- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 27, 2005

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Wearing goggles, gloves, galoshes and a mask, Veronica Randazzo lasted only 10 minutes inside her home in St. Bernard Parish. Her eyes burned, her mouth filled with a salty taste and she felt nauseous.

Her 26-year-old daughter, Alicia, also covered in gear, came out coughing.

“That mold,” she said. “It smells like death.”

Mold now forms an interior version of kudzu in the soggy South, posing health dangers that will doom many houses and will force schools and hospitals to do expensive repairs.

It’s a problem that any homeowner who has ever had a flooded basement or a leaky roof has faced. But the magnitude of this problem leaves many storm victims prey to unscrupulous or incompetent contractors. Home test kits for mold, for example, are worthless, experts say.

Don’t expect help from insurance companies, either. Most policies were revised in the past decade to exclude mold damage because of “sick building” lawsuits claiming illnesses. Although mold’s danger to those with asthma or allergies is real, there’s little or no science behind other claims, and a lot of hype.

Molds produce irritants that can provoke coughing, and some make spores that contain toxins, which further irritate airways.

“The real pariah is this thing called Stachybotrys chartarum. This organism produces a greater variety of toxins and in greater concentrations than any other mold that’s been studied,” said Nicholas Money, a mold expert from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and author of “Carpet Monsters and Killer Spores,” a book about mold.

Doctors at Cleveland’s Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital blamed it for a cluster of cases of pulmonary hemorrhage, or bleeding into the lungs, that killed several children in the 1990s, but the link was never proved.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there is no firm evidence linking mold to the lung problem, memory loss or other woes beyond asthma and allergy. However, the sheer amount of it in the South could trigger problems for some people who haven’t had them, medical experts said.

“The child who didn’t have a significant problem before may be in a much different scenario now,” said Dr. Michael Wasserman, a pediatrician at Ochsner Clinic in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie whose office and home were flooded and are now covered in mold. He plans to tear down his house.

Mold is everywhere, and most people have no problem living with the ubiquitous fungus. It reproduces by making spores, which travel unseen through the air and grow on any moist surface, usually destroying it as the creeping crud grows.

Mold can’t be eliminated but can be controlled by limiting moisture, which is exactly what couldn’t be done after Hurricane Katrina. Standing water created ideal growth conditions and allowed mold to penetrate so deep that experts fear that even studs of many homes are saturated and unsalvageable.

In fact, New Orleans is where mold’s health risks were first recognized.

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