By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Like those who would later join the cause, including Johnny Carson sidekick Ed McMahon, she 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.”
Today, hotly disputed claims of brain lesions, seizures, memory loss, dementia, bleeding gums and lungs, vertigo and deathly ill pets rarely make it before a Los Angeles, Dallas or Portland jury — just a few of the hot spots where victims got rich from the verdicts of juries eager to believe in a movieland-like killer spawn.
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Before and after: Sharon Kramer, who looked like a model, says her aging is due to mold.
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Past it: Erin Kramer doesn't like to relive what happened.
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Healthier times: Mike Kramer, recently vacationing with the Kramer girls.
Now, scientists are trying to change public perception about an epidemic that probably never was. And, illustrating how central Sharon Kramer is to driving public perception, she is being sued for defamation by the key Washington state researcher who stuck out his neck to publicize basic facts that went against the grain: First, that household molds don’t cause serious illnesses in nonallergic, healthy people. And second, that a lot of people pointlessly live in fear of mold, spending small fortunes to rid their homes or offices of it — for nothing.
Today, that scientist, toxicologist and expert witness, Bruce Kelman, is fighting to fully restore his reputation as an unbiased researcher. Of Kramer’s role as the queen of mold, he says, “It is amazing to see the impact of someone who knows how to manipulate the public information system. The impact can be huge — and with no factual information.”
A lot of people are pulling for Kelman — to the great shock of Kramer, long accustomed to being the Brockovichesque heroine. Ted Frank, a lawyer and contributor at overlawyered.com, a Web site that tracks suspect litigation, commenting on the broader battle rather than the Kramer case, says, “Entrepreneurial lawyers saw an opportunity to use junk science. ... We saw it with power lines, we saw it with Bendectin” — a discontinued drug used to lessen morning sickness in pregnant women. “Every once in a while, trial lawyers completely fool the legal system and make billions with one of these theories, as they did with silicone breast implants. ‘Toxic mold’ was just another stab at the litigation lottery.” *
Just type into Google the words “Los Angeles,” “mold” and “remediators,” and 93,000 links appear. Or ask a real estate agent if mold is a worry for home buyers, school officials and dozens of other subgroups that needlessly live in stark fear of it.
It’s a huge industry. Mold-detection kits promise to find floating mold spores in your house — before they get you. Mold-sniffing dogs, trained in Florida, are offered by Mold Dog and Mold Trackers for $500 or more. The fumigation of a cash-strapped Lodi public school soared to more than $13 million — yet none of the minor coughs or aches was ever proven to be caused by mold — an unlikely source. Last year, cleanup of an Oxnard hospital — the busiest in Ventura County — shut it down for 10 days and cost $24 million. No illnesses were ever shown to be caused by mold.
The victims aren’t uneducated people. In a 2003 settlement in Tulare County, a frightened judge sued the county, claiming that mold in his courtroom caused his vertigo and dizziness. He got $40,000. In 2006, a Stevenson Ranch family demanded $20 million from Shea Homes, claiming a litany of injuries and illnesses. But by 2006, the tide had turned in the courtrooms. The family got nothing in that case.
From the beginning, victims — the L.A. poster child being Ed McMahon — displayed such a wide range of unrelated symptoms that health officials were suspicious that any one source could be to blame. Now, many studies later, some public-health officials note that the emotional certainty of purported victims and juries was never based on accepted science.
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