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
Authors Bryan Hardin, Andrew Saxon and Kelman found that, despite a deep, persisting public belief in toxic mold, there is simply not enough airborne mycotoxin produced by mold to cause a nonallergic, non-immuno-compromised person — in other words, somebody in normal health — to fall ill.
No clouds of toxins were out there, as many victims claimed.
“You can get a serious allergic reaction,” Kelman says. “But if you are immunocompetent and not allergic, you don’t get infections from mold in dwellings.”
For the ACOEM paper, Kelman and his company, Veritox, didn’t do any new testing. Instead, the three scientists synthesized scores of existing research papers, producing a hefty technical tome.
The Washington-based Manhattan Institute then paid Kelman to write a simpler, lay version of the ACOEM report for the public in 2003. A clearly elated U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which represents many businesses and industries sued during the Mold Rush, released a very abbreviated version. It stated: “The notion that toxic mold is an insidious killer, as so many media reports and trial lawyers would claim, is junk science.”
Phoenix-based toxicologist Paul Wax, president of the American College of Medical Toxicology, backs up Kelman and Veritox. “Their opinions are grounded in good science. They are not going out on a ledge saying something without support.”
Some say Kelman is wrong. “The toxins produced by fungi are among the most potent toxins known to humans,” says Ken Hudnell, a researcher with 23 years’ experience at the EPA. “If you have colonization of mold inside you, you are in danger of rapid death.”
Hudnell says Kelman’s study did not look into long durations of acute exposure in healthy people. But that acute situation — the alleged Ed McMahon scenario — is exceedingly rare. Top scientific groups like the National Academy of Sciences see no evidence that mold can hurt healthy people. The academy’s study, seen as one of the most comprehensive by both sides of the mold divide, was unable to prove a direct link between mold and severe ailments in healthy people. Its mild language found “sufficient evidence of an association between exposure to damp indoor environments [which incubate mold] and some respiratory health outcomes” of a modest variety — shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing.
But, Hudnell says, the National Academy has only a piece of the puzzle, arguing that airborne combinations of antigens, bacteria and toxins can potentially cause multisystem problems: for example, a loss of memory and motor skills along with rheumatologic problems and fatigue.
Such lingering disputes help to explain why government agencies approach the controversy with caution. Jed Waldman, of the California Department of Public Health, says that his agency’s position is “that indoor mold contamination is unhealthy and should be abated, whether or not those links become better understood.”
At what cost? The state of California doesn’t pay the bill, which can easily amount to thousands of dollars by a middle-class family on “mold abatement” in a home with normal, nonthreatening molds. “There’s a lot of emotion,” Wax says. “There are some people who are extremely passionate about it, and it totally consumes them.”
In 2002, Kramer was wrangling with her insurer, Mercury, over Erin’s and her own health — and taking the dramatic step of abandoning her comfortable former home, with its view of Lake Hodges. Mercury, dealing with her allegations, consulted an expert witness about the toxicity of mold. That witness was scientist Bruce Kelman.
“I don’t remember him at all,” Kramer says of those first few years. But by 2005, Kramer was well aware of him. She had begun spending five hours a day online, using Web sites and blogs to post her views. Her accusations had grown brazen. In the response section to a 2005 New York Times article about the New York–based Toxic Mold Task Force, Kramer wrote: “Quite a few of our premier medical associations have allowed those who generate substantial income from expert witness testimony denying the severity of mold-induced illnesses to write the national protocol.”
In other words, Kramer was saying, medical associations were selling the notion that mold was not dangerous, influenced by expert witnesses paid by her foes. The particular medical association she appeared to be targeting in her online comment was ACOEM, the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, which had produced the key mold-debunking study.
Kramer still claims that Kelman and his two co-authors based their conclusion on mathematical extrapolations from a single rat study. In fact, they based their findings on numerous studies of rats and mice performed by other scientists. Kramer contends that the original paper was concocted by Kelman and Hardin to bolster their credibility — and purses — as defense-side witnesses.
In an interview with the Weekly, she says Kelman’s later, layman’s version of the report is nothing short of “racketeering” designed to manipulate the American people. “Kelman is selling a false concept” that mold isn’t toxic.
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