When does a health concern become an obsession? L.A. Weekly’s cover story, “Toxic Mold Rush: California Mom Helps Fuel an Obsession” delved into raging courtroom wars over whether mold — that black and blue stuff that can grow in wet places in homes and offices — can make healthy people sick. The battle lines had been drawn between a hungry plaintiff’s bar representing thousands of allegedly sick people, and the dubious scientists and critics who have suggested the claims were driven by good old American hypochondria.
Our story, published in July, focused on a subculture of bloggers, activists and others who believe toxic mold is extremely dangerous, even though many top scientists say there is not enough chemical material in mold to do the damage to health that’s cited — or to create the huge range of alleged serious maladies.
Sharon Kramer, a former real estate agent in Escondido, alleges that her daughter’s chronic lung problems were worsened by household mold; Kramer was convinced that scientists and business execs were bent on making mold sound innocuous in order to reduce the growing litigation and jury awards against insurance giants, construction companies and public institutions.
The mold warriors went after a paper co-authored by Washington state–based scientist Bruce Kelman, which spelled out the lack of evidence or scientific basis for claims that mold causes the severe symptoms some people report. But Kramer, in her zeal, crossed the line: She wrote a press release that falsely suggested Kelman had lied under oath. Kelman sued her for libel.
Kelman won his libel case against Kramer by jury decision on August 28, after which Kramer discontinued the counsel of her attorney, Lincoln Bandlow, and filed papers to request a new trial, to strike costs (the $7,250 in nonattorney fees Kelman had paid in his suit) and to have the jury decision thrown out.
On December 12, San Diego Superior Court Judge Lisa Schall struck down both Kramer’s motion for a new trial and her motion to have the jury judgment dismissed. Schall will review Kramer’s request that fees be waived. Kramer says she will appeal the decision.
Not that this really settles anything between scientists and alleged sufferers. After the Weekly story ran, an army of self-styled mold warriors nationwide came to Kramer’s defense, posting more remarks on the Weekly’s online comments board than any other story had garnered in 2008.
“Jersey Girl” warned: “Shame on you [Daniel Heimpel] and may you get back what you have put out there. Beware, your home could be next, and then you will know the nightmare others have lived.”
“Dana Toliver” wrote: “Sharon Kramer has a lot of support and you have messed with the wrong group of people. This only fuels the fire to keep fighting for all those around the world who are suffering. … Someday the world will wake up to the truth that we [‘Mold Warriors’] already know.”
Kramer added a final comment this month, which cites a September 30 General Accounting Office report that calls for more interagency cooperation on mold, suggesting that in some cases toxic mold might be dangerous.
From “Toxic Mold Rush: California Mom Helps Fuel an Obsession” by Daniel Heimpel
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.