupping and buckling of wood floors for the same reason.
The Air That You Breathe
So is mold in the crawl space a problem? The answer depends on your expectations. The Advanced Energy findings conclude that much of the air we breathe in our "naturally ventilated" homes comes from our crawl spaces through penetrations in the floor.
The flow of air from the crawl space is driven by the difference in building pressure between the first floor and the outside. Research shows that depending on the structure, well over 60 percent of the air we breathe inside the living space of our homes comes from the crawl space.
From The News-Herald (Southeast Michigan)
By Emily Burton
Article Date: June 5, 2005
Woman Wins $925K Settlement Against Landlord
A Downriver woman recently won what is possibly the state's largest personal injury award for mold-related illnesses.
Esmeralda Mahaffy, 55, was awarded $925,000 in damages after a jury found that Maple Creek Apartments in Woodhaven was negligent in cleaning her apartment after a flood in 2001.
The jury found that Mahaffy's chronic health problems were caused by constant exposure to unhealthy levels of mold.
The Wayne County Circuit Court jury found that the mold was a direct result of the apartment being improperly cleaned after the flood.
Mahaffy's attorney, Jennifer Grieco, said Mahaffy developed "permanent severe asthma from exposure to high levels of 'toxic mold' after her apartment was negligently repaired following a flood in her apartment in 2001."
Grieco also said that defense attorney Clayton Farrell is filing an appeal against the decision, and preliminary appeals had been filed as of Wednesday.
Farrell did not return phone calls seeking comment on the verdict as of press time Friday.
The asthma Mahaffy developed as a result of being exposed to the mold has caused her to be hospitalized because she stopped breathing at least three times, Grieco said.
According to the lawsuit, the toilet in the apartment directly above Mahaffy's apartment failed in 2001, causing "water and sewage to travel down into the plaintiff's unit."
Mahaffy, who has allergies, noticed "black, fuzzy mold" growing in her bathroom after the flood, the suit says.
"Upon her return to her apartment (Mahaffy's) adverse medical conditions did not improve, but, in fact, became substantially worse," the suit says.
Mahaffy hired environmental scientists to test her apartment. According to the suit, they found various species of molds that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said could live in carpeting and drywall.
The EPA further said that long-term exposure to these molds could be unhealthy.
Upon moving out of the apartment in March, Mahaffy was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, which limits airflow and eventually can cause lung destruction, and hypersensitivity pneumonitis, a lung disease associated with exposure to organic dusts, fungus and molds.
In June 2003, Mahaffy filed the civil suit, which sought more than $25,000 in damages against the complex owners.
In a civil suit, a plaintiff may make a request for either a judge or a jury to hear the case.
Mahaffy requested a jury, which found in her favor in April.
"I think the jury took (Mahaffy's) injuries very seriously and were very critical of the apartment complex's cleanup of the situation and their treatment of Ms. Mahaffy," Grieco said.
In the seven-day trial, Grieco said the jury deliberated for several days before reaching its verdict.
"This is the largest single personal injury Michigan verdict since mold claims began being pursued in Michigan in 1999, a significant legal development, because many defendants and their lawyers do not take injuries from mold seriously," Grieco said in a press release.
"The jury, however, took the injury seriously, despite the defendant's arguments that mold is the same as mildew and found 'everywhere,' and appreciated the effect the severe asthma condition Ms. Mahaffy developed would have on her life."
It could take up to two years for a decision on an appeal of the verdict.
By Michael A. Pinto, Ph.D., CSP & Cherie Fennema
Article Date: May 20, 2003
Stachybotrys and Pulmonary Hemorrhages: Another Connection
A medical doctor's ordeal leads investigators on a hunt for mold contamination.
The possible linkage between exposure to airborne concentrations of Stachybotrys mold spores and bleeding of the lungs (i.e. pulmonary hemosiderosis) is controversial. In the United States, this association between contaminant and symptoms was first postulated by doctors Dorr Dearborn and Ruth Etziel in relation to a number of infant deaths and near deaths in 1994. Since this study of health problems involved both a clinical pediatrician (Dearborn) and an investigator from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Etziel), the CDC accepted their findings of Stachybotrys as the probable cause of the infant symptoms. However, a later panel set up by the CDC to review the work of Dearborn and Etziel concluded the association of the mold to the babies' injuries could not be proven. Although the review did not conclude that Stachybotrys was ruled out as a cause and Dearborn/Etziel published a rebuttal to the review, the official position of most professionals in the mold control industry is that Stachybotrys has not been proven to cause bleeding from the lungs.
Despite these official pronouncements, doctors, consultants and contractors continue to receive reports from occupants of mold-contaminated buildings of significant symptoms, including coughing up blood from the lungs. This study presents information from one such case. Its credibility is enhanced by the fact that the impacted individual is herself a physician who compiled detailed charting of symptoms and diagnostic/treatment experiences. It is further strengthened by the history of the situation, where the doctor occupied a water-damaged environment and experienced progressively worse symptoms for several years prior to her exploring a possible connection between mold and her condition.
This paper is a summary of both the occupant's situation as well as the investigative and remediation efforts that took place. Observations of similarities with other cases investigated by Wonder Makers Environmental are also included. It concludes with a recommendation that all professionals involved with mold contamination situations look more conscientiously at anecdotal data as well as scientific when evaluating the possibility of Stachybotrys causing symptoms such as pulmonary hemosiderosis.
