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Toxic Mold and The Sick Building Syndrome

One well-known public health official has stated, "The 'sick building' term is a misnomer. It's inaccurate and it enflames people. Buildings aren't sick; people are sick."

The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that nearly 30% of all new and remodeled buildings worldwide may be affected with indoor air quality problems. Problems with indoor air quality may result in claims for personal injury, property damage, constructive eviction, design professional liability (design and consulting professionals) and construction defects (contractors and building owners).

Sources of indoor air pollution within a building envelope include radon gas infilitration, asbestos (product) erosion, formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds and microbial contamination by fungi and bacteria. Health, claims by affected building occupants include various respiratory symptoms, dermal rashes, eye irritation, drowsiness and dizziness and, in extreme cases, Legionnaires disease and cancer.

The so-called "sick building" is not historically a new concern as a form of it is mentioned in the text of teh biblical Book of Leveticus. However, in relatively recent times, with the advent of highly energy efficient "tight" buildings and environmental control systems and because of the sealing of the buildings' environmental envelope, a variety of health problems have arisen.

Also relatively new is the number of cases and the degree of intensity of ongoing litigation concerning this problem. Says Ray Beane, vice president & manager, Construction Wrap-Up Group, Liberty Mutual, "In the past two years there has been increasing litigation in the courts concerning property damage and bodily injury cases involving mold or fungal growth. This appears to be party due to the media hype concerning mold.

"It is certainly something that lawyers have lached onto. Although verdicts have gone both ways in this area, there have been multi-million-dollar damage awards against construction risks relating to mold issues.

"In light of this, construction and related industries must develop an understanding of the factors that create environments hospitable to mold and establish preventative measures."

Professionals are particularly disturbed by the toxic mold problem, Lorna Parsons, managing director, CIG, Shinnerer & Company, points out that "mold is a huge problem for architects and engineers. Some of the new materials and the tightness of building are exacerbating problems. There are also difficulties caused by the use of highly efficient, oversize HVAC systems. They don't need to cycle on as much as conventional systems. What happens is that you take less moisture out of the air."

Regulations and guidelines do exist but they are generally limited in scope.








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