Mold: Science or Hype?

New Popularity

Stachybotrys mold magnified 600x

It doesn’t take more than a cursory glance at newspapers, trade journals, or newscasts to recognize that mold has become an issue of public concern. With headlines such as “Black Mold Closes Elementary School” and “Mold Toxins Blamed on Infant Deaths,” fears over mold have sparked multi-million dollar lawsuits, crippled businesses, and forced insurance carriers, homeowners, and landlords to spend billions of dollars in remediation and repair costs. Mold is Old Historically, references to mold go back as far as biblical times, with references to the hazards of mold in Leviticus 13:43. Scientific references to the toxicity of Stachybotrys date back to 1930 when livestock deaths were attributed to ingestion of Stachybotrys-infested hay.

While mold was not recently discovered, numerous factors have influenced public awareness. Three major events propelled the mold issue to the limelight.

a. The first event was a perceived association between the mold Stachybotrys and clustered incidences of Sudden Infant Death in Cleveland, Ohio in 1992.    Initial communications from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) appeared to corroborate that toxins produced by Stachybotrys were likely contributory factors to the deaths.

b. The second event was the Malinda Ballard insurance claim that resulted in national media coverage, a lawsuit against Farmers Insurance Company, and a multimillion-dollar judgement for the policyholder. While expert testimony regarding the health effects of mold was not allowed in the trial, punitive damages for bad faith far exceeded the actual property damages.

c. A third event occurred in the spring of 2002, with Michigan Congressman Conyers’ introduction of “the Malina Bill” (H.R. 5040 referred to as the Toxic Mold Bill). This proposed bill has been stalled, but is expected to be re-introduced. The Malina Bill called for establishing guidelines for mold exposure, disclosure of mold and

2. In addition to the increased media coverage, several other factors have influenced mold awareness.

a. One entity that has impacted mold notoriety is the building industry.

1. Fabricated materials, such as drywall, that are porous and contain high cellulose are not “forgiving” after a water intrusion event. Historically, plaster and concrete were used for interior walls. In contrast to drywall, plaster is not as porous and does not contain high cellulose.

2. A 2002 study by Dr. Susan Doll (Associate for Environmental Health & Engineering of Newton, Massachusetts) demonstrates that Penicillium, Aspergillus grow within 2 – 7 days on partially saturated oriented strand board, ceiling tile, gypsum board, and plywood.

3. The rapid increase in home and building construction also influenced mold growth; many hastily built homes were not constructed to minimize water intrusion and retention. Some of the most common causes of water intrusion and subsequent microbial colonization in new buildings are the absence of weep holes, improper roof ventilation, and improper flashing on doors, windows, and roofs.

b. Another entity that has increased interest and awareness about mold is the scientific community. Whereas mold previously was considered an aesthetic nuisance, it is now associated with illnesses.

1. Academic interest in the study of molds (mycology) has increased.

2. Testing methodologies have improved for evaluating mold in the air and on surfaces.

3. The medical community has also played a role in promoting interest in mold. Physicians are finding that some previously unexplained illnesses can be attributed to mold exposures. Many physicians include information on water damage and mold in patient evaluation forms.


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