The Case Study
Dr. X is a female physician, obstetrician/gynecologist, in an upper Midwest state. At the time of the investigation, in late 2000, she was 44 years old. Dr. X had a private practice in rented office space where she employed a receptionist and a nurse/assistant. Her journey, which began as far back as 1995, is one that is fairly typical of what we hear from clients in our investigation processes. Often by the time they get to us in terms of mold or indoor air quality investigations, they report suffering a whole series of health effects.
Initially, Dr. X just felt that she was very susceptible to the winter colds that were going around. She had fatigue, muscle aches and flu-like symptoms. But by 1996, the respiratory distress was increasing – coughing, burning airways and a heavy feeling in her chest. We have seen this supported in some of the medical data as being symptomatic of Stachybotrys exposure. By 1997, Dr. X began documenting her symptoms of violent coughing in order to get help.
She had graduated from the University of Michigan. This provided her with access to some of the best health care in the nation. She went back to her medical school and talked to many of her professors. When she started developing bleeding of the lungs, she consulted with one of her professors at Michigan who is the doctor who wrote the standard section on pulmonary hemosiderosis in the medical textbooks. None of the doctors she consulted could come up with a cause for her bleeding lungs. It was indeed bleeding from her lungs, not the upper respiratory system, such as dry nose (this was questioned later on).
By 1999, the episodes of bleeding from the lungs were recurring more frequently. Dr. X was "cycling" in terms of severe symptoms. She would get better for a short period of time. Then as soon as she got better and went back to work, the symptoms would begin to increase. By the year 2000, the symptoms had taken a toll on her and she was hospitalized many times. At one point the doctors did not think she was going to survive. Dr. X had called her lawyers to her bedside, as well as her two young children and husband. A priest was called in to administer last rites. Fortunately, she survived. She recovered at home for several months, then went back to work. The symptoms started to worsen again.
At about the time Dr. X was trying to get back to normal following the near death hospital episode, her father-in-law saw a news program that provided Web sites about fungus and lung disease. Her symptoms seemed to him to be very similar to those on the news program. She started searching to see if fungal contamination could be a cause. This is when our organization got involved to investigate her office.
Based on her symptoms and subsequent confirmation of Stachybotrys mold contamination in both the office air and dust, Dr. X talked to a number of doctors at the CDC. The CDC told her that "the bleeding could not be caused by mold." Because of her desperation, she did not stop there. At our suggestion, she contacted Dr. Dorr Dearborn at University Hospitals of Cleveland. Dearborn confirmed that fungus contamination could be a factor.
Dr. X got more aggressive in trying to help herself. She became one of only three adult patients that Dearborn looked at in the last few years for continuing episodes of pulmonary hemosiderosis. Dearborn suggested that Dr. X have a bronchial lavage: a procedure where a tube is inserted in each lobe of the lungs and flushed with water and the lobes are suctioned out at the same time. In the water that was flushed out, Dearborn cultured a fair amount of Stachybotrys, which was identified visually and by cultured analysis of water from her lungs.
Despite the pain of the bronchial lavage, Dr. X reported feeling significantly better within hours of the completion of the procedure. The heaviness in her chest was gone and some of the respiratory symptoms were significantly better than before. Immediately after that, she stopped taking steroids and antibiotics. She was convinced that she had been suffering from some ill health effects from the Stachybotrys spores.
There was water intrusion in Dr. X's building dating back to the early 1990s. Based on historical data that we gathered later, the gutters and downspouts on the back side of the building were ineffective at routing water away from the foundation, resulting in extensive mold growth on the interior drywall. Dr. X had requested that her landlord clean and repair the affected treatment room for a number of years. Later on, we found out that there was a secondary moisture source as well.
By the spring of 2000, after Dr. X had complained repeatedly and started to get some information that her symptoms might be related to mold exposure, the landlord hurriedly reacted. A contractor was brought in who ripped out a number of pieces of mold-contaminated drywall without any engineering controls. This, in our opinion, made the situation much worse by contaminating the rest of her office. Fortunately, when the landlord conducted the uncontrolled tear-out of the water-impacted materials, Dr. X held back several samples of some of the drywall material that had fungus contamination. The samples were sent to Dr. Chin Yang's lab at P&K Microbiology, Cherry Hill, N.J. (see attached results). The counts were into the millions of Stachybotrys spores per gram of the materials. Obviously there was contamination on the drywall pieces.
As noted earlier, it was about that time that Wonder Makers became involved in the investigation. We conducted some sampling and confirmed Stachybotrys spore contamination of the air and dust in her office. We then proceeded with developing the work plan, and oversight of the cleaning. Based on the initial airborne and dust sampling, we recommended that she not enter her building (which was her primary office) until the problem was resolved. We put an additional burden on her by telling her that we did not think she should take any records or materials from her building unless they were cleaned. We identified a qualified contractor who did the cleaning. We were called back in early 2001 and found the secondary water source.
Dr. X's Office Environment
Dr. X's office was in a modest Midwestern office building. It is approximately 2,000 square feet with 15 small areas. There was known long-term water intrusion in the back treatment room because of poor gutters and downspouts. As stated earlier, the landlord had removed about 35 square feet of black moldy drywall. Dr. X would retreat to her office when she was feeling poorly. As it turned out, there was moisture damage in her office wall as well, due to an automatic sprinkler head that had most likely been knocked ajar by a lawnmower.
