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[whitespace] Spore Values

Mushrooming mold claims nationwide have created a lawsuit factory

By Justin Berton

'WATER PLUS MODERN BUILDING MATERIALS equals mold growth," says Dr. Joseph Q. Jarvis, a leading indoor air quality expert hired by the County of Santa Clara to monitor mold growth at Morrone Gardens, a senior citizen's complex in San Jose.

A more complete equation, say indoor air environmentalists, is that mold growth equals lawsuits.

Even though outdoor mold grows anywhere, anytime--and the human immune system has grown to match it--the process has been greatly manipulated indoors due to a combination of poor ventilation systems and cellulose materials found in modern-day construction materials.

In 1992, for instance, 6.3 billion pounds of PVC alone--siding, pipes and flooring--were used to construct American homes, the most common plastic product by far. PVC plumbing, compared to copper pipes, allows for drips and leaks, which can lead to patches of indoor mold growth. Once mold sets in, its species can vary greatly, from the mildly harmless to the potentially toxic.

Aside from moisture spots, spunky indoor air is most often found in newly erected structures or the recently remodeled. These new and reworked buildings are loaded with VOCs--Volatile Organic Compounds. VOCs are carbon-based chemicals found in today's most common housing products: paint, adhesive and sealant, office furniture, ceiling tile and even new carpet. Researchers have also located VOCs in certain types of synthetic stuccos. According to a study conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency, VOC levels may be "ten to thousands of times higher indoors than outdoors." The remedy to living in a cloud of VOCs is a properly installed ventilation system that streams indoor air evenly. Since Americans spend more than 90 percent of their day indoors, an adequate ventilation system is the best solution to spoiled indoor air.

Kelly Hise, editor of Areias, an online resource guide on indoor health quality, says stories of toxic mold have reached hysterical proportions. "If you look in this week's People, you'll see a picture of a burning house. Once the residents found mold in it, they set it on fire. And once the media gets a hold of a story like that, and people see that they have mold in their house, that's when they freak out."

Mold, and the fear of it, has also forged a new frontier for lawsuits, Hise says. An industry newsletter has been spawned from the growth: Mealey's Emerging Toxic Torts. The periodical reports on all things moldy, issuing exciting news such as a $2 billion claim filed against a Canadian school, and a winning judgment in Florida, where residents cleaned up $17.3 million for their exposure to mold.

"Mold has been with us since day one," Hise says. "But right now we're in the day of suing other people and we want to blame other people for our problems. And when people see mold in their home, they say, we claim this on our insurance. When the insurance says 'No,' that's when the litigators get involved."

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From the July 12-18, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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