Fungus has always been among us, so it's not so clear why something as ubiquitous as mold is suddenly the latest horror-of-the-week media frenzy, but California is taking the threat seriously enough to launch a two-pronged counter attack to put the spore spewing pest back in its place.
The proposed "Toxic Mold Protection Act," SB 732, authored by state Senator Debra Ortiz (D-Sacramento), is the nation's first state level effort to legislate mold exposure limits, mold mitigation efforts and a mold complaints system.
And the California Association of Realtors (CAR) isn't waiting for the law's enactment, which will include mold disclosure requirements. The group is already modifying disclosure forms and environmental brochures to include information on potential health risks of some types of mold.
Mold, which can appear as a black and furry or wet and slimy growth, is produced by several types of fungi as they feed on and destroy organic matter, including wood and other materials found in your home and other buildings.
Some experts say increased levels of mold are related to changing weather patterns, including excessive rain and frequent temperature swings, combined with a growing number of poorly constructed homes with defects that contribute to the problem.
"Mold is not only a problem in itself, but also a symptom of a water problem. Determining the cause of the problem, whether that is a leaky roof, facade issues, excess humidity or a malfunctioning HVAC system is often a complex process of detective work," according to Portland, ME-based Criterium Engineers.
Mounting Mold Mess
Mold is generally harmless, but exposure to toxic varieties of the fungi can cause flu-like symptoms and allergic reactions including a runny nose, sneezing, eye irritation, coughing, asthma aggravation and worse.
Mold spread throughout Melinda Ballard's and Ron Allison's 22-room Dripping Springs, TX mansion and, the couple say, caused severe health problems, including neurological damage that forced Allison to leave his career as an investment banker. A June 1, 2001 Travis County (TX) District Court ruling ordered Farmers Insurance Exchange, to pay more than $32 million to the couple for committing fraud when it failed to cover repairs for a water leak before the leak spawned the toxic mold stachybotrys.
A Forrest Hills, CA couple had a home so mold infested it caused health and cognitive problems to a level that forced the couple to donate their home to the fire department.
Erin Brockovich says mold in her Agoura Hills, CA home cost her her health and most of the after-tax $2 million bonus she received for her role in the landmark chromium-6 water contamination legal suit against Pacific Gas & Electric.
Because the complaints often lead to home owners filing insurance claims, insurers are pulling out of areas with large mold-related claims.
Allstate Insurance Co., the third largest property insurer in Texas, stopped selling new policies on homes that have had water damage in the past three years. Farmers Insurance Group also decided to stop selling new homeowner insurance in Texas covering water damage in Texas. Progressive stopped selling new policies in cases in which there are concerns about water and mold damage.
Toxic Mold Protection Act
In California, a growing number of mold complaints led to legislators drafting the Toxic Mold Protection Act, which passed the Senate and awaits committee action in the Assembly.
If it becomes law the act would:
- Direct the Department of Health Services to adopt permissible exposure limits for mold in indoor environments.
- Direct the Department of Health Services to adopt mold identification standards for the environmental assessment of molds in indoor environments.
- Direct the Department of Health Services to adopt mold remediation efforts.
- Require landlords and sellers of residential and commercial property to provide written disclosure to potential tenants or buyers, identifying the current presence or prior existence of mold and disclosing if it exceeds the permissible exposure limits.
- Designate the Department of Industrial Relations to respond to mold complaints and grant the department responsibility to enforce standards in the workplace. It would also amend the sub-standard housing code to include the presence of molds and allows code enforcement officers to effectively address concerns about molds.
- Direct the Department of Health Services to develop standards of education and certification for mold-testing professionals and mold remediation specialists.
Meanwhile CAR is planning single-party disclosures even before the legislation takes effect. CAR is changing mandated transfer disclosure forms and an environmental hazard brochures to reflect the mold issue.
By the end of the year, in California, all property owners, including commercial, industrial and multi-family, can expect to provide tenants and buyers with mold-related disclosure information.
Concerned About Mold Now?
Here are some resources providing useful information about mold.
- California Department of Health Services offers a Mold Page>
- California Department of Health Services offers Mold In My Home? What Should I Do?
- Insure.com offers "Killer Mold Is Nothing To Sneeze At".
- The Centers For Disease Control offers "Questions And Answers on Stachybotrys Chartarum And Other Molds" .
- The National Association of Home Builders' Research Center offers a channel for consumer complaints about building materials and techniques. Mold is among the many issues the center is researching with input from "ToolBase Hotline".