Because the wall in the treatment room had been torn out incorrectly, we felt that it was important to remediate the area again. So the mold remediation contractor pulled out the new drywall and cleaned all the interstitial space. This was the simplest part of the project. Dr. X had thousands of open medical files and dust sampling indicated a significant amount of mold spore deposition on the files and office furnishings. As a result, we felt it was better to have the contractor clean all the files and furnishings rather than try to identify which individual items needed cleaning.
Using the New York City and EPA standard guidelines, as well as the information in the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) manual, we set up standard procedures as follows:
1. Seal off the HVAC system
2. Install barriers at the entry to each room or area
3. Begin work from one end and move progressively toward the decontamination unit at the exterior door
4. Clean each room in a specific pattern:
- Dispose of all unnecessary items as decided by Dr. X
- Clean all items in drawers or files using a "HEPA Sandwich" process: HEPA vacuum; wet wipe with a disinfectant; HEPA vacuum again
- HEPA vacuum all ceiling tiles
- Wet wipe all walls and fixtures moving from back to front, including furniture
- Thoroughly clean floor or carpet, cleaning from back to front
5. Thoroughly "air wash" all medical records
- Set up large and small negative air machine so that the filtered exhaust from the small machine is directed into the face of the large machine
- Individually HEPA vacuum each file on the exposed surfaces and edges
- Hold the file in the exhaust air stream just in front of the large negative air machine and slowly flip as if thumbing through a book
- Store the records in small crates until released by testing. Any random sample that shows spore residue as part of the invisible dust left on the file means that the whole crate of files has to be re-cleaned.
6. Re-isolate each room after cleaning
7. Utilize negative pressure throughout the cleaning process both as an overall engineering control and for local exhaust at the cleaning location
8. Use air scrubbing throughout the process to lower airborne spore concentrations
9. Have the air ducts professionally cleaned
10. Collect cultured and non-cultured samples for post-remediation testing
The testing showed that this was a very effective procedure for removing the airborne deposition. Anything that had visual growth on it was treated differently: controlled removal and disposal. We disposed of whatever we could to save cleaning time. Primarily we used non-cultured Air-O-Cell cassettes, although we did collect cultured samples for confirmation purposes. We set up criteria for post-remediation evaluation based on non-cultured samples so we could get a quicker turnaround and feedback to the contractors.
One of the primary keys was that we were going to have no Stachybotrys spores allowed either in the air or in any of the wipe samples. Initially, three of 15 areas didn't meet the work plan criteria and had to be re-cleaned; negative air machines were run. We then re-sampled, and the areas passed. We now felt that we were ready to have Dr. X check the facility.
Re-occupancy of Dr. X's Office
We brought Dr. X back in with some concern since prior to the remediation she had exhibited symptoms that indicated she was sensitized to the building. She walked in and said that everything was great except for her office. When she walked into her office, she said, "Your group hasn't cleaned this or something is wrong in here." Based on the cleaning procedure, we didn't feel that we had missed anything significant. So we started talking to people about other water intrusion incidents. Even though they didn't remember previously, when we started pressing them, they recalled that the sprinkler bounced up against one outside wall. That led us to start investigating there, even though it was dry (we had done moisture measurements earlier). At that point, we started doing some invasive sampling and found that there was an additional source of Stachybotrys on the drywall. Then we had to seal that area up again and follow the same work plan as before. We kept working until we got it cleaned and met the criteria we had established earlier.
Once we got Dr. X back into her office, she was able to talk to Dearborn and then followed up with a letter to him. Here is an excerpt from that letter:
I've had no further pulmonary hemorrhages, and am feeling the best I've felt in about three years. The daily headaches and sinusitis/scratchy throat feeling have been gone for a while. My head feels clear! I'd been feeling so congested and headachy for so long, I'd just put up with it and the difference now is striking.
This dramatic sort of recovery is not unusual from our experience; people just learn to put up with a certain level of discomfort and feel it's normal until they get it corrected and realize that it was not normal. Perhaps most important, Dr. X is not the only adult whom we found in this situation. But Dr. X is very credible because she is in the medical community, she took good notes and she went to great lengths to prove or disprove the source of her pulmonary hemosiderosis.
Anecdotal Data as Evidence
Is she just a single individual, an anomaly? Our belief is, she is not. We have to be careful as professionals to give appropriate weight to anecdotal data in these situations, as well as scientific data, and share this information so that proper statistical analysis can be done. The CDC says the association between Stachybotrys exposure and pulmonary hemosiderosis should not be considered proven. But I've seen enough evidence, and I'm convinced.
- Michael A. Pinto, Ph.D.
Dr. Michael A. Pinto currently serves as chief executive officer of Wonder Makers Environmental Inc. His Ph.D. is in environmental engineering, and he holds credentials such as Certified Safety Professional, Asbestos Instructor, and others. Dr. Pinto has authored three books, including Fungal Contamination: A Comprehensive Guide for Remediation, over 90 technical articles, and 18 commercial training programs. Pinto can be reached at (888) 382-4154 or email@example.com.
Cherie Fennema serves as the director of administration at Wonder Makers Environmental Inc. She has been involved in various aspects of the environmental field with Wonder Makers Environmental for eight years. Fennema is experienced in microscopic analysis of non-cultured bioaerosol samples as well as the interpretation and communication of sample results. She can be reached at (888) 382-4154 or firstname.lastname@example.org
From Aerotech Laboratories, Inc.
The author was not noted.
Article Date: March 09, 2005
Stachybotrys chartarum and its “New” Relatives
Stachybotrys chartarum is a fungus that has earned considerable notoriety due to its capability to produce potent toxins. There has been a cascade of reports about this toxic “black mold” in the national media. This in turn has resulted in multimillion-dollar litigations and caused serious problems for insurance companies, building managers and homeowners who must deal with both human issues and remediation.
