Toxic mold exposure, sometimes known as “Sick Building Syndrome” (SBS), is the focus of a growing number of lawsuits across the country. Mold is a tenacious, unwelcome house guest. It climbs up bathroom walls, invades carpet and infests drywall. Certain molds are toxic, meaning they can cause serious illness to persons who come in contact with them. All mold found in buildings are not toxic. Unfortunately, it is impossible for homeowners to distinguish between toxic and benign molds.
Such cases may be early signs of a big, expensive wave of mold repercussions, ranging from what a home seller needs to disclose to the spawning of whole cottage industries that test for and remediate mold. In between, there may be mold issues for home builders, insurers, inspectors, appraisers, moving companies, relocation firms and others.
In May 2001, the Delaware Supreme Court upheld a $1 million award to two women suffering from respiratory problems who said their landlord failed to fix water leaks, causing mold to grow which in turn caused significant health problems. In June 2001, a Texas court awarded a family a $32 million judgment against their insurer, after the insurer mishandled their claim for repairs related to a burst pipe in their home. The water caused mold to develop, essentially making the home inhabitable and the family ill. Toxic mold claims can be brought on grounds of negligence, strict liability, failure to warn, and breach of warranty.
Mold contamination claims were virtually unheard of a few years ago, but people are becoming more aware of indoor air quality issues because of the expanding scientific and medical knowledge of the toxic affects of mold. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), five varieties of household mold that are harmful to your health: Penicillim, Aspergillus, Stachybotrys, Paecilomyces, Fusarium. These mold are different from benign mold because they produce myotoxin. Mycotoxins are poisonous substances that are produced by fungi. Mycotoxins tend to concentrate in fungal spores, and thus present a potential hazard to those who inhale these airborne spores. Toxigenic spores can have a significant affect on the function of the alveolar macrophage and be a health hazard to those exposed. Stachybotry mold is particularly hazardous to children. Click on Stachybotry, to learn more about this mold.
Although mold affects individuals differently and to different degrees, the following are some of the most common adverse health effects.
Respiratory problems – shortness of breath
Dry skin irritation
Burning and watering eyes
Aches and pain
People with weakened immune systems (i.e., immune-compromised or immune-suppressed individuals) may be more vulnerable to these health effects (as well as more vulnerable than healthy persons to mold toxins). Aspergillus, for example, has been known to infect the lungs of immune-compromised individuals. These individuals inhale the mold spores, which then start growing in their lungs.
Since toxic mold requires water to grow, buildings with moisture problems are highly susceptible to myotoxin problems. Delayed maintenance, insufficient maintenance, and construction defects are common reasons for toxic mold growing. Click on Frequently Asked Questions: Toxic Mold, to learn more about this issue.