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Is your building sick? Mold might be the culprit.

In the past five years mold has become a dirty word. Lawsuits arising out of mold infiltration and "sick building syndrome" have become common, with lawyers publicizing mold as a major public health problem. Multimilliondollar verdicts for personal injury or property damage are not unheard of. Even the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was sued by employees claiming they developed illnesses as a result of mold exposure while working at EPA headquarters.

Mold exists in some form both outdoors and in all buildings. Certain species of mold spores, in large enough concentrations, can be toxic. Due to increased public awareness, the number of legal claims is sure to mount, including those brought by employees against their employers. In addition, workers who believe they are being exposed to mold may not want to come to work, or their productivity may decline.

How do you know if your building has a mold problem, and what can you do to limit potential liability? Here are four steps employers can take:

1. Look for indicators of Sick Building Syndrome -- Physical symptoms generally include eye, nose and throat irritation, respiratory complaints, skin irritation, nausea, dizziness and fatigue. Another indicator is a persistent moldy or musty odor. Alert the human resources department and/or office manager to be aware of any such symptoms. If numerous employees complain, or if moldy smells persist, put the building owner on notice and request an investigation. If you own the building, consider retaining an air quality investigator. Although these symptoms could result from other factors, it is important to address them.

2. Be aware of moisture or water entry -- Mold needs water, or moisture, and oxygen to grow. Common sources of water or moisture are: outside air infiltration, moisture entering through the roof or windows, leaks, water pipes and humidity problems caused by a too-tight building. Although one-time leaks or burst water pipes may not be a problem if repaired, even a one-time leak, if not properly addressed, can cause unacceptable mold growth.

3. Address moisture penetration issues quickly -- If your building is experiencing water penetration or leaks, demand that the landlord investigate the cause and promptly provide you with an action plan. If the landlord does not act, put the landlord on notice that you intend to act on the situation and that you will hold the landlord responsible for the costs. Also give notice to your insurer. If you are the building owner, call in a professional to make an assessment.

4. Make sure your insurance covers mold -- More insurers are inserting mold exclusions into their policies. Call your agent. If your policy has a mold exclusion, pay to get it removed or buy additional coverage. The cost will be well worth it if you later must defend a claim. Keep in mind, however, that even without a mold exclusion, insurers will rely on other exclusions to deny mold coverage. Ask your agent for written assurance that you are insured if you suffer property damage or are the subject of a mold claim.

As the public becomes more concerned about mold, employers may see more legal claims arising out of related health complaints.

Marilyn A. Peters is a member of the Construction Team and Litigation Practice Group in the Bloomfield Hills office of Dykema Gossett PLLC, a Silver-level member of the Detroit Regional Chamber.
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Title Annotation:Health Care
Author:Peters, Marilyn A.
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2003
Previous Article:The uninsured: everybody's concern.
Next Article:Mitigating moisture.

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