According to the U.S. EPA, Stachybotrys chartarum produces mycotoxins and other biologically active compounds that are of concern to human health. These toxins include a variety of macrocyclic trichothecenes, such as roridins, satratoxins, isosatratoxins, verrucarins, and the trichoverroids, trichoverrols, and trichoverrins. The satratoxins are generally produced in greater amounts than the other trichothecenes. These toxins are believed to be primarily associated with spores but may be in hyphae, mycelia and the growth substrate. Satratoxins are considered by food microbiologists to have a high degree of toxicity when ingested.
It has long been known to practicing mycologists that the commonly identified Stachybotrys chartarum is, in fact, more than one species. Dr. Bruce B. Jarvis at the University of Maryland and his colleague in Denmark found that, based on microscopic characteristics and mycotoxin profiles, S. chartarum sensu lato may further be divided into three taxa. The study suggested that some S. chartarum predictably produce macrocyclic trichothecenes but no atranones, some strains typically produce atranones but no macrocyclic trichothecenes, and the third group produce only atranones. In December 2003, a new species Stachybotrys chlorohalonata was segregated from S. chartarum sensu lacto by a group of Danish and American scientists.
Many fungi produce sexual and asexual spores simultaneously or at different stages in their life cycle. The state characterized by sexual spores (such as ascospores and basidiospores) has been designated the “perfect state” or sexual state, and that characterized by asexual spores (such as conidia) the “imperfect state” or asexual state. A sexual state-asexual state connection has not been established for Stachybotrys chartarum, which means this fungus may have lost its sexuality, or the sexual state is still unrecognized and undescribed. Another related species, S. socia, is the only species of Stachybotrys that has been linked to an ascomycete, Melanopsamma pomiformis.
Recently, scientists at the USDA Agricultural Research Services found, by sequence analysis of five genes of Stachybotrys species and similar fungi, that the toxin-producing fungus comprises a new family within the order Hypocreales; they also found that Stachybotrys’ closest relatives are members of Myrothecium. Techniques in molecular biology and DNA sequencing are making a major contribution to our understanding of fungal biology and relationships. DNA sequence analysis involves the comparison of the actual sequences of bases in particular parts of DNA (or RNA) molecules.
Hypocreales, an order of Ascomycetes in the phylum Ascomycota (ascospore producing fungi), includes a number of species which are saprophytic or parasitic on higher plants, insects, or fungi. Some asexual states of this group, such as Fusarium, Gliocladium, Acremonium, Trichoderma, and Claviceps, are well known producers of various mycotoxins.
Myrothecium, another asexual state associated with Hypocreales, has infrequently been identified as an indoor contaminant, and is also known to produce a variety of macrocyclic trichothecene toxins that cause disease in humans and animals. Myrothecium species, particularly M. verrucaria, are well known cellulolytic saprophytes. They are also known to produce antibiotics and toxins. M. roridum is a plant parasite, causing leaf spots in various plants. A cytotoxin present in culture filtrates of M. verrucaria can cause death in both sheep and calves where the symptoms are similar to those observed in lambs fed with roridin A and verrucarin A. Verrucarin A is one of the most potent cytostatica known. Killed M. verrucaria has been used as a pesticide to control nematodes which attack plant roots. However, the occurrence of Myrothecium in samples collected in the indoor environment is rare, according to our experience and database. Species of Myrothecium produces distinctive gray-green to dark-green, cylindrical spores in a slimy mass, which makes them easily recognizable by a trained laboratory analyst or a mycologist when observed under the microscope. Species of Myrothecium have occasionally but infrequently been detected in bulk or tape lift samples in our laboratory. Myrothecium species have no problem growing on many common fungal media, such as MEA, PDA, CMA, CYA, etc.
It is interesting but not surprising to learn that Stachybotrys’ closest relatives are members of the genus Myrothecium, an asexual state associated with the order Hypocreales, as Stachybotrys socia had already been confirmed by morphology based work to be the asexual state of Melanopsamma pomiformis, a member of Hypocreales. The relationship was first established by E. W. Mason in 1944. There is no need to panic about this toxin producing relative of Stachybotrys, simply because it is much less commonly encountered in indoor air or surface samples as compared to other toxin producing fungi, such as Stachybotrys chartarum. When checking for fungi that produce harmful mycotoxins, professionals in the IAQ industry are observing and testing for all potential toxin producing fungi, including, but not limited to, Alternaria, Aspergillus, Fusarium, Memnoniella, Penicillium, Trichoderma, etc., not just Stachybotrys chartarum. The culture media used in the testing labs are not selective specifically for S. chartarum. All-purpose, general media are used in picking up all the potential toxin producing fungi, including Myrothecium.
Information about the toxicity of Myrothecium is very limited at this stage as compared to Stachybotrys. Based on the limited available information on Myrothecium, it is too early to draw any conclusions about the impact of this toxin producing relative of S. chartarum to the indoor environments. Most importantly, the presence of potentially toxigenic fungi does not imply the presence of mycotoxins. While many fungal species are producers of mycotoxins, their ability to produce toxin varies under different conditions. Toxin production is species specific (i.e. fungi must be expertly identified) and can be dependent on substrate, moisture, nutrient level, PH and temperature.
From The Bakersfield Californian, Bakersfield, California
By NADA BEHZIZ, Californian staff writer.
