Mold: Toxic Menace or Life on Earth?

While I was gone, I missed a great (and long) story in the LA Weekly (here) about the mom who turned mold "toxic," creating a storm of lucrative litigation out of fear, misunderstanding, and greed.

Like those who would later join the cause, including Johnny Carson
sidekick Ed McMahon, [Sharon Kramer] saw a conspiracy funded by businesses out to
end mold claims while risking the public’s health. She believed that
the well-being of thousands depended on her exposing that deceit. Like
the fight waged by McMahon over the death of his dog purportedly from
mold, Kramer’s belief has consumed her. It has wiped out her
comfortable suburban life and financial security and caused her to lose
touch with many friends.*

But the great mold scare never rose to the level of accepted epidemic
among serious researchers. Despite public hysteria that continues even
now, science today finds no direct link between mold and serious
illness in people with normal immune systems.

The Centers for Disease Control now says: "There are very few
reports that toxigenic molds found inside homes can cause unique or
rare health conditions such as pulmonary hemorrhage or memory loss" —
the kinds of illnesses claimed in successful lawsuits at the height of
the mold rush. "These case reports," the CDC warns on its Web site,
"are rare, and a causal link between the presence of toxigenic mold and
these conditions has not been proven."

The story resonates for yours truly because we have a guesthouse/trailer that has begun to grow mold in spots during winter rains…meaning we can no longer rent it out. What to do? Destroy? Rebuild? (Or, as one former tenant suggested, simply find tenants with functioning immune systems who don’t freak out.)

But the story of Sharon Kramer is almost a Greek tragedy: a woman seemingly deranged by the near-loss of her beloved child. She appears utterly obsessed with mold, which for most individuals, whose lungs aren’t thick with mucus, is not a great menace. Even her husband seems fed up.

"Looking back at how a leak from a fridge complicated the last six
years of our lives is unbelievable," her husband says. "It doesn’t make

You said it, brother. But when it comes to fear, little does.


Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

4 thoughts on “Mold: Toxic Menace or Life on Earth?

  1. FYI, the LA Weekly intentionally got the story completely wrong. That was nothing more than a sensationalist hit piece with a two fold message sent by the insurance industry:
    1. Mold does not harm prior healthy people.
    2. Mrs. Kramer is crazy, so don’t listen to her.

    To set the record straight, I do not think mold is the scourge of the earth. However I do recognize that excessive exposure to mold in water damaged indoor environments can and sometimes does cause severe illness in prior healthy people.

    It is not me who is keeping this issue in litigation. I work hard to push for physician education so that people do not become severely ill, so that they receive proper medical treatment early before the illnesses become anything worth litigation. Early detection and diagnosis is the key.

    These are the types of people who know I write the truth of the matter. The following article ran on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, Jan. 2007. Seasoned investigative reporter, David Armstrong, flew to my house in mid 2006. We hooked our computers up and downloaded files for an entire day as we talked of the deceit in science over the mold issue. After interviewing over 50 people, including Kelman, Armstrong wrote, “Court of Opinion, Amid Suits Over Mold Experts Wear Two Hats”.

    Click to access WSJOnlineJan92007.pdf

    Jill Stewart of LAWeekly is a real piece of work. The way they portrayed me in such a false light is disturbing that this could actually be published as journalism. I have documentation showing they flat out lied on many points of that article. Several people they quoted said they were never even interviewed. Things like they failed to mention we received a sizeable settlement in my suit with my insurer for bad faith claims handling practices and cross contamination of our home which was falsely cleared for occupancy by the lab they sent to us. Or that it was my daughters’ physicians who determined she could not be in the house. It is my new house that is bigger than my old and has the lake view. The “black spot” I was so fearful of was about 20ft x 20 ft after the remediators let water sit for six weeks. I have never owned a trailer in my life and couldn’t keep one in my front yard even if I wanted to. My homeowner’s association would never allow it. I have never forced my daughter to sleep in a trailer or held her out as a “starring victim”. The only thing she is a victim of is LAWeekly. She is a great kid who just graduated from college and started her first job in her field of education.

    They also failed to mention that I do occasionally leave my dark hovel where I purportedly obsessively blog lies and fear. I have traveled extensively over the past four years even keeping an apartment in Washington DC from time to time. Senator Kennedy ordered a Federal Government Accountability Office audit into the issue at my request. It is due out right after Labor Day.

