Mold is a type of fungus and is ever-present in our environment. Molds require moisture to survive. Outdoors, molds are part of the natural environment, breaking down plant debris, leaves and dead wood. However, indoors, mold thrives by digesting whatever organic substance it lands on, including wallpaper, insulation, drywall, carpet and ceilings. Scientists have identified over 5000 species of mold, of which approximately 150 can cause allergies in humans, and of which 50 are capable of producing potentially hazardous mycotoxins.
Plaintiffs in personal injury suits generally allege that these indoor molds cause a variety of illnesses, including headaches, nausea, fatigue, respiratory problems, and asthma. Other unique illnesses claimed include fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, reactive airway dysfunction and multiple chemical sensitivity disorder.
At the present time there is no scientific consensus on whether indoor mold can cause permanent and severe illness. Nevertheless, some recent court rulings have breathed new life into toxic mold litigation. In a 2012 decision from the New York Court of Appeals, the court reversed a lower court ruling which had dismissed a lawsuit brought by a tenant alleging six years of toxic mold exposure. The Court of Appeals reversed, pointing out that the plaintiff cited numerous scientific studies which demonstrated that toxic mold is capable of causing various types of ailments in humans.
Some have suggested that the increased incidents of toxic mold illness is due to the decades long practice of building better insulated homes and buildings due to the increased cost of energy. Better insulated homes save energy bills, but do not allow the homes to ‘breathe’, thereby creating a Petri dish for mold to thrive. Moreover, a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention raised the specter of mold toxicity in the aftermath of hurricanes and floods (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5508a1.htm).
The following are some recent lawsuits filed alleging harm from toxic mold:
- Teachers and students from Riverside High School in Washington have filed suit, alleging illness caused by the molds staccybotris, aspergillus, penicillium and ulocladium.
- About 100 workers employed at the Visalia County, California courthouse have sued, alleging health problems caused by toxic mold. The reported symptoms include respiratory ailments, headaches, nausea, vertigo and memory loss.
- Several office works in Maryland have filed suit alleging that exposure to toxic mold in their building has led to asthma and reactive airway disorder.
- Former residents of a Seattle apartment complex have sued for harm caused by toxic mold, and have alleged that the landlord knew of extensive water damage that occurred before the tenants moved in, and performed only cosmetic repairs without disclosing the water damage to the tenants.
Whether molds are beneficial, harmless or “toxic” depends on where, when and how they grow. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), all molds can cause health problems under the wrong conditions. If you are considering purchasing or renting a home, how can you determine if it might be harboring toxic mold? This is where it gets tricky.
Every home has mold. The dreaded black or toxic mold that you see in the headlines, such as Stachybotrys chartarum, also know as Stachybotrys atra, isn’t a common mold, but it’s not rare either. It will look dark green or black. You can’t keep mold out, but you can make it less welcome. Household mold needs hospitable conditions in which to thrive. One key ingredient in establishing and maintaining a mold colony is moisture. If you don’t have a consistent source of moisture, mold won’t be able to survive.
If in doubt, you can hire the services of professionals who can inspect the property to determine if potentially hazardous mold is present.