Article Date: February 07, 2005
Woman Says Mold Killed Her Daughter
Mother and 68 others suing owner of apartment complex over illnesses, death they say is due to fungal growth.
There have been past complaints of health problems from alleged toxic mold growing throughout one Bakersfield apartment complex, but never death.
Now a Bakersfield mother says the mold infesting her apartment caused the death of her 2-year-old daughter.
Sixty-eight others have joined the mother in a lawsuit against the owner of the Coventry Place Apartment complex, claiming mold is making them and their families ill. Damages sought in the suit have yet to be determined.
After finding lumps on her daughter's head, Jennifer Lair took her daughter to the hospital. After numerous tests, 11 doctors still couldn't diagnose the problem.
But her daughter's headaches continued, Lair said. The girl was excessively tired, and her brother's asthma systematically got worse.
"Every time my daughter got sick, my son's asthma acted up," Lair said. "And it always happened when they came in to knock out a wall of mold."
On Feb. 29, 2004, Lair woke up to find her daughter dead in her bed. Lair says it was the mold that caused her daughter's death.
The coroner, however, listed the cause of death as "pneumonia with an onset of a few hours."
Lair's lawyer said the county did not use the proper tests on the girl and missed the fungus.
County health officials said each case is given the proper tests to indicate the accurate cause of death.
If there was an indication of fungus, the county would have found it, said director of disease control Boyce Dulan.
Manco Abbott Real Estate Management runs the Coventry apartments, a government-assisted, low-income complex.
The company's chief operating officer declined to comment about the alleged mold but said the company is always considering the health of its tenants. The company's lawyers did not return phone calls.
Residents at the Coventry complex said they have complained on many occasions about the mold growing on their walls, under their sinks and sometimes on their belongings.
"We have other kids out there that are suffering from pneumonia and double pneumonia because of the mold and they are scared they are going to die, too," said the plaintiffs' lawyer, David Poole, of the firm Kahn, Brown and Poole in Emeryville. "The tenants are all below poverty line and have nowhere else to go."
Toxicology tests taken by a company hired by the plaintiffs allegedly showed high levels of toxic mold in all 16 units tested.
High levels of two toxic molds allegedly were found in Lair's apartment, where her daughter died.
Allergies, coughing and respiratory problems are common health concerns where toxic mold is found, but death is rare, county health officials said.
Months after her daughter's death, Lair and her three children were moved to another unit that showed no signs of mold.
Soon, however, the asthma attacks and irritation returned, she said.
"After we moved, it was fine," Lair said. "But now, we are having problems again. It looks like we are going to have to somehow move."
This is the second move for many of the current residents, who came from the Village at East Hills complex on Bernard Street, across from East Hills Mall shopping center.
The 258-unit, 18-building apartment complex was shut down after high levels of toxic mold were found. The building, which was eventually torn down and rebuilt, also was managed by Manco Abbott.
The family of Steven Reina, a tenant of East Hills, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the owners and management company, claiming his fungal infection and death in June 2002 was caused by moldy conditions in his apartment.
Marlene Medina, who formerly worked for Manco Abbott, experienced firsthand the company's dealings with its tenants.
The former property manager at the Coventry Place Apartments kept a daily journal of tenant complaints, maintenance problems and her correspondences with the company's top officials.
"The complaints and concerns that I passed along ... were largely ignored," Medina said.
If a settlement is not reached between the two parties, the Coventry Place case will go to trial in September.
"These environmental deaths are preventable," said Alan Bell, a plaintiff's lawyer and founder of the Environmental Health Foundation. "(The owners) need to evacuate the building and put the tenants into a safe environment. That's the ethical thing to do."
From the News-Sun, Sebring, Florida
By BARRY FOSTER
Article Date: February 06, 2005
Mold Lingers as a Reminder of 2004 Hurricanes
SEBRING -- He thought he had the flu -- but what Ray Ostlund really had was a problem caused by mold.
Medical officials say the malady, commonly referred to as "mold poisoning" can cause constant irritation to the bronchial tubes.
He reportedly picked up the spores from the office of his business Dual Neon, which sustained significant damage when the hurricanes hit Highlands County.
Health officials said in order for a formal diagnosis of mold infection, people need to be seen by a pulmonary specialist.
One mold infection, blastomycosis, is caused by inhaling microscopic particles known as spores that are produced by fungus.
The infection may be limited to the lungs but also may involve the skin and/or bones. In its most severe form, the infection can spread throughout the body and involve many organ systems.
Experts say that once inhaled, the spores can lodge in the lungs and cause a localized inflammation.
Fortunately, the disease does not spread from one person to another.
Like Ostlund, people may believe they simply have a cold.
In the early stages, symptoms may include a dry cough, fever, heavy sweating, fatigue, and a general feeling of ill health.
If not corrected, the malady can get much worse. Officials said that in time, the irritation can affect the bronchial tubes to such a degree that they then will not permit the air to go into the lungs.
That ultimately could lead to respiratory failure.
In about a quarter of the cases, only the lungs are affected. As the disease progresses, small lesions form in the lungs causing the air sacs deep within the lungs to break down and form small cavities.
In another 35 percent of the cases the disease involves both the lungs and the skin. Bumps can develop on the skin, gradually becoming small, white, crusted blisters.
The blisters break open, creating abscesses that do not heal. Approximately 19 percent of infected people have skin sores without infection in the lungs.
The remaining approximately 20 percent of the infected population has blastomycosis that has spread or disseminated to other systems of the body.
