doctor says research
shows mold not toxic, calls for revised guidelines
By Don Eriksson
Media coverage of a problem with severe household mold that made Pepperell resident Nancy Davis seriously ill, blacklisted her home with insurance
agencies, and prompted a community-wide fund-raising effort to help her family
move out has produced responses from residents of both California
-- the two states with mold legislation on the books
One of them, Dr. Robert Ellis Bonham, an otolaryngologist, detailed a financial insurance
crisis that has developed in Texas concerning excessive mold remediation costs and lawsuits about mold.
He said prosecuting attorneys in Texas have "jumped" on mold lawsuits and 44,000 cases filed in 2001-2002 amounted to $1.3 billion. "The lawsuits and claims were fueled by fear, not fact, and sometimes by greed," Bonham said.
The Texas Legislature, through House Bill 329, has charged that state's Department of Health
with creating a program to educate, license
and regulate mold remediators to be adopted by the Board of Health next April 1.
Bonham presented results of his research
that found mold is not toxic, but is an allergen that can affect persons with weak immune systems.
A practicing physician for 30 years and a former advisor to former President George H.W. Bush, Bonham said he began his research out of a concern for the problem.
"I discovered that present guidelines for diagnosis and remediation of structures with mold came from a 1993 New York
City Department of Health document recommending procedures," he said. "The document was based on the false assumption that mold is toxic to humans and was patterned after asbestos guidelines.
"This false assumption has been duplicated in the documents being used today by the CDC [Center for Disease Control], EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] and OSHA [Occupational Safety
& Health Administration]," he said.
"What has happened is a perpetuation of the fear factor," by, for example, toxicologists who are on the "pseudo-medical fringe" and whose data has not been verified by the American Medical
Association, Bonham said.
For people like the Davises, the research Bonham and his colleagues have done indicates that their home and foundation would not have to be destroyed, that dangerous mold would not spread through the neighborhood if their roof was torn off, and that workers would have to wear protective clothing
Bonham said hiss research debunks the "first cousin to anthrax" statement that air quality specialists often use. Mold is a result of a central moisture problem. Removing the moisture and replacing material is the cure, he said.
He approached the Texas Medical
Association to request an independent review of scientific facts. In September 2001, its Council on Scientific Affairs released a report stating there is no significant evidence connecting "black mold" to human disease.
Bonham then approached former Texas Attorney General John Corynyn, who convened a meeting with apartment owners, builders, homeowners, school
districts, health department, and Department of Insurance, who agreed truth should be told and remediation guidelines set up.
Bonham and his associates have since formed the Mold Education and Resource Center and Texans for Sensible Mold Policy to encourage public policy based on common sense that he hopes to spread nationally.
Some scientific facts that have been uncovered include:
* Mold is a possible allergen and not a toxic substance. Indoor dust mites, cockroaches, and animal dander are more of a problem than mold.
* Moisture control is the key ingredient to controlling unwanted mold growth.
* Medical science doesn't support the need for air/surface sampling and there are no federal or state standards for concentration of mold spores.
* Extreme containment measures are not needed. Remediation should contain and remove moldy building materials in a cost-effective, logical method. The risk of contamination by mold spores in other areas of a building during remediation is not significant.
* The requirement for extreme personal protective equipment
is overstated in existing guidelines. But people allergic to mold or who have pulmonary problems are advised to decline remediation work to avoid aggravating their symptoms.
* It is important that a national policy be made with the advice of the medical profession.
Bonham is a fellow on the American Board of Otolaryngology, a staff member
of RHD Memorial Medical Center (past chief of surgery, past chief of staff), Trinity Medical Center, Presbyterian Hospital in Plano, Texas, and is a member
of the Executive Committee of the Texas Otolaryngology Society.
He is on the Board of Governors Legislative Committee for the American Academy of Otolaryngology and Head
and Neck Surgery, and the Legislative Committee of the Dallas County Medical Society.