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Brockovich Takes On A New Foe: Mold   PDF  Print  E-mail 
Posted by Susan Lillard  
Sunday, 03 October 2004

Stachybotrys Can Infest A House

Does It Cause Brain Damage? Some say Yes

Workers are now trying to save Brockovich's house from toxic mold.

It is an expensive job.

Since the movie bearing her name appeared, everyone knows who Erin Brockovich is: the working mother who traced illnesses in a small California town to groundwater contaminated by Pacific Gas and Electric.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Read the "real" Erin Brockovich story.

After the case was settled for hundreds of millions of dollars, Brockovich got a big promotion, and now divides her time between her job and motivational speaking.

She lives in a million-dollar home near Los Angeles, with her third husband, Eric Ellis, and the youngest of her 3 children - 10-year-old Beth.

Brockovich says it is the house she always wanted. The bonus she got from winning the lawsuit made her dream possible. But her dream has become a nightmare, 48 Hours Correspondent Susan Spencer reports. For the past six months, touring her home requires donning a hazmat suit. The house is filled with slimy black mold called Stachybotrys

Few experts dispute that it can cause allergic reactions. According to industrial hygienist Joe Spurgeon, it can cause a runny nose, runny eyes, headaches, sinus congestion, cough, fatigue, and neurological problems.

Brockovich knows the symptoms well: she's been suffering with them for the last year and a half.

"I could not function," she says. "It was like this hanger-onner kinda flu. Achey, night sweats, headache. And I had been on antibiotics month after month." She says her whole family suffered from it.

She finally identified the cause of the illnesses when a contractor she hired to fix leaks put her in touch with attorney Alex Robertson, who specializes in toxic mold cases. He says business is booming.

"Mold needs a couple of things to grow," he says. "It needs water, it needs cellulose. Everything we build our homes out of almost is cellulose-based." Brockovich is suing the builder of her house, claiming faulty construction caused water leaks that led to the mold.

She says she sees the irony of her position: "I do a major toxic case, I get a bonus for that toxic case, and I bought a toxic home," she says with a laugh.

The mold is so toxic that parts of the house must be sealed off. But she vows the mold will not force her out. Instead, crews are eliminating the mold, one room at a time. The price is roughly $600,000.

"I'm gonna fight my way through it to the very end," she says.

Steve and Karen Porath of Forresthill, Calif., took even more drastic action with their house. To get rid of their mold problem, they had their house torched, giving it to local firemen for a training exercise. The Poraths had no money for expensive repairs, and, of course, no prospective buyers.

The same mold bedeveling the Poraths and Brockovich forced the Ballards to evacuate their 22-room, 11,000-square foot mansion in Austin, Texas.

Melinda Ballard blames the mold for son Reese's asthma and learning disabilities, and for her husband Ron's memory loss. Eventually Ron quit his job as an investment banker. He sought out mold specialist Dr. Eckhardt Johanning, who gave him a devastating diagnosis: brain damage.

Ron's condition is a major part of the Ballards' landmark lawsuit against their insurance company - Farmers. They blame the company for the mold that has wrecked their home, saying, in effect, that the company refused to ante up enough money fast enough to fix water leaks.

They also hold the company responsible for the family's physical and neurological problems.

"For the rest of our lives, we will have to worry about Ronny and Reese and their medical conditions," says Melinda.

But the Centers for Disease Control and the Environmental Protection Agency say the health risks of mold have not been proven.

During the trial, the judge cited that lack of scientific evidence to deliver a major blow to the Ballard case: He refused to admit any testimony that mold causes brain damage - in effect wiping out the family's medical claims. Brockovich says science just hasn't caught up with reality.

The jury agreed, and ruled in favor of the Ballard's in every category. The total award: $32 million. Farmers' Insurance plans to appeal the verdict.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Read the "real" Erin Brockovich story.

Something everyone should know.

Erin Brockovich comes to the state Capitol to fight toxic mold

We know her from the movie Erin Brockovich and on Wednesday the real-life Erin Brockovich arrived at the state Capitol to support legislation that would set the nation's first statewide standard for toxic mold. Charlotte Fadipe talked to Erin Brockovich and has more.

A bill on the unglamorous topic of toxic mold, got some glamorous help. Senator Debra Ortiz wants builders and contractors to take responsibility for this growing problem and she got a boost from someone who's the subject of an Oscar nominated movie.

A touch of glamour, in the form of the real life Erin Brockovich was at the Capitol, lending her voice to a growing chorus against decidedly unglamorous toxic molds.

The environmental activist has been immortalized on the big screen by the actress Julia Roberts. She portrays Brockovich's monumental environmental battle against PG&E in the San Joaquin Valley town of Hinckley, California.

Ironically, Brockovich spent movie royalties and a bonus from her legal victory on a million dollar home that's now infected with toxic mold.

Erin Brockovich / Mold Victim: "The day I found out and all the test results came back saying Stacchi Bacarus, I said Stacchi what? Ha, ha. Can you spell that for me?"

But she testified to state senators that mold is no laughing matter!

Erin Brockovich / Mold Victim: "I'm stuck. I cannot bail on the home I have to disclose it. It's an expensive home. I have 600-thousand dollars in repairs, I have spent a quarter of a million dollars fixing it. I can't just leave I have nowhere to go."

Attorneys say it's a growing problem

Alex Robertson / Mold Attorney: "Homeowners and tenants and workers who are faced with this have no one to turn to and that's the big problem that's the vacuum this bill will hopefully fill."

Several mold victims and families listened as building industry representatives promised to try and clean up this growing problem.

Karen Porath says toxic mold in her former Forest Hill home, ruined the health of her 22-month-old son who now weighs just 21 pounds.

Karen Porath / Mold Victim: "He vomited up to 70 times a day by the time we left. He had to be put in the hospital on three different occasions just to help him survive. Basically, he was slowly dying and we didn't know it."

She says her son is slowly recovering. Many victims of mold say the industry promises of help sounds pretty hollow since most of them get no help when they individually complain.

In fact, Erin Brockovich says when she contacted her contractor and builder and they tried to sue her.

If bill Sb 732 does become law it will make builders and contractors responsible for mold and toxic mold will have to be disclosed if any affected home is sold.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Read the "real" Erin Brockovich story.

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