THE IRISH TIMES
Litigation fears for State over toxic mould
Mon, Aug 23, 2004, 01:00
A Government agency is conducting a study of the prevalence of toxic mould in State buildings in response to fears of compensation claims over exposure to the harmful material.
This follows a wave of successful lawsuits in the US from claimants who say they suffered serious health problems following exposure to toxic mould.
The State Claims Agency (SCA), which manages personal injury and property damage claims against the State, is to issue guidelines to Government agencies aimed at improving safety and minimising the threat of mould-related litigation.
The State is understood to be facing a very small number of claims. However, there are fears this figure could increase dramatically, as occurred with Army deafness and asbestos cases, if little is done to address the issue.
While most toxic mould is harmless, several types are associated with serious health problems such as headaches, rashes, respiratory illnesses, lung disease, memory loss and brain damage.
People with suppressed immune systems, such as patients undergoing chemotherapy, run the risk of developing fungal infections if exposed to some moulds.
There are at least three types of mould which can produce toxins, according to the US-based Centre for Disease Control.
One strain, Stachybotrys Chartarum, is at the centre of many of the recent compensation claims.
It requires areas with excessive humidity and fluctuating temperatures and thrives on wood and paper products.
While some in the scientific community have questioned the link between toxic mould and health problems, it has not stopped US courts handing out hundreds of millions of dollars in damages for mould-related injuries.
Thousands of mould cases have been filed in the US in recent years.
They include many multi-million dollar verdicts, including a $14 million judgment against a contractor in Florida and a $32 million award for a Texas homeowner .
The insurance industry in the US has begun to respond to these lawsuits by excluding mould cover from some insurance policies.
In a separate move, the SCA is conducting a detailed review of safety standards in science laboratories and technical rooms in secondary schools.
The agency is to issue recommendations, in conjunction with the Department of Education, geared towards ensuring schools operate to a high standard of safety practice.
A spokesman for the agency said the move was not in response to any litigation, but was aimed at minimising any risk which students may face in a school environment.
The SCA advises and assists State agencies on measures to prevent personal injury litigation, with particular focus on possible large-scale claims.