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By Kelly Vance, Attorney at Law

Mold is a fascinating organism. It is neither a true plant nor is it an animal. It has no brain, yet it can attack you at your weakest link and cause severe damage, illness and depress your immune system. It breaks down the trees that fall in the forest and dead biological matter, both plant and animal. So-called experts (that usually work for insurers) are fond of saying in court that if it were not for mold, we’d be up to our necks in dead plants and animals. But while admitting that mold eats and destroys organic materials, they deny that mold is harmful to humans that are exposed to it. This position, of course, defies logic and is nothing but spin doctoring.

There are thousands of species of mold. Many of them are beneficial. In fact, even molds that are dangerous to humans when exposed in their raw form have been used to make medicines that combat bacterial infections and even save lives, like penicillin.

But mold has become controversial. Why? Because in recent years it has been appearing in places it never did before—people’s homes and workplaces. It has made people ill and their homes uninhabitable. This causes problems for builders and insurers. Mold became controversial because they set out to deny it was a problem in order to save money defending and denying claims.

Mold needs two things to exist; moisture and a food source. Mold should not be found in houses because they are built to shed water and should be completely dry inside. They are, after all, shelters to protect you and your family from the elements. So there should not be any mold found in your house. But mold will appear where there has been moisture intrusion, either from a leaking roof, door or window, or where there is a broken pipe or plumbing fixture that has failed.

In some cases the water leak is the result of shoddy building practices, failed materials or a bad design. In other cases, it is the result of, for example, a broken water pipe that is covered by your homeowner’s policy. But builders and insurers do not want to accept responsibility so they try to avoid paying. The mold controversy was born out of their refusal to acknowledge the problem and take responsibility. Instead, they deny that mold makes people ill and homes uninhabitable. They feel it is less expensive to hire experts to give them a cover story than to stand behind their product (in the builder’s case) or honor their obligations (in the insurer’s case). Mold in a sick building setting is controversial only because insurers, corporations and builders—those responsible for making people ill and for paying for repairs—want it to be controverted.

Mold has been understood to be dangerous and even deadly for many centuries. As early as Leviticus (Ch. 14, 33-57), God directed the Children of Israel to deal with a greenish stain in a house by removing the “plague in the house” and all contaminated building materials and then discarding them. Moldy clothing and structures were treated as if they suffered from leprosy. If mold contaminated clothes could not be cleaned, they were to be burned. Who are we to argue with the Lord? After all, He created mold, He knows more about it than we do.

Many experts now believe that the “Curse of King Tut” which led to the deaths of many of the men who discovered his tomb was nothing more than mold induced illness that proved to be fatal. In the 18th century, Ramazzini, considered the father of occupational medicine, described an illness of workers inhaling "foul and mischievous powder" from handling crops. Ergot poisoning, linked to the Salem witch trials, is now believed to have been caused by moldy rye grain. The most famous case of moldy grain occurred in Russia in the early 20th century, prior to and during World War II, killing thousands. In the early 1960s, an outbreak of turkey X disease in England, which killed over 100,000 birds, was later traced to mold-contaminated peanuts from Brazil.

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