The Future Is in Mold
Complaints Rise as Newcomers
Flock Into Fungus-Removal Work; How to Get Rid of Mold Yourself
Mold Training &
By MICHELLE HIGGINS on Feb. 12,
2004, Staff Reporter of THE WALL
Wall Street Journal
Seven months ago, David Barr was
repairing heating and air-conditioning units in New York City. But he
decided a better future lay in mold. "I think there's a good growth
opportunity," he says.
Now Mr. Barr is a mold inspector and remediator who charges about $125 to
test mold in people's homes. He took a $1,000 home-study course he found on
the Internet and passed a multiple-choice exam, plus a quiz over the phone.
He even has a mold-inspector badge, issued by a group called the
Certified Mold Inspectors & Contractors Institute. "We did a lot of
research and study," during the course, says Mr. Barr, who feels he is
qualified to do mold cleanup.
As individual homeowners try to get a grip on their mold problems, state
attorneys general and consumer groups say they are seeing a stream of
complaints about botched cleanup jobs done by inexperienced workers. The
problem has gotten serious enough that several states are working on
regulations and licensing requirements for mold-inspection and -remediation
Currently, there are no
federal or state regulations, and mold companies aren't required to be
licensed or certified.
"My nail technician is more regulated" than mold cleaners, says Melinda
Ballard, head of Policyholders of America, a nonprofit group in Austin,
Texas. "There's something wrong with that." Ms. Ballard started the
organization, which helps people file insurance claims, after winning a
mold-related lawsuit against an insurer.
Such suits helped give rise to a flood of mold claims and to so-called mold
remediation -- an industry that was virtually nonexistent a few years ago.
Lured by the promise of fatter paychecks, workers with minimal training soon
started billing themselves as mold remediators. There are now between 10,000
and 20,000 mold-removal companies in the country, according to the Indoor
Air Quality Association, which offers a mold-cleanup training program.
Mold remediation can cost anywhere from several hundred dollars to more than
$100,000 depending on the scope of the problem. And since almost every major
insurer now excludes mold from standard policies, many consumers must pay
out of their own pockets.
The proliferation of new companies has led to a number of horror stories.
When Kase Velasco's kitchen sink started leaking, his insurer dispatched a
company to clean up the water and black mold that had spread on the wall
behind the sink. Mr. Velasco, his wife, and two children packed up and moved
out of their Houston home and into a nearby apartment while the mold cleanup
company took apart their house to eradicate the fungus.
Seven months, and about
$22,000 in insurance money later, the family moved back. So did the mold. A
round of testing showed mold levels were actually higher than when they
left. He learned that the company hired to get rid of the mold had been in
the roofing business just six months before.
"All they were was glorified demolition guys," says Mr. Velasco, a
commercial-real-estate developer, who declined to name the company.
Mold Relief Inc., a nonprofit organization in Norman, Okla., that offers
assistance to families affected by indoor mold, has received dozens of
complaints from California to Oklahoma to Virginia about improper
inspections or cleanup jobs. "I get calls from everywhere," says Elisa
Larkin, executive director of Mold Relief. Companies come in to people's
homes, she says, "and a week later there's mushrooms growing in the carpet."
Last month, Mold Restoration Inc., a mold-remediation company, agreed to pay
upward of $800,000 for restitution to consumers in a settlement of a lawsuit
brought two years go by then Texas Attorney General John Cornyn on behalf of
half a dozen consumers. The suit alleged that the company left homeowners
with unfinished restoration work meant to correct severe mold. An attorney
for Mold Restoration says the company didn't admit any wrongdoing. Since
June of 2002 the Attorney General's office has received nearly 200 other
complaints against various mold-remediation companies.
At least two states -- Louisiana and Texas -- have enacted legislation that
would require some form of licensing or registration for anyone involved
with mold inspection, analysis or cleanup, though much of the details are
still being worked out.
Several other states, and at least one federal lawmaker, have introduced
bills that seek to research and establish standards regarding mold
identification and remediation.
Part of the problem with trying to establish regulatory practices around
mold is there are no standards for acceptable levels of mold inside a home.
Molds are part of the natural environment and can be found practically
everywhere. Different people have different sensitivities to molds. When
testing is done, it usually just compares the levels and types of mold
spores found inside the home with those on the outside.
If the moldy area is less than 10 square feet, you can usually clean it up
yourself. If the moldy area is larger, or if you smell mold but can't see
it, you should hire someone to do the cleanup. Experts advise that
homeowners check with local consumer affairs agencies and the Better
Business Bureau before engaging a testing or remediation company. Ask a
company for examples of removal experience and check references. And avoid
conflicts of interest by not hiring the same company to do both the
inspection and remediation.
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