National expert shares
insights on mold woes

14 Hilton workers report mold illness

By Lyn Danninger

While mold contamination issues have only recently made headlines in Hawaii, on the mainland, they have been a hot topic for some time.

Yesterday, 250 local property managers, real estate agents, architects, builders and others paid to attend "Mold University," a seminar on the legal and public health implications of the growing issue.

"Generally, as soon as mold is perceptible, it's a problem, or if it's invisible and you get a lot of complaints," said Dr. Harriet Burge, a nationally recognized indoor air quality expert from the Harvard School of Public Health.

But it's difficult to predict when mold will cause problems, she said.

"Levels depend on many different variables, so that's why it's so difficult to deal with," Burge said.

Record keeping is important in preventing future problems, she said.

"You have no idea what is abnormal unless you have been keeping track and doing long-term monitoring over a couple of years," she said. "You can then take an (air quality) level and determine whether it's good or bad."

Randy Herold, president of Kailua-based Mold Pro International, said mold continues to attract public attention.

"It's new, emotional and has attracted a lot of media coverage," said Herold, whose company investigates indoor air quality.

Fueling the fire is a spate of consumer legal actions, including lawsuits brought by high-profile individuals, such as activist Erin Brockovich and entertainer Ed McMahon.

Different decisions from courts across the nation about mold have added to the confusion. There is also almost no regulation in terms of what is required in testing for mold, remediating it, and who can provide the services, he said.

So virtually anyone can say they are a mold expert, Herold said.

Individual states have passed or are working on a variety of mold-related legislation -- all of it different. California has perhaps the most far-reaching legislation, he said.

"Some of the things in it are OK, some are onerous," Herold said.

Congress is also looking at its own proposed mold-related legislation, called the U.S. Toxic Mold Safety and Protection Act.

Even the medical community has its share of disagreements, he said.

"In the end, it's tough to know who to believe," Herold said.

In real estate transactions, more people are now asking for mold reports. Eventually it will become standard, just as termite reports are required now, he said.

He predicts that if industry does not act on the issue, politicians, responding to public outcry, will pass legislation that could make things worse.

"I think a lot of it will be bad because we are going too fast and right now, there isn't enough research," he said.

Instead, Herold advocates establishing assessment and remedial standards as well as a certification for mold specialists.

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