The recent spate of heavy rains in South Florida is of great potential concern to homeowners. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”) guide to construction and maintenance of homes in coastal areas, such as Naples and Marco Island, warns that homes must be designed and maintained to withstand extreme coastal wind and rain conditions, which can often result in water intrusion through roofs, windows, and wall systems. Should water penetrate a home’s exterior, mold can begin to grow on building surfaces as soon as 24-48 hours and, if left untreated, can produce breathable mold “spores” which can spread throughout the home through its ventilation system.
Recent studies show that the real danger from mold is not the “toxic mold” depicted in the media in recent years but, rather, allergies resulting from mold which are far more prevalent and have a far greater impact on the health and pocketbooks of Southwest Floridians.
The conclusion of a recent American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology study was that mold allergy was a greater health concern than toxic mold. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services acknowledged in August, 2005 that more than half of the United States population is sensitive to allergens, while a 2007 EPA-sponsored study determined that mold is one of the most prevalent, if not the most prevent, indoor allergen, present in approximately 47% of U.S. homes.
These facts, among others, led the U.S. Government Accountability Office to conclude in a September, 2008 report to Senator Edward M. Kennedy that “scientific and medical research is now suggesting that mold poses a widespread and . . . serious health threat” and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control to conclude in June, 2006 that mold can cause “adverse health effects . . . regardless of the type of mold or the extent of contamination.” In March, 2008, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine issued a warning to physicians who may not be fully-versed in the health risks associated with mold exposure that “[e]xposure to significant levels of indoor mold can cause acute or chronic dysfunction or injury to all organ systems including the respiratory, neurological, cardiovascular, genitourinary, gastrointestinal, musculoskeletal, immune . . . and hematological systems.”
Indoor mold is much more concerning than outdoor mold because, as a leading allergy treatise noted, “at the beginning of the twenty-first century, normal behavior patterns include spending 23 hours per day indoors and correspondingly little time outdoors. This pattern has consequences for many chronic diseases but has special significance for allergic disease.”
To quantify the extent and financial impact of a mere fraction of the overall health risks associated with mold, a 2007 EPA-sponsored study found that exposure to mold raises the risk of asthma or other allergic respiratory disease by up to 50% and that 4.6 million out of the 21.8 million reported asthma cases in the U.S. have been attributed to mold, at an annual cost of $3.5 billion per year. The renowned Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota has determined that in more than 95% of the 37 million patients suffering from chronic sinus disease in the U.S., an immune system reaction caused by inhaling mold is the primary culprit.
Attorney Scott Gelfand specializes in mold law. He notes that he has seen a 10-fold increase in mold case inquiries from homeowners and renters in the Naples and Marco Island area over the last two years.