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She gave up her Realtor job, and in 2004 devoted her working hours to blogging about, researching and writing papers on mold. She assembled scientists and doctors, often paid experts working for alleged victims in mold lawsuits, to help get the attention of Congress — and especially the public.
“It’s not that I am obsessed,” she insists. “I am tenacious and diligent in my efforts once I set my mind to change something. Too many lives are on the table for me to walk away until the deceit is taken out of this issue, when I know I can make things change.”
Kramer walks toward her front door — to smoke a cigarette. Her watery eyes scan her own home’s filthy carpet, the bare walls and the cobwebs that cling to a ceiling fan high above. “Sorry it’s so messy,” she says. “I don’t have any time to clean, and I can’t pay for the cleaning lady anymore.”
Her backers know her mostly from her voluminous postings. “She is a hero,” says Nancy Seats, an advocate on mold’s perils and president of the Kansas City–based Homeowners Against Deficient Dwellings, who has never actually met Kramer. They communicate via discussion boards and Web sites like Mold MD and ToxLaw. But Seats has a mental picture of her. “I envision her as an outgoing, dynamic, intelligent woman who has done everything in her power to help people hurt by mold. I’d love to meet her.”
Carl Grimes, president of Healthy Habitats, a mold consultancy company that makes money telling people how to get rid of “dangerous” mold, is also a Kramer fan. “She is doing something more people should be doing,” says Grimes, who claims he couldn’t work for years because of mold spores and bacteria in his home. “She’s speaking out against what she knows isn’t right.”
But her husband, Mike Kramer, says their relationship has suffered because of “her crusade.” The Kramers’ standard of living dropped dramatically after they moved a mile away from their house with a view over Lake Hodges, an exclusive community near San Diego County’s posh Rancho Santa Fe. Kramer says she sold $1 million in stocks to sustain her new blogging and gadfly career, spent $30,000 on advocacy trips to Washington, D.C., and lost potential Realtor earnings of $600,000.
“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 sense.”
Nor will it, anytime soon. The family has spent $100,000 on Kramer’s legal fees to fight a defamation suit by scientist Kelman, which she may not be able to win.
There’s no doubt that the mold incubating in Erin’s lungs 10 years ago was real, as was her severe allergic reaction. What is in doubt — severe doubt — is the “toxic clouds” and poisonous spores blamed throughout California and the nation for maladies from hemorrhoids to bleeding scalp, memory loss, athlete’s foot and even rotten teeth.
Oh, there’s mold there. Mold accounts for a quarter of the world’s biomass. It is living rot, and, to many, a sign of death. Mold can sicken people in three ways, according to the National Academy of Sciences and the CDC. Very large quantities can irritate a person’s nose or eyes. It can cause an allergic response. In the very frail, it can cause infection.
Mold grows in moisture and warmth, emitting spores and cell fragments. But there’s no evidence that it can take away a 480-pound man’s ability to run, as one very fat victim claimed, or cause a person’s teeth to itch, as another insisted.
As insurance companies and builders stiffened their defense in response to the “mold rush,” scientist Bruce Kelman entered the picture — as a skeptical, serious scientific type calling out the mold movement.
Kelman, who speaks with a clinical tone, is balding and wears glasses, grew up in the Midwest just like Kramer. Since childhood, he had an interest in science, and later in toxicology. “I got very interested in animal models,” he says. While much research for human benefit is done on rats and even smaller species, Kelman has used primates in his work.With his sterile and unapologetic tone, he says, “We don’t just do it for fun. But I’d rather experiment on animals than people.”
He was among a fraternity of expert witnesses, earning roughly $425 an hour, who began to utilize a quiver of scientific papers, including Kelman’s own, to argue that mold is not the danger victims have claimed.
One was a 2002 report by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM) that nullified the arguments of many victims, and decimated several court cases that might have won big bucks. The paper asserted that severe and debilitating health effects from indoor mold were “highly unlikely at best, even for the most vulnerable of subpopulations.”