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Mold generating lawsuits against building owners.

The presence of mold in residential and commercial buildings is generating a new wave of litigation against builders, building owners and property managers for personal injury and property damage. At the close of the third quarter, this issue represents one of the most serious new threats to face the industry.

Mold has been the subject of disputes between insurers and their policy holders. And, while mold growth in indoor environments is not new, the issue has generated national media attention and led to the creation of dozens of mold sites on the Internet.

Visible mold growth in a home is never acceptable, however the scientific and medical literature contains different opinions regarding the potential health impacts of exposure to mold. Moreover, there is conflicting information about the proper methods for investigating and remediating mold.

Press coverage about lawsuits and health studies involving mold has focused on one type of mold called Stachybotrys chartarum, which has been named "toxic mold." There is no particular reason why this mold should be singled out. Because of the. current curiosity with this form, information about it will be specifically addressed here.

Molds area subset of the fungi family and are common, abundant and an essential part of the world's ecological system. In order to reproduce mold releases tiny spores. The spores settle on surfaces and, when conditions are favorable, they begin to consume organic material in their immediate vicinity. Molds can grow on cloth, carpeting, leather, wood, wallboard, household dust, or anything that is made of organic material. Sustained mold growth requires such a food source, moisture, and a suitable temperature -- generally in the range of 40 degrees F to 100 degrees F.

The most practical approach to limiting mold growth is early detection and prompt resolution of excessive moisture. If you can see mold or detect an earthy or musty odor, you can assume you have a moisture problem that must be resolved to achieve a permanent solution to mold growth. Mold growth is found behind walls under materials where water has damaged surfaces. Look for discoloration and mold on surfaces.

Controlling indoor air moisture will limit the probability of supporting mold growth from condensing water on interior surfaces, such as walls, windows, and areas near air conditioning supply registers. Relative humidity meters are useful for detecting excessive moisture and they are available from most hardware stores. Moisture sources that increase the relative humidity of indoor. Air are: habitation, bathing, cooking, plants, washing and air drying of dishes and clothes, un-vented combustion appliances, humidifiers and outdoor ventilation air in humid climates. Another moisture source is water from leaks; such as from pipes, rain water leakage through windows, roof flashing, ice dams, etc.

The New York City Health Department publishes a guideline for professional mold assessment and remediation service providers. The guideline establishes five levels of abatement based on size of the affected area and discusses health protection measures for workers and occupants. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency published the "Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings," which also provides guidelines and insight on clean-up procedures.

State Health agencies and experts do not recommend testing to determine if you have a mold problem. Mold sampling can be expensive and requires special equipment and trained technicians to acquire reliable samples and test results.

Another issue is unavailability of standards for judging what is an acceptable concentration of mold. If sampling is carried out, an outdoor air sample needs to be taken at the same time as an indoor sample. This baseline provides a measure to determine if the indoor air mold spore count is greater than the outdoor concentration.

Health effects associated with mold range among no effect, allergic responses such as hay fever and infectious growth of the mold in or on the body. The most serious -- and least common -- cases result in the disruption of the body's cellular function.

While effects can be very severe, indoor mold exposure does not always present a health problem. While some people are sensitive to molds, only those with immune suppression or lung disease are susceptible to fungal infections. Questions have been raised whether stachhybotrys chartarum can cause acute idiopathic pulmonary hemorrhage in infants. To date there is no proven association between the presence of molds and such a disorder.

Remember, in most cases mold in buildings can be removed with a thorough cleaning with bleach and water. If you have an extensive amount of mold, however, immediately contact a professional who is experienced in cleaning mold in buildings and homes.

Building owners and managers can reduce the amount of mold present in their residential and office buildings by recognizing the signs of mold, knowing how to limit mold growth and by knowing the long-term effects that mold may have on tenants and the building itself. By educating themselves on the dangers of mold, owners and managers can maintain a firm grasp on the problem as well as be part of the solution.
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Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 17, 2001
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