In 2000, right after we survived “Y2K,” a new “toxic mold” panic swept the country, and twenty years (of lawsuits and billions of dollars) later, major myths persist, frightening property owners and managers.  The myths all too often cause exaggerated repairs, unduly frighten residents, and create unnecessary conflict. This and the next column will address thirteen pervasive myths.

Mold is new. Mold, one of the earliest and simplest life forms, has existed for thousands of years.  In 1928, mold was the basis of the discovery of penicillin.  Mold is ever-present, as is dust or pollen.

The scientific and medical communities confirm mold’s many dangers.  In 2004, the National Institute of Medicine published its comprehensive study on indoor mold exposure, called “Damp Indoor Spaces and Health.” A central finding of this book was: “Scientific evidence links mold … to asthma symptoms in some people with the chronic disorder, as well as to coughing, wheezing, and upper respiratory tract symptoms in otherwise healthy people… However, the available evidence does not support an association between … mold and the wide range of other health complaints that have been ascribed.”  That sounds like mold is no more dangerous than dust or pollen, which also can severely affect those with respiratory sensitivities.  The book did not receive much attention – stories of frightened people living in tents are more interesting.

One must know what kind of mold it is.  Mold consultants and injury attorneys often describe some molds as worse than others.  Their star is stachybotrys chartarum, a black mold reported to produce infinitesimal quantities of a toxin. It sounds frightening, but the scientific community long ago debunked the myth that this or any mold was poisonous to breathe. For example, read the National Institute of Health Fact Sheet on Mold, found at, or visit the Center for Disease Control site at Nevertheless, the mold industry continues to call mold “toxic.”

California’s Toxic Mold Protection Act of 2001 resulted in accepted exposure standards.  This law, found at Health and Safety Code 26100, instructed the Department of Public Health(DPH) to develop “Permissible Exposure Limits” regarding the various mold strains.  However, in 2005, and again in 2008, the DPH reported to the state legislature that the task could not be completed with the scientific information available. As per the Department’s most recent statement: “To date, no federal or state policies set safe exposure limits or quantify the health risks from dampness and mold in buildings.” (CDPH Statement on Building Dampness, Mold, and Health, 2016 update) Consequently, there is presently no official standard as to how many mold spores of any type are “unhealthy”.

Always start with a mold test.  The Environmental Protection Agency recommends against mold testing.  As confirmed by the DPH, there is no standard as to how much of a given airborne mold is “unhealthy.” Furthermore, indoor air sampling tests are extremely vulnerable to recent events in the home. For example, a recent shower, window opening, or carpet cleaning can completely change the test results. So, mold tests mainly unnecessarily frighten the home’s occupants with disembodied meaningless spore counts. There is rarely a legitimate reason to spend money on a mold test.

[Part 2 addresses seven more mold myths next week]


Kelly G. Richardson Esq., CCAL, is a Fellow of the College of Community Association Lawyers and a Partner of Richardson | Ober | DeNichilo LLP, a California law firm known for community association advice. Submit questions to Past columns at All rights reserved®.


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