by Janet Elliott, Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
Sept. 23, 2002, 10:22PM
AUSTIN — Black mold may have spawned an insurance crisis, but a study by Texas doctors has found no link between mold and toxic disease.
"There’s no medical evidence right now that people should be concerned or in a panic because there’s mold in their house," said Wes Stafford, an allergist and immunologist from Corpus Christi.
The Texas Medical Association’s Council on Scientific Affairs studied the medical literature on Stchybortrys chartarum, commonly known as black mold.
Mold can cause reactions in people with allergies and asthma, Stafford said. But there’s no evidence that it causes other health problems or aggravates other existing health conditions, the report said.
The TMA House of Delegates Saturday adopted the report and recommended it be forwarded to various agencies, including the Attorney General’s Office and Insurance Department.
"If you have mold contamination, certainly find out the source of the problem and get it cleaned up," said Stafford. "As far as do you have to be afraid you’re going to drop over dead because you were inhaling Stachybotrys mold spores, there is absolutely no evidence in the medical literature that would make anybody be concerned about that."
Mold has been a key factor in the state’s homeowners insurance crisis. Insurers have raised premiums and some have stopped writing new policies because of skyrocketing mold claims.
Last year, mold claims generated $853 million in losses, up from $151 million in 2000.
Mold remediation has become a big business, and insurers accuse those companies of driving up the cost of water and mold damage claims.
Tales of families moving out of their homes while mold is cleaned up have become common. Some families have filed lawsuits and won multimillion-dollar verdicts against insurance companies over mold-related health problems.
Earlier this month, Texas Insurance Commissioner Jose Montemayor proposed a rule that would ban insurance companies from using water-damage claims as their sole reason for denying homeowners coverage.
Stafford said the mold hysteria stemmed in part from a study that linked pulmonary hemorrhage in infants at a Cleveland, Ohio, hospital to mold exposure. But reviews by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that the link was not proven.
"I think we need to kind of take a step back and be realistic about this," said Stafford. "The Stachybotrys molds have been out there for a few billion years, probably, and people have been exposed to it for as long as people have been around, and we can’t find good evidence in the medical literature that it causes real disease."
The House of Delegates also approved a series of resolutions related to mental health care. The doctors called on insurers to provide equal coverage for mental illness and stop the practice of carving out mental health-related claims to be handled in a separate review process.
Les Secrest, a Dallas psychoanalyst, called the resolutions "historic." He said many physicians now better understand the link between mental illness and physical health.
"By doing good care with the advances we’ve made you really can decrease utilization on the medical-surgical side. My depression goes away, and my other aches and pains go away," Secrest said.
The doctors’ group also heard from three candidates they have endorsed — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tony Sanchez, Democratic lieutenant governor candidate John Sharp and Republican Carole Keeton Rylander, who is seeking re-election as comptroller.