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Conyers became involved in the mold issue because the problem hit close to home. One of his office workers, Pam Walker, had her Southfield, MI, home overtaken by mold, making her young daughter Melina severely ill and forcing the family to move out of the house. Conyers then began to put together what was originally called “Melina’s Bill” in an attempt to provide some consumer protections from toxic mold.
BILL SUMMARYThe goal of the bill is “to set up guidelines to regulate toxic mold that both the public and private sector will embrace,” noted Joel Segal, Conyers’ legislative assistant.
A summary of the mold bill provided by Segal states that the proposed legislation will call on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue guidelines that define threshold limits for toxic mold, spelling out what levels are acceptable and what levels are dangerous. It will mandate that the EPA set standards for those who inspect and clean up mold sites, requiring that states license and monitor mold inspectors and remediators.
The bill will authorize a long-term study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on the heath effects of mold.
It will establish a federal toxic mold insurance program that would provide compensation for families that do not have homeowners insurance, or whose private homeowners insurance does not sufficiently cover the costs of mold removal, or other necessary costs such as moving into a new home or apartment.
Individuals or families who have become ill due to toxic mold poisoning, have been diagnosed by a physician, and who are (1) uninsured or (2) under-insured, would be eligible to receive Medicaid assistance.
The bill would require homeowners and residential real estate developers to disclose any mold problems upon the sale of their houses. It would also make available federal dollars to the states to help clean “mold disasters.”
MOLD MULTIPLIESReported mold problems have taken off in recent years and the issue gained national prominence when, in June 2001, a Texas jury awarded the family of Melinda Ballard $32.1 million in a toxic mold lawsuit brought against the Farmers Insurance Group.
The jury decided that the insurance company did not move quickly enough to handle a water leak in the family’s estate, allowing mold to spread through the home. It was reported that when Ballard’s 3-year-old son started spitting up blood, the family was forced to move out.
The jury award included $6.2 million for replacement of the home and its contents, $12 million for punitive damages, $5 million for mental anguish, and $8.9 million for legal fees.
Toxic mold lawsuits initiated by California celebrities Erin Brockovich and Ed McMahon have also brought national notoriety. In the McMahon suit (see The News, April 22, 2002, pg. 39), he is suing American Equity Insurance Company for over $20 million, claiming that toxic mold grew in his home last July after contractors hired by the insurance firm botched the cleanup of a ruptured water pipe. McMahon’s dog died a month later and he and his wife became ill, suffering from migraine headaches and coughing.
According to MoldUpdate.com, a website maintained by the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, court cases that have been filed to date relating to mold problems have included a variety of defendants including contractors and subcontractors. Thus, the hvacr contracting community has been concerned about mold liability and the growing number of lawsuits.
CONTRACTORS RESPONDBill Trombly, president of the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors—National Association (PHCC), stated, “PHCC is educating its membership on the mold issue to make sure we limit the liability exposure of our members. Working in partnership with the insurance industry, we expect to bring reason into this debate.”
John Herzog, vice president for public policy, Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), said, “Unfortunately, we haven’t seen the final language of Rep. Conyers’ proposed legislation yet, so it’s difficult to comment directly on it. But we have been in contact with the Congressman and his staff, and we have told him that our members share his concerns over the important issue of toxic mold. We want to work with Congress on a long-term, practical solution.
“Mold problems may occur when buildings are improperly designed and constructed. When designed, installed, and maintained appropriately, hvac systems may actually help compensate for defects in construction,” he declared.
“However, we all must be careful not to rush to judgment, and work together to ensure that any legislation or regulation on this issue is based on sound science. We look forward to working with Congress, our manufacturing and supplier partners, the health and research community, and all the other stakeholders on the mold issue. Hvac contractors want to be part of the solution.”
AN ELUSIVE SOLUTIONGeorge Benda, chairman and ceo of the Chelsea Group, Ltd., Itasca, IL, an indoor air quality (IAQ) consulting firm, agrees that “Legislation should not chase ahead of the science.”
He believes that there is a “lack of sound science” on toxic mold at the present time. “We don’t have a way of quantifying what kind of health impact that mold has,” he said. According to the CDC, “Standards for judging what is an acceptable, tolerable, or normal quantity of mold have not been established.” Benda concurs that no one has been able to come up with accepted standards as yet.
A benefit of federal legislation, however, is that it will bring federal funds for researching the mold problem, such as the proposed CDC study, and help move the science toward a solution, he said.
In addition, said Benda, “The timing is right to start pushing on the [remediator] certification issue. That kind of competence and oversight is very valuable.” Putting teeth on the certification side “is the right direction.”
Publication date: 05/27/2002