Looking over the selection of new movies now showing at the local cineplex, for a moment I thought Hollywood was now doing its part to spread mold hysteria. After looking over the reviews, however, I found out that “Eight Legged Freaks” was neither a documentary on Stachybotrys chartarum nor a film about how a condensate pan, taken over by uncontrollable mold growth, was looking to take over the world.

Hey, never underestimate crazed directors or the audience’s appetite for special effects. After all, if Hollywood can make a statement regarding today’s health care system, a la “John Q,” don’t you think it’d love to expose the reported destruction and health problems caused by mold.

It sounds like material for a Stephen King thriller.

Sorry, but my intentions here are not to make light of the current mold situation, especially now with Congress studying the matter. This is serious stuff. Time will tell what will become of the United States Toxic Mold Safety and Protection Act, but we know what can happen once the government gets involved. In the end, I don’t — and I think you don’t — want the government to produce some outrageous legislation.

SALAMI OR BALONEY?

I do know that, over the last few weeks, I have been inundated with information regarding mold — from neuropsychologists to insurance companies to law firms. Everyone has more than a word or two to say regarding the subject.

I must point out a research paper sent by Paul R. Lees-Haley, Ph.D., ABPP, a neuropsychologist in Huntsville, AL. Better yet, let me point out the title of his work on “toxic mold” cases he submitted to The News: “Mold Neurotoxicity: Validity, Reliability, and Baloney.” Doesn’t that give you a strong hint as to which way he is leaning on this subject?

“The current mold neurotoxicity controversy is driven more by lawyers than by scientific disagreements,” writes Lees-Haley. “The primary problem with the allegations of neuropsychological impairment due to mold inhalation is that speculation has been substituted for scientific reasoning based on empirical data.

“As of this writing,” he states, “there is no scientific basis for the allegations that breathing mold spores or mycotoxins in household and commercial office settings causes neuropsychological impairment. ... Experts are using naïve and empty arguments such as saying they cannot think of any reason that a person suing for millions of dollars might make subjective complaints other than because they inhaled mold, and that the scientific literature does not disprove their speculative opinions. These are junk science arguments.”

With his permission, we are posting his entire paper on our website (www.achrnews.com). However, if you want to go straight to the source, Lees-Haley can be reached by phone (256-551-1024), fax (256-551-1036), or e-mail (paul@Lees-Haley.com).

Meanwhile, Federated Insurance has developed some very helpful tips on mold for plumbing and HVAC contractors. They include fact sheets, sample pre- and post-inspection forms, and a frequently asked question sheet. This is material you can use. For a copy of the full informational package, go to www.naphcc.org/publications/Moldinformation.pdf, or call 800-533-7694.

LAW FIRM WARNINGS

Leave it to the lawyers to have the last say, though. Alvidas Jasin, director of Marketing for the law firm of Thompson Hine, was kind enough to send The News its own white paper (“The Growing Impact of Toxic-Mold Litigation”). As to be expected, the issue is a land mine — or gold mine, depending upon which side of the mold you are on.

“This new wave of ‘sick building syndrome’ litigation could become as big of a problem for businesses as last decade’s asbestos cases,” warned Heidi Goldstein, an environmental and product liability lawyer at Thompson Hine LLP, who counsels corporate clients on mold litigation. “In fact, mold may become an even more widespread issue for Corporate America because, unlike asbestos, virtually every building and facility has the potential for a mold problem — and potential related litigation. In effect, one small leak in a pipe, roof, wall, or window could lead to multiple multi-million dollar claims.

“Virtually every business is at risk, from insurers and real estate companies, to architects and builders, to employees and building managers. And despite the fact that there is no conclusive scientific evidence linking mold to health problems, claims are on the rise.”

At least the firm provides some ways to defend against mold litigation. To get a copy of the white paper, contact Jasin at 216-566-5857 or Alvidas.Jasin@ThompsonHine.com (e-mail).

Read it. (You can weep later.)

Skaer is editor-in-chief. He can be reached at 248-244-6446; 248-362-0317 (fax); markskaer@achrnews.com (e-mail).

Publication date: 08/05/2002