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Bill aims to protect U.S. home owners from toxic mold

United States Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan) has unveiled The U.S. Toxic Mold Safety and Protection Act, legislation that consumer advocates say will protect home owners from toxic mold and force insurers to slash home insurance premiums.

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It calls for the establishment of an insurance pool that would cover the costs associated with toxic mold cleanup.

House Bill 5040 calls for the Environmental Protection Agency to establish guidelines on the "acceptable" levels of toxic mold in a home, establish professional standards for mold inspectors and remediators, and set up a national database of homes that are infested with toxic mold. It also calls for the establishment of an insurance pool that would cover the costs associated with toxic mold cleanup for people who opt to purchase the additional coverage from the pool.

According to Melinda Ballard, president of Policyholders of America (POA), the self-funded insurance pool would mimic the current flood insurance system and take the liability of toxic mold cleanup off insurers "unless it is due to bad faith and/or fraud." POA is a nonprofit group of home owners embroiled in feuds with their insurance companies over toxic mold cleanups. Ballard is the Texas woman who won a $32 million verdict against Farmers Insurance in 2001 for failing to promptly cover the necessary repairs for a water leak, thus allowing a toxic mold called "stachybotrys" to overrun her home.

The insurance industry's reaction has been measured so far. "This is a complex bill that attempts to address many of the issues surrounding mold and its impact on health and property," says Lynda Mounts, senior counsel with the American Insurance Association. "Mold has existed since biblical times, yet the multitude of issues addressed by Rep. Conyers' bill have developed only in recent years. Any purported federal legislative solution must therefore be approached with caution."

The Melina bill

This legislation is also known as "the Melina bill," for Melina Tumpkin, the 9-year-old daughter of Conyers' Detroit officer manager, who has been diagnosed with exposure to toxic-mold. Tumpkin, her sister, and her mother were forced to flee their new home less than a month after moving in because Melina's asthma attacks worsened considerably. After several inspections by various private and local government agencies, mold was found under newly installed carpeting.

Stachybotrys is a toxic mold that has been found in all 50 states and has been named as the culprit in several high-profile cases of "sick-building syndrome." For more information, see Killer mold is nothing to sneeze at.

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