Few Answers,
More Doctor Visits, Lawsuits

While researchers continue their work, doctors are seeing more patients complaining of mold-related ailments.

Jerry Leiken, director of medical toxicology at Evanston Northwestern Healthcare and Illinois' only full-time toxicologist, roughly estimates that of the few patients who see him each week for mold-related complaints, about 10 percent actually are suffering from mold damage. The issue is it can, it has no business being in a living environment.

That's what happened to the University of Oregon's basketball coach. Ernie Kent and his wife gutted their home and filed a $5 million lawsuit against their builder, the plumber and the plasterer.

Even Hollywood has had its share of mold claimants: Both Ed McMahon (Johnny Carson's sidekick) and the real-life Erin Brockovich (the paralegal whose story formed the basis for the movie) have been plaintiffs in mold cases, claiming their houses have been affected by toxic mold. Ed McMahon filed a $20 million dollar lawsuit last year claiming toxic mold killed his dog. He was awarded $7 million. Erin Brockovich and her family were forced out of their home because the mold growth inside the property was making them sick.

Mold also affects schools. Many schools have had work done to try to eliminate mold growth. Some schools close parts of the buildings and sometimes even the whole school closes while the work is being done.

Some compare mold to asbestos, saying the government will eventually acknowledge the dangers.

New construction techniques and cellulose-based materials used in modern homes, particularly since the 1970's, seem to encourage mold-growth.

Mold merely needs moisture to begin growing, and can sprout up in a number of different building materials such as wood, ceiling tiles, paints, carpet, sheet rock or insulation. When mold builds up from leaky pipes or roofs, high humidity, or flooding, conditions are ideal for mold growth. Molds produce by releasing spores. When the spores land on certain materials, they may digest and destroy those materials. For mold growth, all that is needed is moisture and a food source.

Homebuilders' worries about liabilities resulting from mold infestation have reached a crisis level after a series of highly publicized court awards. Homeowners in Texas, California and Florida have won as much as $32.1 million in damages after their homes were invaded by toxic molds.

U.S. Rep. John Conyers, a veteran Democratic congressman from Detroit introduced federal legislation to protect consumers from the physical and financial effects of toxic mold damage. Michigan state lawmakers have proposed similar legislation, and California and New York are among few states that already have toxic mold laws on the books.

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