Symptoms may include pain and lesions on one or more bones, the male genitalia, and/or parts of the central nervous system. The liver, spleen, lymph nodes, heart, adrenal glands, and digestive system also may be infected.
Although the destruction caused by the hurricanes, coupled with water intrusion into buildings, left optimum conditions for the growth of mold, Highlands County Environmental Health Director Roger Christopher said he was not aware of any widespread mold problem.
Director of the Highlands County Health Department Dr. Paula Thaqi agreed that she also had not been made aware of any such widespread problem. However, she noted that mold poisoning or mold-related problems are not reportable diseases -- meaning doctors would not be required to inform health officials of those cases.
"There are people that have chronic lung diseases or asthma which is being exacerbated by the mold -- but again, that is not a reportable disease," she said.
As for Ostlund, his offices at Duall Neon have had a fix of sorts.
In an effort to battle the problem, Ostlund's sons constructed a new office on the outside of the building, to keep his dad out of the area and away from the mold.
From the Wellington Daily News, Wellington, Kansas
The author was not noted.
Article Date: February 04, 2005
Mold Problem Grows in Belle Plaine
BELLE PLAINE -- The Belle Plaine City Council was expected to temporarily locate the Belle Plaine, all thanks to Mother Nature. The problem is mold.
It was discovered following the ice storm in early January when 3 to 4 inches of water invaded the interior of the west end of the city administration building where the police department is housed and "a heavy degree of mold" was discovered Monday.
For employee health and safety reasons, city officials decided to have the Sumner County Health Department examine the structure. Health officials advised the city to talk with a Wichita expert.
Environmental Protection Agency certified Steve Moreland, an inspector from American Metropolitan Environmental Inc., visited the Belle Plaine Monday and found the mold, according to published reports quoting Belle Plaine Mayor Dave Talbot.
The Belle Plaine City Council discussed Moreland's findings and suggestions on Tuesday, Feb. 1, and was expected to take action Thursday night.
Moreland suggested the police department and its employees relocate until the problem is taken care of, according to Moreland. The mold may be due to water from the ground coming in, reports say.
His report said employees should be out of the area within 60 days. No time frame was given to when the problem would be corrected.
The health effects of exposure to mold are controversial in the health care world, according to www.aiha.com and WebMD. While experts agree that fungal infections and allergies are a common health effect of mold, they is disagreement over other ailments that may or may not be due to what is called toxic mold. The consequences of breathing toxic mold, or mycotoxins, is still being investigated, according to the AIHA Web site.
However, the AIHA site states that a large amount of mold growth in a building is still unacceptable due to possible adverse health effects. The common supposed health problems caused by toxic mold involve causing or aggravating chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, fatigue, stomach problems and even immune disorders, all though more research is needed, according to WebMD.
Moreland also said the northwest corner of the building is sinking. His recommendation involves removing at least four feet of wall, between the dispatch and patrol room, and also remove the entire bathroom wall and get rid of the carpeting.
Moreland also said the ductwork was clean, but there could be termites. He also said there is some bacterial growth due to former sewer problems. However, the city clerk spoke with the termite exterminator and the termite damage looks old and is probably not recent, according to reports.
Moreland reported that the mold has not grown into the council chambers or the city clerk's office. He said the return air system needs to be re-routed in order to retain the mold within the police department and keep it from spreading into other parts of the building.
The council did not make a decision on where the police department would move to during the meeting, but discussed several options.
From The Press-Enterprise (PE.com), Inland Southern California
By Kimberly Trone
Article Date: April 09, 2005
Program Aims to Battle Mold in Homes
The Riverside County Public Health Department is offering qualified families in desert and Pass communities an opportunity to eliminate household mold contributing to childhood asthma.
At least one child in the household must be diagnosed with asthma to be eligible.
Families also are being required to meet certain income guidelines.
The program can help fix water leaks, remove and replace moldy carpets, address gas leaks and eliminate roaches.
For more information, contact health department personnnel at (951) 358-5050.
The author was not noted.
Article Date: March 08, 2005
Study Links Mold Exposure and Asthma in Children
Exposure to mold and dampness in homes as much as doubles the risk of asthma development in children, according to a study published today in the March issue of the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP). Researchers studied 1,984 Finnish children aged 1 to 7 years over a six-year period to see if they developed asthma. Data collection included a baseline survey administered in March 1991, as well as a follow-up survey in March 1997, asking questions about the child's health, parents' health, parent's highest education level, and details of the child's environment including exposure to environmental tobacco smoke and presence of feathery or furry pets.
The study focused particularly on four indicators or moisture or mold in the home, including mold odor, visible mold, visible moisture, and history of water damage. The presence of mold odor proved to be the only significant indicator of asthma development.
A a total of 138 children, or 7.2% of the study population, developed asthma during the study period. Having a parent with a history of allergies increased susceptibility in children. Mold odor increased the risk, the study found, independent of parents' medical histories. In fact, children living in homes with mold odor during the initial study period were more than twice as likely to develop asthma in the following 6 years.
“These findings strengthen evidence that exposure to molds increases the risk of developing asthma in childhood,” says lead author Jouni Jaakkola, director of the University of Birmingham's Institute for Occupational and Environmental Medicine. “They also show the importance of heredity-children of parents with asthma have a two-fold risk of asthma compared with children of nonasthmatic parents.”
Children who were exposed to moisture or mold in the home were also slightly more likely to be exposed to environmental tobacco smoke, to have feathery or furry pets, and to have parents with a lower education level. The study adds to the body of evidence linking asthma with exposure to cigarette smoke.
