Page E2.1 . 19 September 2001                     
ArchitectureWeek - Environment Department
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  • In the Landscape of Murcutt
  • Mold Concern Continues

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    Mold Concern Continues

    by Catherine Coombs, CIH, CSP

    In recent years, architects, facility managers, and maintenance personnel have become intensely concerned about the environmental hazard presented by mold. The cause can be relatively simple dampness in buildings and solving moisture problems can often eliminate mold and restore the building to its normal condition.

    Multimillion-dollar lawsuits over mold now require a cadre of medical, legal, and architectural experts for both plaintiffs and defendants. Litigation is creating an emotional, highly charged, and adversarial climate. It is difficult to differentiate speculation from reality.

    It is now possible to find experts to argue any side of the issue. Yet before 1990, there were few lawsuits. The turning point came in 1996 when the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a study of a Cleveland neighborhood that was subject to flooding. Many houses there have cold air returns near the basement floor (known as the "Cleveland drop") that can be conduits of damp air from flooded basements to the rest of the house.

    The initial CDC study reported an association in these water-damaged homes between a type of mold called Stachybotrys chartarum, and pulmonary hemorrhage (bleeding lungs) in ten infants, one of whom died. S. chartarum, often termed "toxic black mold," grows where there is constant moisture, and under specific conditions may produce toxic chemicals, "mycotoxins."

    A media blitz was followed by a striking public health response. Simply finding S. chartarum indoors resulted in school, library, and office building closings and prompted class-action litigation.



    ArchWeek Image

    Persistent leaks around windows result in wet, moldy frames and sills.
    Photo: Steven Winter Associates, Inc.

    ArchWeek Image

    Watch where a sump pump discharges so that water doesn't migrate back to the house.
    Photo: Steven Winter Associates, Inc.


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