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Mold bill on the Hill

August 30, 2002

Legislation aims to establish the effects of mold exposure, standardize remediation efforts

Inman News Features

Allegations about the dangers of mold exposure are flying around faster than the proliferation of stachybotrys spores feasting on a soggy sheet of drywall.

On one side of the battle is the insurance industry, which claims that mold growth is a homeowner's maintenance issue, that mold-born illness is nothing more than an allergic reaction in most cases that results in symptoms ranging from itchy eyes to a runny nose and that the issue nonetheless is costing the industry billions of dollars and forcing it to raise homeowners' insurance premiums, limit water damage coverage and in some cases stop writing new homeowners' insurance policies altogether.

Consumer insurance and health advocates stand firm on the other side of the battle and claim that mold exposure has devastating health effects that in a worse-case scenario can lead to death, that insurance companies are failing to honor consumer claims while simultaneously participating in a price gouging orgy that is putting a pinch on consumer wallets that could jeopardize home sales.

Legislation introduced by Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), HR 5040, the U.S. Toxic Mold Safety and Protection Act, aims to put an end to the battle and set the record straight by calling for government-sponsored studies that would determine once and for all the health effects of indoor mold and toxic mold exposure.

The multifaceted consumer-oriented bill also calls for standards for the prevention, detection and remediation of indoor mold growth; includes provisions that require local jurisdictions to modify building codes to minimize mold hazards in new construction; incorporates an annual mold inspection protocol for rental properties and a mold inspection clause for property purchased with federally insured loans; and orders the development of mold insurance pools.

"This Bill couldn't be timelier; high-dollar insurance lobbyists have succeeded in getting state insurance commissioners to reduce, cap or exclude mold cleanup from residential and commercial property and casualty policies, leaving their customers totally unprotected against this catastrophic loss," states an editorial published by the Policy Holders of America, a non-profit group that aims to empower insurance policy holders.

POA maintains that if Conyer's bill is passed, "insurers have no excuse but to slash premiums," and that the formation of a "FEMA-like" insurance pool would cover the costs associated with toxic mold cleanup for those who opted to purchase the coverage.

The legislation has not yet provoked a formal response from the insurance industry, which is still evaluating the bill and continues to work at the state level in an attempt to clarify the circumstances under which mold is covered, according to Insurance Information Institute public affairs VP P.J. Crowley.

"It's unclear whether or not the federal government wants to be in everybody's bathroom," said Crowley.

"There are elements within the bill that are constructive," he said. "Part of the problem is trying to determine insurability of mold and get a handle on its cost (in the absence of) standards for exposure and this has led to a number of lawsuits that allege health effects that have not yet been scientifically proven."

Crowley said that while the issue has led to a real crisis of insurance availability and affordability, particularly in Texas, he believes the matter of homeland security and corporate corruption will monopolize Congress' .

Copyright: Inman News Service

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