It doesn’t seem all that long ago when meetings were being called, informational flyers were sent and the nightly news had at least one story about the dreaded new wave of death that was sweeping the country. Stachybotrys chartarum also known as “Black Mold” was the equivalent of the Bird flu of a few seasons ago or even the Swine flu epidemic which we are (allegedly) experiencing now. Lawyers of course were on the forefront of the movement and high profile cases such as with Tonight show co-host Ed McMahon’s successful litigation of $7 million dollars the ball was rolling at full speed. (His case didn’t even involve a pest company) Still, with the greenish black substance of death lining your wall or hidden behind the shower silently growing all across the fruited plain what the movement lacked was a target to pin the blame on.
Enter the pest control industry
Now before you jump to the conclusion that I’ll pose the innocent bug man as the scapegoat for the law firms Dewy Chettum & Howe let me just say that the pest industry jumped into the toxic mold litigation pool with both feet forward. When the mold push began the seminars that were advertised weren’t on the subject of ‘how to’ avoid litigation rather it was how to make money. Test kits were being sold and other devices, even termite sniffing dogs were being crossed trained to track down the black mold. Looking to capitalize many pest companies heavily advertised this new inspection service and for some it went right alongside with their radon and water testing. Even though Stachybotrys chartarum is not considered a wood destroying organism and as such had no place on the state mandated forms we were all to happy to collect our fees. What the heck, we were there anyway but what would we have said if we had only seen the perfect storm brewing not to far off in the distance.
Confusion & panic
I’m not 100% sure if Stachybotrys chartarum became part of the termite inspection process for the sale of a home because the lawyers said it was or if we the bug people started including it because we could now charge higher fees for our inspections. However it came to be the toxic mold and any ramifications were now being placed directly in the termite inspectors lap. Lawsuits were now on the rise and lawyers from both sides tussled with definitions, responsibility and were as usual the ones who profited most from this unclear issue. States scrambled to change the language on the inspection reports and toxic mold was still the topic of most seminars and mailed brochures but this time it was with emphasis on lawsuit avoidance. Smaller companies that may have dabbled in the real estate inspection niche ran for the hills and ads for the service were being pulled everywhere. From what we were told at the time, the mold problem was now ours and it may even get to the point that if the mold was missed while doing just a flea job we might still be liable for not cluing the homeowner in. I don’t know anybody personally that got out of the business because of toxic mold but many built large portions of their business on the backs of realtors only to see it disappear almost overnight. If ever there was a reason to quit, things were looking pretty dark and this was as good a reason as any to keep what you may have invested your whole life to build.
What happened to the toxic mold?
The toxic mold panic has since subsided in the pest control world and even seems to have lost momentum as a national crisis. The latest reports I could find are for 2007 and before that back to 2003. This is not to say that Stachybotrys chartarum is not still a problem that needs to be addressed, it’s just a storm that has passed and now only qualified or maybe fool hearty pest companies still offer the inspection. For the most part home inspectors that search your appliances and the roof shingles for defects have taken the torch and that seems a more suitable fit. In the end it was determined that black mold was not a wood destroying organism (although it can grow on wood) which is the definition and scope of the traditional termite inspection. There are molds considered wdo’s and all totaled do about as much damage as termites every year so these will stay in the scope of services. To this day most all state mandated reports have a clause in them that excludes black mold and other non wood destroying kinds. The type color is usually red so it stands out and this example is from Washington states WSDA form;
(e) MOLD: Molds, mildews, and other fungal growth (except wood decay fungi) shall be reported on only to the extent that they indicate an excessive moisture condition
which may be conducive to WDOs. The inspector is not liable or responsible for determining the type of mold, mildew, or other fungi present, nor shall the inspector be
liable or responsible for determining the possible health hazards associated with the presence of molds, mildews, or other fungi. This report is not, nor shall the inspector
perform a mold inspection or investigation. If a more qualified opinion is desired, the services of a toxicologist or certified industrial hygienist should be obtained.
With so many hurdles a termite inspector must jump and with our lack of x-ray vision we will never be 100% sure what is or is not behind your walls if there isn’t some sort of visual evidence. I’m just glad that the toxic mold fiasco is behind us and hope we test the waters in the future the next time a cash cow comes our way.