Avoiding Litigation: About Mold


By Keith Swift, PhD
InterNACHI member/InterNACHI Report Writing Consultant
President, Porter Valley Software
I’m not an authority on molds and fungi, and I’m careful not to make statements that I cannot document. Although much has been written about molds, the specific mechanism of the disease and its effects on human health are not yet fully understood and professional opinions are not uniform. This much is sure however, mold has been around since the beginning of recorded time and is essential to the life process. It must have a water source to survive, and is often clearly visible or discernable by a musty or moldy odor, which should not be confused with the bacterial odor of rot, such as that from a decomposing carcass. Not all molds are dangerous, but in this age and in many regions of the country mold is manna from heaven for attorneys, who get very excited by the smell of money. Nevertheless, I’ve been told by persons who should know that mold will not result in the hundreds and hundreds of lawsuits that were generated by asbestos, but I’m not convinced. Extrapolating from the limited evidence that I have, I’m convinced that we’ll be seeing more and more mold lawsuits. If I’m right, this is bad news indeed for inspectors nationwide who continue to be victimized by unscrupulous attorneys and their clients, and who have been abandoned by a judicial system that is easily corrupted and which continues to make a mockery of justice. I’ve long argued that our contracts and standards offer us very little protection, but we should continue to do everything that we can to avoid litigation. And, for what it’s worth, here’s what I do. In a section of my report called The Scope of Work, I have this to say about mold: 
Mold is a microorganism that has tiny seeds, or spores, that are spread on the air, land, and feed on organic matter. It has been in existence throughout human history, and actually contributes to the life process. It takes many different forms, many of them benign, like mildew. Some characterized as allergens are relatively benign but can provoke allergic reactions among sensitive people, and others characterized as pathogens can have adverse health effects on large segments of the population, such as the very young, the elderly, and people with suppressed immune systems. However, there are less common molds that are called toxigens that represent a serious health threat. All molds flourish in the presence of moisture, and we make a concerted effort to look for any evidence of it wherever there could be a water source, including that from condensation. Interestingly, the molds that commonly appear on ceramic tiles in bathrooms do not usually constitute a health threat, but they should be removed. However, some visibly similar molds that form on cellulose materials, such as on drywall, plaster, and wood, are potentially toxigenic. If mold is to be found anywhere within a home, it will likely be in the area of tubs, showers, toilets, sinks, water heaters, evaporator coils, inside attics with un-vented bathroom exhaust fans, and return-air compartments that draw outside air, all of which are areas that we inspect very conscientiously. Nevertheless, mold can appear as though spontaneously at any time, so you should be prepared to monitor your home, and particularly those areas that we identified. Naturally, it is equally important to maintain clean air-supply ducts and to change filters as soon as they become soiled, because contaminated ducts are a common breeding ground for dust mites, rust, and other contaminants. Regardless, although some mold-like substances may be visually identified, the specific identification of molds can only be determined by specialists and laboratory analysis, and is absolutely beyond the scope of our inspection. Nonetheless, as a prudent investment in environmental hygiene, we categorically recommend that you have your home tested for the presence of any such contaminants, and particularly if you or any member of your family suffers from allergies or asthma. Also, you can learn more about mold from an Environmental Protection Agency document entitled "A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture and Your Home,” by visiting their web site at: http://www.epa.gov/iaq/molds/moldguide.html/, from which it can be downloaded.
In addition to this, I have yet another disclaimer that appears under a section entitled “Living Space,” which I hope provides me with even greater protection. Remember, it doesn’t hurt to repeat something in order to make a point. I bet many of us can still hear the voice of a stern parent echoing down through the years: “How many times do I have to tell you to keep your hands out your pockets?” This is one that I remember from my childhood in a boarding school, but there are so many others, such as: “How many times do I have to tell you to cover your mouth when you cough?” Anyway, here’s the other mold narrative:
We do not test for mold or measure indoor air quality, which the Consumer Product safety Commission ranks fifth among potential contaminants. Regardless, a person's health is a truly personal responsibility, and inasmuch as we not inspect for mold or test for other environmental contaminants we recommend that you schedule an inspection by an environmental hygienist before the close of escrow. And this would be imperative if you or any member of your family suffers from allergies or asthma, and could require the sanitizing of air ducts and other concealed areas. 
Note: Mold cannot exist without moisture. Therefore, any moisture whatsoever, whether it be from inadequate grading and drainage, a leaking roof, window, or door, or moisture from a faulty exhaust vent, a condensate pipe, an evaporator coil, or a component of a plumbing system should be serviced immediately, or the potential for mold contamination will remain. 
I even have a group of narratives from which I can select when I find evidence of a plumbing leak or moisture intrusion within the living space that warns about the perennial threat of mold. I won’t bore you with more examples, but do let me warn you that mold lawsuits are a very real threat that is not likely to go away any time soon. However, help yourself to all or any part of these narratives that you might need. And hope and pray for justice, but don’t count on it. There are terrorists among us. 



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