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Regulations of toxic mold spreading across U.S.; federal legislation considered

At the federal level, U.S. Representative John Conyers (D-Mich.) introduced the toxic Mold Safety and Protection Act (H.R. 1268) in 2003 and more recently in a second attempt in March 2005. Known as the "Melina Bill" for the seven-year-old Michigan girl whose family filed suit following the severe health problems the girl developed from mold exposure only three weeks after moving into a new home, the bill asks the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ensure that state and federal government agencies adopt federally regulated standards for mold inspection and remediation.

[T]he "Melina Bill"... asks the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ensure that state and federal government agencies adopt federally regualted standards to mold inspection and remediation.

At the state level, California in 2001 was the first state to enact a Toxic Mold Protection Act. This legislation created a task force to establish permissible exposure limits to mold along with assessment standards and standards for identification and remediation. Other states also developing regulations include New York, Massachusetts and Texas. Mold growth is generally found on or under carpets, ceilings, walls, floor boards, or behind wallpaper, or in heating, ventilating, and air conditioning systems. In some cases, mold may grow in areas that are not readily visible, such as crawl spaces, behind walls, and under floor boards. In such cases, the first hint that a mold problem exists may come from employees' health complaints.

The American Academy of Asthma and Immunology claims 35 million Americans suffer reactions to mold. There is, however, no evidence that mold exposure causes asthma, only that the existence of mold may increase asthma symptoms that already exist.

Mold is prevalent not only in homes but has been widely detected in schools built since the energy crisis of the 1970's, when structures were tightly sealed and climate-controlled heating and ventilating systems became commonplace, as with the use of drywall, and absorbent ceiling tiles, carpeting, and flat roofs. Connecticut is a good example. Recent inspections have found mold in ceiling tiles, wallboards, and carpets at several high and elementary schools. In fact, two thirds of the state's schools-a figure that matches national numbers-report they have some type of environmental problem.

A major reason so many of these school buildings are "sick" is that, in an attempt to save money on construction, some were built on swamps and toxic waste dumps, and architectural corners were often cut during design, such as specifying windows that could not be opened to provide ventilation.

California has definitely been "ahead of the pack" in looking at the toxic mold issue in a comprehensive way, says Don Griffin, a spokesperson for the National Association of Independent Insurers. But Griffin says the insurance industry has mixed emotions about this type of legislation. "It offers a degree of protection for everyone involved," he says, "but it also gives a lot of people a target." According to Griffin, if a property fails to meet permissible mold exposure limits under the bill, the fear is that "a claim or lawsuit may be made even if no actual damage has occurred."

Bill requirements

If signed into law, the Toxic Mold Protection Act would become the first comprehensive statewide legislation to address the public health dangers of toxic mold in residential and commercial buildings. The problem of toxic mold is so new that few state or federal regulations exist and health studies are inconclusive as to what level of toxic mold exposure is harmful.

The California bill would require the state Department of Health Services (DHS) to convene a task force comprised of consumers, business owners, and medical and mold-abatement experts to advise the DHS on the development of permissible mold exposure limits. DHS would then have to report on its findings by July 1, 2003. The bill requires that property owners provide written disclosure to potential buyers or prospective tenants when their properties exceed permissible mold exposure limits.

The Toxic Mold Protection Act also requires:

  • DHS to develop standards for the assessment of molds in "indoor environments," as well as to develop any necessary "alternative standards for hospitals, child care facilities, and nursing homes."
Much ado about mold

Mold, a naturally occurring fungus, can cause medical problems and lead to "dry rot," which can eventually cause structural damage to homes.

  • DHS to develop standards for the identification and remediation of mold.
  • DHS to review the exposure limits at least once every five years and consider any new scientific evidence "that indicates that molds may present a different health risk than was previously determined."
  • DHS to develop public education materials and resources to inform the public about the health effects of molds, methods of prevention, methods of identification, and remediation of mold growth and mold infestation.

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