“This study is important for families everywhere,” says Dr. Jim Burkhart, science editor for EHP. “Anyone with young children in the home should be aware of the potentially harmful effects of long-term exposure to mold and this potential link to asthma in children.”
In addition to Jaakkola, contributing authors included Bing-Fang Hwang of the Environmental Epidemiology Unit at the University of Helsinki in Finland, and Niina Jaakkola of the Department of Health Care Administration at Diwan College of Management in Taiwan. The article is available free of charge at CLICK HERE.
Funding sources for the research as reported by the authors included the Ministry of the Environment, the National Agency for Welfare and Health, the Medical Research Council of the Academy of Finland, and The Yrjö Jahnsson Foundation.
EHP is published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. EHP is an Open Access journal. More information is available online at http://www.ehponline.org.
Environmental Health Perspectives ( NIEHS )
PO Box 12233, MD EC-15
Research Triangle Park, NC 27709-2233
From The Kansas City Star, Kansas City, MO
By Paul Wenske
Article Date: April 10, 2005
Problems Lurking Behind Bad Stucco
Improper application may cost you in repairs.
Dwight Orr suspected he had a problem when he saw water leaking into his $500,000 Parkville home — but he never dreamed it was literally rotting away.
When workers tore off the exterior's synthetic stucco in 2003, they found water damage and mold so extensive that the repair bill totaled a staggering $105,000.
“It was just a god-awful mess,” said Orr, who sued the builder of his nine-year-old home and won a judgment through arbitration. “It has taken a long time to get over feeling totally irate about this.”
Orr isn't the only one steaming over bad stucco.
Experts predict that because of damage caused by improperly applied stucco, hundreds of homeowners in the Kansas City area — and thousands nationwide — may end up paying millions of dollars to repair homes that are less than 15 years old.
“Our general feeling is that this is a big problem,” said Jerry Anderson, assistant codes administrator in Overland Park, one of the first area cities to begin inspecting stucco.
Anderson acknowledged no one knows the scope of the problem, though experts estimate that eight out of 10 homes probably aren't affected. But Johnson County codes officials have formed a task force with local builders to develop stucco application standards. They hope such standards will be adopted across the metropolitan area.
Codes officials in communities outside Johnson County are not yet participating in the task force but are monitoring its progress.
“We have the best intentions, and we have put together a pretty good standard,” said Chris Neal, government affairs director in Kansas for the Home Builders Association of Greater Kansas City. “Education is certainly going to be a cornerstone of this program.”
The stucco problem only recently surfaced across the metropolitan area. Elsewhere in the United States, it already has spawned class-action lawsuits and spurred home inspectors, city building codes officials and homeowners to take corrective measures before houses are destroyed.
Bad-stucco problems began to be noticed in the Kansas City area about two years ago. Because there were no codes that addressed stucco application, area codes inspectors said they seldom even looked at stucco on new homes.
“No one was going by any standard; there was no one way to do things right in everyone's mind,” said Jerry Mallory, director of the Johnson County building contractor licensing program.
But many today agree, Mallory said, that “we don't think it was being done correctly.”
In October, Mallory's group began holding seminars for contractors to call attention to stucco problems. Building officials have joined with the Home Builders Association to write a “best practices” guide to promote standards in applying stucco.
Stucco is widely recognized as a strong exterior covering for homes. Experts estimate that half or more of all homes constructed nationally and locally since 1990 were built with stucco.
If stucco is applied incorrectly, however, moisture can seep in through cracks, become trapped inside walls and result in rot that devours structural wood.
Gary Maylon, an Alabama stucco expert and owner of Metal Lath & Stucco Consulting Co., said that based on his experience and a review of some of Johnson County's newer neighborhoods, 20 percent or more of newer homes built in the Kansas City area with stucco may need substantial repairs.
Maylon's assessment, given at the request of Johnson County officials at a building seminar in February, was that if area problems continue, they could spawn a wave of lawsuits, since homeowner's insurance doesn't cover damages from bad stucco.
“There's going to be some nasty stuff going on here, if it goes on the way it's going,” he said.
Some contractors said they would welcome new stucco standards.
“It's way past time they did something,” said Carl Brown, a stucco contractor whose own crusade led him to launch a Web site called Badstucco.com.“There are too many untrained people,” Brown said.
Yet as officials attack the problem by developing installation standards, they're also bracing for a strong reaction from some builders and even some homeowners.
“We expect existing homeowners to be upset this wasn't done before,” Mallory said.
Damage often unnoticed.
Stucco has been a competitively priced alternative to wood, stone facades and masonry for years. And some builders assumed it was easy to apply.
But problems stemming from water intrusion began showing up several years ago, especially in areas experiencing a building boom. They first surfaced in Florida, North Carolina and other eastern states. Locally, some of the first complaints came from Overland Park.
“It started with a house that had over $100,000 worth of damage,” recalled Anderson, the assistant codes administrator. “We weren't really sure what the problem was at the time.”
After more complaints, codes officials focused on stucco — especially around windows that weren't flashed properly.
Seasoned builders say problems can develop when houses are put up too quickly. Other builders simply cut corners. But inspectors said workmen often just aren't aware of the complexity of applying stucco in such a way that keeps water out or allows it to escape if it seeps in.
More crews also began using a synthetic stucco that has an acrylic coating and looks like the more traditional and heavier Portland cement stucco that has been used for 50 years or more. Synthetic stucco, however, is spread more thinly, making it more susceptible to cracking if it is not applied correctly over fiber mesh used in securing it to the house.