    In detail: What stakeholders of moldy buildings want kept quiet is that Dr. Kelman, who is an old tobacco scientist, simply applied math to a single inhalation study of rodents to conclude (spin) that it is implausible people could ever be exposed to enough mold toxins in a water damaged building to cause human illness. This conclusion has NEVER been duplicated. It belongs in the Journal of Irreproducible results. He knows better than to form this conclusion based on such limited info as he used to oversee rodent inhalation studies for Big Tobacco. See 1987 letter from RJ Reynolds, Chief of Toxicology to Dr. Kelman.

    In 2002, the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, (ACOEM) which is a medical association with a long and dubious history of being in service to industry (read “Doubt is their product, how industry’s assault on science threatens your health” by Dr. David Michaels) legitimized Kelman’s little feat of scientific magic by making it a position statement of their org. Position statements carry much weight in the eyes of the court because they are portrayed to be the scientific opinion of thousands of physicians. They specifically brought Kelman, his business partner Hardin and another old expert defense witness, Saxon, into their org to write this position paper.

    [A paper I co-authored about ACOEM for the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health: “ACOEM A professional association in service to industry” . One of my co-authors is Dr. Huff, assistant director of chemical carcinogen, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.]

    From there, the conservative think tank, the Manhattan Institute (that also has a history in Big Tobacco) spun the “not plausible” stance based on never duplicated science of Kelman and Hardin, to mean all claims of mold induced illness were just a result of “trial lawyers, media hype and Junk science.” The US Chamber and a Congressman with strong ties to the building industry – who is currently under FBI Investigation- promoted it, used it to lobby and to “educate” judges. Voila! Instant current accepted science…with no scientific foundation.

    And the above is what I was writing about in my press release and what they wanted silenced. I was the first, but certainly not the last, to bring the mass marketing of false science over the issue to greater public light. I have a degree in marketing. I got it. I wrote about it.

    From my 2005 press release:

    “In 2003, with the involvement of the US Chamber of Commerce and ex-developer, US Congressman Gary Miller (R-CA), the GlobalTox paper was disseminated to the real estate, mortgage and building industries’associations. A version of the Manhattan Institute commissioned piece may also be found as a position statement on the website of a United States medical policy-writing body, the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.”

    So while I feel like LAWeekly just elevated me to the starring role in the play “Wicked”, I have absolutely no intention of shutting up about a mass marketing of a deceit in science that is causing many who are ill beyond simple allergy from mold to be unable to receive medical treatment, simply because stakeholders of moldy buildings are seeking to limit financial liability in court.

    Yes, Virginia, prior healthy people can and sometimes do become ill from excessive mold exposure in water damaged buildings. Just from asthma alone it is considered a national health threat by the EPA. “Berkeley Lab, EPA Studies Confirm Large Public Health And Economic Impact of Dampness and Mold: They estimate that number of asthma cases attributable to exposure in home is 4.6 million, at $3.5 billion annual cost”

    Personally, I think what has been done over this issue is nothing short of criminal. For the sake of saving money, the physicians of America have been intentionally misinformed. Tis I who is considered mainstream in my understanding of the science among legitimate researchers and physicians. But the marketing of industry is very hard to fight, even when you hold a degree in the subject of marketing as I do. I think the LA Weekly article by young Hempiel – whose career as a serious journalist was just ended by Ms. Stewart – is a prime example of the power and reach of industry. And I find journalism such as this far more scary and a greater threat to public health than mold could ever be.


  2. Sharon Kramer’s research into this issue was used as the primary basis for a year long, front page investigative report in the Wall Street Journal, the most impeccably credentialed news organization in this country. I doubt that paper would put it’s reputation on the line for someone who had not done her homework – completely.

    The conflicts of interest in this issue are blatant, and are as easily perceived as the agenda that this piece of Yellow Journalism is attempting to promote.

    Not only has a GAO report on this subject been requested by a senior member of Congress — with expected delivery this week after over two years in production — but there are now scheduled hearings on the matter with the Congressional Oversight Committee, chaired by California’s own Honorable Henry Waxman.


    Jonathan Lee Wright
    Fungal Disease Resource Center, Inc


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