In addition, the synthetic stucco — known as an exterior insulation and finish system, or EIFS — uses an insulation foam board that can trap moisture inside a wall. If the installers don't create a drain system for moisture to escape, it remains trapped and begins to rot the structural materials. Oriented strand board — a composite of glue and pressed wood commonly called OSB that's used in many new homes as structural siding — can soak up moisture like a sponge and crumble into chunks.
Inspectors in Overland Park so far have found improper or missing flashings around windows, bad or missing caulking, poorly installed window assemblies and incorrectly joined lathing under the stucco that causes it to bulge and buckle. New standards call for installing multiple sheets of special paper that allow water to drip away from the wall.
Builders said the problems are more common in newer homes because they are built to be tighter than older homes for energy conservation reasons. Older homes have the advantage of allowing moisture to vent more easily.
Inspectors also note that some newer homes are constructed with softer woods that, if not primed and sealed properly, are more vulnerable to moisture.
“Since the rot is taking place from inside of the wall out, it often goes unnoticed for months until it has done substantial damage,” said Dan Bowers, owner of Holmes Inspection and a stucco expert.
That's what happened to Joe Lambert.
Lambert purchased a $750,000 home in south Johnson County. But when his family, who wanted to stay in their old home, prevailed on him not to go through with the move, he decided to sell the new house. That's when a private inspector noticed some cracks in the stucco.
“He grabbed a putty knife and literally drove (it) through the OSB board and cut out a two-by-four hole,” Lambert said.
He decided he couldn't sell the house with a clear conscience without fixing it.
As workmen began stripping off stucco, the extent of the damage became apparent.
“Around every area of penetration — the gas line, electrical meter, it didn't matter — there was water damage,” Lambert said. Workmen replaced more than 45 large sheets of OSB board.
“It took a month to fix it. I put it back like it was brand new,” he said.
The cost: $72,000.
Homeowners often are alerted to potential problems only when they see what a neighbor is going through. Roger Campbell, who lives near the home Lambert bought, decided to have his stucco tested, even though he didn't suspect a problem. He ended up with $60,000 in repairs, which included replacing the synthetic stucco with a traditional style of cement stucco.
“I was very surprised,” Campbell said. “There's going to be a ton of houses where people are going to wake up to this problem.”
Ben Romano, the owner of Wood Rot Pro who removed and replaced rotted wood on Campbell's home, is not surprised. Last week, he drove a reporter around Campbell's neighborhood pointing out possible problems in homes, all priced at more than $500,000, and most less than 10 years old.
At one, where he had already talked to a homeowner, Romano pushed gently against window trim. It gave easily. Had he pushed harder, his finger would have punched through. At another home, he reached behind the stucco and removed a handful of crumbly OSB board.
Romano said business was brisk in some of the area's toniest neighborhoods.
“You can't run out of business with the ‘fungus among us,' ” he said, using a slogan that graces the side of his truck.
No easy answers.
When it comes to bad stucco, there's no good recourse.
Repairs can be costly. And most homeowners' insurance covers only water damage caused by accidents, such as from a tree falling through a roof or a burst pipe, said Eric Goldberg, assistant general counsel for the American Insurance Association.
Some homeowners persuade their builders to make repairs. But some are reluctant to fix damaged homes after years have passed, said Dan Fowler, the attorney who represented Orr.
Fowler said sometimes a homeowner's only option is to sue. But lawsuits can take years to resolve, and in the meantime the homeowner must make the repairs needed to maintain a house's structural integrity. And even if they win, homeowners may not recover all their losses.
Orr's lawsuit forced his builder into arbitration, where Orr won an $85,000 judgment. But $22,000 of that went toward legal expenses.
“I was still out of pocket $40,000,” he said. “That's retirement money.”
To reach Paul Wenske, consumer affairs reporter, call (816) 234-4454 or send e-mail to email@example.com.
To prevent stucco problems: • Know your builder. Check with the Better Business Bureau. Talk with residents of other developments built by your builder.
• Check for any lawsuits against your builder. Get a history of your builder's financial health.
• Talk with your builder. Find out the company's expertise with stucco. Ask how stucco and window subcontractors are supervised and inspected to ensure proper application and sealing.
• Check out subcontractors. Does the stucco contractor follow accepted standards, including the manufacturer's guidelines, the International Building Code or the International Residential Code?
• Plan ahead. Discuss what happens if you discover flaws with workmanship.
• Get everything in writing. Make sure contracts state that materials must be installed according to manufacturer instructions and that you must approve material changes.
• Know your rights. Have an experienced real-estate attorney review your contract and warranty.
• Hire a qualified home inspector to check key stages of completion. Inspectors should have insurance against liability errors and omissions.
• Do your homework on water damage. If buying an existing home, get an insurance-claim history.
If you find stucco problems:
• Have your house tested for moisture. Hire someone certified by one of the national construction inspection organizations. Prepare to pay $300 to more than $600.
• If you find damage, document it with photos and a written home inspection.
• Give the builder a chance to fix the problem. Many states require that you notify the builder in writing. Take advantage of any warranties before they expire.
• Get a correction plan in writing. If your builder fails to respond, follow up with complaints to county and state building and regulatory authorities.
• Seek advice from groups such as Homeowners Against Deficient Dwellings at www.hadd.com or Home Owners for Better Building at www.hobb.org.
• Your last resort may be to contact a lawyer who specializes in construction-defect lawsuits.